Tested Faith James 1:1–18
Prospective pilots for major airlines are trained on flight simulators, which are designed to present them with a variety of problems they might encounter while flying. The candidates are first tested with simple challenges and are eventually given life-threatening problems to master. Upon completion of their training, the pilots are prepared to handle most problems faced in flight. Likewise, believers in Christ face times of testing that should bring them to maturity in their faith.
James, the Lord’s half-brother, illustrated this point by focusing on Hebrew Christians whose faith was being severely tested. He addressed them as “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (v. 1). The phrase scattered abroad is the Greek word diaspora, a technical term referring to Jews living outside of Israel due to hostility, deportation, or by choice.
Reason for Testing
James opened his letter with a simple Greek salutation, “greeting” (Gr., chairein, v. 1), an expression of joy, happiness, and well-being. In a tone of endearment, he said, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into various trials” (v. 2). Trials are not to be viewed as tribulation, but as a time of testing. James did not say that trials are a joy to go through, but that believers should count them as joy. The word count is an accounting term meaning to evaluate or add up. Thus, he did not say that Christians should be joyous for their trials, but in their trials. Believers will “fall into” or encounter unexpected adversities in life. They should not look upon a trial as a curse or a calamity, but as a time of testing.
Believers are to rejoice in their trials, “Knowing … that the testing of [their] faith worketh patience” (v. 3). The word knowing means knowledge gained by personal experience. Trials are to be viewed in a positive light—as a time of testing or a time when an individual’s faith is being proven to be genuine. Pure faith, like pure gold, will survive the refining process of fire. A time of testing develops “patience” (lit., endurance), or staying power, and steadfastness in the midst of affliction. Believers should not passively endure a time of testing, but should try to learn from their experiences. This produces maturity in the person being tested and brings glory to God. Some people succumb to trials in their lives, but others work through them and emerge victorious. The outcome depends on the spiritual attitude of the individual.
James said, “let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing” (v. 4). Enduring these tests produces certain characteristics in people being tested. First, they become “perfect”—not sinless, but spiritually mature and seasoned in their Christian experience. Second, they become “entire,” meaning whole and complete, fully developed in their Christian experience. Third, they are “lacking nothing” (v. 4), meaning that God will provide everything they need to remain obedient in their lives of faith. All believers face times of testing, but not all learn from them. To learn from these tests is to grow in faith.
Resources During Testing
Christians do not go through their trials alone. They have God’s wisdom at their disposal. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (v. 5). This wisdom is not philosophical insight about how to handle life, but spiritual wisdom divinely provided through God’s Word and prayer. It assists believers in enduring times of testing with joy and submission to God’s will. Such wisdom is not given automatically. Believers must “ask of God”—pray for God to provide divine insights on how to handle the testing. God “gives liberally [generously] and without reproach [resentment]” (v. 5, NKJV) to all who ask in faith. God does not criticize believers for their lack of wisdom. He knows that all believers are finite. If they but ask in faith, He will come to their aid. God does not promise that the wisdom given will cause the outcome of the trial to conform to a believer’s will, but it will accomplish His purpose in the one being tested.
God will provide divine wisdom under one condition: A believer must “ask in faith, nothing wavering [doubting]” (v. 6). A person who doubts “is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (v. 6). Waves of the sea have no control of movement and are driven upward and outward, wherever the wind blows them. Doubting people are “double-minded” and “unstable in all [their] ways” (v. 8). They have mental reservations concerning God’s willingness to answer on their behalf. Thus, untrusting believers are not genuine in what they expect from God and should not “think that [they] shall receive anything of the Lord” (v. 7).
Trials are no respecter of persons; they come upon the poor and the rich alike. Some believers are of “low degree” (v. 9)—insignificant in the world’s eyes because of their socioeconomic state. Many early Hebrew Christians were rejected by their families, suffered persecution and famine (Acts 11:28–29), and were barely able to eke out a living. In God’s eyes, however, they are highly esteemed because of their spiritual position in Christ. Therefore, such believers should “rejoice in that [they are] exalted” (v. 9). What believers possess in Christ far outweighs any position of socioeconomic status in this life. Conversely, rich people who are under trial should rejoice in that they are “made low” (v. 10). Through trials, the rich come to see their frailty and realize that they must rely upon the treasures found in Christ, not upon earthly wealth.
