When I was a non-Christian college student, the loving acceptance of Christian students in an InterVarsity chapter helped me to begin a serious investigation into the Christian faith. I was asking questions and discussing issues: Does God exist? How could a good and holy God allow evil? Is the Bible a reliable historical record? Are the claims of Christ true? How can I know? I was reading every book I could find on such questions. One of my non-Christian friends, whom I liked very much and whose esteem I valued, offered this commentary on my search for God: "I admire your open-mindedness." His comment made me glad.
Eventually God in his grace brought me to some answers. I accepted Christ as my Savior and gave my life to him as my Lord. Since discussions of religious issues had become a part of my relationship with my non-Christian friends, it was not long before some of my remarks exposed my new stance of belief. The friend who had admired my open-mindedness confronted me with a stare and then a question: "Are you starting to believe that Christianity?"
I testified that I had become a believer, but I was naively unprepared for his disgusted response: "I'm sorry you have become so narrow-minded."
I was perceived to have changed from "open-minded" to "narrow-minded" because I believed my investigation had yielded some answers! That was my first experience with being rejected for my faith in Christ. It was a small matter compared to the persecution many Christians have suffered. But it illustrates the promptness of the separation which comes between Christian and non-Christian, manifesting itself in diverse magnitudes of rejection.
It illustrates as well the primary focus of "trials" in James's epistle. It is not that Christians are the only ones who have ever been persecuted. Nor is the letter intended to give comfort to Christians who suffer as a consequence of their own sin. For example, people who suffer conflicts with other people because of their own malicious talk are not told to consider it pure joy; James tells them to control their tongues. When he writes about "trials," he means hardships and sufferings that Christians encounter even as they are following the Lord. This would include tragedies unrelated to their public stance as Christians, such as young Jim's death in the automobile accident. James will explicitly include poverty as one of the trials of many kinds. But he most particularly has in mind the trials of being persecuted, the trials that come as a consequence of one's faith in Christ.
You who follow Christ have experienced this: your painful surprise at realizing you are misunderstood, criticized or held at a distance by people to whom you had hoped to draw near. You must understand this separation that divides you from non-Christians so that you can be prepared to consider it pure joy when you encounter the rejection.
The course of the separation was traced by Jesus in the Beatitudes. It begins so promptly after your conversion because it is rooted in the very starting point of faith--your honest acceptance of your spiritual need as one who is "poor in spirit." That starting point sets you on a path that diverges more and more radically from the path of those who continue to rely on their own sufficiency. The difference between you and ones who do not seek after God widens when you "mourn" over your sin, for this seems mentally and emotionally unhealthy to them.
Your repentance for sin makes you "meek," but this humility is foolishness to people who are driving to get ahead by their self-sufficiency. For you, the outgrowth is that you begin to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" to replace your sin, but this hunger is not shared or welcomed by many others. This direction for your life, traced in the Beatitudes, brings you increasingly into conflict with people who are on a different course, because your course entails a thorough reversal of your values.
Jesus lovingly warned you to be prepared for it: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven" (Mt 5:11-12). James now, with his mind saturated with these teachings of Jesus, will tell his readers about the rejoicing and about the reward.
James picks up the root idea of joy from his "greetings" (chairein) and makes it emphatic with his phrase pasan charan--"all joy" (RSV) or "pure joy" (NIV)--as if to say, "Yes, I really meant joy." "Happiness" would be a weak term to use in place of joy; moreover, it would be misleading. The translation "be happy" (LB) is only slightly improved as "supremely happy" (NEB) or as "a happy privilege" (JB). "Fortunate" (TEV) avoids the misleading impression that one should expect to feel happy in the midst of the trial. But James's phrase pasan charan is better translated "all joy" (RSV) or "pure joy" (NIV). Happiness is a subjective state, whereas James is instructing us to make a more objective judgment when he says consider it pure joy. "Happiness" might encourage readers to expect a carefree life or a constantly cheerful mood. Neither of these is what James has in mind. He acknowledges the presence of extremely unhappy experiences in his readers' lives. At the same time, and with no perception of any contradiction, James counsels these readers to rejoice during those very experiences of hardship.
