Fuel4Thought

Journeying through James 1:21 – What’s the Implanted Word

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21 (ESV)

In verse 21, James uses a farming metaphor: ”implanted.“ The word describes a seed that’s in the ground and ready to sprout. James says just to receive the word with meekness. He doesn’t say what the word is, who planted it or when it was planted.

Jesus told a parable that can help us understand this:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

The disciples seemed fascinated by this parable because when Jesus “left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.’ 37 He answered, ‘The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.’” Matthew 13:24‑30, 36‑43 (NIV)

The disciples were concerned about the weeds, but Jesus focuses on the good seed. Then, He adds something that’s vitally important for every disciple to take note of: “the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom.” The One who sows seed also turns us into seed.

It’s Christ who paid for our sins to make us good seed and not weeds. Christ earned eternal life with His perfect life, and He gave it to us as a gift. The implanted word is the gift of life in Christ. James is focusing on the process of bearing fruit as any good seed should. It’s perhaps obvious that “filthiness and rampant wickedness“ is not what the seed sown by Christ would produce, but how does meekness fit into this transformation? For more fuel for thought, try this Digging Deeper exercise.

Journeying through James 1:21 – Better Listening

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. James 1:19‑21 (NIV)

James is a master of metaphor, and James 1:21 is a real gem. He uses a kind of unpleasant, bodily thing, literally ‘earwax’ * for the word that can also be translated “moral filth.” In a passage dedicated to hearing and doing the word (James 1:19-27), language that relates specifically to the ear is not surprising.

It would be a mistake to assume that James is just talking about some physical filth that one can wash off. Keep in mind, James is speaking to people who are committed to following the word. He’s sharing insight on how to stand firmly on the promises of God.

In verses 19-20, for example, he has cautioned us: “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Preceding devotions in this series may give you some Fuel for Thought regarding the issue of anger and sound faith in Christ. Now in verse 21, James focuses on following a moral path that’s clearly laid out in the Word of God. The point is that as an abundance of earwax hinders hearing; immorality encumbers sincere faith. Lustful passion impairs our ability to hear and do what the Spirit of Christ would lead us to do.

James’ concern is with getting rid of all moral filth, all the ugly crud that one should want to get rid of. Good spiritual hygiene implies hearing and doing what is good and right. James is asking metaphorically, “How’s your hearing?” The implication is that moral impurity makes it harder and harder to hear God, but the good news is that Christ can wash us clean (See Ephesians 5:26, Titus 3:5, Hebrews 10:22 and Revelation 1:5). James, having been Jesus’ brother * , probably heard the Lord say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” *
Lord Jesus, give us ears to hear.

A Philippian Legacy

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. 14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. Philippians 4:10‑17 (NIV)

God’s people will always face times of trials and testing. Whether it was the early church, which faced times of trial and testing during the Roman Empire, or whether it is the church today in places where Christians are persecuted, God’s people will always be confronted with difficulties. Now, you may think, “Those places are centuries or continents away. What does this have to do with me?”

Times of trial and testing do not only happen on a large social scale. They also happen on an individual and personal scale, to people like you and me. The coronavirus pandemic has affected all of us in some way and changed the way we live. The political and social turbulence in our nation is concerning. Perhaps you are facing some sort of personal trial or difficulty now, at work, in a relationship, with your finances, with your health, or in another area of life.

Acts 16 tells about how God used Paul to start a brand-new work in a city that had never before heard the gospel. It tells the story of how Paul and Silas found themselves in prison when they shared the good news in the city of Philippi. They experienced both success and difficulties. Have you ever thought about that possibility? We can experience difficulties even during times of success. Some Christians might be tempted to think that the presence of difficulties means they are somehow living outside of the will of God. But that’s not necessarily true. Sometimes Christians can be right where God wants them to be, doing exactly what God has asked them to do and still face persecution, opposition, misunderstanding, and suspicion.

Do you know what Paul and Silas’ response was after being thrown in jail? They sang! Even though they were in chains, they worshipped the Lord in the middle of their trouble and pain. Through miraculous circumstances, Paul and Silas were delivered from their imprisonment and even ended up baptizing the warden of the prison!

