The Trouble with Troubles

Elder Kevin Wood preaches on James 1:1-18, the first in our series of sermons this fall from the Book of James under the theme “Wisdom for Spiritual Maturity”.

[sermon text is found below the image]



Last week, we finished our journey through the first 12 chapters of the Book of Acts, under the broad theme of the Spirit-led church.  This week, we begin a new sermon series we are calling “Wisdom for Spiritual Maturity”, based on the Book of James.

God desires his children to grow to spiritual maturity.  One of the purposes of the church is to help believers grow to spiritual maturity.  But what is spiritual maturity?  It is not a matter of age; nor is it a matter of accomplishments and awards; nor is it a matter of appearances, of seeming “spiritual”.  Spiritual maturity is, instead, a matter of character and attitude.  And the Book of James happens to be a sort of manual on spiritual maturity.  Our hope is that through this sermon series, God will speak to us through this epistle and the rest of his Word, and nudge each of us further along the path toward true spiritual maturity.

Background on the Book of James

Whenever we begin the study of a new book, it is always appropriate to review the background of it to help us better understand the historical context: who wrote it, when was it written, to whom was it addressed, and so on.

In this case, the epistle begins with the words: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.” (James 1:1)

[Reminder: OUTLINE]


We see right off the bat that the Book (or epistle) of James was written by – no surprise here – James.  But then comes the question: which James?  James was a very common name at the time, and in fact there are three prominent men named James in the New Testament.

There is James the son of Zebedee, also known as James the Greater, one of the twelve apostles, and brother of the apostle John.  But you may recall from our brother Sean’s sermon last week that this James was put to death by King Herod Agrippa, probably around 43 or 44 A.D. (Acts 12:2).  This makes it nearly impossible that he was the author of the epistle, which is dated a little later.

Then there is James the son of Alphaeus, also known as James the Lesser, another of the twelve apostles.  He does not appear in the New Testament except in the lists of the apostles, and it does not appear likely that he was the author of this epistle.

This leaves us with the third James, also known as James the Just, who was not one of the original twelve apostles but later become very prominent in the church at Jerusalem.  He is the James referred to at the end of incident related by Sean last week, when Peter was miraculously released from prison and told the believers, once they finally let him into the house, to “tell these things to James and to the brothers” (Acts 12:17).  He is the James who will play a prominent role in the Jerusalem council related in Acts 15.  It is this James to whom early church tradition ascribed the Book of James.

Although this James was not one of the original twelve apostles, he knew Jesus very well.  In fact, he knew him in an intimate way; he grew up with Jesus!  He was none other than one of Jesus’s brothers, or more accurately, one of his half-brothers, since Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit while James was the biological son of Joseph.

Remember when Jesus returned to his hometown and the people were astonished at his teaching?  Matthew 13:54-55 tells us that they said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?  Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not his mother called Mary?  And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?”

The Judas in this list we know as Jude, another of the Lord’s half-brothers, who begins his own epistle with the words: “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (Jude 1:1).

And then we have Paul’s recounting of the major events in his life in his epistle to the Galatians, where he relates that “after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:18-19).  Later in Galatians he refers to James, along with Cephas and John, as the “pillars” of the congregation at Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9).  [See also Acts 21:18 and 1 Corinthians 15:7.]

[By the way, the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Anglican and Lutheran traditions hold that Mary remained a virgin her whole life, and therefore teach that James and the other “brothers” of Jesus must have been either cousins or perhaps half-brothers from a previous marriage of Joseph, as related in the apocryphal Gospel of James.]

I find it interesting that at least two of Jesus’s half-brothers, and perhaps all of them (see Acts 1:14), later became devoted followers.  Remember that earlier in his life, they had ridiculed him on at least one occasion, and John tells us plainly that they did not believe in him (John 7:2-5).  These are people who knew everything about Jesus.  We all know how easy it is to maintain pretentions out in public, but at home our real nature tends to come out.  Although Jesus may or may not have had the long hair he is often depicted with, we can say for certain that it was at home that he really let his hair down.  And yet these men, knowing everything about Jesus’ life from his childhood onward, became devoted followers of him as Lord and King, apparently by the time of his post-resurrection appearances according to Acts 1:14.  They, of all people, would have had reasons not to believe, if Jesus had not been who he said he was.  But they did believe.  I find this to be a great testimony to Jesus’ claims about himself.

The Book of Jacob?

