James 1:1-18.
Enduring the Storms of Life

Copyright © 2009, American Journal of Biblical Theology
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV

Pictures Courtesy of the National Severe Storms Laboratory

·        MissouriA mile-wide tornado rips through a mid-western American town, destroying virtually every home and business.  Several people are killed, and the survivors wander through the rubble trying to make sense of it all.  Some are overwhelmed with grief, others are stalwart in their resolve, and all are in shock.

·        RaleighA mother receives a late-night phone-call from the local police informing her that a drunk and unlicensed driver drove a borrowed SUV onto the interstate in the wrong direction, and her family has been lost in the resulting accident.

·        Massachusetts.  A wife and family suddenly learn that their indomitable father and husband has just been diagnosed with an extremely fast-growing and dangerous brain tumor that will surely bring his life to a sudden and difficult end.

·        China An earthquake of unprecedented violence brings down thousands of stacked block and concrete buildings and homes, crushing tens of thousands of people and leaving nearly a million homeless.

·        Washington, DCA brave father and mother fight back tears as the courage and bravery of their son is revealed to a nation as the President awards him a posthumous Medal of Honor. 

All of these events are quite real, and all have taken place within the last few weeks.  There is little doubt that life is eventful, and sometimes dramatically so.  For many, life seems to be a series of one storm after another.  For some, the difficult times come occasionally, but not without stress.  After the devastation of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, people asked, as they often do in such disasters, "How can a loving God allow this to happen?" Romans 8:28 teaches us that God works all events for good for those who love Him, and yet it is sometimes difficult to impossible to see any good in the tumultuous events of life.  The storms are going to come.  God promises us an abundant life, one of peace and joy, yet our lives often seem to be frequently punctuated with everything but peace.  How can we be better prepared to endure difficult times and difficult experiences? How can these experiences serve us instead of diminish us? God knows our need at such times, and when we look to Him we can find both direction and purpose, even in the most dramatic storms of life.

James writes to the Christian church after one or two generations of persecution at the hands of both the Jewish and Gentile cultures, but primarily the former.  He and his church are located in Jerusalem where the persecution is the most severe.  Christians are treated much like blacks were treated in the 19th century American South.  They were not allowed to own land, often found employment withheld, and found it difficult to take part in the daily commerce of the community.  They were considered a dangerous cult by the Jews and a threat to Caesar by the Romans.  It has been two generations after the ascension of Jesus, and there are few who personally remember the events of Jesus' ministry.  The early Christians were finding it harder and harder to live a life of faith when faced with such stress.  Addressing this need, the New Testament writers, particularly James, John, and Peter, often provided instruction and encouragement pertaining to dealing with trials, persecutions, and loss.  James' letter to the Christian church is more of a guide for Christian conduct than it is a doctrinal thesis.  James sees the purpose behind the storms of life as they can serve to increase the Christian maturity and faith of the believer.  Such growth is then appropriately expressed in the fruit of good works that bring Glory to God and serve to provide ministry one to another in difficult times.  Stress comes into the life of a Christian from a variety of sources.  All are subject to the ravages of natural disaster and disease.  One who lives his/her faith openly is in conflict with this wicked world.  Reviled and misrepresented by the biased news media, ridiculed and debased by the entertainment industry, Christians are described as intolerant and inept.  All people suffer the consequences of sin as we see life devalued, and people living self-centered lives.  Christians are not insulated from the consequences of sin in their own lives and in the lives of those who impact them.  Divorce and suicide rates among Christians are comparable with the rest of the culture.  James' book of encouragement and instruction is every bit as significant for us today as it was for those early Christians as it deals with these very important issues.

