James Chapter 1

What is a trial? A trial is a situation in which things don’t go your way. You want something to happen in a certain way at a certain time, but such a thing does not happen. Alternately, something that you don’t want to have happen happens!

The root cause of a trial may be a person or an event. Here are some examples of a trial:

  • You want someone to fall in love with you but he / she does not.
  • Your spouse does not behave in the way you want him / her to behave.
  • Your boss or co-worker does not behave in the way you want him / her to behave.
  • The project that you are working on at school or work or home is slipping and nothing you do is helping it get back on track.
  • A neighbor’s dog or cat pees on your new shoes.
  • A bully at school says something mean to you, or pushes you around.
  • Your friends or acquaintances betray your trust or are speak evil of you behind your back.
  • Your health is sub- par.
  • Your finances are sub-par.
  • You lose everything in an earthquake or tornado or flood.
  • You lose a child to an illness or accident.
Trials are difficult situations. They may be small or big. The big question every Christian needs to answer is: what is the best way to handle a trial. James tells us how.

The first chapter of James says that we should be joyful in trials because of its valuable result (v. 2-4), and that we should seek wisdom from God in understanding why the trial has come (God does not send trials for no good reason), and wisdom in handling the trial (v. 5-8), and that we should not be envious of the rich (i.e. those who do not currently have trials) because they are not in a trial (v. 9-11). Also, we should persevere and not blame God (or other people) for our trials (v. 12-18) – rather, we should realize that we are tempted to be bad because of our own lusts, and not because someone else said or did something.

1 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

A servant serves for payment or honor or reward. A bond servant relinquishes all his rights, including his right to payment for service. A bond servant serves out of love and gratitude. He allows himself to be a slave to the other person, and works for the other person’s interests rather than his own. He uses his own time and money and skills to further the glory of the other person.

Some people are not even born again and therefore cannot serve God meaningfully. Others are babes in Christ because they only receive and give nothing back. Others serve for payment. And finally, there are bond-servants who serve for nothing in return. Which category do you belong to?

Are you a servant or a bond servant of God? When you do stuff for God, do you do it for payment (not just money but even self-preservation, friendship, honor or influence or to secure a spouse) or out of gratitude? Do you work for Christ even when it is against your personal interest?

Everyone (Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude) who wrote an epistle considered himself a bond servant of God (Rom 1:1, Tit 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Pet 1:1, Jude 1:1, Rev 1:1). Even Jesus, when He became man, became a bond servant (Phil 2:7).

In the Old Testament, Moses was a bond servant (Rev 15:3). Simeon (Lk 2:25-29) was a bond servant and he received revelation from God.

If you want to know what’s on God’s mind become a bond servant of God, and then He might tell you what’s on His mind.

It is good to be a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, being a bond servant has caused James to have his share of trials and he has learnt something about how to handle it and wants to share it with other believers everywhere.

Some trials occur because we have not relinquished our rights. In fact, sometimes God allows us to experience a trial because He wants to give us this important message: turn your focus from yourself to God.

The best way to approach a trial is as a bond servant of God. When your focus is on furthering God’s interests, a lot of trials almost magically disappear! They disappear because the trial does not have any negative effect on furthering God’s interests. For example, if someone is bothering you at work it only bothers you but it doesn’t hinder God’s kingdom. So if you are focused on furthering God’s kingdom and not your kingdom that trial goes away. Let God, if He so desires, deal with the person who is bothering you.

Ironically, in focusing on God’s interests you get the maximum eternal value for yourself.

So a good question to ask yourself is this: am I focused on my own interests or on God’s interests?

2-4 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The second step in handling trials is to get our attitude right, so that we desire, and delight in, the correct thing. Specifically, we need to delight in building character.

What is your definition of ‘lacking nothing’?

For most people, it means having enough money and home and food and sex and friends and free time and good health.

What is your definition of perfection and completeness?

For most people, it means no troubles and no inconvenience (as in, "Today was a perfect day" because no one bothered me today)!

But that is not God’s definition. Per God’s definition, perfection is the ability to handle troubling situations in a Christ-like way; completeness means being perfect in everything. It is to pass the examination with 100%.

And per God’s definition, to lack nothing means to be able to have all the character of God needed to handle the trial in a God-pleasing way.

Do you want to lack nothing, in that sense? If not, that is the first thing you need to work on – your mind must be renewed, and you must have a change in attitude from a person who doesn’t care that he lacks nothing of the nature of God to someone who does care.

When you have the insight to realize that the nature of Christ is the most valuable thing in the universe then you will care and greatly desire to lack nothing of the nature of God. Then your only goal in life will be to become more like Christ.

When a normal person encounters a trial he or she is not joyful. That is because he or she thinks that the trial is doing him or her harm.