My friend Jim, having lost son and job and income, had not had a happy year. Though he was sincere in expressing his new stance in Christ with the term "happy," it would have been more accurate to say "joyful." This joy is what we must grasp if we are going to teach the redemptive message of James accurately. James now goes on to explain why his readers may rejoice, and in his explanation we will discover the content of biblical joy.
To view our lives biblically (which is to view our lives accurately), we must perceive the spiritual realities. Circumstances and events are only the surface; James tells his readers to look for the deeper meaning. This is especially important in facing the trials of many kinds. James wants his readers to see a progression of events in the following pattern.
TRIAL => TESTING => PERSEVERANCE => MATURITY
1. The trials. The term peirasmos can refer to internal temptations, but here James probably has in mind the other primary meaning for the word: the external trials of adversity which his readers are experiencing. With this meaning, the term is used especially to refer to trials of persecution, as in 1 Peter 4:12.
Do not think that joy is appropriate only within a narrow range of circumstances. James calls them trials of many kinds to encompass the range of his readers' hardships. Shall we consider it joy when we receive unjust treatment? Is there any realistic reason for joy when I am seriously ill? In the midst of a financial crisis, or even a life of poverty without hope of improvement, does James mean for people to rejoice? If pressures in my job weigh upon me day after day, is this trial as well to be considered a time for joy? Or the huge sorrow of a family burden, perhaps a bleak marriage or a child in trouble--is even this trial included? Some of these examples will be specifically mentioned by James; all of them and more are indeed the circumstances in which to perceive the spiritual realities that give reason for pure joy.
Do not be robbed of your joy by supposing that your trial is not a suitable context for applying this passage. Instead, look for the spiritual dynamics of trials. In particular, look for the testing in the trial.
2. The testing. The trial is to become a testing (dokimion). This term in adjective form means "genuine" or "without alloy"; so the noun refers to a "test to prove genuine." The object of this testing is specifically the Christian's faith. But the biblical concept of a testing goes beyond what we have come to expect from our school experiences. Most of our school tests are designed primarily to reveal what knowledge the students already have in them. The biblical concept of a testing, as James uses it here, is one that does reveal the genuineness of the person's faith; but James says the test is also designed to develop something that is not yet present in full measure in the person.
This is why, for the one who wants to live by faith, the trial can be a time for rejoicing. How many people today suffer in trials of many kinds, thinking that the issue is whether they have the faith to pass the test? The spiritual reality is that God will use the trial to develop something that they admittedly do not yet possess. James says, "Rejoice in that prospect!"
3. The perseverance. What specific quality of faith will be developed through the trial that becomes a testing? James's answer is perseverance. This means, first, that God will give the ability to endure patiently. The Christian with this quality of faith does not give up trusting and praying even when the need continues for a long time. Second, the term carries the idea of discipline. The Christian with this quality of faith continues in a disciplined obedience to Christ as Lord even when it requires "a long obedience in the same direction" (Peterson 1980). Third, the term means steadfast faithfulness. The Christian with this quality of faith is not a part-time servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Making the same point, in fact using the same terms, Paul wrote, "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance" (Rom 5:3).
That the testing develops, or "produces," perseverance is emphatic. It may be compared to 1:20, where human anger does not "bring about" the righteous life that God desires. The root verb ergazomai is the same in 1:3 and 1:20, but in 1:3 it carries the prefix kata, making it emphatic with the image of producing or creating. Human anger will not bring about righteousness, but the testing of genuine faith will certainly produce perseverance.
James's earnestness needs to be heard, with the very direct questions this raises. Don't you desire this quality of faith in yourself? Isn't it the desire of your heart to learn to live by faith and to be "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" in a patient, disciplined, steadfast, faithful way? Now you have the reason to rejoice in the midst of trials! These trials provide the opportunity for the testing that will develop this quality of faith. To stop trusting and start worrying, to cease ministering and start withdrawing, to interrupt godliness and start selfishness, just because of one's anxiety over the current trials, would be precisely the wrong course to take. The spiritual realities call for joy in the opportunity to learn perseverance.
4. The maturity. Why would perseverance be so valuable? It is because there is a fourth stage in the spiritual progression: "that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." Perseverance turns out to be not the end in itself, but rather the lifestyle by which the servant of Jesus Christ attains maturity.
