Monday, September 26, 2011

James 1:1-4

1 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings.
2 Consider it all joy, me brethren, when you encounter various trials,
3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
4 And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The first thing I like to establish before beginning studying a book is the “from who, to whom” question.  We know it was written by some guy named James…and that’s all we know for sure.  Two of the twelve disciples were named James (the son of Zebedee and the son of Alphaeus), and one of Jesus’s brothers, who later became a major leader in the church, was also named James.  While it was most likely one of these three, the classical opinion is that James the brother of Jesus is the author, simply because the book is known as one of the “most Jewish” of the New Testament books, and James had strong connections with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.  That brings us to the “to whom”: while James is known as a “general epistle,” meaning that it was written to lots of people rather than to one church in a specific city, the very Old Testament feel (specifically pertaining to its similarities to the wisdom books such as Proverbs) hints that it may have been targeted primarily toward Jewish Christians.

It is important to note that while James jumps right into the topic of temptation in verse two, that is not the main theme of the book.  James covers a multitude of topics, from treating each other well, to taming your tongue, to wealth.  Additionally, James is a wonderful book to study immediately following Galatians, as we are doing, as James argues the other side of the faith versus works paradox.

Now, let’s look at verses 2-4.  At first glance, it seems odd that God is telling us to “consider it a joy” when we face trials and temptations…I mean, in the Lord’s Prayer, aren’t we supposed to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13)?  The answer is a definite yes…but at the same time, we know that if God is allowing the trials and temptations into our lives, He must have some purpose for it.  Here are three reasons I came up with:

1)      All the little trials and temptations you face now are building your spiritual muscle for when you’ll have to face something much bigger in the future.  Consider trying to climb a mountain – if you’d never hiked at all before, the experience would leave you sore for a week and the climb itself would be agonizing.  But if you took a few trips to trek around the base of the mountain and hike up some hills beforehand, you’d put up with a little soreness at the time, but the soreness you experience when you climb the mountain will be greatly lessened.  The same is true in the spiritual realm.  Let’s say a guy is struggling to avert his eyes from some scantily clad women at his college, and is frustrated with how much temptation is in his path.  But years later, when God leads him to plant a church in Las Vegas, he realizes that because of that temptation years ago, he is now able to resist it and focus on his ministry work.  Or let’s say a woman gets mad at God for allowing her best friend who is a missionary to get arrested in North Korea.  But by working through her emotions at that time and coming to terms with the concept that God is in control, she is able to better cope and to help others cope when a shooter bursts into her church and mows down a number of her spiritual brothers and sisters.

2)      The word “endurance,” hupomone in Greek (the original language of the New Testament), can also be translated as patience.  So, this experience can not only build endurance pertaining specifically to these trials, but also patience in general – making us far more Christ-like.

3)      The thing about trials is, if Satan is exerting all that energy to try and discourage you or trip you up – it must mean you’re doing or getting ready to do something really right.  I’ve noticed that myself – the more I study the Word, or make changes to my life, or step out in faith, the more spiritual opposition I get.  So, encountering that kind of opposition shows that you’re on the right path!  God is able to turn the devil’s discouragement into an encouragement.

As always, I’ll post a couple of discussion starters below, but please feel free to comment on anything else in the passage or in my post that’s outside of the questions.  I want this to be a dialogue, not a monologue! :-)
1 – Why do you think God sometimes doesn’t tell us who exactly wrote certain books of the Bible?
2 – What experiences/thoughts do you have regarding viewing trials and temptations as a “joy”?

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