We should keep this story from Acts in mind because it reminds us that we will go through trials. And this phrase is important: we will “go through” trials. Trials are made to be gone through: you will not remain in them. Trials are made to go through because our God is bigger than any trouble you could experience.

It is one thing to say, “God is in control,” and a completely different thing to really act as if God is control. In part, Paul learned this lesson during his time in Philippi and then years later when the Philippians came to his aid while he was in prison in Rome. When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Philippi, ten years had passed since the account in Acts 16. Some things had definitely changed. The church in Philippi was growing in love and concern for each other, but they were also looking after the needs of people who lived very far away from them. Paul was one of those people! Because this much had not changed: Paul found himself imprisoned again, this time in Rome. The Philippian church had been persecuted since their founding, but they remained as one of the poorest and yet the most generous of all the churches that Paul planted (Philippians 4:14-16, 2 Corinthians 8:1-5).

The great lesson from Philippi is that our actions become the message. Our lives—individually and corporately—become the Good News. We can demonstrate to the watching world that we confidently believe God is in control. The Philippians are noteworthy because, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “They gave themselves to the Lord; and then, by God’s will they gave themselves to us as well” (2 Co 8:5, GNT) Their hearts became one with Christ and the blessings of their efforts will never be forgotten.

Journeying through James 1:19-21 – More On Anger

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:17‑20 (ESV)

The order of events in 1:19 is key. One should listen more, talk less. Excelling in talking less and listening more develops patience (cf. James 1:2-4). Having a merciful attitude allows a person to see the light (cf. James 2:12–13). Patience and mercy come before anger for God; but, for humans, anger often comes first.

James does not say, “don’t get angry.” He says we should be “slow to anger.” It’s impossible not to get angry. James seems to be angry at times in his epistle (James 4:4 and 5:1-6).

The challenge for us believers is to try to master being “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (v. 19). Since none of us, except Jesus, has done this successfully, the point that James is making seems crystal clear: “anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (v. 20). In other words, if we are patient and merciful with each other, we stay safely in the grace of God, but if we get angry, and we do at times, we need to be really careful, because it’s an area where we can quickly go astray.

Jesus was constantly tested by some really angry and annoying people, who were not only trying to destroy His ministry, but they were actively doing everything they could to keep people from following Him. Jesus kept his cool, mostly, but He did speak the truth to them. He characterized such people as “blind guides” (Matthew 23:16), “hypocrites”(Matthew 22:18, Matthew 23:13 ff., Luke 11:44), “fools,” (Matthew 23:17) “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27), a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34) and children of the devil (John 8:44). He said all these things, not because He hated them, but because He loved and protected His sheep.

There is constructive Christ-like anger, and there is not. Anger is similar in to another strong emotion, passion. Anger is usually directed against something that we hate. Passion is usually directed towards something that we love. When Jesus drove the money-changers out of the temple, the Bible says zeal (passion) for his Father’s house is what motivated Him. Jesus loved people. And Jesus hated the lies of the Devil that kept people from knowing His love.

The example of Jesus helps us see that there are times when we need to speak the truth in love. Again, the order given in James 1:19 is key: we should listen more, talk less, and be slow to anger. None of us can perfectly manage our anger as Jesus did, so we should be wary of getting upset. This is an area where it’s important to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5), remembering what James also shared at the beginning of his epistle: “let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4).

Journeying through James 1:17-21 – On Anger

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:17‑20 (ESV)

Consider verse 19. Talking less and listening more before getting angry. It’s good advice. You should do it. However, none of us follow what James says completely. And later in the book, James writes, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (2:10, NIV). Now why would James tell us to do something, that we can’t do 100%, knowing that God requires 100% in order to do the righteousness that He desires? I’ll come back to that because I think this will help us understand what James is teaching.

First, it’s too bad that most of our English Bibles have a section break between verses 18 and 19. Section breaks, chapters and verses weren’t in the original Greek text. They were inserted into the Bible in the 16th century. Overall, they’re helpful, but this is one of a few rare cases where we’re probably better off without them.

