James 1:1-8 is one of the most important passages of the book. It sets the tone, the theme and the foundation for the rest of the letter. If we get this passage wrong, it is like grabbing the salt instead of the sugar. It will change the entire flavor and understanding of the letter.
1:1James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. 2Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:1-4
- James uses two phrases in these verses: trials (1:2) and the testing of our faith (1:3).
- A trial puts our faith under pressure to reveal the nature or quality of it.
- The second phrase — “testing of your faith” — points to the result of the testing; the proving or the result of the trial.
- James is talking about any circumstance that tests us and proves the quality of our faith.
- The trial does not test my worthiness for salvation; it is not a test of my character; or whether or not I’m sinful.
- The question being tested is: do we have real, genuine, saving faith or not?
- Perseverance (steadfastness) is to continue, not give up, or endure.
- We rejoice in trials because we know that the testing process brings about perseverance. Perseverance is so valuable that it is worth going through trials to gain it.
- Because of the value of the gospel, we are willing to face whatever life brings and rejoice that we stand to inherit so great a treasure.
- To be able to rejoice in my trials is to be in a place where I understand the value of the gospel in a real and practical way.
- Happiness is the feeling of euphoria that results when good and exciting things happen. Joy is that sense of satisfaction of knowing good will result.
- God loves us too much to change our circumstances without changing our hearts.
- It is crucially important that we have faith. Trials are part of the process of maturing and strengthening our faith. Thus, we consider the result of the trial and rejoice, knowing what we stand to gain is worth the trial now.
4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. – James 1:4-5
- Something is “perfect” (1:4) when it has arrived at its intended goal. An acorn is perfect when it has grown into an oak tree.
- 1:4 “full effect”: This is the Greek word for “work.” The basic idea of “work” is an action, something I actually do. James’ primary concern in this letter is that our actions reflect what we say we believe.
- To lack wisdom is to be a fool. If I lack wisdom, I am immature and foolish. I do not understand life the way God does.
- Perseverance is meant to lead to mature perfect faith, so our faith lacks nothing. What would our immature faith lack? Wisdom, seeing the world the way God sees it.
- If we lack wisdom, we should ask God who gives to all generously without reproach. God would not reproach me for not knowing which college to attend. But He could reproach me for being a fool.
- James is not talking about finding God’s will for my life, but rather whether or not I have a wise perspective on life.
- Maturity is not perfect obedience. Nor is maturity being tough.
5If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. – James 1:5-8
- Compare with Mark 11:20-24.
- Neither James nor Jesus is saying that, if you believe hard enough, you will get what you ask for.
- Jesus says (Luke 17:6; Matt 17:20) we only need faith the size of a mustard seed.
- The biblical picture of God is as a loving father who like any wise parent says yes and no out of love.
- The disciples have seen a miracle. Jesus called on God to wither the fig tree and it happened. They are shocked. Jesus is speaking to that reaction. “I am the Messiah, praying to the Father to do a miracle that attests to my identity and authority and also teaches a lesson through a kind of parable. Why would that surprise you?”
- IF I’m asking God to do something and I don’t know whether He promised it or not, it is appropriate to have confidence that He CAN do it, but not appropriate to have confidence that He WILL do it.
- Doubt is wavering between two options without committing to one or the other. To doubt when it comes to faith is to waver in whether I believe in God or not.
- The one who doubts is like the waves driven and tossed by the wind. He is not like a tree that stands its ground when the wind blows.
- Being double-minded is being hypocritical; what we say we believe is not really what we believe.
- The person who asks of God and then also has his plan B to take matters into his own hands, that person will not receive anything.
- You either trust God or you don’t.
- Honest doubt which is confusion or fear is okay. But doubt that is hostility to God is a problem.
James is not saying:
- James is not promising ask God which job you should take but ask without doubt because otherwise he won’t tell you anything.
- Neither is James teaching that the reason hardship continues is because you haven’t yet found the right way to ask God, that is you haven’t yet asked with a 100% doubt-free faith.
James is saying:
- God puts trials and hardships in your life to grow your weak immature faith into everything it was meant to be.
- If you look at your life see immature faith that lacks wisdom, James says, you should call out to God, who is generous and capable and will do what He promises.
- God will accept the most immature and foolish person who humbly asks for mercy.
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