Note the new time for the Members Bible Study in 2013 as listed on the footer: Wednesday mornings from 7:45 to 8:45 AM in the Family Room (H324) of the Capitol. (Many of you have expressed that you would prefer a morning study versus in the evening after traveling).
We will start back the morning of January 16; invite a colleague! A hot breakfast buffet will be served each week and your spouse is always welcome to join. Danielle and I are looking forward to seeing you!
This week I would like to direct your attention to the first chapter of the NT book of James. At first read the flow and context of the chapter seem a bit confusing. But relative to its main subject of trials, which is God’s economy for spiritual growth, rich and powerful people have ways of getting around them – and accordingly, as a result, the personal growth that God desires often remains unaccomplished.
Let us pick up on this valuable insight from Scripture this week. Read on.
THE BOOK OF JAMES: CHAPTER 1
In chapter one of the NT book of James (the earliest book written in the NT, A.D. 44-49), James addresses the issue of how we are to inculcate wisdom into our lives, or better, he reveals the basis and means which God intends to use to instill His wisdom (the skill at living life) into our lives.
God not only wants us to grow in the knowledge of His Word, but to apply it as well. Take note from this passage that God has a definite strategy to appropriate the knowledge you gain from Scripture; chapter one of this epistle reveals His way of doing just that! How many followers of Christ do you know who are knowledgeable, but not very wise? That is to say they/we are lacking in the application to daily living the knowledge they/we have gained from God’s Word. Herein James presents the means by which God intends to accomplish growth in the life of the believer.
Let’s now work through this passage and discover what can hinder our application of wisdom.
II. PRELIMINARY THOUGHTS ON HINDRANCES TO WISDOM: VSS. 1-5
Note again what James is attempting to convey in this passage: The normalcy of, and the economy by which all believers are intended to grow in Christlikeness. What follows are three preliminary thoughts in the first five verses that pertain to this God-ordained objective in the life of the believer. To be ignorant or misunderstand any of the three preliminary points that follow is to hinder the development of God’s wisdom (applied knowledge) in your life.
A. GOD’S PEOPLE ARE IN NEED OF HIS WISDOM: VS. 1
James, a bond-‐servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
James was the half-brother of Jesus Christ and therefore the brother of the NT author Jude who were among others, sons of Mary and Joseph (cf. Mk. 6:3; Mt. 12:46) (Joseph and Mary had daughters as well). Although not an Apostle, he was an associate of the Apostles (Gal. 1:19). James was a very prominent early leader in the church at Jerusalem. He wrote this epistle with the authority of having personally seen the resurrected Christ (1Cor. 15:7).
James is writing to fellow followers of Christ regarding their need to embrace trials for the sake of spiritual growth. The twelve tribes refers to various believers who had been dispersed due to persecution under Herod Agrippa (cf. Acts 12; ca. A.D. 44). In support of James addressing a Christian audience – a key factor in the proper interpretation of the epistle – note that James calls the recipients of his letter my brethren in verses 2 and 9. Tribes therefore is a descriptor for fellow brethren or believers. Accordingly, the instruction that follows, wisdom regarding how God grows believers in godliness, is instruction intended by God for believers.
B. GOD HAS A WAY OF IMPARTING HIS WISDOM: VSS. 2-4
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
The means God uses to grow His children are trials. Trials peripepto in the Greek means to “fall into the midst of” which speaks of God’s sovereign orchestration. Next, take notice of the progression in this portion of James 1: Trials and the testing of your faith bring about the need for perseverance, or endurance, which is language synonymous with the end result of spiritual maturation, or, heading toward becoming perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. This is the ultimate objective of the spiritual maturation process that James has in mind as he writes to persecuted and dispersed brethren. The Greek word for testing dokimion is used in the Septuagint (an early Greek translation of the OT) when translating Proverbs 27:21: “The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, and each is tested by the praise accorded him.” The point being that the meaning of the word testing reveals by contextual usage the process by which God refines our faith. God intends for our lives to be refined by the crucible of testing, persecution and suffering so that the dross and impurities of the old sin-laden nature, the pre-Christ nature, might by skimmed away by the process. As a result we become increasingly pure and valuable as we progress in and toward Christlikeness. James here is revealing to the brethren God’s way of purifying His chosen vessels, His called-out ones. Similarly, the author of Hebrews in a parallel passage (12:5-7) also speaks about God’s trials, here expressed as being a form of discipline in His quest to mature His saints:
“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
If God uses trails and discipline as His means of maturity, then it should come as no surprise that those who are saved by God’s grace should consider various trials as all joy. Why? They indicate God’s love for you and His fatherly desire to grow you up into spiritual adulthood—becoming buff, spiritually speaking. In Genesis chapter 50, Joseph’s deep understanding of this heavenly economy for achieving spiritual growth is revealed by his reaction to those who brought all kinds of pain into his life (his physical brothers): “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result…” Note this carefully and adopt Joseph’s attitudinal lens and why it is that he embraced trials. Here is a proper response to trials, trials that God allows in the lives of all His children. In verse 12 of our home chapter James’s provides further motivation for responding godly to trials:
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.