By the way, we should probably really call this epistle the Book of Jacob.  If you read the Greek text, you will see that his name, along with the names of the two apostles named James, are all given as Iakobus (Yakobus), a slight variation on the Old Testament name Iakob (Yacob).  But when the New Testament name was rendered in English, beginning with John Wycliffe’s translation in 1380, it was as James, while all the Old Testament references still used the name Jacob.  There is no good explanation for this, other than the theory that medieval Europe was highly anti-Semitic, that the Jewish patriarch Jacob had a negative reputation due to his deceitful character, and that modifying the names of the New Testament characters to James would also serve to honor some English monarchs of that name.  By the time the King James Version of the Bible was published in 1611, there was no turning back; they certainly couldn’t remove the name James from the Bible that the king by that name was sponsoring!

Does it matter?  Well, something is clearly lost when one misses the connection between these names.  You no doubt know that the Old Testament patriarch Jacob had a son named Joseph.  But did you know that the Joseph of the New Testament, the betrothed of Mary, was also the son of a man named Jacob?  We are told that in Matthew 1:16.  When this Joseph had a son – his first biological son – and named him Jacob, he was no doubt naming the boy for his grandfather.  But this point is totally obscured by changing his name from Jacob, or Jacobus, to James.


When did James, or Jacob if you prefer, write his epistle?  Most scholars suggest a date in the mid- to late 40’s, making it the earliest of all the New Testament writings.  This would be shortly after the time of the persecution of Acts 12, the subject of last week’s message.  Thus, is it very fitting that we should take it up now.

This date is based on various factors: references to Jewish Christians having been scattered; no mention of the Gentile controversy, including the Jerusalem council of Act 15 which took place in about 49 A.D.; a reference to an assembly of the congregation as a “synagogue” rather than a “church” (James 2:2); and in general, its overall “Jewishness”.


Its Jewishness also gives us a clue as to its intended audience, although we hardly need one since verse 1 tells us that James addressed his epistle “To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion”.  James, living in Jerusalem, wrote this letter to the Jewish Christians who had been dispersed to neighboring lands, whether due to persecution or other reasons.

An epistle of straw?

Before we take up the rest of today’s text, we need to make one more preliminary note.  Martin Luther did not think highly of the book of James.  In his Preface to the New Testament, he referred to it as “an epistle of straw” when compared to other books such as the Gospel of John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Peter, and 1 John; compared to these, he said, James “has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it”.  Luther removed this critical statement from later editions, and he did also have some positive things to say about James, but in his Preface to the Book of James he still concludes that the author “was unequal to the task”.  At best, Luther was ambivalent about James, and many who have come later have shared this opinion.

So, is the Book of James “an epistle of straw”?  I personally disagree and would call it at least “an epistle of stone” if not “an epistle of gold”.  But I will leave it to you to form your own opinion over the next 11 weeks as we work through it together.

I. The Trouble with Tribbles … and Troubles

James begins his epistle talking about trials, tests, and temptations.  Or we might just say: troubles.

If you are a Star Trek fan, you probably know about a classic episode from the early years entitled “The Trouble with Tribbles”.  Tribbles are cute, little purring balls of fluff, living beings which, it turns out, reproduce astonishingly quickly.  This is what causes them to be of great trouble to the Starship Enterprise and her crew.

I don’t suppose that anyone present here this morning has ever been troubled with tribbles.  But I bet every one of us has been troubled with troubles!  We face financial troubles, health troubles, job troubles, relationship troubles, and so on.  Sometimes we face two kinds of trouble at the same time: double trouble!  We might even face three at once: a treble of troubles!

The fact is, we probably can’t imagine some of the troubles that others of us have faced.  As the old negro spiritual puts it, perhaps most famously rendered by Louis Armstrong:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows my sorrow

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Glory, Hallelujah

A. Troubles in this world are inevitable (v. 2)

Yes, we will all face troubles in this world.  In fact, that is our first point to note: troubles in this world are inevitable.  Troubles in this world are inevitable.

Take a look at verse 2.  James says: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds”.  He says when we meet trials, not if we meet them.  Oh, and ladies, don’t think you are exempt; that word translated “brothers” can just as well refer to both men and women, to brothers and sisters.

