We are beginning a new 10-week journey through the Book of James. While there were several leaders in the early church with the name James, scholars believe this book was written by James, the brother of Jesus, between 45-50 A.D. James didn’t grow up believing his half-brother was the Son of God. In fact, many scholars believe that James did not believe Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrected Jesus appeared to him personally (1 Cor. 15:7). However, once James encountered his resurrected Savior, his life was radically changed, and he became one of the key leaders of the early church, leading the church in Jerusalem until he was martyred in Jerusalem in 62 A.D.
Some have accused James’ letter of being contradictory to Paul’s letters, which emphasize salvation by grace alone, but such is not the case. James and Paul were writing to the same audiences, but they were writing with different emphases. While Paul was focused on the Christian’s standing before God, James was focused on that same Christian’s witness in the world. That’s why the great 20th Century evangelist D. L. Moody referred to this book as “shoe leather Christianity.” James was keenly interested in how our justification by faith should impact our day-to-day lives.
For James, the first practical implication of our salvation should be a changed perspective on difficulties in life. Christians throughout the Roman Empire were facing ever-increasing persecution. James wanted them to understand that these difficulties were a part of living in a broken world and that joy was still possible for Christians in the face of such trials. James brought assurance to these believers by emphasizing 2 key truths:
- There is purpose in the midst of our pain. While God doesn’t cause our pain, in His sovereignty He does redeem it. In sharp contrast to the meaninglessness espoused by the world, James assures us that the difficulties of life have purpose and are being used by God to grow and mature us. For example, James reminds the poor that the difficulties of poverty should focus them on their riches in Christ and their reliance on Him. In contrast, the difficulties faced by the wealthy should remind them that riches are fleeting, and their trust should be in the Lord. This admonition from James calls to mind the stories of great heroes of the faith like Joseph, David, and Paul, all of whom were shaped by God for great things through difficulties in life.
- We can rest in the goodness of God. Starting in verse 12, James draws a very important distinction between trials and temptations. God uses trials to bring out the best in us, while Satan sends temptations to bring out the worst in us. When life is hard, we can rest in the fact that our unchanging and unwavering God has nothing but good intentions for us. He has gifts for us that are good and perfect. In fact, to the extent there’s anything good that we have, those good things are the direct result of God’s love and care for us. Because God is good, He does allow us to face difficulties in our lives, for He knows that such trials will help us grow and mature. Just as earthly parents want to see their children grow and experience all life has to offer, so our Heavenly Father wants us to grow so we might fully experience the depth of His love for us.
- What are some of the difficulties you might be facing? Have you been able to discern how God might be using those situations to grow you?
- Consider the difference between trials and temptations. How do you determine whether something is a trial or a temptation?
- Think through some of the stories of the Old and New Testaments. How many of those great heroes of the faith faced trials? How did God use those trials to shape and grow them?