James 1:1.  James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

Who is James?   It is rather obvious that if the writer is referring to his own name in this salutation, the author is named, “James.”  This would lead us to search the New Testament for individuals with this name.  We find four: (1) James the Apostle, son of Zebedee, (2) James "the Just," half-brother of Christ (Gal.  1:19), (3) James the son of Alphaeus (Matt.  10:13) and (4) James the “Lesser,” son of Mary and brother of Joses (Matt 27:56).  The son of Zebedee was martyred early in church history (44 A.D.) and does not figure greatly in the New Testament.[1]  The latter two individuals did not have the background for the language used in the letter.  Since the third century, the traditional author of this epistle has been James, the half-brother of Jesus, pastor of the church in Jerusalem.[2]  However, there has been significant resistance to this conclusion by the Catholic church, driven by their preference to maintain Mary’s virginity throughout her lifetime.[3] 

The time of writing is not well proven.  The use of "synagogue" points to early writing while references to persecution point to latter.  Also, knowledge of 1 Peter and the sermon on the mount point to the latter dating.  Furthermore, the initial description of his audience as being scattered implies that the writing took place after the most intense periods of persecution.  It is the opinion of this author that the letter was written in the latter period, after 70 A.D.

James describes himself as a servant, doulos, or a bond-slave.  This is the word for a slave who serves by choice with the purpose of paying off a debt, or a bond.  This word speaks volumes about how James perceives the ordination and structure of church leadership.  Like Paul, James sees himself as a minister, a servant of low esteem.  James and Paul both teach that those in "high office" in the early church are not masters, but servants.  This is quite contrary to the structure of worldly organizations.  Often the organizations of the world permeates the church, and leaders take upon themselves the authority of a master, demanding to make the decisions, and to control the body.  They see themselves at the top of the executive ladder.  This model contradicts the teaching of the apostles.  First-century church leaders are to act as willing volunteer servants, submissive to the will of God as revealed in His Word, through prayer, and through the testimony of other Christians who serve the same God.

To whom is James writing? James, like Paul, teaches that the Christian church is the new Israel, recipients of the promise of Abraham through Jesus Christ.  Consequently, the "twelve tribes" is an idiomatic reference to all Christians, as in its literal sense it would have referred to all Jews.  Furthermore, the Diaspora, the scattering of the faithful in Jerusalem to which James apparently refers was experienced first by the Christians, and later by the Jews.  Also, the twelve tribes of Israel literally no longer exist.  Most of the tribes were long ago assimilated through cultural immersion and through the various captivities.  James is simply testifying to the sufferings and persecutions of the Church, and writes this letter to help to encourage its members and strengthen their faith.  Unlike Paul’s letters that were written to specific individuals, specific churches, or specific groups of churches, James writes to the entire church.  Hence, this book is referred to as a “general” or “Catholic” epistle.  The other Catholic epistles include Hebrews, 1-2 Peter, 1-2-3 John, Jude, and the Revelation of John.

James refers to God and the Lord separately, adding his testimony to the other gospel and epistle writers who understand the concept of the Holy Trinity.  We do not honor one person of God without honoring the other.  They are one and inseparable.


James 1:2.  My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;

Certainly, the set of trials and tribulations experienced by people is diverse.  Our natural response to difficulties in our lives is generally negative.  So, when we read James' statement, we may find it difficult to understand.  How can one experience joy amidst turmoil? James does not tell us to "be happy," he reminds us have joy.  Though tribulation may diminish our happiness, James reminds us that it need not rob us of our joy.  There is a difference between joy and happiness.  Happiness is a transitory emotion.  It is an experience that passes when the stimulus for happiness subsides.  Joy, on the other hand, is an understanding and appreciation of God's love that engenders a deep and abiding peace that transcends any circumstance.  Joy in the Lord is not predicated by events, but in contrast, can carry one through them.  The true joy that comes from the LORD gives one a great strength.[4]

Philosophy teaches us to be calm, Christ teaches us to have a deep and abiding joy in Him.  How and why should our response be one of joy rather than despair? Again, God has a purpose in all of the events that transpire in the life of a Christian, inclusive of those that do not bring immediate happiness.  God also has a purpose for all those experiences that bring suffering and pain.  James goes on to describe some of that purpose.