We must not be like that. We are Christians. We must be above normal. We must be joyful during a trial.

However, for us to be joyful we must know something, says James. We must know that the trial is doing us good instead of harm. Specifically, we can be joyful when we know that trials build up our endurance, making more Christ-like (perfect and complete).

Suppose God gave you $1000 every time you encountered a trial. Would you then be joyful every time you encountered a trial? So if we are joyful if we get $1000 when we encounter a trial but not joyful if we get character when we encounter a trial what does that teach us about ourselves? It teaches us that we love money more than character!

Every trial is a testing of our faith – our ability to believe that God is doing us good and is taking every opportunity to make us more like Him i.e. God is taking every opportunity to give us the most valuable thing in the universe.

Does God know what is happening here? Does God care? Is God going to do something about it? How you answer these questions will determine how you behave in the trial.

When your faith is tested again and again and again, and each time you handle the trial correctly, you’ve now built endurance; you’ve acquired a new behavior and demonstrated the ability to have the nature of God in some particular way.

5-8 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

In the verses before, James talks about the kind of attitude to have in trials. Then he talks about asking God for wisdom. What is the connection? Well, when you have a trial the first things you need to have is wisdom to understand why God has allowed the trial to come into your life, and how to handle the trial in a godly way. If you understand the purpose of the trial then you know what to shoot for. If you handle the trial in the correct way then you can accomplish the purpose of the trial.

It is important to have wisdom on how to handle the trial. Otherwise the trial can get out of hand, have the wrong result, or the trial will have to be repeated because we didn’t learn the lesson that we were supposed to learn from it.

It is also good to have wisdom to know why the trial has come so that we can accomplish the purpose of the trial. Every trial comes to teach us something, or to form the nature of God in us, or to warn us of something about to happen. If you are a child of God, nothing happens accidentally in your life. God has full knowledge of, and is in full control of, everything that happens in your life.

A person who approaches a trial without understanding why it has come and how to handle it is at a severe disadvantage. To get the trial over with quickly you need to have wisdom – wisdom from God.

Notice the ‘if’ in ‘if any of you lacks wisdom’? Is it better to think that you have wisdom or to think that you lack wisdom?

It is a mistake to think that we have sufficient wisdom to handle the trial that comes our way. A person with such an attitude is proud and will not grow in wisdom.

Here is a picture to stick in your mind: suppose there is a class of students, and the teacher gives the students a tough problem to solve and tells the students to come to her if they get stuck solving the problem. Now the problem is really tough and the students get stuck right away. But instead of going to the teacher they ask each other for advice. The teacher then throws her hands in the air and wonders why the students are going to each other for help when they can come to her and get help immediately and get their problem solved quickly. That’s a picture of what’s happening in the church today!

Notice that James tells us to ask of God – not of men. When you have a trial, you need to go to God, not to your pastor or mentor or friend. Not many Christians do this! Why?

If you say that you are a Christian, doesn’t that make the all-wise God is your Father? Why on earth would you go to anyone else for wisdom? The only explanations I can think of are that your connection with God is terribly out of whack, or that you don’t believe that God is all-wise, or that God is interested in helping you, or that God is not aware of your situation. None of these are good explanations!

Come to Me, says Jesus in Mt 11:25-30. He knows why the Father has allowed you to be in your trial. He is in control of all things. Now Jesus may tell you to take a certain action in the trial. I’m not saying that you should be a passive player in the trial. All I’m saying is that you should get your direction from God, not from the people around you.

Unless you learn to ask of God you will never get anything out of Him.

God gives to all – and that includes you! There are no exceptions. No matter how much you have failed in the past, no matter how evil you have been in the past, if you repent and ask God for wisdom now He will give it to you.

What is your understanding of God? Do you see Him as someone who is generous, and someone you gives you precious stuff without reproach? To reproach someone is to express disapproval, criticism or disappointment in you. When you ask God for wisdom, He will give it to you without expressing disapproval, criticism or disappointment.

To be double-minded i.e. it is to have two minds about the same thing. In this case, it is to ask God for something without believing that you will get it.

When you ask God for wisdom concerning your trial you must believe that He will answer you, and you must be prepared to do what He asks you to do. If you don’t believe that He will answer you then you are presuming that God is miserly or reproachful. That is an insult to God, and He will not give you anything (including wisdom) if you think of Him that way.

When you are in two minds about something then your position is precarious i.e. unstable and it will be easy for Satan to manipulate you (just like the wind tosses the surf of the sea). You will be listening to different people who will give you different advice and you will not know what to do. In such a case, it will be difficult for you to accomplish anything useful.

9-11 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

When you are suffering through a trial and the other guy is enjoying life it is difficult to remain full of joy. It’s like waiting at the signal light in a noisy, beat up car, and seeing a beautiful Porsche glide to a stop next to you. The guy sitting in it is your bachelor co-worker and he has a downright pretty girl sitting next to him with an absolutely adoring look on her face. Then his light turns green and he moves on, but your light is still red.

