The futility of putting your hopes and dreams in something that will not last — counting on the temporal rather than the eternal — is the theme of James 1:9-18.
Paraphrase of James 1:1-8
“I know that you have been going through many hardships. I urge you to remember that these hardships test your faith, which is something to value and rejoice in, because the process of proving your faith results in persevering in faith. Persevering in faith is the most valuable thing in this life. This process of persevering in faith under trial has a maturing result in your life so that your faith might be strong and complete, lacking in nothing that a mature believer should have.
“What should you do if you realize you lack the wisdom that comes with mature faith? You should ask God. He is generous and will not hold your foolishness against you. He can and will bring you to wisdom and maturity. Do not be deceived. You must commit yourself to believing in God and that He will answer your prayer. If your foolishness comes from a lack of belief, do not expect to receive anything from God.”
Now, James raises a new question, as an example of how understanding the gospel changes your perspective: Who is really better off: the rich unbeliever or the poor unbeliever?
9Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. 12Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. – James 1:9-12
- James 1:12 bookends the theme he began earlier of remaining steadfast through trials.
- Interpretative question: Are both the rich and the poor in this section believers?
- If both are believers, one plausible interpretation is: Whether you have wealth or you lack wealth, you should see your life circumstances in view of the gospel. The goal of life is maturity, not financial wealth. Whether you are rich or poor, you should boast in the gospel.
- If he’s talking poor believers and rich non-believers, James brings up wealth because it is one of the trials his readers are facing.
- When we see the rich and poor later in the book, the rich are clearly non-believers (James 2:5-7; James 5:1-6). We can see from these passages that rich unbelievers are oppressing the believers.
- In context: Here is one of those situations where you are acting foolishly and lack wisdom.
- The poor believer will be exalted even though he seems lowly now. The rich unbeliever who seems high and mighty now will be humiliated.
- The rich unbeliever has thrown away that which will last for something that will pass away. He will be reduced to humiliation on the day of judgment.
- In contrast, those who persevere in faith — who remain steadfast under trial — will inherit everything.
- This understanding changes the perspective we have on trials. Instead of asking, when will this end, we ought to focus on where is this taking me?
- Trials confront us with the question: where is true blessing to be found?
13Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 16Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. – James 1:13-18
- God tests us but He does not tempt us.
- God puts His people in situations where they must choose to obey Him or not, and their willingness to trust and follow Him is displayed.
- The inner desire we feel toward sin in the midst of testing is the pull of our own sinful natures.
- God is unable to be tempted since He has no desire for evil. He also has no desire to see evil in His creatures. Moral failure is our own fault.
- A second act of foolishness (after blaming God) is to imagine we can manage the downward spiral in our own strength.
- The downward spiral of temptation leading to death is the opposite pattern of trials, building faith resulting in completeness.
- Do not be deceived. It’s not just that every gift that God gives is good, but every good gift comes from God.