James 1:3.  Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

Trials exercise faith.  Often we see strong faith in those who endure great hardship while others of weaker faith crumble under its load.  Faith can be strengthened in the same way that one strengthens one's muscles.  Muscles are strengthened under the continual application of a physical load.  Likewise, faith can be strengthened under the application of a spiritual or emotional load.  What is the result of the 'trying' of your faith? Just as physical exercise strengthens the muscles, making it easier to carry heavy loads, James states that the exercising of faith produces patience or endurance.  Paul is in complete agreement with James on this point:

Romans 5:1-5.  Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  3And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

The exercise of one spiritual fruit produces others.  Exercising patience produces a tremendous increase in the power of one’s spiritual gifts. 

James 1:4.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

Often when we are enduring a conflict, our prayer is for God to remove the stressor from our lives.  We would prefer to live a life that is free of conflict and pain, and our first desire is to simply have it removed calling upon God is if He serves us as our great spiritual surgeon who will excise pain at our pleasure.  However, that is not God's purpose in tribulation.  For God to work in our lives, the process can not be short-circuited.  We are called upon to lean upon God and endure the suffering for its appropriate duration.  Again, a physical workout metaphor is instructive.  One is not going to strengthen muscles by avoiding exercise.  I cannot go to the gym, pick up a 200-pound weight one time, set it down, and return home having accomplished anything except short-term pain and a waste of good time and resources.  Likewise, by exercising patience instead of passion we can let the trials work their complete purpose, bearing all that God appoints for us.  When we do this we will find our faith strengthened, and events that once hit us like a fiery dart[5] lose their sting. 

Heb.  10:35-36.  Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.  For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.


James 1:5.  If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

When we find ourselves under the stresses of affliction we should pray.  What should we pray for? Usually our natural response will to be to focus on the stressor and make it the center of our interest and petitions.  However, look at the difference in our response to the setting if we earnestly are seeking God's plan and purpose instead or our own.  God promises to grant wisdom to those who earnestly ask, and His wisdom can carry us through the tough times and at the same time restore that joy that is lost when we focus on our circumstances instead of on Him.

Rather than praying for the removal of the affliction, Christians can pray for the wisdom to understand God's purpose and seek our appropriate response to it.  Wisdom will guide us in our judgment of the circumstances we are immersed in.  Wisdom will govern our temper, and help us in the management of the details surrounding the stressful events.  The ability to exercise godly wisdom in trying times is a gift from God, a manifestation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the individual.  Seek God for wisdom.  God has promised that when asking for wisdom we receive it.  The act of sincere petition opens up our heart to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  It is when we are so opened that God can speak, and we can learn.  The very humility of a true, faithful prayer in a time of stress is in itself an indicator of God's wisdom at work in you.


James 1:6.  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.  For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

How important is it that one's faith be strong? After all, faith as small as a "mustard seed" has the power to save.  However, weak faith is nothing to be proud of.  Weak faith does not serve well to protect one from the pains and stressors of life.  A Christian who has a weak faith, made so by an insufficient investment in and submission to the Word and will of God, finds him/herself challenged, or even knocked down by every small storm that passes.  Life is a sequence of one crisis after another for such an individual.  It is not God's desire that we be so weak in spirit, but rather that as we experience our sequence of days, we mature and be continually strengthened in our faith.  A stronger faith can weather the storms, and by doing so, become even more strengthened against future events.  A mature faith can be used of God to then minister to others who are also enduring similar storms of life.

When Jesus performed miracles of healing he often demanded unwavering faith on the part of those receiving the benefits of the event.  This does not mean unwavering faith always results in healing?  Your affliction may be in God's plan to teach you (or someone else) God's sovereignty, our frailty, etc. 

