James 1 Summary
James commands perspective from us, that we rejoice in our trials. We endure our trials with joy in the Lord by depending on Him in His wisdom, believing He will liberally supply it. We do not look to the world's wisdom, which is inviting wrath, nor do we look to our own desires for guidance, for our human nature is evil & cannot be trusted. Instead, we look to God's wisdom, and God's alone, and we do this by humbling ourselves to listen to His word, which will bear the fruit of true religion if we truly listen & meditate upon it. In short, look not around you, nor within--but look up!
Arc & Paraphrase
a James, a servant 1 of God and b of the Lord Jesus Christ, To c the twelve tribes in d the Dispersion: Greetings.
James writes to the scattered church [scattered because of her trials]:
e Count it all joy, my brothers, 1 when you meet trials f of various kinds, for you know that g the testing of your faith h produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be i perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Choose to rejoice in your trials , because you know God is working in your trials to make you like Jesus & bring you home to Himself.
j If any of you lacks wisdom, k let him ask God, l who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
Endure your trials with joy in the Lord by seeking our generous God for wisdom ,
But m let him ask in faith, n with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like o a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; p he is a double-minded man, q unstable in all his ways.
believing that He alone hears your cries, & delights to bountifully bestow His wisdom & aid (not being double-minded and looking elsewhere also).
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and r the rich in his humiliation, because s like a flower of the grass 1 he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and t withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. u Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive v the crown of life, w which God has promised to those who love him.
To explain what looking to God for wisdom looks like: 1) Do not look to the things of this world for wisdom, hope & strength , but joyfully endure trials by letting your trials point you to your true exaltation in Christ that is to come (assuming you endure).
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire x when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and y sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
And 2) Beware the lie that says God is not good & He is trying to lure you away from Himself; rather, recognize that is your flesh nature that is drawn to sin [So don't look to your desires for wisdom, hope & strength] .
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. z Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from a the Father of lights b with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 1 c Of his own will he d brought us forth by the word of truth, e that we should be a kind of f firstfruits of his creatures.
In contrast with your flesh nature : God is always good & never changes [so look to Him]. It is of His goodness that you have received new birth.
g Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person h be quick to hear, i slow to speak, j slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore k put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with l meekness the implanted word, m which is able to save your souls.
Instead of looking to the world or yourself for wisdom, joyfully endure your trials by humbling yourself in them, quieting your heart to listen to His Word that will save you [In other words, look to God's wisdom in contrast to the world or your desires].
But be n doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, o the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, p he will be blessed in his doing.
Yet don't merely hear His Word & walk away from it, but truly listen and act on His wisdom, which is your blessing.
If anyone thinks he is religious q and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s r religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: s to visit t orphans and widows in their affliction, and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
[To explain what true listening looks like]: Truly listening bears the fruit of true religion, which is denying yourself to love others (particularly those who can't return anything to you) in devotion to God alone.
On Looking Up
How do we count our trials all joy? In short, James says it is by looking to God alone for wisdom, which God delights to give liberally. To summarize: James first tells us that faith is required to receive such wisdom from the Lord. Then he tells us what this wisdom is not, warning us from looking to alternative sources for wisdom & help, namely 1) the world & 2) our own desires. Finally, James tells us how to go about receiving God's wisdom, and the results of receiving it properly. First, faith is required. God is a generous Giver, the Father, and He delights to shower us with His help. This is His very nature (Psalm 145:16, Matthew 7:9-11; James 1:17, Ephesians 2:8, Psalm 50:15, Jeremiah 33:3, Hebrews 4:16). But without faith, God is not pleased, "for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). God's giving nature is glorified by our believing neediness, by our faithful seeking. He then clarifies that asking in faith means looking to God alone for supply, not being "double-minded" and having divided interests. God will not tolerate