For example, verses 19-20 are a lot easier to understand if we see them connected to a previous verse: “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (v. 17, NLT). Being quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger is a good and perfect gift. Given the problems and issues that we human beings have in patiently listening to one another and getting along with one another, I think it’s fair to say that we desperately need this gift from God.

James is teaching more than just moralism, centered on human effort. James is talking about being a new creation in Christ (v. 17). Jesus Christ hears us and listens to our prayers. He is patient and kind. He is slow to speak; He gives ample time to repent and consider the error of our ways. “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NIV). One way to look at it is that God called you to use your life as an example of how He is “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” with everybody.

You cannot get rid of anger, but you can learn how to use it in a way that is good for you. How? James is teaching us to draw near to God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” But one might ask, “What does that look like in practice? How do I do that?”

In Psalm 4:4, David writes “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.” Several times in the Psalms this verb, “meditate” is used for being still before the Lord in quiet reflection (Psalm 30:12, 37:7 & 131:2). What’s at stake?

Cain got angry with his brother—he murdered him. God counselled him, but he refused to listen. David is saying that the Lord wants us next to Him when we’re angry. Most people don’t want to be around an angry person, but the Lord does. Why? The Lord knows that we have a tendency to handle anger poorly. And Ephesians 4:26 notes what’s happening in the spiritual realm when you get angry.

Paul quotes Psalm 4:4, and adds something that you can’t see: “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.” We only have to look at Cain and see that a “foothold” can lead to total control, recalling that Jesus said, “The Devil…was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth” (John 8:44, NJKV).

So take time to stand in the truth. Talk less and listen more to God. True, James is telling us not to get angry, but the real error that he’s seeking to correct is not drawing near for quiet meditation. He is teaching faith and trust in the power of God to heal our anger with His loving presence. As James says later in his epistle, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:7-8). In Jesus’ Name!

Journeying through James 1:1-18 – a brief summary

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. 12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 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. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. James 1:1‑18 (ESV)

Jesus Christ hears us and listens to our prayers. He is patient and kind. He is slow to speak; He gives ample time for us to repent and consider the error of our ways. This study is a brief review of James 1:1-20. The section ends reminding us that God wants to produce righteousness in us. So, the following is just to highlight what that “righteousness” looks like in the heart and life of a believer. I’ll give a list below that is in no way complete or comprehensive; on the contrary, it really is meant to be fuel for thought for people who would seek to put their faith in Christ and to be a light of Christ’s love in a world that lives without him.

We must be careful not to make the same mistake that so many in the world make. Just because God is not doling out justice now, we should not assume that He not displeased at our sin. God is slow to anger, but as Peter wrote: “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9, ESV).

James starts his books with some basic points:

  1. You know that God has a purpose for your problems—in short, they work character traits like patience. Patience perfects your faith.
  2. Our human nature naturally, resists direction and correction from God, but a sign of healthy and growing faith is asking the Lord for wisdom regarding everything.
  3. Expect the Lord to answer your prayers. Come to Him realizing you are a work in progress.
  4. Doubt is like being tossed in a boat on the sea. The disciples experienced this literally a couple of times. They knew where they were going, but were not sure if they were going to get there. Do you know where God wants you to be (morally, in giving, in being helpful, in loving and trusting Christ)?
  5. Material wealth and success is not the same thing as spiritual prosperity. Define your success based on the person and work of Jesus Christ in you.
  6. The section loops back to endurance (v. 12). Centering on self is a fatal flaw, while focusing on God’s goodness is safe. God doesn’t change and is only interested in our good, so there is great blessing and hope in being “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

James is only beginning. He wants you to have a depth of character like that of Christ. Next James turns to the importance of God’s Word, the Bible. He’ll give us a concrete and dependable means though which God works healthy, productive faith in Christ.

Journeying through James 1:13-18 – Scripture Interprets Scripture

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1:15‑18 (NIV)

Scripture interprets Scripture is a necessary principle for understanding the Bible. Let me give you an example of how it works. James uses the expression “word of truth,” but what is the word of truth?