James illustrated this point with a common truth found in nature. Flowers and grass spring up due to the moisture and coolness of the night, but they quickly perish under the scorching heat of the noonday sun (v. 11). So it is with the rich; the loss of riches and death happen suddenly, without warning (v. 11). The rich and the poor alike should rejoice in the fact that God does not accept people on the basis of their wealth or lack of it. True wealth is the spiritual riches promised through Jesus Christ.
James then takes the reader back to the theme of this chapter: “Blessed [happy] is the man that endureth temptation” (v. 12). Believers can rejoice in testing because they know that by enduring their trials they will be brought to maturity and completeness in Christ. “For when he is tried [approved], he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (v. 12). Believers who persevere through times of testing show that their faith is genuine. They will be ultimately rewarded with “the crown of life.” Jesus is not saying that enduring testing earns eternal life. People are not saved through self-effort but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The original Greek suggests that the phrase “crown of life” means the crown, which consists of the eternal life. Believers who endure testing enjoy a victorious life now and will experience even greater blessings in eternity.
Reaction to Temptation
Some may argue that God is the source of temptation. God forbid! James quickly refuted the idea that evil comes from God. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (v. 13). God is not the author of temptation, nor does He have any capacity in His holy nature that would make Him vulnerable to evil. He may allow a person to be tested by evil, but He does not send the evil or induce a person to sin under any condition.
James then outlined the steps of succumbing to evil. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (v. 14). First, people respond to temptation because of their depraved Adamic nature. The lust of the flesh within an individual’s Adamic nature cries out to be satisfied. James illustrated this point with two examples from nature. The words drawn away mean to draw out, picturing an individual being drawn to temptation by a strong lust within his or her nature. The expression was used to describe wild animals drawn into traps, often resulting in death. The word enticed pictures a fish being lured by bait dangled before its eyes. Within the bait is a hook that ensnares the fish. These are appropriate illustrations of how lust draws or baits people to commit sin.
Second, “when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin” (v. 15). James used the example of the lustful inclination within people to form illicit sexual unions outside of marriage that often result in conception, producing unwanted births. The point of this analogy is that each lust produces its own kind of sin.
Third, “sin, when it is finished [grown to full maturity], bringeth forth death” (v. 15). The result of the process could be an untimely death for the person involved, in contrast to the fruitful life God gives to those who love Him.
Fourth, a final warning is given: “Do not err, my beloved brethren” (v. 16). James was saying, Do not let yourself be deceived by wandering away from what I am telling you about lust, temptation, and the consequences of sin, and do not blame God for your sin.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (v. 17). The idea is that every gift that God gives to people is useful and beneficial to them. Each gift is perfect in the sense that it is complete and lacks nothing when it comes to meeting a person’s needs. Because God is the source of only good gifts, He cannot give that which is evil. He is “the Father of lights.” His giving character has been seen from the inception of creation when He sovereignly spoke all things into being. The creation declares His goodness and glory (Ps. 19:1). God does not change; there “is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (v. 17) with Him. Thus, He is constant and consistent in His nature, character, and actions. He is not like the stars of heaven that cast shadows as they rotate in their orbits. God is pure light; there is no variation of change in His holiness, goodness, and giving.
The greatest witness of God’s goodness is that He gave the gift of salvation. “Of his own will begot he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (v. 18). God willed to give spiritual birth to all who would believe in Christ’s finished work on the cross. Sin gives birth to death (v. 15), but God, out of His goodness, rescued believers from perishing and resolutely provided salvation. He did so by “the word of truth.” The proclamation of God’s Word, implanted in a person’s soul by the Holy Spirit, is used to bring that person to salvation. The divine purpose of the new birth is “that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (v. 18). The Jewish Christians whom James was addressing were the “first fruits” of salvation in Christ. The first fruit was only a portion of the full harvest that was to be gathered. In time, the gospel was proclaimed to the Gentiles, who were brought to saving faith in Christ (Acts 15:14–18). Believers are the first fruits of God’s new creation in Christ.
Although every believer is a new creation in Christ, they will still experience trials and temptations because they live in an evil world. Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (Jn. 16:33) We cannot overcome temptation in our own strength, but by re lying on God’s wisdom we can emerge victorious. It all depends on our spiritual attitude and our trust in God. The Lord will not give a person more than he or she can endure and will make a way to escape the temptation for all who trust Him (1 Cor. 10:13).
Christ said, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). He is our instructor, taking us through the simple and the life-threatening problems that we must face in our walk of faith. So, look for the lesson in your time of testing. He is with you!