FAITH ON DISPLAY IN HARD TIMES
Throughout Christian history the church has viewed James the younger brother of Jesus as the author of this letter. James was a man so devoted to prayer the early church nicknamed him “camel knees” because his prayer posture toughened his knees. James also was an early martyr who died in A.D. 62 by stoning instigated by the Jewish high priest. Thus, both Jesus and his younger brother were killed at the instigation of a Jewish high priest. James wrote his letter around A.D. 50 to Jewish Christians living outside Jerusalem who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire.
Trials can strengthen our faith. (1–4)
Christians are not promised the absence of trials in life. James taught Christians to expect trials.
Christians may experience various types of trials, such as economic, health and job-related problems or persecution.
James challenged Christians to respond to life’s trials with joy rather than with pity or a non-Christlike response. He did not claim trials are joyful; rather, James encouraged Christians undergoing trials to rejoice because of the positive results trials may produce. As one preacher said, “Bumps are what we grow on.”
Trials require the wisdom of God. (5–8)
Our natural response when we experience trials may be, “Woe is me.” James challenged Christians experiencing trials to pray rather than have a pity party. James’ language in the phrase “if any of you lacks wisdom” suggests it is true we lack wisdom. God doesn’t promise to remove the trial, but James states God will give wisdom liberally and without criticism to individuals who ask. Wisdom may not answer the question of “why the trial,” but wisdom may grant insight into the correct response.
Trials can help us keep the right perspective. (9–12)
James warned about the proper perspective on wealth or lack of wealth. The focus on wealth may indicate his readers were experiencing economic persecution.
James inverted the way in which we often evaluate people. We tend to exalt the rich and keep the lowly humble.
James encouraged the poor to rejoice in their lowly status because God has exalted them with spiritual riches. James challenged the rich to rejoice in their humiliation because wealth may fade away or perish like grass, flowers and beauty.
James 1:12 promises blessings to believers undergoing trials. James communicates two precious promises of consolation to these Christians. The term “blessed” has the connotation of “fortunate” in the sense of a person receiving God’s favor. While trials in this life may seem to suggest a person is not favored in life, the process of enduring trials by faith results in the favor of God. To the Christian victorious in trials, God grants the reward of a crown of victory. A believer receiving a crown is the equivalent of the biblical phrase in Matthew 25:21 — “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
The victor over the trials of life receives a crown consisting of spiritual life rather than mere precious stones.
By Mark Rathel
Professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida