Jamesby Douglas Estes
As James begins his letter, he gives his name but does not identify himself as a pastor in Jerusalem. Nor does he mention that he is the brother of Jesus. Instead, he is simply ″a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ″ (James 1:1). James has submitted his will to that of God, as a slave to a master. And not just God, generally speaking, but the Lord Jesus, the Messiah.
James writes to ″the twelve tribes″ (v. 1). Was he also writing to Gentiles (like us today)? Yes, but indirectly. His primary concern was the Jewish Christians of Israel. Just as Paul often wrote to Gentiles without excluding Jews (Galatians 2:7), here James writes to Jews without excluding Gentiles.
James writes in the way Jesus taught, akin to how wise men in the centuries before taught. Instead of covering a topic and then moving on to the next, James weaves a few key ideas together in his letter. These ideas ebb and flow like the tide, coming and going as he leads his reader through important issues.
James begins with encouragement on dealing with trials whenever they arise: we should ″consider it pure joy″ when we face trials as followers of Jesus (James 1:2). That's not how we usually feel about them!
James does not elaborate on the kinds of trials his readers may face, but there are many different kinds that can test our faith (see Romans 5:3). The reason we should feel this way about trials is not that we like to suffer or we want to prove anything. Instead, we should consider it a ″joy″ to go through trials because they have the effect of increasing our faith.
James explains that trials are a necessary part of growing to maturity because they produce endurance (″perseverance″, James 1:3), and endurance must ″finish its work″ in us so that we may be mature and complete (v. 4). This endurance is our patient, faithful attitude in the midst of trials. To explain this completion through endurance, James uses descriptive words that depict both getting to the end and filling a full portion (v. 4). These words point to the idea that as Christians face difficulties, they will remain faithful, and this faithfulness will bring them to spiritual maturity.
James opens by telling his readers about the difficulties of life-and the life choices they will face in a variety of circumstances. No matter what difficulties we encounter, may God grant us ″pure joy″ in the midst of these difficulties, so that we may one day reach spiritual maturity. The joy we will experience is much greater than a mere feeling of happiness; it is a deep contentment in God's plan for us, and it will grow stronger the closer we draw to Him.
How can we live as ″a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ″ (James 1:1) in the world?
What is your normal reaction to trials and difficulties in life? How do James' words challenge you to respond in future?