The terms James uses in this last clause of 1:4 give a picture of wholeness and completeness. Moo's good paraphrase of James's term teleios is "perfection and wholeness of Christian character" (1985:61). Laws describes it as being "a complete person, having integrity, unlike the divided man of vv. 6-8" (1980:54). In other words, James is holding before his readers a vision for becoming everything the Lord desires them to become.
James invites you to envision yourself in the state of spiritual maturity, rid of the jealousy or laziness or impulsiveness or impatience or bitterness or self-pity or selfishness that now mars the wholeness of your fellowship with God and the completeness of your spirituality. Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? Do you long to be fully the person God desires you to be? If so, then you now have the full reason for considering it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds. The trials can be opportunities for testing to develop in you the perseverance which, when it finishes its work, will leave you mature in Christ! For those who have set their hearts on becoming Christlike, this is wonderful reason for pure joy.
In the light of this spiritual goal we can now return to the beginning of 1:2 and have an idea of what James means by consider it pure joy. Contrast it to some unworthy substitutes:
1. Denial. It is clear from James's own recognition of the suffering that he is not prescribing a mind-game to keep oneself feeling happy by denying the reality of the trials.
2. Complaint. Praying for deliverance from a trial is appropriate, but doing so with a complaining spirit is far from what James envisions for the Christian. The goal of becoming complete is too valuable to be approached with grumbling.
3. Self-pity. Continuing in obedience to the Lord's commands would certainly be part of perseverance, but doing so in self-pity is not worthy of the goal James has in mind. Obeying while thinking "Poor me!" is different from obeying with pure joy.
James's vision for spiritual victory may be faced clearly and courageously. He honestly believes that in the very midst of painful trials in the Christian's life, there is definite basis for joy. If one's goal is to become mature in Christ, and if that is a goal far higher and more valuable than merely avoiding hardships, then indeed consider it joy when you meet the trials by which you attain that treasured goal. We are called to joy!
James is at this point entirely consistent with the rest of the New Testament. Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure so valuable that a man would rightfully sell everything else to obtain it, and that the man would do so "in his joy" (Mt 13:44). Paul announced that we "rejoice in our sufferings" because "suffering produces perseverance" (Rom 5:3). Peter understood the Christian experience of rejoicing even in the midst of "all kinds of trials" (1 Pet 1:6).
Two examples come to mind for James, by which to illustrate the spiritual dynamics of trials. First, what if you lack wisdom? This is an important example to James, for he will return to the theme of wisdom in 3:13-18. It is also fitting as a first example, because it is of such urgent importance for Christians in trials. Isn't this the cry in the heart of ones who are suffering? "I don't know what to do!" 2 Chronicles 20:12 in its context illustrates well this cry for wisdom from people facing trials. James's pastoral concern takes him directly to this pressing need in his readers' lives.
It is worth taking time to identify with that need ourselves, so that we catch the significance of James's answer, for we experience the same disabling effects that James's original readers must have been experiencing.
1. Guilt. I remember an agonizing time of division in our church. I struggled with self-blame. "If only I had said this . . . or done that . . . or acted differently." I kept wondering what to do. I needed wisdom desperately.
2. Confusion. Suffering easily pushes us into the confusion of self-doubt, in which we question our actions, motives and capabilities. Such self-doubt can be devastating, for example, for parents who lose a child in a tragedy or find their child alienated in rebellion. "Why did this happen to me? Where did I go wrong? Is God punishing me? Does God love me?" We don't know what to do in the midst of that intense internal questioning, and our need for wisdom is urgent.
3. Fear. Suffering awakens the fear that things are out of control and that whatever we hold dear might be lost. As a result, people commonly withdraw to protect what they still have. This is, in part, why a wife or child may keep submitting to an abusive home situation; there is the fear that the abuse will get worse. "Maybe, if I submit, my abuser will stop." In the midst of a trial, the fear can be absolutely crippling, so that you do not know what to do. You need wisdom.