What are you going to do?

James’ take: The Porsche is a flower, and dude is about to fade.

A brother who is not in a trial can be considered to be rich and a brother who is in a trial can be considered to be poor. From this perspective, a poor brother can be thankful that he has an opportunity to learn something from God, and a rich brother, who has spare time because he does not have to deal with a trial, can use his time wisely realizing that he will soon pass away.

Even from a financial perspective, a poor brother should focus on his high position in Christ, whereas a brother who has material needs should focus on how dependent he is on God for spiritual riches. During the trial, this will keep the poor brother from getting depressed and the rich brother from getting proud.

In times of persecution, people lose their homes and bank accounts, etc. We should be prepared to lose these things. Our attitude should be that if we have God we are content, even if we don’t have anything else.

The end result of a trial is to humiliate the proud and exalt the humble. Typically, the humble person has fewer trials and is usually able to handle them well; it is the proud person who has lots of trials and has more difficulty in handling them.

When you find yourself in the midst of a trial, the best attitude with which to approach the trial is one of humility. Take the low path. If you think, "I’m such an important person. Nobody can treat me like this and get away with it," then you are proud.

For a lot of people, their life seems to be stuck in a rut. It’s never ending trial after trial and trouble after trouble. There seems to be no progress. At the same time, the ‘other guy’ is moving on through life, happy as a lark, and there’s not a cloud in the sky. It can be downright depressing if you don’t handle this well.

Once upon a time, my life was like that. I finally came to a point where my happiness didn’t depend on anything earthly – if I had God I would be content. Years passed, and the trials ended, but I never forgot the lesson of being content with God alone. God gives us all things to enjoy after He becomes all things to us.

When God has brought you to a point where you’d rather have Jesus than anything else then you’ve arrived. The riches of this world fade away. The glory of this world is not glorious in your eyes. You have seen the glory of God and that is all that matters to you.

12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

In a trial you will be tempted to not love God.

God has promised the crown of life to those who love Him, not to those who have merely said "the sinner’s prayer". To get to heaven you have to love God so much that you want to be with Him and therefore you are willing to do whatever it takes to be with Him.

Ask yourself this: if God were in hell instead of heaven, would you be willing to spend eternity in hell just so that you could be with God?

A trial is a little bit like hell. If you are willing to persevere through a trial because you realize that God’s hand is in it then you gain God’s approval that you are willing to be with Him even if He were in hell. You have to love God through the trial in order to be approved.

What is the crown of life? A person who has a crown on their head is regarded as someone special. A crown can be made of gold, or precious stones, or thorns, or ‘life’. When you love God, you become like Him, essentially inheriting eternal life, or ‘life’ – that is, you exhibit the nature of God. In eternity, this life that you acquired while on earth will be like a crown, displaying how close you became like Christ. In 1 Cor 15:41, Paul talks about how one star differs from another in splendor, and how we will be just like that in heaven.

13-16 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

Whenever there’s mud on the wall, the question always arises, "Who did it?" Whose fault is it? Who is to blame? In any trial, the issue of blame invariably comes up. And of course, typically, it is out of the question that the fault is mine. So then whose fault is it?

Suppose your friend /partner says to you, "Let’s rob a bank". You say, "Ok". Then you and your friend / partner rob the bank – and then get caught. What’s your first line of defense? Some people will blame their partner and say, "He made me do it". Adam did that, you know.

If you robbed it alone, you can’t blame your partner. What then? Some people will blame their parents and say, "They gave me bad genes and raised me bad".

Of course, when your parents hear that you did that they are going to have something to say about it and the chances are slim that you are going to get away with that.

Some people blame the devil and say, "The devil made me do it." That’s what Eve did. But true genius blames neither partner nor parents nor the devil. They blame God! They say, "It was God who left all that money in plain sight and gave me the idea to steal it".

Robbing a bank may seem a bit outlandish, right, but what if you spouse says to you (and maybe he / she doesn’t say it literally), "Let’s have an argument". You say, "Ok". You go about arguing with each other for an hour while God is watching. When God then takes each of you to task can you blame your spouse?

Don’t blame others for your trials or your bad behavior during a trial. People who blame others for their trials or their bad behavior during a trial are totally deceived, as James says in verse 16. Blame yourself. If you feel jealous, it is not because someone else did or didn’t do or say something. It is because you have a flesh. It is your responsibility to put your flesh to death. If you can’t control your temper when someone says or does something, then blame yourself. You need to be able to control your temper and your tongue irrespective of what others do.

17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

The correct attitude to have through a trial is one where you understand that the trial is like a gift coming from God. Don’t get mad at people. When you get to heaven you will never get the opportunity to prove your love for God through a trial because there will be no trials in heaven.