What a great promise and motivation! James is coaching and coaxing us to succeed in our trials with a reward in view! Oppositely, to fail to learn and apply what God intends to teach us in a trial is tantamount to asking for the same thing all over again. God will orchestrate similar situations in His continuing attempts to grow us in a particular area where we are failing to grow. I know some folks like this, who just keep facing the same things over and over again because of their mule-like recalcitrance. Don’t stump your growth; understand and embrace what James is saying here! Verses 2-4 explain God’s means of imparting His wisdom in your life.
C. GOD DESIRES TO ACCURATELY IMPART HIS WISDOM: VS. 5
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.
God wants to make sure you know exactly what it is He is attempting to get you to apply in your life. The Greek word James is using here for wisdom is sophias means, “applied knowledge.” The promise of this great passage is that God will show you specifically how to apply His Word if you ask Him. When and if you are unsure about what it is God is attempting to apply in your life, rest assured He will let you know! And it will be given to you is an unconditional promise! States Proverbs 2:6 in parallel fashion, “For the LORD gives wisdom.” Further, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you…” (Mt. 7:7a). Lest one think these passages are meant to underscore some kind of a mystical encounter with God through some kind of modern-day dream or vision, it is (in keeping with the whole counsel of God on the matter including the closing of the canon in the books of Jude and Revelation) His illumination of His Word to your heart via your personal study, or through a biblically-based sermon, or perhaps the counsel of a godly friend, that God will use to communicate the purpose of the trial. It will be given to him is a promise of God via the conduit of His Word!
Illumination is a wonderful biblical doctrine as expressed in Psalms 119:33-34; Luke 24:45; Ephesians 1:17, 18; Colossians 1:9-11; 1 John 2:20, 27, and James 1:21). Illumination is the foundational basis as to how God imparts or gives His wisdom to you. Illumination is directly and categorically connected to the great doctrines of Inspiration and Revelation without violating them. I.e. God inspired His Word, He revealed His Word, and He is faithful to illumine His Word to our hearts; one of the ministries of God the Holy Spirit is to lead you into all truth (cf. Psa. 43:3).
Any other interpretation of it will be given to you leads to subjective mysticism in contradistinction to empirical revelation relative to understanding what it is that God is attempting to teach/impart to you. Note this idea further via the distinctiveness of the word James uses for wisdom sophias: It is in contrast to other words common in NT use, for instance, sunesis which means theoretical knowledge, or oida which translated means intuitive knowledge. In using the word sophias James is communicating that God is very personable with His children and will give, illuminate in an objective sense (i.e. in concert with Scripture) the correct and practical application of biblical knowledge to one’s life’s situation. I.e. what is my trial and testing all about? How is to be understood from God’s perspective? God will let me know because this passage says He desires to accurately impart His wisdom.
The aforementioned are the three preliminary hindrances to obtaining wisdom in one’s life. In the progression of the chapter, James now lists three additional, major hindrances to personal maturation through God’s economy of trials. They are:
III. WISDOM’S FIRST HINDRANCE: DOUBT TRIALS: VSS. 6-8
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. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-‐minded man, unstable in all his ways.
The first major hindrance to gaining wisdom is to be a doubter, or double-minded about the way in which God wants to accomplish things in your life. Many Christians in our country are in a headlong pursuit for personal satisfaction with little regard, room, or consideration for God’s formula for growth. Hopefully you and I are not among them. In their idolatry of self-pursuit (idolatry is anything elevated in one’s heart above the quest of God’s revealed purposes) they hunger for various other things, such as fame and power, money and personal glory, etc. They desire those things above God’s things and are attempting to crowd out the still, small voice of God, via His Word, in their hearts; in their doubt they disregard it.
Doubting, double-minded Christians are those who aren’t real sure what their highest priorities are in life. They are like wind-driven waves, who regularly change direction. They have one foot in and one foot out. As a result they tend to view God’s onslaught of trials with a questionable or jaded perspective, never quite learning from them, nor are they sure they want to. Subsequently, by discounting God’s plan for personal growth they remain spiritually immature, unwise. Like newborns (cf. 1Cor. 3:1) they are unstable in all [their] ways. The first major hindrance then to trails then is this: One must not be doubting or double-minded about trials being from God.
