James 1:1-4

James 1:1‑4  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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THE title taken by the writer deserves our consideration: “James, bondman of God and of [the] Lord Jesus Christ.” It expressed his absolute devotedness to God as well as to the Lord Jesus Christ. He was bondman of both equally. He honored the Son even as he honored the Father. He avowed from the beginning his unqualified subjection to both. This was just what was most needed by the Israelites to whom he wrote. He sought the everlasting good of them all, as the style of his address attested: “to the twelve tribes that [are] in the dispersion, greeting.” The last word reminds us that it is in the letter which the apostles and elders with the whole assembly sent to the brethren from among the nations in defense of Christian liberty (Acts 15). But here the letter is directed only to the ancient people of God in their entirety, now a long while in a state of dispersion. For the return from Babylon had not hindered this, as only a small minority had returned from their exile. To all the twelve tribes he wrote, as being of the circumcision, even more widely than did Peter when he addressed his two epistles to the sojourners in Asia Minor. For he qualified it by terms expressive of vital Christianity, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” No such restriction appears here, though James without reserve confesses his own self-abnegating service of the Lord Jesus Christ no less than of God, and specifies living faith in Him among those to whom he writes.
But the Epistle is characteristically moral and hortative, not basing its appeals as the apostles in general did on an unfolding of grace and truth, so much as revealing by the way now and then the sovereign goodness that comes down from above, from the Father of lights, Who alone is reliable in a world of incessant change, and has quickened us by the word of truth, and has promised the crown of life to them that love Him.
Hence it opens with a cheering call to such as were in danger of being faint-hearted and cast down by their trials. The Jews naturally looked for outward marks of divine favor; yet psalms and prophets revealed deeper things. James goes farther still.
“Count [it] all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into various temptations, knowing that the proving of your faith worketh out endurance; but let endurance have a perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing” (vers. 2-4).
It is the counterpart of our Lord's beatitudes in Matt. 5. For the blessed in His eyes and mouth are, not only of no account in the world, but sufferers from it for righteousness' sake, and for Christ's, poor in spirit, meek, mourners, hungerers after righteousness, merciful, and more. They are called to rejoice and exult, for great is their reward in heaven. So here, “count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into various temptations.” In this world of sin and ruin, God not only works in grace but carries on a discipline of souls, and turns trials of all sorts into an occasion of blessing for all that own Him and seek His guidance. Self-will hardens itself against each trial, or yields to discouragement and even despair. Faith recognizes the love that never changes, and judges the self that resists His will or despises His word; and, as faith bows submissively, it reaps profit, and grows by the knowledge of Him.
Hence is the believer entitled and emboldened to think it every sort of joy whensoever he falls into varied trials, as indeed they may be, of all kinds. It is not that Christians are exempt from sorrow—far from it, or that we should not feel the sorrow, any more than forget God's grace. Thus the trial throws us back on Him without Whom not a sparrow falls on the ground, and by Whom the very hairs of our head are all numbered. Affliction comes not forth of the dust, nor does trouble spring out of the ground. All is under His hand Who has made us His for glory, and meanwhile puts our faith to. the test in this present evil age, habituating us not only to patience but to endurance.
So it was that Christ walked here below, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps. His meat was to do the will of Him that sent Him and to accomplish His work; His joy was in His love and the glorious counsels which He knew, and which will soon be the manifest issue. He indeed endured the cross, as was only possible to Him; but He suffered all through in a way proper to Himself, and learned obedience through it (for before He had only commanded); yet what was not His joy, man of sorrows though He was and acquainted with grief beyond all others He could and did upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not; for their guilt was worse than the worst judged of old. But at that, season it was that He answered and said, “I praise Thee [I confess to Thee], Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from wise and prudent, and didst reveal them to babes: yea, Father; for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight... Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest for your souls.”
Here too the ground of joy in sorrow is explained, knowing that the proving of our faith worketh out endurance, as the apostle in Rom. 5:44And patience, experience; and experience, hope: (Romans 5:4) speaks of the saints “knowing that tribulation worketh out endurance.” Both are equally true; but it is plain that tribulation could produce no such effect unless there was the faith that stood the test. And such was his prayer for the Colossians that they might be “strengthened with all power according to the might of His glory unto all endurance and long-suffering with joy.” The character of the inspired writings may differ ever so much in suitability to God's design in each; but there is unity of spirit also beyond all doubt in His revealed mind. He cannot deny Himself.
There is an important caution added. “But let endurance have a perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.” The contrast of this we see in Saul king of Israel, who did not wait out the full time and lost the kingdom (1 Sam. 14). Even in David we see failure of endurance when fleeing from Saul he sought Achish in Gath (1 Sam. 27-29). Christ alone was perfect in this as in all else. Endurance has a perfect work, when we judge our own will and await God's. Then and thus only are we perfect and entire, deficient in nothing. It cannot contradict chap. 3: 2 for all that.