The Epistle of James
Likeness to Christ, Life’s Goal
God has a design for each life, and that design is to be conformed to the image of His Son. The life Christ lived in this world is the supreme ideal for any life, and God’s design for our lives is to bring them as near to that ideal as is possible. Patience, the ability of one who has faith in Christ to remain alive under pressure, comes as near to reaching that goal as anything else can. Human nature, being what it is, requires pressing burdens, testings, trials, etc. to reach that goal.
The word “faith” occurs for the first time in chapter one and verse three. It is used 16 times in the entire Epistle. Faith is, therefore, the theme of the Epistle. i.e. faith of a definite kind. Peter calls this faith more precious than gold which perishes (1 Peter 1:7). And faith that is tried, Peter says, stands approved before God at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
Paul On Pressing Burdens
Paul also suggests in Romans 5:35 that Christians should glory in pressing burdens, because pressing burdens will produce patience, and patience, proven character, and proven character, hope. That seems to be the royal highway to likeness to Christ: pressing burdens, patience, proven character, hope, likeness to Christ. It is said, “Adversity breaks some people, but others break records.” One who has faith in Christ can more readily break records in adversity, than one who does not have faith in Christ.
The Ultimate Goal of Trials Returning again to James, in the fourth verse he mentions the ultimate goal that trials are designed to achieve. He says, “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be entire, wanting nothing.” In other words, James as good as says, “Let this patience-producing-process continue until such a degree of perseverence is developed that you may become men of proven character.” That is the ultimate goal which all the trials of life are designed to achieve. So, beloved brethren, do not fret when some calamity overwhelms you. A priceless legacy is without doubt hidden in it. Be on the alert, anticipate it, and seek to recognize the concealed blessing.
Lack of Wisdom
Should someone lack wisdom while passing through this patience-producing-process, he has an inexhaustible supply at his command. Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), and He dwells in the believer, so he has an inexhaustible supply of wisdom within. James says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” God is anxious to give wisdom, in fact, it is His nature to give; He cannot do otherwise.
What Is Wisdom?
Wisdom is an attribute of God; it is not native in man. Wisdom cannot be acquired; it must be bestowed. Socrates, the father of philosophy, refused to be called wise, or even to be known as a master of wisdom. To him only God was wise. He preferred to be known as a philosopher, a lover of wisdom, which is the meaning of the word. Wisdom is described in the apocryphal book of Enoch, as descending from Heaven to earth, and, being rejected by man, returned to Heaven to await the Messianic Age when she will be poured out in her fullness on the elect.
We are to ask God for wisdom when we need it, but we must ask in faith without inward doubts. It is useless to pray for wisdom, and then harbor inward doubts that we will receive it. Such a doubter is likened to a wave of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. He who doubts need not expect to receive anything from the Lord. He is a man of divided loyalities, and is unstable in every way.
The Prayer of Faith
So, my beloved brethren, should some pressing burden or some hard trial overtake you to the extent that you are perplexed, and you hardly know which way to turn, knowing that you must make a decision, and that your own welfare, as well as that of others may depend on the decision you make, if such be your case, just ask God in simple faith to give you the wisdom to make the right decision. In asking, do not forget to thank God for giving you the wisdom. Do not question in your heart that God has granted the request. Confidently go your way knowing that your request has been granted, as Jesus said in Mark 11:24, —Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” That is praying in faith, and you can go forth with confidence knowing that wisdom will be at your command when it is needed. Then when you take up the problem, analyze every possible solution, appraising every facet that has merit, and there will come to you an inward consciousness of what is the right decision. You make the decision, and as its fruits unfold, you will realize that the decision you made was the best posssible.
With the ninth verse James begins to pin point some of the trials of life. He says, “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted.” Putting it in another form, “Moreover, let the brother in humble circumstances boast in his exaltation.” Circumstances of life sometimes take a heavy toll. Financial straits beyond our control, often cut deeply into our savings, business, or livelihood, and we find ourselves in humble circumstances. What is one in this circumstance to do? James says, “Let him rejoice.” Rejoice in what? In his height? In his exaltation? Spiros Zodhiates in his excellent book The Work of Faith, page 46, beautifully expresses the meaning of the Greek in the phrase translated “Let him rejoice.” He says, “It is to loudly profess something you have a right to be proud of, the companionship of God in your trials, which while you are so low makes you so high.” Truly, one can rejoice in humble circumstances.
The Rich Brother and Humility
The next verse brings the rich brother into view. He is to rejoice in his humility, not in his riches. He is a Christian brother whom the Lord has allowed to prosper in the acquisition of wealth. Rich men, as a rule, do not glory in their humility, rather in their wealth, in their social position, or the power inherent in wealth. But the rich man who has faith in Christ does not glory in these things, but rather in his humility. Such is the behavior of saving faith in one who has acquired considerable of this world’s goods.
It is not an easy matter for rich men to be humble. Yet there are Christian rich men who by their appearance and conduct hide the fact that they are rich. Their bearing is like that of the ordinary man. In this they have something to rejoice. Wealth is nothing to glory in; it is likened to the flower of the grass which flourishes today, but tomorrow the withering sun scorches the grass and the flower falls off. Riches can pass away as easily as the flower can fade. In the stock market crash in the late ‘20’s many millionaires became paupers over night. Without humility, they had nothing left to glory in. Humility cannot fade away; it remains when riches fail. Rich men also have pressing burdens, but if they have cultivated the Christian grace of humility, they are better prepared to remain alive under pressures.
The Crown of Life
James concludes his matchless treatise on the trials of life by saying, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he will recieve the Crown of Life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.” The crown of life is held out to those who successfully endure life’s trials. They stand approved before God and are crowned with the crown of life.
We append here a translation of the above text in perhaps a more readable and understandable form:
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ; to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings. (1). Look forward, my brethren, to that complete, all-embracing joy when you fall into diverse testings; recognizing that the trying of your faith produces patience. But let that patience-producing-process continue until such a degree of perseverence is produced that you become men of proven character (2-4). Should one of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God who gives liberally to all men without reproaching for the lack, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith without doubtings in himself, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. Let not such a man think that he shall receive anything from the Lord. For a man of divided loyalties is unstable in every way (5-8). Moreover, let the brother in humble circumstances rejoice in his exaltation. On the other hand, let the rich brother rejoice in his humility; because riches, like the flower of the grass, will pass away. For when the sun is risen with scorching heat, the grass withers and the flower falls off, and its goodly appearance and comeliness perish. So shall the rich man wear himself out in his acquisition of wealth (9-11). Happy is the man who stands his guard in the face of trials; for when he is approved, he shall receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who continue to love Him” (12).