competition with idols. We must look to God alone in allegiance to God alone, waiting upon Him, believing as we wait (Psalm 25:3, 27:13-14). I've loved seeing how James next identifies 2 alternative common sources of wisdom, which are really not wisdom at all, but pitfalls for our faith, & competing idols to the Lord. All people everywhere "experience trials of various kinds," so all are in the habit of looking SOMEWHERE for help. James though, in wisdom--and much like King Solomon in the Book of Proverbs--warns us not to look where the unfaithful commonly look, to traps laid under a guise of helpful wisdom. The first alternative is the world, or in other words, the riches of this world--wealth and the power & exaltation it brings. Wisdom warns us the riches of this world will fade in an instant (Proverbs 23:4-5), and so the wise saint will invest him or herself instead in Christ's kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:25-29). The other tempting and very natural source to look to is within, to our own hearts & desires for strength & direction. I remember a foolish season in my youth, when, knowing that I was created good by God, yet not being mindful of the Fall, I decided I would be wise (and therefore given to success) if I only followed my heart wherever it led. But who can even understand the heart? It is "deceitful above all things, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9). And as James later tells us in chapter 4, it is the passions at war within us that cause fights & quarrels and separate us from our holy God. Our default belief is to trust our own desires as good, leading us to blame God as being in the wrong whenever He sovereignly blocks us from indulging our cravings. We need Wisdom's correction to tell us not to look here. Like Adam & Eve, we have a choice. We can choose to be wise in our own eyes (Genesis 3:6, Proverbs 3:7), eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, depending upon our sinful selves and this corrupted world for direction & help. Or, like Jesus the Second Adam, we can eat from God's bountiful Tree of Life, depending upon Him, living by His wisdom (Proverbs 3:16-18). Practically, as Jesus demonstrated (Matthew 4:4), depending on God & His wisdom means truly listening to & trusting God's word. His word is a light to our path (Psalm 119:105) and gives delight to our souls (Psalm 19:7-8). Yet, we must beware of deceiving ourselves, thinking that a mere glance at God's word without putting it into action is enough. I appreciate Tim Keller's definition of the New Testament word "rejoice" in Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, & Power, & the Only Hope That Matters , saying, "To rejoice is to treasure a thing, to assess its value to you, to reflect on its beauty and importance until your heart rests in it and tastes the sweetness of it. 'Rejoicing' is a way of praising God until the heart is sweetened and rested, and until it relaxes its grip on anything else it thinks that it needs" (page 173). The New Testament's command to "rejoice" (Philippians 3:1, 4:4, Luke 10:20 , 1 Thessalonians 5:16) is much more than a shallow command to "be happy;" indeed, I would equate it to the oft-used Old Testament word "meditate." Consider Psalm 1, "Blessed [or Happy] is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked...but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night " (Psalm 1:1-2). Notice the result of such meditation: "He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers." (Psalm 1:3). Meditation upon the law of liberty--the gospel that Christ has satisfied the Law & given us freedom from the bondage of sin--bears the fruit of love for our neighbor. How is that? Consider Tim Lane's insight: "Honest self-examination and repentance enable you to see your neighbor better. If ungodly ruling desires blind you to your neighbor (James 4:2), a pure heart will bring that same neighbor back to your mind's eye. Whenever God enables us to reorient ourselves vertically toward him, according to the first great commandment (love God with all your heart), we are then more likely to obey the second great commandment (love your neighbor) as well" ( Conflict , pp. 14-15 ) So then let us look then to Jesus--may His cross be to us the life-giving tree of wisdom. The world, and our own hearts, would exhort us in our trials to look out for ourselves--to amass whatever scarce resources we can to titillate our cravings and so numb our pain. But Jesus invites us in our trials to confess our sin at the Cross, to confess the ruling passions that make it so difficult to submit, to confess our need for a Savior and for a new King to rule over our hearts. Here at the Cross, with honest repentance, acknowledging our need for mercy, we can rejoice in His victory over temptation, sin, and the grave. And as we are assured He's "got us," our hearts are freed to focus no longer on ourselves, but on God's glory & other people. Jesus said in Matthew 6:32 that the Gentiles eagerly "seek after all these things"--among "these things" being care for our basic needs (Matthew 6:26) and justification & glory (or the covering of our spiritual nakedness, Matthew 6:28-30). But we have the Father! We are no longer orphans! We have justification, glory, and the assurance of care freely given to us--we have His generous love & wisdom to help us in our trials--and so we are free now to seek first the kingdom and righteous living (Matthew 6:33). May we then rest in the Gospel--this beautiful Law of Liberty--for God's glory, our joy & peace, and for the good of our neighbor.