IV. WISDOM’S SECOND HINDRANCE: DODGE TRIALS: VSS. 9-11
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 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.1
This point is so powerful and so applicable to public servants that I have titled the study pertaining to it: Why Do Rich Christians Tend to Be Spiritually Weak? What is James communicating here? How does this discussion relate to the previously established context of wisdom, the application of biblical knowledge into one’s life? In Hebraic writing fashion, James herein is segueing into a further elaboration of the primary truth of verses 2 and 3 by relating the truths about trials first to a humble man, who possesses very little if any self-means, in contrast secondly to the rich man who possesses resources at his disposal, such as wealth, power and connections.
1There are four reasons I believe this passage is referring to wealthy believers – versus unbelievers as it is sometimes interpreted to mean. (1) In verses 2 and 9 Paul is addressing this letter to believers. (2) He resumes his thesis of trials in verse 12 right after the conclusion of this section. (3) The syntactical conjunctions throughout chapter one connect all the thoughts and homogenize the context. (4) Theologically, Scripture elsewhere does not teach that wealth versus poverty is the determining factor in one’s salvation; just because James labels someone rich and another humble is not synonymous with stating someone is not saved or saved.
Why is James forging this contrast? A brother of humble circumstances is by definition and contextual intention, one that is without the personal ability to somehow dodge a trial. Such circumstances, as they relate to gaining from a trial, is termed a high position because this person is in the best position to learn from a trial. He should in a proper sense glory in his high position for which he finds him or her self in this life. Conversely, it is much easier for a wealthy and/or powerful individual to avoid the manifest purposes God has sovereignly ordained through His orchestration of a trial because these individuals are in a better position to satisfy the demands of the trial via their own resources; they can defuse the intent of the trial much easier than can a non-resourceful individual; the rich man can more easily dodge the lesson(s) and growth desired by God in His origination and orchestration of the attention-grabbing event(s). This helps explain why in a practical sense….
WEALTHY AND POWERFUL CHRISTIANS ARE MORE APT TO REMAIN SPIRITUALLY IMMATURE BECAUSE THEY HAVE THE WHEREWITHAL TO CIRCUMVENT GOD’S GROWTH MECHANISMS
As a Christian legislator you are a powerful, rich person. So mark this: In trying times turn first to God for direction and application of biblical precepts, versus attempting to jimmy yourself out of the matter with no reflection or regard for what God may be attempting to teach you. Devising a way out of a matter in one’s own power is to miss out on the growth opportunity! Note Jeremiah 9:23-24 in regards to harboring thoughts of selfsufficiency: “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me…’” Face God’s trials head on and be honest with Him: “What are you attempting to teach me through this?” Don’t hinder God’s trials by dodging them with the use of personal resources. You’ll be more mature and Christ-like when you stand before Him as a result.
V. WISDOM’S THIRD HINDRANCE: DISPUTE TRIALS: VSS. 19-21
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.
James continues to list hindrances to wisdom’s growth in the life of the believer here in verses 19- 21 via the believer disputing a trial. (In verses 12- 18, among other related matters, he speaks to the ancillary subject of if or not the temptation in a trial is from God or not, which represents a different subject, a study in itself for another day). The verbiage of 19-21 is not disjointed to the earlier subject of trials. James’s point is this: To react angrily to trials is common. But in so doing, it is antithetical to considering a trial as joyful in one’s attitudinal response. When one interprets the oftquoted passage, “be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” in its intended context of a proper and mature response to trials, it takes on a heightened, more specific meaning. Likened to Joseph, we need to learn to first be contemplative relative to the onslaught of various trials in our lives. Listen with the attitude of, “God, what are you trying to teach me through this,” versus reacting harshly and speaking out about perpetrators with others who are uninvolved, or lashing out in some other form of outward anger. How spiritually childish infers James! Put such responses aside and receive the word which God wants to implant in your life—after all, James implies, it is the same word you as a believer are trusting in for you salvation. Now trust in it for your sanctification! To receive the word implanted is a beautiful synonym, underscore and contextual bookend to the meaning of wisdom: applied knowledge. All is opposite to disputing the significance of a trial. Be contemplative versus reactive in such settings my friend.
The apostle Paul provides much by way of additional insight into the internal thought processes and disciplines that the believer need cultivate to become spiritually mature in times of and through trials. He states in Philippians 4:6-9:
by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Our natural immature response to trials is to be slow to hear, quick to speak and quick to anger. Notice how the above Pauline passage contrasts with that? Paul’s inner thoughts were to put off anxiety, knowing God is in sovereign control over the affairs of His called-out ones. In times of trials don’t doubt, dodge or dispute. Turn first to God in prayer and gives thanks. Look for God’s protection in your heart and mind, and then force yourself to dwell on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and of good repute. He modeled this for us and we need to discipline our minds to respond maturely – increasingly so – in all of life’s trials for our growth.