4. Anger. Trials can produce a great deal of anger, but intense anger often receives insufficient satisfaction. Yet the intensity of anger cannot be sustained. When the anger subsides without being resolved, it is replaced by hopelessness. That is why counselors often regard depression as the other side of anger. The result is a loss of motivation and, again, an inability to know what to do. If you are angry or depressed because of trials, you need wisdom to get your life going again as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
James is concerned to address one central need from which the other needs in these complex situations can be unraveled. In the face of such trials, what shall the "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" do? He should ask God for the wisdom that is lacking. This is not to dismiss the problems with a simplistic solution, but it is to face the problems with the root solution. Again the Sermon on the Mount appears as a possible basis for James's message: "Ask and it will be given to you" (Mt 7:7).
Stop and take note of what James prescribes here; it is foundational for an accurate grasp of the whole letter. For those who would portray James as simply a teacher of law, it is important to see this: by instructing his readers to ask for wisdom, James is pointing them to God's grace. This is one example of what underlies the whole epistle--James's confidence in the grace of God and his intense desire for his readers to place their own reliance there. Overlooking this, and taking 2:14-26 out of this context, some have failed to teach James redemptively.
James then leads his readers into God's grace by calling attention to four facets. As they come in the Greek word order, first God is one who "is giving." The word is didontos, a present active participle; it is God's constant nature to be gracious and giving. Second, God gives to all (pasin). The call to live by faith is extended to everyone, and no one is left without an invitation to trust in God. Third, God gives generously (haplos), emphasizing that God gives freely and without reserve. Fourth, God gives without finding fault, or without reproaching.
You may ask God for the wisdom you need without fear, for God gives without holding your failures or lack of wisdom against you. This is the assurance with which the Christian approaches God, that God is not a harsh Father who responds to our needs by reminding us of our faults. Christ has made atonement for our sin; we receive justification by responding with faith, not by trying with good deeds to become righteous enough to deserve God's favor. This salvation by grace, the very heart of the gospel of Christ, will certainly not be contradicted by God when we come to him for wisdom. God responds to his own people with grace--his undivided, unwavering intent always to give good gifts.
Believe this love from God, James continues in 1:6, and do not doubt it, for the doubt is instability. There are certain distortions of this teaching common today which should be recognized. The first distortion occurs within what is popularly known as the "name it and claim it" philosophy, when Christians are taught that they should name whatever they need in faith and so claim it as given to them. The dangers are the misplacing of faith and the raising of unbiblical expectations. Christians are sometimes led, in effect, to place their faith in the force of their own believing, and then to expect freedom from hardship or deprivation. What James is prescribing is something quite different: faith in the grace of God, which enables faith to be exercised even within hardship and deprivation.
A further distortion of the biblical teaching occurs when Christians treat James's warning against doubt (and the similar teaching by Jesus in Mt 21:21) superficially, taking it to require a willful suppression of mental doubts. This can become an unrecognized attempt to manipulate God by one's own power of positive thinking. The error has left many in bondage to fear, afraid of their own thoughts and afraid of the God who might hold their doubts against them and therefore not grant the wisdom needed. The result is a crippling of people's faith and a perversion of the very truth James is teaching: that God gives freely, without finding fault.
James certainly does place doubt in immediate contrast to believe (or, literally, in contrast to the noun faith) in 1:6. But James is writing about something much deeper than surface thoughts. The actual point of his warning about doubt is to expose a basic soul-condition of unbelief. That basic soul-condition is described with the term double-minded in 1:8. It means a double-souled person, a person whose heart's loyalties are divided, a person who has not decided to give his or her love to God. The doubt then is a vacillation between self-reliance and God-reliance. This person is not looking to God from a stance of faith, and for this person there is no promise that God will give wisdom. The instability of this vacillating person is captured in the vivid imagery of the unstable sea wave, and this image stands in contrast to the perseverance in 1:3 (cf. Is 57:20). The testing of faith develops perseverance, but doubt (as a root unbelief) makes a person unstable.
Now we can summarize James's use of the first illustration. If you encounter a trial and lack wisdom to know what to do, stand the test of faith by asking God for the wisdom you need. As you ask God for wisdom, do not be unbelieving toward God or frightened about your lack of wisdom. Instead, trust God to give wisdom generously. He will do so. Therefore consider it pure joy that you face the trial, for that very trial will be used by God to develop your perseverance toward maturity.