In the book of Ephesians, Paul uses the exact expression: “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11‑14, ESV).

By letting Scripture interpret Scripture, you end up seeing some beautiful truths:

  • God has something good waiting for you in heaven, an inheritance. We draw from it now. Think about it; for example, in saying the Lord’s Prayer we’re asking God to shower down on us the blessings and power that Christ has won.
  • This has been God’s plan from the beginning. That’s meant to give you great confidence. We should leave sin behind and put our faith and trust in what God says and calls us to do.
  • It’s really by faith alone. Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins is so complete and full that the Holy Spirit not only seals us, but takes up residence in us.

Now, this is just a little of what I see in comparing these verses, and I might see something different the next time I compare the two. What do you see? This is a really productive and safe way to understand the Word of God. It’s keeps us safe so that we “will not be influenced by every new teaching we hear from people who are trying to fool us” (Ephesians 4:14, NCV). And Jesus used this method with His disciples too. For example, two of Jesus’ disciples were really sad and overwhelmed after the crucifixion when all of a sudden Jesus appeared to them. They didn’t recognize Him at first, and later they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us” (Luke 24:32, NIV). Jesus did the same thing with His disciples again in Luke 24:44-45 before He ascended to heaven.

So, returning to what James says, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth” (v. 18). The Christian life is one of growth and development in Christ. With Scripture interpreting Scripture there’s a process of transformation that God intends to happen. The desired outcome is that we learn more about God and become more like Jesus Christ in the process.

Journeying through James 1:13-18 – Every Good and Perfect Gift

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1:15‑18 (NIV)

James is a master of metaphor. In verse 15, the Greek word for “conceived” literally means to ‘to seize or arrest someone’ (Luke 22:54, Acts 1:16) or ‘to catch something’ like fish (Luke 5:7, 5:9). In their culture the same word was also used figuratively for conception. The word described Elizabeth (Luke 1:24) and Mary (Luke 2:21). Mary gave birth to Jesus—that’s good; Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist—that’s good, but we give birth to sin! And if you follow the progression, when sin becomes full-grown it gives birth to death! All this sounds shocking enough, but I think it’s easy to miss the real profound point that James is making. The only way out of this progression is by a gift of God’s grace. For example, where does James say that “every good and perfect gift” comes from?

James says, “Don’t be deceived.” What’s the deception? He’s identifying something that blinds every human being, unless God opens their eyes. The deception is this: we can’t see that what is really good and perfect comes only from God, God alone and not us. Human beings naturally take offense at such a thought. Some might think, “That’s absurd! People do many good things.” Others might respond, “Certainly, God notices and appreciates all the good that people do!” Actually, people seem to blame God for not doing enough good Himself in that they get upset with all the injustice and suffering in the world.

Think about Jesus’ very first sermon recorded in Matthew, chapters 5—7. He systematically takes away any good reason that any good person might have to boast before God. If you haven’t read that section for a while, this might be a good opportunity to check it out.

Jesus used the pinnacle of righteousness in their day, the Pharisee. Yes, a bad word to us nowadays, but it wasn’t back then. The Pharisee was a great example, in the day, of doing what is good and right before God. Jesus goes after the heart. In another place in Scripture, He said, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:20-23, NLT). This is what people don’t see.

So, returning to James, that’s why he says, “God, the Father, chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (v. 18). A new heart and the new mind, this is our only hope—a gift of righteousness that comes from God our Heavenly Father. James calls this the Word of Truth in verse 18, and in the next study, we’ll look at what that expression means.

Journeying through James 1:16-18

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1:16‑18 (NIV)

James want to impress on us that God is in no way responsible for human sin. He is a good and loving Father, who never changes. He is the source of all good. The picture that James gives is of the heavenly bodies wandering in the universe; while God is constant, faithful, unchanging.

At the same time, however, He warns us: “Don’t be deceived…” (v.16), and in the context, I immediately thought of astrology. When I was a kid, I had a friend whose mom practiced astrology; and people would pay her good money for a professional reading. Astrology is founded on the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies such as the sun, moon and planets.

