This letter challenges me because it is so real, direct and pragmatic. James is so prescriptive and descriptive of what it means to be actively be engaged in what Jesus called the ‘Kingdom of God’. Three things stood out for me this reading.
I do not naturally see trials and temptations as ‘pure joy events’. Yet it was deep pain, a lost relationship, seeing the shallowness of the world, even being unsatisfied with collegial success, and it’s emptiness that brought me to Christ. Jesus became my Joy. Never saw it coming. Over the years new trails have come and gone. I struggle with them and at times they take center stage and are a major discouragement. In the last few years however I’ve started to look at trials in a new light. I have come to believe that God does test us. Why to build up our faith in Him and character. Like he did with Abraham and Sarah and many others in the Bible. In the testing comes the shaping of a godly person. Understanding more of God’s perspective on the God-Human relationships, his Holiness and Sovereignty and what is important in His economy. Unconditional love for others. James writes about relationship of testing our faith and perseverance. In verse 4. “Let perseverance finish its work so that you can be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” Is contentment an outcome when we persevere?
There are several critical warnings in this letter. This one stood out. Temptation is a process that leads to sin. “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.” This process description is spot on!
James sets the expectation that faith in God is inextricably tied to action. Each verse is either a building block or a warning. The last verse in chapter 1, v27. is a good example. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”