James 1:7.  For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

"Think" here could be translated "presume." God will reward an unwavering faith.  Such a faith recognizes God's sovereignty and rejects our own authority over Him in deciding what is ultimately best for us.  Many charlatans may preach or sell an easy fix to our problems, guaranteeing results, or blaming our failure to be delivered from our stress on our own weak faith.  However, we are never in a position to presume that God will respond our way to our personal request as though He is simply a credit card that we can take from our wallet and redeem at our pleasure.  God's purposes are far above our own desires and experience, and when we presume the nature of His response to our prayers, we reduce him to our own level or below.  Consequently, wisdom exercised in faith will look to God's purpose, not to the emancipation from our predicament.  We may wait with joyful expectation to see how the LORD is going to work in our lives, but it is quite inappropriate to place demands upon God concerning how He does that work.  We also set ourselves up for disappointment if we place such demands upon God when His response does not match those demands.  God's Word is consistent, and included in that Word is God's command that we not put Him to the test.  Demanding God to act according to our will is placing God to such a test, particularly when we respond to Him with disappointment and criticism when our way is not God's way. 

James 1:8.  A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Wavering, or vacillating, produces double-mindedness, a duality of purpose that is often characterized by one foot in the world and one foot in heaven; a Christian schizophrenic.  A person who is spiritual in one circumstance and worldly in another is of no reasonable value in either realm.  Such immaturity is characterized by a faith that rises and falls based upon the severity of life's issues and the circumstances of their surroundings.  God does not vacillate, nor does His Spirit.

James 1:9.  Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:

Poverty or riches do not encumber our value to God.  Abraham, Solomon and David were very rich, yet the poorest Christian is equal in God's eyes.  We should not allow economics to define our values.  Certainly, poverty is one of the great stressors of our world.  The early church, because of the persecution that they endured, was often forced into poverty.  Our social culture would stratify those in poverty into a lower state, and impress that status upon them.  The result of such social persecution is a chronic lack of self-esteem or self-worth.  One who is so persecuted will easily state that they are less intelligent, less attractive, and certainly of less value than their richer counterparts.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  God loves all people without regard to their possessions or social status.  In fact, those who are rich face additional challenges.


James 1:10-11.  But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.  11For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.

He who places his value in his riches is made low by them.  His riches cannot save him, and he will ultimately lose them either in this world or in passing to the next.  Having been married for over 30 years, my wife would be the first to state, "my husband does not buy me flowers." I do purchase perennial flowering plants.  Now, our lack of a green thumb, notwithstanding, may challenge this thesis, but we have usually been able to get plants to live longer than cut flowers.  Cut flowers may be beautiful for a season, but they quickly fade, wither, and die.  The life of a rich man is like those flowers.  Life is but a moment in eternity, and the rich man who rejects God lives his life to the full, but only for a moment, for when his life is over, the riches remain behind, and an eternity separated from God is ...  hell.  In this, he will be made low.  However, the Christian who he persecutes can look at him and recognize the lack of wisdom in his approach to life, and death.  The Christian is encouraged to know that the contrast he is experiencing in life will be reversed at death, where an eternity with God is ...  heaven. 

The rich man of the world finds joy in his power and possessions of this world.  Where does the man of faith find joy? The Christian can find joy in knowing the love of God and through experiencing it in this life, and in the knowledge that that God's love and blessings for them will never end.  When fully expressed, this joy empowers the lowly in this earth to live a life of peace and joy while the rich man who appears happy is suffering from a myriad of maladies without a prospect of relief.  When one closely observes the lifestyles of the rich and famous it is rare to find happiness that is longer than momentary.  Most suffer from the stresses engendered by the actions needed to maintain their lifestyle.