God, who set the planets on their changing paths, wants us to appreciate that He never changes. People can be easily be led to put their faith and hope in an elaborate system created by human beings. To most, astrology seems like just a harmless curiosity, but beware of its subtle deception, astrology is a lie that draws us away from our loving Father God.

God’s purpose, for us who believe in Him, is that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He has created, a new creation in Christ. The word “firstfruits” in Hebrew referred to the first portions of grain and fruit harvested (bread, Ex 23:16; grapes, Num 13:20; figs, Nah 3:12). This portion was given to the Lord as a thank offering, and it was also given to support the priests (cf. Lev 2:14; Num:12–13).

God has created you in Christ to give Him thanks and praise, and He also wants our lives to be a blessing of love and service to one another.

Journeying through James 1:2-15 (an epilogue)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. 9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. 12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. James 1:2‑15 (NIV)

Unless you’re a cattle farmer you’ve probably never heard of sweet clover poisoning. I hadn’t. When fresh, the plants are alright for grazing, but moldy clover in hay or silage can cause spontaneous and uncontrollable bleeding. Ironically, clinical tests in the 1950s showed that this same substance could save lives. The drug is called, warfarin, one of the most widely prescribed oral anticoagulant drugs today. *

James 1:2‑15, looks at one Greek word, “peirasmois” (πειρασμοῖς), which is translated into two different words, “trials”, and “temptations”, in English. He describes to us how trials can have two radically different results in us. You can’t get a greater contrast than “the crown of life” versus sin and death (v. 15). When we struggle to understand difficult passages in the Bible, it’s best to let Scripture interpret Scripture. That’s probably one of the best ways to apply what James says in 1:5, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

I thought of a situation in Numbers 13-14 where the faith of some was strengthened, and the faith of others fell apart. “The LORD now said to Moses, 2 ‘Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites. Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes’” (Numbers 13:1-2, NLT). After forty days they returned; two of the twelve trusted God; ten of them doubted.

James warned, in verses 6-8, about how doubting can creep into us. In Numbers, you can see how that played out: “Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. ‘Let’s go at once to take the land,’ he said. ‘We can certainly conquer it!’ 31 But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. ‘We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!’ 32 So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites” (Numbers 13:30–32, NLT).

The faith of Caleb and Joshua was strengthened, but ten of the twelve doubted. In the rest of Numbers 13-14, things continued to unravel: “the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. 2 Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. ‘If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!’ they complained. 3 ‘Why is the LORD taking us to this country only to have us die in battle?’” (Numbers 14:1-3, NLT).

Here’s how I would apply all of this to my daily life. It all starts with having a relationship with God—fall in love with the Lord Jesus Christ. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18); that’s what James is sharing in verses 2-18:

  • Temptation has to do with sin. If is it smells like fish, it’s fish. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). If what you’re doing is against these two basic commandments, take care and ask God to lead you out of temptation (Matthew 6:13, Luke 11:4, 1 Corinthians 10:13). But as James points out, the way out can get much more complicated when a person’s “own evil desire leads them away and traps them” (v.14, NCV).
  • Trials have to do with maturity. Caleb and Joshua viewed God and His promises very differently than the others did. So it makes sense that James ends this section and begins the next with the following: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (vv. 17-18, ESV).

James points us to God, to trust in the goodness of God who has given us new life in Christ. If we trust in what He has said, He’s able to lead us out of temptation. If we persevere in faith, He will use our trials to refine our faith, removing the dross and revealing true gold.

Artimedorus (second century A.D.) a medical term (ῥύπος) for earwax that must be washed away to give good hearing in Martin, Ralph P. 1988, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 48: James (WBC). Dallas: Word.

“Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?” (Matthew 13:55, NKJV).

Matthew 11:15 (NKJV); Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 13:9, Matthew 13:43, Mark 4:9, Mark 4:23, Mark 7:16, Luke 8:8 and Luke 14:35. See also Revelation 2:7, Revelation 2:11, Revelation 2:17, Revelation 2:29, Revelation 3:6, Revelation 3:13, Revelation 3:22 and Revelation 13:9.