In our passage for study James looks at the difficulties and temptations that beset believers and the opportunities that these can present. In tackling this subject, James gives us six separate pieces of instruction: endurance in the face of life's difficulties promotes Christian maturity; v2-4, wisdom aids endurance, v5-8; in difficult times, prosperity is of little value due to its impermanence, v9-11; those who endure reap the reward of eternal life, v12; testing-times may be divinely sanctioned, but temptations are not, since these are the product of our own evil desires, v13-15; only good comes from God, not evil, v16-18.
v2-4. First, James encourages us to endure the difficulties of life as a gift from God. In the face of difficult challenges we have the opportunity to grow in Christian maturity, to round out our discipleship, to grow in faith (our loyalty and reliance on God) along with all the other qualities that make for a true disciple of Christ. As Leslie Mitton puts it, testing times clothe us with "the full equipment of the complete Christian."
v5-8. Second, James identifies one piece of the full equipment of the complete Christian which helps us brave the testing-times of life. That piece of equipment is "wisdom", spiritual discernment, having the capacity to know the mind of Christ and to apply it within the complexities and difficulties of life. This type of knowledge is promised a believer, but of course we have to ask for it believing that God will carry through on his promise. We can't oscillate between doubt and belief like a cork bouncing around in the surf, "for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord", NRSV.
v9-11. Third, James notes that wealth can smooth the passage of life in uncertain times, but in truth, there is little value in trusting the impermanence of prosperity. Let the prosperous believer and the poor believer boast of their Christian standing, because the life of a prosperous person is but a journey to decay.
v12. Fourth, as far as James is concerned, what matters in uncertain times is an ongoing reliance on the living Lord, for in Christ there is transcendent life, eternal life, rather than impermanence.
v13-15. Fifth, in the face of life's difficulties we are often tempted to sin. God may allow, even at times inflict trials on us, but he isn't into tempting us to sin. James simply asserts that God tempts no one.
v16-18. Sixth, having made the point that God is not the author of temptation, or of anything evil, James now puts the positive side of the argument. God is the one who gives good gifts to his people. Through his "word of truth", the gospel, he gave us "birth", new life, he redeemed us, and in doing so, made us a "firstfruits", a kind of downpayment of his redemptive plan for all creation.
Joe Cocker sang these words back in the days when he could still hit the high notes. It's a very powerful truth and one worth taking to heart, although it's very unwise to run the line by someone who is in the middle of a bout of grief - compassion please!
James is a book filled with practical advice for life's many situations - it's a kind of manuel on how to live with one foot in heaven and one on earth. The issue he deals with in our passage for study concerns surviving in testing times. James gives us six pieces of advice:
First: When bad things happen James encourages us to remember that testing times promote endurance, they promote maturity, they strengthen us to meet the next hurdle.
Second: In the face of life's difficulties James suggests that we ask for divine wisdom, that we ask for the mind of Christ. God has promised to equip us with such knowledge so it is only a matter of asking in faith, believing that God will do what he has promised.
Third: We may think that prosperity is the key to a trouble-free life, but it's good to remember that wealth is illusionary. Let both rich and poor boast in their Christian standing.
Fourth: The key to standing firm in the face of trouble is to stand firm in Christ.
Fifth: Difficult times seem to provide an opportunity for temptation to sin, but a "God made me do it" excuse doesn't wash because God is not into tempting anyone. As Shakespeare put it "The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, But in ourselves that we are underlings."
Sixth: When life is dark we can do no better than to remember the wonder of all that God has done for us, in particular, the gift of new life in Christ.
Discuss the six pieces of advice given us by James, with particular reference to their practical application.