James's second illustration introduces another major theme to be developed later in the epistle: one's relationship with material wealth. There are indications in the New Testament that humble circumstances were a common trial among Christians. In the first place, the explicit appeal to the poor in Christ's preaching likely attracted numerous poor people among the earliest converts (Lk 4:18). In addition, some Christians became poor because of deliberate persecution against them. Some may have been living in a self-imposed poverty for ethical reasons, as they refused to participate in corrupt economic enterprises. We have examples in Acts 16:19 and 19:23-29 of the gospel's economic effects, forcing a separation of Christians from immoral financial pursuits and resulting in a backlash of persecution. Christians suffered economically for their faith.
James evidently understood this trial to be a common circumstance among his readers. If this is a deliberate point of application by James, and not just another topic in a loose train of thought, then the spiritual dynamics of trials should be evident in this illustration. Exposition should bring out how this trial would become a testing to develop perseverance toward maturity.
To understand this, it is valuable first to consider how, even today, money is the context for some of our most common and spiritually significant trials. Because of money we are beset with fears--troubling anxieties about how financial needs will be met. Because of money we are attacked with a sense of guilt and failure. We struggle to make ends meet, and we feel internal accusations about inability to manage finances and about mistakes we must have made in financial choices. Because of money we fall into crippling self-pity, chronic complaining and envy of others who can buy and do things which we lack. These can produce a terrible bitterness of spirit that makes a desert of our personal fellowship with God. Because of money we become trapped in attitudes of greed, practices of injustice and a lifestyle of materialism. No wonder Scripture says that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil!
Look still more deeply into the matter. Why does money evoke such destructive reactions in us? Don't we fall into these reactions especially because of the particular functions money plays in our lives? First, money functions as verification of personal worth. When we are conscious of lacking wealth (which is relative--lacking in comparison to anyone who has more, or in comparison to anything we cannot afford), the implication is that we are worth less than others and that we are less worthy for God to bless. On the other hand, if we are conscious of having wealth (again, relative to anyone else or relative to anything we want), the prideful comparisons come easily to us. The implication is that we are more successful because we are worth more. Second, money functions as security. That is why a loss of job or a financial setback is so frightening. It is also why some choices can be so attractive when they are financially helpful even though they will harm our well-being. A friend admitted to me that he hates going to work because of the evil atmosphere there, but that he took the job because of the financial security it offered. Third, money functions as power or advantage over other people. It gives power for people to perform injustices against others; when we lack wealth compared to others, we feel our vulnerability.
The effect of these dynamics is to focus our lives on the pursuit of money. Financial gain becomes the increasingly decisive factor in our attention, choices and lifestyle. It becomes urgent to recognize, therefore, that these three functions of money are worldly functions--violations of the ways of Christ's kingdom. Jesus called his followers to choose between treasures on earth and treasures in heaven, for he said, "You cannot serve both God and Money" (Mt 6:19-24). He warned that material wealth is dangerous to spiritual health; in fact, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Mt 19:24). James's purpose here is to encourage Christians in material hardship not to become caught in the pursuit of wealth. What he has to say will be in radical opposition to the three worldly functions of money.
1. Against the notion that money means personal worth. First, James addresses 1:9 specifically to the brother as a reminder that the Christian reader is already specially accepted and loved. Second, the brother is reminded of a high position that has nothing to do with amount of money. (Nor does the low position have anything to do with the rich person's level of wealth.) Third, the brother is to take pride (NIV) or to "glory" (NASB) in that high position. Therefore, whatever is worth such glorying must also have nothing to do with money. Fourth, the high position is assumed as a fact, not proposed as a conditional possibility. It must refer to a high position that occurs by virtue of being a brother: being one for whom Christ died and being claimed by God as his own. Contrary to the claim that our humble circumstances mean inferior worth, it turns out that we are declared worthy of extravagant blessing by God! We can tell ourselves now with certainty that our money does not determine our personal worth and that the first worldly function of money is a lie.