Yes, we will all face troubles in this world.  The apostle John records Jesus telling his disciples in John 15:18-20: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”  And later in John 16:33 he says: “In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The apostle Paul likewise warned the believers in various cities during his first missionary journey, as noted in Acts 14:22, “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”.  And in his second letter to Timothy he noted that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Troubles in this world are inevitable, especially for one trying to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  It’s not entirely clear whether James is referring here only to troubles which are the result of persecution for our faith or just to the regular troubles of all human beings.  The immediate context – the persecution which had broken out as related in Acts 12 – would suggest the former.  But since he qualifies them as “trial of various kinds” we might surmise that he means to include both kinds.

B. But troubles in this world are purposeful (vv. 3-4)

The tribbles which caused such troubles for the Enterprise crew later prove to be of great usefulness.  They begin dying off after eating the grain from a large shipment which the Enterprise had been asked to guard; this led to the revelation that Klingons had contaminated the grain with a life-threatening virus.  Thus, the tribbles turn out to be purposeful to the Enterprise crew and their mission.

The same is true of our troubles; they are actually purposeful.  And that is our second point: Troubles in this world are inevitable.  But troubles in this world are purposeful, too.  Troubles in this world are purposeful.

Let’s re-read verse 2 but this time continue on: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Let that soak in for a moment.  Our troubles – those trials which test our faith – actually have a positive, not negative, result.  They produce steadfastness.  Other translations use words such as perseverance, endurance, or patience.

But there’s more: this steadfastness, this perseverance, has its own result.  It builds within us a perfection, a completeness, a maturity.  Our troubles in life – which we might think would have the end result of breaking us down, of destroying us, of keeping us from reaching our fullness – can and should have just the opposite effect.  They can and should create within us a “stick-to-it-iveness” which in turn will cause us to grow to full spiritual maturity.  Here we see our theme already: the Book of James will give us wisdom for spiritual maturity.

We all know believers who have aged physically but haven’t grown much spiritually.  In the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians, and also of the writer of Hebrews, be he Paul or someone else, spiritually speaking they are like infants still in need of milk when they should have moved on long ago to solid food (1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12-14).  Maybe some of us here today fall into this category.

If so, perhaps this has been in part the result of allowing our troubles in life to beat us down rather than build us up.  Satan would love to destroy us through our troubles; have you allowed him to do that?  Or have you instead allowed God to refine you, to mature you, through those troubles?  “Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

C. Thus we can find joy in facing our troubles (vv. 2)

Troubles in this world are inevitable, but they are also purposeful.  And for that reason, we can actually find joy in facing our troubles.  We can find joy in facing our troubles.

Note that I did not say “find joy in our troubles”; I said “find joy in facing our troubles”.  Our troubles, our trials, may not be joyful in and of themselves.  In fact, they will normally be just the opposite.  They will bring us pain and sorrow.  A diagnosis of cancer, the loss of a job, a broken personal relationship, the passing of a loved one, an empty bank account, persecution for our faith; none of these are joyful experiences in and of themselves.

In the midst of our troubles, we may not have a smile on our face.  But we can still feel God smiling in our heart.  We may not feel like dancing in the streets, but we can still experience God dancing in our soul.  We are not talking about happiness here.  Happiness is typically rooted in circumstances, which are ever changing between good and bad; it is found at the level of feelings and emotion.  Joy is rooted much deeper, in our character, in our attitude, in our thinking, in our very being.  James doesn’t tell us to “feel the joy”; he tells us to “count it joy”, or as other versions word it, to “consider it joy”.

May we, like Paul, learn to be content no matter the circumstance.  And if you think you face troubles, consider the life of Paul.  Yet whether facing plenty or hunger, abundance or need, Paul told the Philippians, he had learned to be content (Philippians 4:12).  And to the Corinthians he wrote: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

And not only be content, but to actually “count it all joy”.  As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  And to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

You might remember from our series in Acts, in chapter 5 when all of the apostles were arrested and thrown in jail, and later beaten before being released; and it says, “then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).  This was of course just a fulfillment of what Jesus had said would happen to them, for example in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 when he said: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

We can find joy in facing our troubles.

II. How We Can Triumph over Our Troubles

One reason we can find joy in facing our troubles is that God has promised to help us through them.  He will help us triumph over our troubles.  Remember, however, that this is all in the context of reaching spiritual maturity.  I’m not saying that in an earthly sense we will always come out on top.  Cancer, or some other disease, may conquer our earthly bodies.  We may never get that dream job we think we deserve.  We may never, in this world, experience the restoration of a relationship we so much desire.  But this doesn’t mean that God isn’t working in us to help us triumph over our troubles.  Remember the goal: spiritual maturity.

