James 1

James 1
by Pastor David Groendyk

The epistle written by James is possibly the earliest book written in the New Testament. Scholars have debated who wrote the letter itself, but the best guess is that this is Jesus’ own brother. If that is the case, it’s fascinating to track James’ personal spiritual progress throughout the New Testament. In Matthew 13:55 and John 7:5, James is named as Jesus’ brother and as someone who didn’t believe Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 15:7, we learn that after Jesus resurrected from the dead, he made a special trip to go see James and appear before him. In Acts 1:14, James is devoting himself to prayer with the rest of the church. And in Acts 15, James has become a pillar and leader of the church. Now, he’s written one of the first inspired, authoritative works of the New Testament.

The main idea of this letter is that faith must be followed in the Christian life by good works. This is a book with a lot of imperatives and a heavy emphasis on ethics. You can see it in chapter 1 especially in verses 19–27. James says to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. The person who hears the Word but does not do it is like someone who looks into a mirror and then immediately forgets what he looks like when he walks away. I believe Pastor Lawrence described this analogy in a sermon once. Imagine waking up in the morning, looking at yourself in the mirror, and seeing that you’ve got awful bed-head, you’ve got some dirt on your face from working in the garden the day before, and you’re still wearing your pajamas. Then, the second you turn away from the mirror, you’ve forgotten all of that, and you walk out the door and go off to work or run errands. What a fool! Haven’t you seen all your imperfections, and shouldn’t you do something about them? How could you do nothing? Likewise, the Christian who has been born again and raised to new life should naturally be able to see their own remaining imperfections as they read God’s law, and they should want to do something about it. Is this the way that you receive God’s Word? Think of the many times during the week that you hear or read the Bible. How long do you remember the content of the sermon beyond noon on Sunday? How much do you meditate on the words of your morning Bible reading? Isn’t it so easy to read the Word without any sort of evaluation, assessment, or internalization of its truths, convictions, and encouragements? Christians must be people who allow God’s Word to change their lives. We must make a concerted effort to apply the Word to our everyday lives or else risk being the fool who drifts away. What practical commands do you see in verses 19–27 that you ought to put into practice today?

Verses 2–18 give the occasion for why it is so necessary to put our faith into action. Our faith will continually be tested in the Christian life. Trials and suffering bookend this letter (1:2–4 and 5:7–20), which should tell us something about the priority of this topic. Trials and testing will drive us down one of two roads. Either you will begin to doubt God, be tossed around like a wave, wither away, and accuse God of doing evil; or you will persevere, become more sanctified, depend on God, humble yourself, and remember God’s goodness. Trials test your mettle. If or how you receive and do God’s Word will go a long way to determining how you will respond to those trials. Actually, simply receiving and doing God’s Word despite the trials means you’re already persevering and remaining faithful. That’s why James can say something so outlandish like, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Responding to trials with faith draws us closer to God and makes our grip on heaven even more firm. Therefore, even the trials should cause us to rejoice.

There are so many other deep, soul-satisfying truths in this chapter, so make sure to read it over a few times. Pray through the chapter paragraph by paragraph. Ask for God to sink these gospel truths deep down into your heart.