The trial of financial hardship presents the opportunity for a testing, or an exercising, of faith. Christians will engage in the testing by exulting in what they believe: the more important reality of their high position with God. This very act is a rejection of the culture's materialistic values and therefore a growth toward maturity. It will lead the Christian to renounce any anxious outlook about the future, any self-accusing attitude in financial struggles, and any complaining or jealous view toward others' comparative wealth. Instead of adopting anxiety, guilt, complaint or jealousy, the Christian will consider it pure joy . . . because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance . . . so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Further, this proper pride in their high position means that Christians' treatment of others will no longer be affected by others' wealth. Christians will repent of favoritism, an application that James will explore in 2:1-13. Thus the test of living in humble circumstances will develop perseverance to continue a life of faith, manifest in both outlook and behavior.
2. Against the notion that money means security. James reminds his readers that the rich will fade away as easily and certainly as a wild flower. The one who is rich is not called a "brother," for James is not addressing rich Christians. My appendix on the identity of the rich will provide a larger treatment of the conclusion that the rich man is a non-Christian. For now it may be noted that this exegetical decision will affect interpretation of James's other references to the rich in chapters 2 and 5. Most scholars (Adamson, Mayor, Moo and Ropes, among others) have treated plousios (rich) as governed by adelphos (brother) from 1:9 and therefore as referring to a Christian brother who is rich. At first glance, this does seem to be the most natural reading of the syntax, with the verb kauchaomai from 1:9 also understood in 1:10. In that case, James would be telling the rich brother to take pride in his humiliation in Christ. A major problem with this view is James's complete silence about meaning humiliation "in Christ." James was familiar with Jeremiah 9:24, and he could have elaborated on kauchaomai as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 1:31. Instead, his elaboration dwells entirely on the destruction of the rich person. The extent to which James emphasizes this in 1:10-11 indicates that he is speaking of rich people who will likely continue in their materialism only to find themselves brought low in the end. In general, though, he understands his Christian readers to be poor people suffering in the trial of deprivation. This fits perfectly with the line of thought already traced from 1:2, as encouragement for the poor to consider their trial pure joy because they know their perseverance in faith will leave them not lacking anything, whereas the path of materialism will lead to destruction. The syntax easily allows for this understanding, with plousios and adelphos standing as contrasting subjects of the one verb kauchaomai.
The later passages in James 2 and 5 confirm this view. For example, 5:1-6 will thoroughly condemn rich people, without acknowledging any saving faith in them or hope for them. Though that passage is written in the second person, it makes sense as a rhetorical addressing of persons not actually receiving the letter, written for the benefit of the ones who are reading it. The actual readers will then be addressed in 5:7, "Be patient, then, brothers . . ." Laws (1980:62-64) and Davids (1982:76-77) should be read as examples of this view that the one who is rich in 1:10 is a non-Christian.
Therefore James is encouraging Christians in humble circumstances not to be deceived by the apparent security of the rich. Three factors would especially encourage them in this regard. First, the rich person has only a low position to look forward to; his wealth cannot shield him from being humbled. Second, the rich person will pass away like a wild flower. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount would have been known to the believers; James's own familiarity with the Sermon is certainly evident in his letter. Jesus used similar imagery to illustrate the care with which the Father clothes his own children, who are of greater value than the wild flowers which are tomorrow "thrown into the fire" (Mt 6:25-34). James's imagery is a reminder of this promise of God's providence. Third, the rich person will pass away even while he goes about his business. This not only parallels Jesus' own emphasis in the parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:20), it also emphasizes the vulnerability of the rich at the very time they are trying to make their wealth secure. Again we can now speak with certainty: the second worldly function of money is a lie; money does not mean security.
This is a huge and liberating truth for Christians who are pressed on all sides by a materialistic society. Armed with this truth, Christians who want seriously to uproot the sin of materialism from their hearts can embark on deliberate disciplines to confront money's lie about security. Two such disciplines will be emphasized by James later in his letter. One is giving. The Christian who has repudiated money as security will be free to give to others in need, as James will require in 2:14-17. John Wesley was conscious of the value of giving for his own spiritual health when he said, "When I have any money I get rid of it as quickly as possible, lest it find a way into my heart." Though he later formulated his more comprehensive dictum "Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can," Wesley's earlier sentiment was at least founded on an honest insight that material wealth had power to put down deep roots into his heart with a false security. The other discipline is prayer, especially with thanksgiving. The Christian who has repudiated money as security will be free to refrain from grumbling and instead look patiently to God in prayer for all needs, as James will teach in 5:7-18. Together the disciplines of generous giving and thankful prayer can help today's church stand against the lie that money is security.