Yet, even those who are not rich can experience suffering when they experience loss.  Loss or personal property from natural events like hurricanes and tornados is experienced across economic social levels.  Why is it that some people suffer so when they lose their home and its contents, yet others who lose the same stand with a firm resolve, thankful for their safety, and can even approach the situation with humor? Much of our suffering comes from our placing an inappropriate priority on the things that we accumulate around ourselves.  In doing so we give them a form of authority that can become idolatrous.  All of this "stuff" that we gather may contribute to our physical comfort and amusement, but contributes little to what is really important in our lives: our relationship with God and with each other.  In fact, if we give authority to those possessions they can come between us and the appropriate expression of our faith.  These things will all fade away.  They are simply the wood, hay, and stubble of this world, a withering grass that may serve only to take from us our time and resources.  If we would suffer greatly over the loss of our "stuff" it might profit us to take a good look at under the exposing light of the Holy Spirit and determine its true value.


James 1:12.  Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

What are some of the temptations that vex us when we fall into "diverse trials"? Certainly, one temptation is to do anything to remove the stressor.  We have already seen in verse four that God calls upon us to endure, not conquer.  We are blessed for the enduring, blessed with spiritual maturation that is characterized by the development of strengthened spiritual gifts, including patience and wisdom.  Afflictions themselves do not make us miserable.  Our response to them dictates this.  A blessing is certainly missed in an inappropriate response.  Why is it that two people respond so differently to the same stressor.  One man who loses his legs in an accident is a fighter who rebounds from his injuries and resumes life fully.  Another man who suffers an identical event withdraws, becomes depressed, and never walks again.  It is not the injury that defeats us, it is falling into the temptations that would defeat us.

There is a reward for endurance.  Part of the blessing described by James is a "Crown of Life".  We bear the cross for a short while, but the crown of life is for eternity.  It is a promise.  When an American soldier is injured in battle he/she receives a Purple Heart award, a thirty-five cent bauble of brass and colored cloth.  Like a crown, it is a badge, a symbol, and intrinsically it may have little or no value.  However, the crown of life is salvation, the reward for placing one's faith and trust in God.  This blessing is not given by God from any form of debt.  God does not owe us, but rather gives to us out of his love and grace.  The trials of this world serve to strengthen, purify, and bless our walk with the Lord when we submit to His wisdom in dealing with them.

James 1:13.  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:

God is not the author of any man's sin, nor does he give bad gifts.  He does not cast us into affliction.  We must never get the opinion, "Why did God do this to me" or "allow this to happen".  A good example of this is answered when we look at the circumstances surrounding the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/01.  God did not bring down the Trade Towers.  They were brought down by the deliberate and sinful actions of a handful of wicked men.  Where was God? No person died who was below the point of impact of the towers.  Less than 3,000 were killed in a community that usually housed over 50,000.  The plane that hit the Pentagon struck at a point that was temporarily evacuated of its normal 5,000 employees.  The planes that were destroyed, normally filled to capacity, were for some inexplicable reason populated to only 25% capacity.  Then, God was with every friend and family member who mourned this despicable act. 

Sin is a choice that man makes.  It is a self-centered, godless, response to personal desire.  James describes the progression of impact that sin has on our lives in the next few verses.

James 1:14.  But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

From what source do afflictions arise? Does God make us sin? Does the devil make us sin? Satan is powerless when confronted by the power of the Holy Spirit, so by virtue of his own impotence he cannot make a Christian sin against their own will.  However, it is the personal will that plays such an important part in sin and its impact on our lives.  Circumstances and events transpire regularly in the lives of every person that give opportunity for sin.  How we respond to that opportunity exposes our true nature, whether it is one of the will of the world, or one that seeks God's will.  When one has his/her focus off of God and on one's self, it is easy to be drawn by such temptations into sinful actions.  This is where the cycle of sin's destruction starts.  And, with sinful destruction comes no shortage of trials and tribulations experienced by the sinner and all of those whom he/she impacts.

James 1:15.  Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

Note the progression of degradation that transpires in the practice of sin experienced by the lost to its inevitable and final end.  A temptation that is presented is embraced rather than rejected.  Then, once embraced, the temptation is exercised in sin, a sin that separates one from God.  Though Christians are protected from the eternal condemnation at life's end, they are not free of the affliction of its worldly consequences,[6] nor will they receive the blessings, temporal or eternal, that would have been attained in obedience.

