James does not mention the fact that he is the brother of Jesus. He is not focusing on himself and his position; he also does not mention the fact that he is an apostle. Just like Paul, he was called to be an apostle; but his identity was that of a servant of the Lord. Some Bible translations use the word bondservant, which means we are owned by God. We no longer belong to ourselves or to this world. We are set apart for the Gospel.
To be a servant of God means two things:
- We belong to the One who loves us without condition, the great I AM who will always be with us and will care for us.
- We stand under God’s authority, to obey Him absolutely without condition. Our greatest joy is to obey His will and complete the work that He has given us to do.
Take a moment to reflect on your personal identity. Our basic identity as a Christian is a child of God. By grace, we are sons and daughters of God. But in terms of ministry, our identity is a servant of the Lord. God, in His love and grace, makes us both children to enjoy intimacy with Him and servants to be His witnesses in the world.
The 12 tribes of the dispersion are the Jewish Christians scattered among the nations. Take a moment to read Acts 1:8 and Acts 8:1.
Acts 1:8 – “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus’ plan was for His disciples to take the Gospel to the whole world.
Acts 8:1 – “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Acts 8:4 – “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.”
Those who were scattered suffered in many ways, including persecution. But God, in the midst of persecution, continued to bless His people and use them to spread the Gospel of the Kingdom. We can see the same thing happening today, as the Church of Jesus Christ continues to grow in nations where Christians are persecuted.
James 1:2-8; 1:12
James speaks of “trials,” or “testings,” in two ways in chapter 1. The trials of God that He allows to test our faith and the trials of Satan, through temptation to sin; his purpose is to kill us, if not physically, at least spiritually. James speaks, in verse 12, of these 2 kinds of trials: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial – this includes God’s testing and also Satan’s temptations – for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” (ESV)
We pray the words of Psalm 23 – The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want – with great thanksgiving to God, for His provision for all our needs. We are content in Him, even in times of God’s testing of our faith; because we know that His testing produces endurance, that we may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
We know this by faith. But God enriches our faith by providing wisdom. We need wisdom to understand how God’s testing helps us. There are 2 kinds of wisdom: wisdom of God, from above; and wisdom from below, which is earthly, human and demonic. (3:14-15) We must pray for wisdom with faith, expecting to receive it from the Lord.
When trials come, do not confuse the testings of the Lord with the temptations of Satan. Satan’s temptations come from wrong and sinful desires that Satan plants in our hearts. We must resist them. The Holy Spirit plants the Word of God in our hearts (James 1:21); but Satan plants evil thoughts. We must continually ask ourselves this question: What am I allowing to be planted in my heart today? Remember: When a seed is planted, it takes root, sprouts and produces fruit; either fruit for the Kingdom, or fruit of sin that leads to death and destruction.
These 3 verses seem at first reading to be unrelated to trials and temptations. But they actually introduce a specific problem that relates both to the trials, or testings, of God and to the temptations that come from Satan. They also reveal the need for community to deal with both issues. The issue of the gap between the rich and the poor was present in churches of the diaspora; and so it remains today. “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation.” (1:9) The “lowly” brother refers to the poor in the Christian community, and his need is to be exalted, or “lifted up” in order to restore his dignity. The wealthy brother needs to be “brought low” in order to learn humility. Humility is a central virtue of Christian community; and there are times when we need to be “brought low,” or “humiliated” in order to learn humility. One of the functions of koinonia, or true community, is to give dignity to the poor, to those who live on the fringes of society, who are unnoticed, forgotten, ignored, or simply tolerated. At the same time, the community needs to give understanding, exhortation and affirmation to the wealthy, that in humility they may see their riches as a gift from God – not eternal, nor promised forever, but given at a certain time, to enable them to bless the world.
There are times when God “tests” both the wealthy and the poor, to help them gain a biblical perspective on wealth, and to equip them to work together to close the worldwide gap between the rich and the poor. But there are other times when Satan tempts the wealthy to become selfish; but also the poor to become angry and filled with self-pity.
