Chapter 1:2-4 (ESV) - Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Question to consider: What is steadfastness, and how does the testing of our faith produce it?
As I mentioned yesterday, it is important to interpret the meaning of a passage of scripture through the lens of its intended recipients and for its intended purpose. Martin Luther originally tried to dismiss this letter from James as an “epistle of straw” because of its emphasis on works which he thought undermined or distracted from the preaching of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins. Luther softened on this criticism of James later on in his ministry and ultimately accepted it as part of the canon of scripture. I believe we all have our blind spots when it comes to understanding scripture due to our lived experiences. We put particular emphasis on things that may have originally been barriers to our faith in the hopes that those who come after us may not stumble in the same way that we did. One way to combat our blind spots is to humbly engage in discussions of God’s word with other faithful Christians. I say “humbly” because we always need to be open to the possibility that our view on a particular scripture is wrong. Our pursuit should be to discover heart-changing truth and not to justify a particular view. I have been extremely blessed over the years to have friends who love the scriptures as much as I do and love me enough to challenge me in a discussion of it.
If you are one who mostly enjoys the application of scripture to your life, I would say that you should be particularly careful in understanding the intended context of a passage to be able to make a true application. Let your application be the reward you receive for your faithful study! Now, let’s dig into the opening of James’ letter to instruct these young churches that were founded after the Dispersion.
Right from the start we are faced with a statement about finding joy in the midst of trials. Although these trials can come in a variety of ways, James was specifically talking about the kinds of trials that were related to the faith. Jesus conveyed a similar message in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
Some trials that we experience are a result of our own sin. These should not cause us joy but instead bring about our confession and repentance of sin. However, when we suffer as a Christian, it produces a steadfast faith, a faith that is strong and deeply rooted in Christ. The apostle Peter and James were good friends, and I’m sure they spent a lot of time pouring over the Old Testament scriptures and challenging one another in the faith. When James wrote that the steadfastness produced by our trials in Christ would make us perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, I think he was conveying the same idea as Peter to this very same group of people about 30 years later in 1 Peter 4:1-2, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” When we have faced the wrath of the world for the name of Jesus, we begin to seek after the eternal things of God over that which is perishing.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for giving us Your Holy Spirit who dwells within us and brings us comfort in the midst of persecution for the sake of Christ. Please use our times of trial to make our faith strong and to bring others to repentance. Amen.