In the subsequent verses, James tells us five things that are required for us to overcome our troubles.  Each one of these could be a sermon on its own.  We don’t have time for that, however, so these will be somewhat in summary form.  But don’t worry; it just so happens that James will return to all five of these themes in the remainder of his epistle, so you’ll be hearing more about all of them over the coming ten weeks.

A. Overcoming troubles requires wisdom (v. 5)

The first thing that we need should come as no surprise given the theme of our series, “Wisdom for Spiritual Maturity”.

Overcoming troubles requires, first of all, wisdom.  Overcoming troubles requires wisdom.

In verse 5, James tells us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him”.  At first, it might seem that James is moving on from talking about trials to another subject.  But since he will soon return to the subject of trials, I believe that it better to understand these intervening verses in that context.  I think that James is saying: “If any of you lacks wisdom when confronting trials, let him ask God…”.

Let us remember the difference between knowledge and wisdom.  A lot of people in this world have knowledge.  Some have incredible knowledge.  But they don’t all have wisdom.  Knowledge doesn’t require wisdom, or necessarily lead to it.  Wisdom, however, does require knowledge, at least some knowledge.  Wisdom, we might say, is using knowledge properly.

Why do we need wisdom when confronting troubles?  On the one hand, we are generally at a loss when faced with a trial, especially an unexpected one.  Did the doctor really say “cancer”?  “Oh my God!”  And, let’s be honest, we didn’t necessarily say that in a reverent tone.

But that’s exactly what we should say, only reverently: “Oh, my God, help me in this trial.  Give me the strength to face it.  Give me the wisdom to understand what greater purpose you have in allowing this trial to come upon me.”

We need wisdom when facing a trial so that we will not miss the opportunity God is giving us to mature, to become more spiritually whole, through it.  Wisdom helps us to use these situations for our own good and for God’s glory.

It actually goes both ways: we need wisdom to overcome our troubles, and our troubles in turn cause us to grow in wisdom.  The following quote is attributed to both John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, and also Martin Luther: “No man, without trials and temptations, can attain a true understanding of the Holy Scriptures”.

James will have more to tell us about wisdom in chapter 3.

By the way, speaking of wisdom, I should point out here that the Book of James is considered by some to be of a genre of writing called wisdom literature.  In the time of both the Old and New Testaments, there were collections of wise sayings found in many cultures.  These were generally brief, sometimes pithy, sayings dealing with practical life.  They were often couched in the idea that the person who followed the advice was wise, whereas the person who didn’t was foolish.  In the Old Testament, the most obvious example is the Book of Proverbs, but it would also include Ecclesiastes, Job, and even some of the Psalms.  In the New Testament, some of Jesus’s teaching would fall into this category; think of the Sermon on the Mount which ends with the wise man who builds his house on the rock and puts Jesus’s sayings into practice versus the foolish man who builds his house on the sand and doesn’t put them into practice.

While some have identified the Book of James as another example of wisdom literature, however, others have rejected this.  They point out that James does not exhibit some of the peculiar literary features of this type of literature, including particular structures, forms, and vocabulary, things such as rhetorical questions, poetic parallelism, or the comparisons often given in couplets.  For our purposes, it probably doesn’t matter much where we come down on this.  Regardless of whether we consider James to belong to the category of wisdom literature, one thing is certain: it contains the wisdom of God, and is therefore useful for our instruction.

And, as we have already concluded, having God’s wisdom is especially important when facing the troubles of life.  As we have learned from James, overcoming troubles requires wisdom.

B. Overcoming troubles requires faith (vv. 6-8)

Overcoming troubles also requires faith.  Overcoming troubles requires faith.

In verses 6-8, James tells us: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

The word translated “double-minded” means literally that: of two minds; James will use it again in Chapter 4.  A double-minded person has divided loyalties.  Sometimes he has faith, while other times he doubts.  In the context of facing troubles, what will this mean?  Each trial, each test, each temptation, will cause such a person to waver, to doubt whether God is really there.  Isn’t that what happens to all of us, at least to some degree?  When faced with a serious trial, we begin questioning God: why?  Why me?  Why now?

I don’t believe that it is wrong to question God like this.  After all, if we are of the mindset that God has a greater purpose for our troubles, then maybe such questioning can help us understand and therefore better face the situation.  But we must remember that God will not always give us the answer, especially in the midst of the situation; it may be later when we look back when we begin to understand.  Even if he never gives us the answer, however, we can trust him, because we know that he loves us and has a purpose for our lives.