3. Against the notion that money means power or advantage. James now directs our attention to what is the real advantage or blessedness in life: the crown of life. James does not define this phrase, but some careful observations can lead us to a safe idea of its meaning. It is not something complete at the point one becomes a Christian. Rather, it is something the Christian will receive. It is a "crown" stephanos, which is a term used among the leaders of the New Testament church to refer to the Christians' ultimate goal or reward. (Cf. Paul in 1 Cor 9:25, Peter in 1 Pet 5:4 and John in Rev 2:10.) We know that one ultimate goal on James's mind is that of becoming mature and complete, not lacking anything. The crown must include fulfillment of that goal of true life. This crown is assured; it is promised to them. James wants his readers to be certain of this as they endure deprivation now. The crown is promised specifically to those who love him. (The NIV appropriately derives from the pronoun him that God is the one who has promised.) We know that this idea of loving God carried a strong emphasis on faithfully obeying him (as Jesus said in John 14:15, and as James is teaching all through his epistle). Finally, James has begun the sentence with "blessed" makarios, like a new beatitude recalling Matthew 5:3-10 and especially 5:11-12, where Jesus encouraged perseverance in trials "because great is your reward in heaven." Putting these observations together, the crown of life would be the ultimate reward, the fulfillment of eternal life and the exaltation with Christ which will be enjoyed by those who, because of faith in Christ, have loved God enough to live faithfully, obeying him even through trials.
James calls us to believe this: the crown of eternal life is worth more than any advantage to be gained by money in this life. Truly blessed is the one whose heart is set on this goal. We can now say with final conviction that the worldly functions of money are all evil lies. It remains for the church in every age to put this into practice by renouncing all worldly uses of money. We must not settle for the comparatively worthless goal of merely avoiding trials in a life of wealth and ease and comfort. We must repent of all use of wealth for unjust power over others. And we have to make deliberate economic choices according to what is morally right rather than what is financially advantageous. James will say more about this in 4:13--5:6. I have seen an example, however, in a young business executive in our congregation who was on a track to climb up the corporate and economic ladder. His job required him to be away from home so much that he was not able to see his children. He therefore made a choice of values; he changed jobs. The change hurt him financially, but it gave him the opportunity to be present with his children as they grow up.
The return to the original pair of themes (trial and test) makes 1:12 not only a conclusion to the example of lacking wealth but also a summary principle, drawing together the major elements James has been presenting since 1:2. Though I see these as unifying themes in 1:2-12, teachers should examine in their own study the issue of the unity of James's writing. Adamson is one who finds a "sustained unity" in the thought and structure of the entire letter (1976:20). Laws, representing a contrasting view, sees 1:2-12 as "a loose train of thought" (1980:62). As a result, she sees 1:9-11 as introducing a new theme rather than illustrating a continuing theme as I have presented it. She understands James to offer in 1:4 the "achieving of personal integrity" as "apparently an end in itself" (1980:52). She regards 1:12, then, as introducing a new motivation for enduring trials--a future reward instead of a present perfecting of character. I would agree that James envisions a future reward as well as a present perfecting. In my view, however, Laws's handling of the passage as only loosely related thoughts may lead the reader to miss one of the strongest motivations for perseverance in New Testament thinking: the continuity between present perfecting of character and future reward. The New Testament idea is that present growth in holiness culminates in a future sharing of glory with Christ. The teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount again provide the basis (Mt 5:48; 7:15-23). Peter lends parallel explanation of the early Christian leaders' teaching (1 Pet 1:7, 13, 15; 4:13-14; 5:1, 10). And John points to the same reward for Christians in persecution--the crown of life (Rev 2:10). This ultimate sharing of glory with Christ is the vision high enough with which to call people to joy in the midst of terrible trials.
