When Common Sense Isn’t Enough
Explore the Bible Series
July 19, 2009
Background Passage: James 1:1-18
Lesson Passage: James 1:2-18
I have grown to deeply love the Epistle of James. During seminary years, I took a course in expository preaching, taught by Dr. Jess Northcutt, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Many of my classes made an impact on my life, but this course meant more to me than any other. Dr. Curtis Vaughan, another of my treasured seminary professors, referred to James as the book that, “… exhibits greater likeness to the teachings of Jesus than any other book in the New Testament.”
Authorship: The epistle identifies James as the author of this book. The New Testament mentions several men named James, and this book does not specifically designate which James wrote the letter. He must have played a significant role in the early church because the author assumed his readers would know him. Traditionally, most have believed this man was the half-brother of Jesus (See Matthew 13:55 and Galatians 1:19). Originally, he did not believe in Christ, but after his conversion, James became a pillar of the Jerusalem church (See Acts 12:17, 15:13 ff, and 21:18). His leadership of the Judean church lasted until his martyrdom in 62 A.D. (See Acts . I encourage readers, eager to know more about the authorship of the Epistle of James, to consult An Introduction to the New Testament, by D.A. Carson, et al.
Some, like Martin Luther, have questioned the canonicity of the Epistle of James. The Early Church Fathers did not mention James until the time of Origin (c. 245 A.D.), and Eusebius (Fourth Century) listed it as one of the disputed books of the New Testament. After the Fourth Century, the church raised no serious question about canonicity until the Reformation. Both Luther and Erasmus raised concern about the theological content of James.
Date: If James the brother of Jesus wrote this book, he must have penned it very early in the Christian era, perhaps the mid-fifties of the First Century. It may be the oldest book in the New Testament.
Recipients: The book is addressed to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” “Dispersion” translates a word that denotes the scattering of the Jewish people outside the boundaries of Palestine. As I read the epistle, James wrote this book to believing Jews who lived throughout the Mediterranean world.
Content: James does not mention any specific event that precipitated this book; therefore, it appears to address a general audience about important, practical issues related to Christian living. The book begins with an earnest, tender treatment of suffering, especially suffering related to one’s profession of faith in Christ. Perhaps these believers experienced a debilitating persecution and oppression for their faith, and James used this occasion to encourage them to persevere in the gospel.
This week’s lesson deals with the issue of theodicy, the problem of suffering, especially as it relates to the people of God. James’ readers struggled with the terrible hardship because of their faith in Christ. Many of them, no doubt, staggered under this burden, and some may have considered abandoning their profession of the Savior. James wrote this material, in part, to strengthen the resolve of these dear believers.
I. External Trials (vv. 1-11): James came right to the point. He, with a series of commands, exhorts his readers to continue in the faith.
A. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (vv. 1-4)
1. the nature of these trials
a. “when you fall”: Trails may take the Christian off guard, a surprising calamity that comes suddenly and unexpectedly.
b. “various”: This word translates a Greek term that means “many-colored”. These believers experienced the full spectrum of hardship.
2. The believer’s response to trails
a. “count it all joy”: This admonition, of course, is the opposite of our default setting. The human impulse to despair seems a more natural response to trials; yet, James encouraged his readers to resist the temptation to fall into discouragement and find joy in the hardships they encounter.
b. “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience”: James assumes that his audience knows the importance of patience. In this context, “patience” means steadfast endurance. Trials, in time, produce sterling Christian character.
B. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God” (vv. 5-8): Christians need wisdom to counteract the detrimental effects of trials, but God’s people may lack this understanding when they are under pressure. God will provide the grace of wisdom for those who humbly ask for his help, but the believer must ask in faith, a settled confidence in God’s love and tender provision for the believer’s needs. James says that God gives wisdom liberally and without reproach (without scolding for our infirmities). The one who doubts, James said, is like a wave of the sea, tossed to and fro by the winds of life, a double-minded (literally “double-souled” man, unstable in all his ways). The double-minded man is driven by conflicting impulses, one to good and the other to evil. I do not think this word refers to broken people who struggle with their faith; rather, it denotes insincere folks who entertain ungodly motives in their prayers. The Epistle calls us to meet trails with a prayerful confidence that God’s loves us and meets our needs with gracious liberality.
C. “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation” (vv. 9-11): One particular trial troubled James. He expressed concern about those who, because of their faith, had suffered economic difficulties. Riches have only a fleeting value, and James encouraged his readers to glory in the spiritual wealth they had received in Christ.
II. Internal Trials (vv. 13-18): Again, James provided several directives to help readers who experienced internal hardships.
A. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’” (vv. 13-15): All believers experience periods of severe temptation to sin. The exact nature of the temptation may vary, but everyone struggles with the impulse to disobey God. In that sense, temptation is not external, but it arises for within the human heart. When sin is conceived in the heart, it gives birth to a destructive pattern of life (death).
B. “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren”: (vv. 16-18): During a time of enticement to sin, the weakened believer may blame God for the temptation. Sin has no attraction or appeal to Holy God; therefore, he cannot sin nor entice anyone else to sin. The Lord gives only good and perfect gifts to his children, and he is unchanging in his gracious goodness to his people. James asserted that God does not (indeed, cannot) tempt anyone to sin; rather, disobedience arises from the sinful passions of the heart.
III. The Blessedness of Those Who Endure Temptation (v. 12): This claim seems to contradict the common sense understanding of suffering hardship; yet, James claimed that great blessings would attend those who endure.
A. “the man who endures”: Only endurance will bring this kind of blessing from the Lord. The Lord Jesus wonderfully exemplified this kind of perseverance, and believers must grow in their likeness to Christ. It is only after the believer has withstood temptation that he will receive this blessing from the Lord.
B. “he will receive the crown of life”: Life itself is the crowning glory for those who endure temptation. God has promised eternal life for all of those who persevere in the faith. A crown (Greek word “stephanos”) was awarded to victorious competitors in athletic events. Laurel wreaths were placed on the heads of those who won the competition, and James promised all who continued in the race would win the Lord’s prize, eternal life. What provokes Christians to persevere? James made clear that love for Christ would motivate believers to endure temptation.