Bible Study: James 1

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

James 1:1-4

Stephen had just been martyred, and the followers of Jesus scattered among the region (Acts 11:19). Several small assemblies of believers began to form. These people not only feared severe persecution for their faith, but also struggled through famine and financial turmoil.

James, the brother of Jesus Christ, addresses the concerns of these groups in his letter. His exhortation covers a wide range of practical advice on living faithfully. While James does not directly quote Jesus, the majority of the themes are perfectly in line with Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

The first verse is often overlooked, but I want to focus on James identifying himself as a “bond-servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” There are different types of servitude outlined in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The term here often referred to a permanent position of slavery, where the person is entirely under the control of the master. James uses “bond-servant” to emphasize his complete devotion and connection to God.

As a Christian, do you truly consider yourself a slave to Christ? Is every thought and action guided by a mindful obedience to God's Will?

Verses 2-4 address the attitude brothers and sisters should carry when going through trials:

  1. Be Joyful

This seems so contrary to instinct. As we go through tragedies and difficulties, our sinful nature likes to roar its ugly head. We allow selfish thoughts and actions to dominate, calling it “self-preservation”. We become disgruntled and complain, often ignoring any blessings.

The idea here is not that believers should not be sad ever. But instead, to have an underlying joy that outshines our distress. Our hope must rest in the promises of God. Earthly pain is only that — earthly. Eternity awaits for us in heaven, where any joy we cling to now will be magnified as we glorify God forever.

Paul is the biblical poster child for enduring trials in joy. Through persecution and jail time, he still finds time to encourage churches. His letters speak of opportunities found in distress (such as preaching to the guards), and further reliance on God’s grace.

Can you think of someone who exudes such joy? How has this attitude impacted you?

2. Be Aware the Testing of Faith Produces Stamina

When children are learning responsibility, parents first assign small tasks before graduating the child to bigger items. Because the child has shown capable in the small, a parent can confidently push accountability for something larger. This same concept I have found true in my personal trials. The more often I am faithful in mini-trials, my confidence grows in my — and God’s — ability to see me through larger tests.

Think back to a struggle you had, but no longer have. Didn’t it seem like it would last forever? The pain may have felt stifling, and you were probably so anxious to have it all be done with. And now — it is done!

If you were put through this same situation today, would you handle it differently?  How has this struggle affected your perspective?

3. Become Polished, Not Hardened

Society currently thrives on the publicizing and promoting of poor behavior during trials. The concept of “justified sin” is pushed heavily for victims, basically giving the ok to any wrongdoing done in response to a tragedy. But the last thing we want is for sin to breed sin, especially among God’s children.

If we have chronic suffering, or have been through a particularly large tragedy, it can be easy to become callused. We lose compassion and may be bitter. Little sins don’t seem like sins at all, just outlets. James instead encourages us to view suffering as an opportunity for sanctification, not sin.

In verse 4, James states “let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete”. This nicely mirrors Matthew 5:48 when Jesus urges his disciples to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we should be striving for Christ-like qualities. While our sin may prevent us from ever being truly perfect on earth, our goal remains. Avoid sin, repent of any wrongdoings, and seek to do God’s will.

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