Recall the complete picture now, reviewed in this one verse phrase by phrase.
1. Blessed is the man: This is the reason for the pure joy in 1:2. Believe that you are blessed, truly blessed in reality, in spite of any suffering or trial.
2. who perseveres: James repeats the theme of perseverance in 1:3-4. You are blessed if you continue trusting and obeying as "a servant of God" in spite of trials.
3. under trial: This includes the trials of many kinds recognized in 1:2 and illustrated in 1:5-11.
4. because when he has stood the test: The phrase is hoti dokimos genomenos ("when he has become approved as by a test"). This recalls the use of the noun dokimion in 1:3--the testing of your faith. The diverse trials will make various demands on you, but do not be frightened or deceived. Trust the loving and sovereign God to use the trials as faith-growing tests for you.
5. he will receive the crown of life: Later the Lord would affirm to the church in Smyrna, "I know your afflictions and your poverty," but this would not be his entire message to them. He would also encourage that persecuted church by adding, "Yet you are rich!" In what way could they possibly be called "rich" while knowing poverty, slander, imprisonment and other persecution "even to the point of death"? The Lord's answer would be his promise, "I will give you the crown of life." That promise of the Lord in Revelation 2:9-10 is the kind of encouragement James gives the suffering Christian here, promising with the same phrase that God will give the crown of life.
6. that God has promised to those who love him: The crown of life is not a reward you are gambling for when you choose to persevere in faith. This is no wheel of fortune, in which you will have to wait until later to find out whether perseverance turns out to have been the right way of life. The crown of life is assured by God himself.
James the Just, with his deep moral earnestness, wants to help suffering Christians find the strength to make tough moral choices. He therefore calls us to face the issue of worth. Persevering is worth doing, because the crown of life is worth more than avoiding the trial. James calls for courageous applications of this principle. Giving up on a difficult ministry, retaliating against people who are mistreating you, withdrawing from active participation in worship and fellowship, compromising moral standards, interrupting your life of obedience, turning away from a walk of fellowship with the Lord--all these responses to adversity assume that escaping the trial is of more value than gaining the crown of life. The Christian is called to place greater value on the goal of becoming mature and complete in Christ. With such applications, the Christian life is taken out of the realm of sentimentality and placed in the realm of significant moral choice.
When a Christian's spouse is unfaithful and abandons the marriage, is Christ still worth obeying? When a Christian's financial security is threatened or wrecked, is Christ still worth trusting? When a Christian's physical health is crippled, is Christ still worth adoring? When a Christian's family member is killed, is Christ still worth serving? When a Christian's actions are misunderstood or slandered, is Christ still worth devotion? Even if the Christian loses everything else, is Christ still worth honoring, and is the crown of life still worth the perseverance in faith? The answer is decisively yes!
"Afflictions are but as a dark entry into our Father's house," wrote Thomas Brooks. Christians through the generations of the church have borne testimony to this experience. In the midst of the suffering we are able to see little or no point to it all. So we cry to God, "Why?" Afterward, whether very soon or much later, we find such good resulting from the suffering that we reach the point of being able to say sincerely, "The good I have seen coming out of the trial, especially the benefit of my knowing God far better now, is worth the suffering it took to get me here." Because we value the Lord and his kingdom and the crown of life more than we value ease or comfort, it becomes the choice of realism and wisdom to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds. "However reluctant we may be to embrace it, we know that suffering rightly received is one of the Christian's supreme means of grace" (Wenham 1974:79).
Starting your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus is easy. You’re already logged in with your Bible Gateway account. The next step is to enter your payment information. Your credit card won’t be charged until the trial period is over. You can cancel anytime during the trial period.
Click the button below to continue.
You’ve already claimed your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus. To subscribe at our regular subscription rate of $3.99/month, click the button below.
It looks like you’re already subscribed to Bible Gateway Plus! To manage your subscription, visit your Bible Gateway account settings.
You've successfully created your account! For the best Bible Gateway experience, consider an upgrade to Bible Gateway Plus. For less than the cost of a latte each month, you'll get reduced banner ads and a huge digital Bible study library. Try it free for 30 days!
Three easy steps to start your free trial subscription to Bible Gateway Plus.