In James’ day, letters commonly began with the names of the author and recipients. James never sought special honor as one of Jesus Christ’s physical family members. Here, James identifies himself in verse 1 as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Greek word doulos, translated as servant, suggests whole-hearted devotion to another person’s will. Luke 1:38 says Mary, the mother of Jesus and James, identified herself by this term, doulos, when the angel Gabriel foretold Jesus’ birth. As servant, James highlights his relationship to Jesus through faith, equal to other believers.
James calls the recipients “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” This phrase seemingly identifies them as Jewish Christians. Jewish people, members of the tribes forming Israel, had scattered among many nations. Oppressors had taken some away in earlier times, while others left their homeland voluntarily. Many Jewish families chose to remain in those places. So, Jewish Christians who left Jerusalem often went to them.
Trials of Many Kinds
James 1:2-18 assumes our tests and forms of suffering occur all day, every day. Non-stop testing proves God’s patience and commitment to grow His children in faith. Jesus’ prayer for all His disciples, as recorded in John 17, includes that they will remain in the world, but not of the world. Believers almost constantly get to choose God’s way or their old way of life, the way of the world.
In every trial, believers face the temptation to focus on self: Why did this go wrong? Why did God let this happen? Why did this happen to me?
James commands believers to move past, “Why me?” to ask, “What will I do now?” James gives the answer – live by faith. James gives believers practical ways to practice our faith so we show all people everywhere the love of God.
- Respond with joy. This joy comes when believers trust and obey the Spirit regardless of circumstances.
- Persevere in faith. Spiritual maturity develops by tests (practice) to respond in God’s way to situations.
- Gain wisdom. God fills in when tests reveal doubts, weaknesses and confusion about how to proceed.
- Be humble. Who has Christ, yet feels sorry for self? Pity the “rich” who take pride in things that end.
- Expect blessing. Perseverance shows the power of salvation and grows our anticipation to see Jesus.
- Resist deception. God never tempts anyone. God never desires any person to sin.
- Trust God. Nothing good can be gained apart from God. Nothing bad comes from His hand.
Why Does God Allow Suffering?
No single answer explains the horror of sin. Its consequences bring suffering of many kinds to all God’s creation. The Bible gives some reasons God allows suffering:
Common – Job said, “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). He meant sin corrupted everything in God’s world. Bad things happen in nature and among people. Jesus taught that suffering does not prove a person guilty of sin, but urges all people to turn to God (Luke 13:1-9).
Corrective – The psalmist wrote, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67). God allows some suffering to guide His children back to the path of true discipleship.
Constructive – James and Paul both teach that the Spirit matures us into Christ’s likeness through suffering (1). The result is growing faith and stronger witnesses to others.
Cosmic – When asked about a man born blind, Jesus confirmed some suffering brings God glory (John 9:1-3). Faith in response to suffering amazes both the good and fallen angels in the invisible, spiritual realm. Job’s testimony before them is an example (2). Testimonies to God’s ultimate triumph over suffering will be celebrated forever (3).
James 1:18 gives an essential truth: temptation and sin come from evil, never from God. Adam and Eve discovered how “their own evil desire” enticed them to sin (4). They received and passed on to all humanity the wages of sin – death, as God had forewarned (5). God knows and cares about every heartache and hardship. Jesus Christ will bring sin and suffering to an end when He returns.
1. What truths about believers’ trials and temptations challenge or assure you, and why?
INSIGHTS: James describes how trials test our faith in order to produce perseverance. This testing matures us. Through testing and through resisting temptations to get out of trials through sinning, we find God is faithful and provides all we need (Word, Spirit, community) to look more like Christ.
2.What truth about God’s character and actions related to trials and temptations meets you right where you are?
INSIGHTS: Individual circumstances will vary. Some truths James displays are: God’s motive is good and pure; He is faithful; He generously gives wisdom to all who ask; He does not rebuke believers who need help.
3.How has God grown and/or sustained you through trials and temptation?
1 Christlike in suffering: James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5; 8:18-30; Philippians 2:5-11
2 Job’s suffering: Job 1:6-12, 20-22; 2:1-10
3 Eternal triumph: Revelation 6:9-11; 7:13-17
4 Sin: Genesis 3:1-6; James 1:14-15
5 Death: Genesis 2:16-17; Romans 6:23; James 1:15