Daily Devotional

October 23, 2019

Daybreak: James 1:1-27

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Our three-year-old granddaughter, Lily, was spending the day with us. Midway through the morning, she announced rather dramatically, “Grandma, I’m starving!” Deciding that a little snack probably would not spoil her lunch, I had her sit down at our kitchen table. Pulling out a portion-size packet of her favorite crackers, I dumped them onto a small plate in front of her.

Lily is being homeschooled, and my husband and I have been instructed to utilize day-to-day events as “teachable moments.” So I suggested that she count the crackers before she ate them. She agreeably stuck out her finger and began, “One…two…three…” Noticing that she shoved any broken crackers to the side and did not include them, I indicated the broken pieces and asked, “Lily, why didn’t you count these?” A perturbed crease appeared between her eyebrows, and in a voice that indicated her displeasure at having to state the obvious, she responded, “Grandma, those crackers are broken!”

A few days later, I came across our focus verses in the first chapter of James. The word “count” made me think about Lily’s refusal to count broken crackers. I wondered: How often do we do the same thing when it comes to counting all of life’s circumstances as joy? It is easy to be thankful for the blessings God has given us, but how much harder it is to count as joy the things that make us feel sad, fearful, frustrated, discouraged, or stressed — in essence, the “broken crackers” in our lives!

Still, that is what we are instructed to do. When James said, “Count it all joy…” he was not referring to the acceptable, pleasant aspects of our existence. He specifically instructed that we are to count as joy the “divers temptations” (or trials) that come our way. Now, that is a challenge!

The Apostle was not writing to people whose lives were free of hardship, but to believers who had been scattered by persecution and were experiencing the challenges that come to displaced persons in a hostile environment. To experience God’s abundant, overflowing joy, we must choose whether we will heed his advice or not. James acknowledged the difficult circumstances in his readers’ lives. At the same time, and with no hint of contradiction, he counseled them to rejoice during those very hardships. He encouraged them to face their trials with an attitude of joy, rather than viewing them as a punishment, a curse, or an unforeseen calamity.

His message is applicable for us today. Our initial reaction to such counsel might be, “That’s easier said than done!” We know what we are supposed to do, but how can we count times of sadness, frustration, affliction, or stress as joy?

Perhaps the secret lies in looking at the big picture. James went on to explain that “the trying of your faith worketh patience.” When we encounter trials, we are to trust God to use those circumstances for our spiritual good, focusing on the end result rather than the pain of the moment. Being “perfect and entire” — being spiritually mature and living a consistent life of holiness — is an end result worth making every effort to obtain.

True joy is not dependent on circumstances. It comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ and the assurance that He is working in and through all events that come our way. So let’s accept the broken pieces along with the whole. Let’s count as James would have us count, with an understanding that trials can help us to a greater spiritual maturity and a deeper relationship with God. Let’s count them all joy!

Background

The Epistle of James is one of twenty-one epistles or letters in the New Testament. The first chapter contains two main sections: verses 1-18 concern remaining steadfast in times of trial, either by temptation or suffering, and verses 19-27 are a series of admonitions related to obedience to divine truth.

In the original language, the word translated temptation (verse 2) refers to trials, proving, or testing. The phrase “trying of your faith” (verse 3) implies an intention to prove the quality of something. Since James specifically pointed to “faith” as the target, it is clear he was not addressing those who were suffering as a consequence of sin, but followers of Christ who were experiencing hardships as they served the Lord.

In verse 4, James gave the reason for patient endurance of trials — so those suffering would become “perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” He was pointing them toward a spiritually mature life, complete and consistent in holy living.

Verses 5-8 concern godly wisdom that makes the right use of trials, viewing them as opportunities for growth in holy living; James indicated this wisdom is a divine gift. He pointed out that if an individual lacked the ability to go through trials with joy, he could “ask in faith,” but that such a prayer must be sincere and unwavering, and not mask a secret desire for an easier way. The “double minded man” (verse 8) is the unstable individual who has divided affections and will not wholly commit himself to God.

Verses 9-11 continue the theme of trials developed in verses 2-4; many Christians of the Early Church faced challenges related to poverty and exploitation by the rich and powerful.

Bible scholars view the Epistle of James as being the most characteristically Jewish book in the New Testament. One example is in James’ statement, “Blessed is the man . . . he shall receive the crown of life” in verse 12; this has a marked similarity to the Beatitudes given by Jesus in Matthew 5. Jews used a “crown” to represent the highest state of happiness.

Continuing on through verse 18, the Apostle expanded upon the theme of trials, both sufferings and temptations, explaining the reward for faithfulness. He overcame the argument of those who excused failure by blaming God for sending a temptation, pointing out that a holy God never entices to evil. In the statement that a man is “drawn away [tempted] of his own lust” (verse 14), the word lust refers to any natural desire or susceptibility and does not necessarily imply desires that are selfish or wrong.

In verse 22, James admonished, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” In the ancient world, most instruction was delivered orally, so it was common for people to hear a teacher. If a person tried to live by what the teacher said, that one was called a “disciple” of the teacher. James was pointing out that Jesus is looking for disciples — doers, not just hearers. 

James’ instruction in verse 27 alluded to the fact that widows and orphans of that era had few means of economic or social support and thus were among the most vulnerable of people. There were few vocational opportunities for women in the ancient cultures, and no welfare system. Unless family members provided sustenance, widows and orphans were reduced to begging, going into slavery, or starving to death. James was making it clear that a genuine walk with God shows itself in simple, practical ways.

Amplified Outline

(Hannah's Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)

I.    Introduction: the author and recipients (1:1)
II.    Faith and trials (1:2-12)
    A.    Trials produce maturity (1:2-4)
    B.    Trials deepen the prayer life (1:5-8)
    C.    Trials provide perspective (1:9-11)
    D.    Trials produce rewards (1:12)
III.    Faith and temptations (1:13-18)
    A.    Tempting is contrary to God’s character (1:13-15)
        1.    The source of temptations (1:13-14)
            a.    Not of God (1:13)
            b.    Within man (1:14)
        2.    The fruit of temptations (1:15)
    B.    Tempting is contrary to God’s conduct (1:16-18)
        1.    The statement of God’s conduct (1:16-17)
        2.    The example of God’s conduct (1:18)
IV.    Faith and the Word (1:19-27)
    A.    The reception of the Word (1:19-21)
        1.    The principle (1:19)
        2.    The reason (1:20)
        3.    The method (1:21)
    B.    The doing of the Word (1:22-27)
        1.    The command (1:22)
        2.    The hearer described (1:23-24)
        3.    The doer described (1:25)
        4.    The practice desired (1:26-27)

A Closer Look

  1. What aspects of nature did James use to illustrate the point he made in verses 9-11?

  2. Why do you think bridling the tongue, referenced in verse 26, is so important for a Christian?

  3. What are some specific areas of your life where God has challenged you to be a doer and not just a hearer of His Word?

Conclusion

As Christians, we know there is purpose in the trials we experience. Understanding that God intends them for our good can help us to go through hard places and retain our joy.

Reference Materials