God is light – pure goodness, without any atemporal (i.e. variation) or temporal (shifting shadow) change in intensity. That is, He does not change with time or from person to person. When He allows a trial to befall us it is for our own good. That is the understanding and attitude we must have.

Most people don’t realize that the portion of the trial that has come from God is a good thing and a perfect gift from God. Like Jesus in Jn 18:11, when we see the trial as "the cup which the Father has given Me" then it is easier to consider the trial pure joy.

Jn 18:11 So Jesus said to Peter, "Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?"

Of course, the complications that arise due to our foolishness during a trial are our own fault and may not be part of the perfect gift.

18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

The purpose of the trial is to make us more like Christ. First fruits are like the first fruits that come from a tree during a fruiting season.

19-21 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.

19-20 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (NIV).

When James says, "my beloved brethren" it’s like he’s holding your hand or putting his arm around your shoulders and saying this to you in the gentlest possible way. You can picture the Holy Spirit saying this to you as a friend to a friend.

This applies to everyone – everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.

For some people, like me, an argument is like a red cloth to a bull. A verbal battle is a battle of wits, and a sharp mind is a great asset that surely leads to victory. Someone says something and my mind quickly gets an idea of how to counter and what strategy to take. But I’m learning to be quick to hear and slow to speak and slow to anger. Why? Because I’ve seen that my superior wit and superior debating does not change anyone. So I’ll say one or two things and then I’ll stop. I don’t always succeed but I think I’ve become better at this over the years.

Others, when they are riled, simply let loose with abusive language, insults and personal attacks. They like to give you a piece of their mind.

When you are in a trial, the best thing to do is to not open your mouth to speak, especially if you are upset or angry. This is because your anger will not accomplish what God is trying to do via the trial.

When life is rough because of a trial the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut. If you open your mouth when you are angry you will only make your trial worse and then you will have only yourself to blame.

Instead, you need to try and listen to what God has to say to you. Humbly search Scripture to understand what God is trying to say to you, and that is they way to get the trial to end quickly.

Put aside all filthiness and wickedness – that is, don’t have bad thoughts towards others, and don’t blame others, grumble about others, complain about others, wish evil for others, or judge others.

As members of a local church, we can see someone in the church doing something wrong and get angry and rebuke them because they do not display the righteous life that God desires. James says that in such situations we should be slow to become angry and slow to speak.

True spiritual transformation does not occur via a simple rebuke, especially when coming from someone who has no authority over the person being rebuked or from someone who has not established a relationship with the person being rebuked. True spiritual transformation comes from within, from the power of the Holy Spirit. People who don’t understand this rebuke repeatedly but get nothing except frustration out of it. Do you tell your spouse or teenager something again and again and see no change? If you do, then you know exactly what I mean. Instead, try praying for the person in that specific area.

22-27 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

This is James’ way of underlining what he just said and marking it with a highlighter and circling it – all that, just to get your attention.

What is James trying to underline? He is trying to underline that you’ve got to be extra careful to keep your mouth shut during the trial – that is why James reminds you to be doers of the word after he talks about being slow to speak. Then, after this, James reiterates this by saying that if you can’t control your tongue your religion is worthless. This is so important that James talks about this again in Chapter 3.

Remember, these are God’s words, not mine. So take it seriously and practice the things that God is teaching you. There is a blessing that you can have, but only if you practice what you have just read.

Jas 3:26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless.

In an argument with someone, if the person doesn’t do what you want you can’t hit the person (I mean physically). That’ll get you into trouble – especially if the person is bigger than you. So what’s the next best weapon? The tongue! You can argue with them, speak abusively to them, backbite about them, slander them, and destroy their reputation – all that, just with your tongue (or now, with written communication too – writing wasn’t as prevalent in James’ time).

If you can’t keep your mouth shut during a trial then no matter what you say, as far as God is concerned, your religion is worthless. A man who says a bunch of worthless stuff when he is angry is a thoroughly ungodly man even if he is a pastor or elder.

27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

During a trial, and even otherwise, a truly godly person is one who takes the side of the defenseless when they are right even if they are being opposed by powerful people. Partiality is sin.

Another aspect of true godliness is to keep yourself free from the values of the world, and let your actions be guided by God’s values. God favors the humble whereas the world favors the mighty.

Further, as you go through life, events happen and people do things. These can result in trials for you. These trials can stain you if you are not careful. That is, these trials can cause you to become bitter, resentful or unforgiving. These are stains from ‘the world’ that are trying to stick onto you and you need to make sure that they do not stick. You need to deal with them in such a way that no stain is allowed to settle on you, or if it settles, you need to take it off quickly. That is what pure and undefiled religion is all about.

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