This chain of progression is broken when God's wisdom is used to reveal that our own action (sin) is the cause of the affliction.  "Why did God do this to me?" "Why did God allow this to happen?" The truth is, I did it to myself.  To blame God for our sin is unreasonable.

Several years back, while engaged in door-to-door visitation, I encountered a desperate and grieving woman who had just lost her child to the irresponsible actions of a drunk driver.  Her toddler had wandered into the roadway to be immediately struck down and killed.  She was angry with God, and angry with me for representing Him at this time.  She attacked me with the question, "Why would your God do this to my baby." After a fervent and millisecond prayer, the answer was revealed.  "Ma'am, God did not kill your baby.  A drunk driver killed your baby." I purposely failed to ask why she was not supervising her child.  My own toddler son once figured out how to pick the lock on the front door and wandered out into the street on a "Big Wheel" tricycle only to be saved by an observant driver.  Sin is a choice to follow a lust to the point of conception, a conception that brings with it the consequences of the act.


James 1:16.  Do not err, my beloved brethren.

Sin is often referred to as "missing the mark," making an error.  When I throw a dart at the center of a regulation dartboard, it is generally predictable that the dart will land somewhere about six inches away from its intended point of impact.  Why does the dart miss the bull's eye? There are many distractions that prevent precision, from physical limitations, to lack of skill, to lapses in concentration and poor decision making.  Just as the bull's-eye is surrounded by territory where the dart does not belong, the center of the mark that God prescribes for us is so surrounded.  His Word reveals the truth, and Christians are responsible for knowing and following it.  Do not wander from the truth that you know.  In temptation we are drawn to embrace sin as we willfully reject the prompting of the Holy Spirit to abstain from such behavior.  When immersed in stress and affliction we are often tempted to follow a quick fix, one that is outside the spirit and timing of God, wide of the mark of obedience.  The council of false teachers we have around us is particularly dangerous.  Also, we may be our own worst counselor.  Falling into error can and should be avoided, and can be mostly avoided through consistent prayer, Bible study, and Christian fellowship.  However, when Christians do err, they have the opportunity to confess that sin before God, repent of it, and receive immediate and complete forgiveness.


James 1:17.  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

God never changes.  Though we may vacillate from day to day or from age to age, the timelessness of God dictates that he can never change.  God is the One who illuminates every facet of our lives.  God has created all that there is, and likewise everything good comes from Him.  Those lusts prepared by the unholy one may look good, but beneath the gilded surface lie dead men's bones.  That which comes from God is completely reliable and pure, always has been, and always will be.  He is reliable.  As the Father of Light, God chases away the darkness of wickedness and evil.  The Holy Spirit, in His convicting and illuminating power reveals sin in our lives and gives us the opportunity and power to reject it.

James 1:18.  Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

A true Christian is a new creature.  He is as different as if he were formed again and born afresh.  The Christian, though subjected to the consequences of the sins of this world, has been born of God with a power to be godly, a power to experience the joy of the Lord even through tough times, and by so doing is a testimony to the very nature, plan, and purpose of Jesus Christ.  First fruits are those that were totally dedicated to God, often to the point of complete sacrifice.  Likewise, a Christian is to be totally dedicated to God, abiding in Him, seeking His will.  When a Christian lives such a life, God can use those storms that assail as lessons that teach the mind and mature the spirit.  Then, as the Christian matures in wisdom, the impact of the storms lessens and the power of God in the life of the Christian increases.  This is the pattern that James sees in the life of a Christian, and one of which all Christians can be acutely aware.  By following this pattern, Christians can, indeed, count it joy when the storms assail.

[1] Richardson, 39

[2] Burdick, 161

[3] Ropes, 54-62.

[4] Nehemiah 8:10.

[5] Ephesians 6:16.

[6] Aids, ravages of alcohol and drug abuse, victimization from crimes, etc.