As we begin our study of the book of James, here’s what I hope you discover today:
- James wrote his letter to Christians going through trials in order to describe what authentic faith looks like;
- Everyone will ‘hop from a host of hardships’;
- Most Christians have an ‘inadequate view of suffering’.
IN THE WORD
Read James 1:1-4
Some quick facts as we start the book of James:
- James was the half-brother of Jesus, and an important leader in the early Jerusalem Church (see Gal. 1:19 and Acts 15:13ff);
- He wrote this letter to Christians, both Jewish and Gentile, who no longer lived in Jerusalem or Palestine, but had scattered to other places (he uses the term ‘diaspora’ which refers to the Jewish people living elsewhere during and after the exilic period);
- Since the above is true, that means the book of James is probably the first book of the New Testament written, most likely in the mid-to-late 40s AD.
The book of James is concise, practical, and controversial:
- Concise because it is only five chapters long, so it is direct and to the point;
- Practical in that it seeks to describe what real faith looks like and how it should work;
- Controversial because many believed it contradicted the Apostle Paul and his teachings regarding faith and works (which it doesn’t)! For these reasons and more, I love this book!
For today’s study, we will look at only one verse: James 1:2
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” (NASB)
Let me emphasize two crucial points gleaned from this passage (and which coincide with our above bullet points):
1. Everyone will ‘hop from a host of hardships’ (my translation)
I like my cute, alliterative translation better than most others because while the New American Standard (NASB) gives us a good literal translation of the text, it ignores the alliteration that is in the original Greek among the words ‘encounter, trials, and various.’ This alliteration is important to acknowledge as a literary device, because it was intended to augment the importance of the statement: You will face many different kinds of trials!
Let’s briefly unpack this first statement:
- All Christians (‘my brethen’) will face trials! James could have said “if” you encounter trials, but he chose to say “when”, stressing even more the importance of learning how to respond to tough times since we will all face them!
- “Trials” is a rich and broad term that can refer to both outward struggles such as persecutions, or the inward struggles such as sins like greed, lust, etc. Context will dictate which is being emphasized, and here the context surely refers to the outward struggles, as James will talk about the inward struggles a few verses later (V. 13ff).
- “Various” reminds us that trials can be of many different kinds. In other words, stop comparing your trials to your neighbor’s, and instead, focus on how you are suppose to get through your struggles.
- How do we have an “inadequate view of suffering” today?
This is a great quote, and also I believe accurate assessment, from the German theologian Helmut Thielicke.
Personally, I struggled with this for many years because I listened to other people and false teachers instead of the Word of God. What were some of these inadequate views I held onto? Lots of things that honestly I wanted to hear: things like, “If you belong to God, nothing bad will ever happen to you!” Another one I believed: “If bad things happen to you, there must be some sin in your life; consequently get rid of that sin and you will get rid of the suffering too!” I could go on, but you get the point.
Slowly I began to realize that these views of suffering did not correlate with the Word of God. For instance, here in James, he boldly informs us that we should not be surprised when tough times come our way, but in fact, tough times and trials must be expected! Accepting this point may be half the battle in learning to respond properly.
And not only that, but in the days ahead you will learn that an adequate view of suffering reminds us:
- Suffering is to be expected (as we just learned!)
- Suffering has a purpose (this we will learn in the next post!)
- Suffering is to be received with joy (this we will learn soon!)
IN THE WORLD
Prayerfully answers these questions:
- What trials/suffering are you going through today?
- How are you responding during your trial?
- Evaluate your view of suffering – is it ‘inadequate’ like the two examples I gave above, or biblical?
Lastly, pray to God thanking him for the truth of his Word, and the power, by His Spirit, it has to correct all of our ‘inadequate’ views.
 Craig L. Blomberg. and Mariam J. Kamell, James: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), p. 49. This is one of my favorite commentaries for the book of James.