We must distinguish carefully between God’s trials and testings, and Satan’s temptations. God does not tempt anyone. Trials are different from temptations. God allows trials in our lives in order to deepen our faith and strengthen us to serve Him with greater joy. Temptations do not come from God; they come from Satan, who plants them in our minds. Satan is the source of all temptation, but we are the ones who allow him to do it, by receiving his lies and deceptions, just as Eve, followed by her husband, allowed Satan to plant his lies and misconceptions in her heart. When we overcome temptations through the blood of Jesus, His Word, and the power of the Holy Spirit, God promises that we will receive the “crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (1:12)
An important key in understanding how to deal not only with money, but also with all the good things we have in our lives, is to know the source of everything that we have. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, in whom there is no darkness, nor shadow that is cast by turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.” (1:17-18)
God alone is the source of every good and perfect gift. The proper attitude to wealth, as well as to the many other gifts that God has given to us, is thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the key that unlocks the door into God’s presence. “He (or she) who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23 NASB)
The greatest gift God gives us, and the most important, is the gift of Himself in the Holy Spirit. James does not mention the Holy Spirit in his letter, but it would be wrong to conclude that he is not interested in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who leads people to Jesus and who enables us to receive Him as Lord and Savior, and to grow in Jesus’ likeness. The Holy Spirit is the creator of community; Paul tells us, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, that “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”
There was disorder and disunity in the churches to which James wrote, friction between the rich and the poor, critical and judgmental speech. The opposite of disorder is not order; it is peace, shalom.Peace is the harmony that will exist in a Christian community when everyone is living and walking in the Spirit, and when all members love one another.
James does not emphasize in his letter the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to work miracles. He does not deny it; but he emphasizes the character change that the indwelling Holy Spirit brings to God’s people. As Father Archer Torrey (R.A. Torrey III) said, “The supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit are like ornaments on a Christmas tree; they are important, but they are not always present in our lives. No one possesses them, but they are given for specific times. We must seek the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. But the “character” gifts of the Spirit (the fruits of the Spirit) are permanent, like fruit on a tree. The apostle James emphasizes the “character gifts” of the Spirit in his letter.
Thanksgiving enables us to overcome another temptation in the Christian community – the temptation to speak carelessly and in ways that destroy community. James considers this to be a major problem.
What is the solution? “Therefore, lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (1:21) The key is to have the Word of God implanted in our hearts and minds.
How does this happen? We begin with repentance, renouncing careless talk, gossip and negative speaking as a major sin in our lives, and asking for God’s forgiveness. Then we approach God’s Word with meekness. Meekness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) It means to yield our will, and everything we have, so that we may be completely submitted to God. The apostle Paul says it this way: “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.(Galatians 5:24) The Greek word can also be translated as “gentleness.” As we yield our wills totally to God, we also yield our personalities to Him. A meek, gentle person no longer seeks to make excuses for his or her “bad personality;” a bad personality is a sign of sin in our lives. When we yield ourselves to God’s Word, we are committing ourselves to allow the Holy Spirit to rule over us, to remold us in His Word.
We begin to meditate when we commit to receive the “implanted word” with meekness. Isaiah 50:4-5 tells us how it happens. “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning He awakens; He awakens my ear to hear as a disciple (a learner) . . . and I was not rebellious.”
When we meditate we open ourselves to God; we concentrate on God and ask Him to fill us with His Word. We begin by pausing before a single verse of Scripture, focusing on each word, letting God speak to us through this word. We want to hear God’s personal word to us. We listen; God speaks. A miracle happens! The Holy Spirit takes the written Word of God, transforms it into the living Word, and plants the Word deep inside our hearts and minds.
Jesus once spoke a parable about a farmer who went out to sow some seed. His disciples later asked Him to explain the meaning of the parable, and Jesus answered, “The seed is the word.” (Luke 8:11) Each word of God is a seed. When the Spirit plants the seeds of God’s Word in us, each seed takes root, sprouts, and produces wisdom. Wisom from above! Not human or demonic wisdom.
Once the Word of God is planted within our inner being, we become men and women of the Word. We begin to understand what true religion is. “Pure, unspoiled religion, in the eyes of God our Father, is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows in their hardships, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.” (1:27 NJB)
Questions to Consider
- Consider memorizing the following verses of James chapter one: 1:17; 1:21, and 1:27. If you keep these words in your heart, you will continually be open to receiving the “implanted Word” and will have wisdom to practice true religion.
- How is the Holy Spirit working in your life these days? In supernatural ways? In building your character?
- Think of some of the trials that you have faced in your life. How has God enabled you to grow through them? Have you ever fallen into temptation and then experienced later how you have grown through repentance?
- Would you consider yourself to be a meditator on the Word of God? How has it changed your life?