James will have much more to say about faith in Chapter 2, especially about the relationship between faith and works.

Overcoming troubles requires wisdom, and it requires faith.

C. Overcoming troubles requires humility (vv. 9-11)

Overcoming troubles also requires humility.  Overcoming troubles requires humility.

James go on in verses 9-11 to say: “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.  For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes.  So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.”

Again, this might seem to be a whole different topic, but if we interpret it in the context of facing troubles, it makes some sense.  We generally think of the rich person as having a trouble-free life, while the poor person is continually beset with troubles.  But the rich person can lose his wealth, whether in a moment or over time.  And the rich person is inclined to trust in his riches, and therefore in himself, rather than in God.  When troubles come, and we know that they come on the rich as well as the poor, the rich person, if he is trusting in himself, will most likely find that he is wholly inadequate to face the trouble.  He has never learned to trust in God to see him through his troubles.

May we not be so proud as to trust in ourselves; may we have the humility to recognize our own frailties and trust in God.  When troubles come, we will be much the better for it.

James will have more to say about humility and about riches in Chapters 4 and 5.

Overcoming troubles requires wisdom, faith, and humility.

D. Overcoming troubles requires perseverance (v. 12)

Overcoming troubles also requires perseverance.  Overcoming troubles requires perseverance.

In verse 12, James returns to the subject of trials, although as I have suggested, I don’t think he ever really left it.  Verse 12 reads: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

We saw earlier, in verses 2-4, that our troubles – those trials which test our faith – produce steadfastness or perseverance.  And this steadfastness, this perseverance, builds within us a perfection, a completeness, a maturity … a spiritual maturity.  Here in verse 12 we see a particular aspect of that maturity.  James says that we will receive a reward, the “crown of life”.  This is obviously not referring to a physical crown nor to our earthly life, but rather to a spiritual reward, to eternal life, the enjoyment of God’s presence through eternity.

Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:16-18: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

[And in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”]

James will have more to say about perseverance later on in Chapter 1.

Overcoming troubles requires wisdom, faith, humility, and perseverance.

E. Overcoming troubles requires integrity (vv. 13-18)

Overcoming troubles also requires integrity.  Overcoming troubles requires integrity.

James goes on in verses 13-15 to say: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

Up to this point we have been talking more about trials and testing than about temptations.  But there is a very fine line between the two.  In fact, the line is so fine that the Greek word used for “tempt” in verse 13 is actually from the same root as the word translated “trials” in verses 2 and 12.  This is why some versions, such as the King James, use “temptations” in verses 2 and 12.

This variety in meaning has caused headaches for translators.  In verses 2-12, James tells us that God allows trials, but now in verses 13-15 he tells us that God does not tempt us.  The fact is that the word can, and does, have both shades of meaning.  Thus it is used by Peter to refer to the “fiery trial” through which we pass (1 Peter 4:12; also 1:6), but in the gospels to refer to Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness, and in the Lord’s Prayer – “lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13) – and in Jesus’s admonishment to his disciples to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation (Matthew 26:41).

Here in verses 13-15 of James chapter 1, it clearly refers to temptation, and is therefore translated thus.  And the message is clear.  We must not blame our sin on God.  We must not even blame it on Satan.  The devil didn’t make you do it, and God certainly didn’t make you do it.  We must have integrity to know who to blame.

Note that James doesn’t say if we are tempted; he says when we are tempted.  Make no mistake: we will be tempted.  We will probably be tempted in some way every single day of our lives.

Note also that being faced with temptation is not a sin.  It is our response which can be sinful.  Temptation is more a process than an event, as James makes so clear here.  It begins with our own sinful desire; that’s already within us, that comes from our sinful nature.  But it is only when we act upon that desire – in the words of James, when it has conceived – that we sin.  And if we allow sin to reign in our bodies and control us, it will eventually bring about death, spiritual death.  Just as God’s wisdom can help us grow to spiritual maturity, ignoring that wisdom, allowing sin to control us, will lead us to spiritual death.

It’s a choice that we make.  And we have God’s promise that he will enable us to resist sin.  James himself will later say: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  And Peter says in 2 Peter 2:9: “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials”.

To overcome trials, and in particular to overcome temptations, we must have integrity.  We must recognize the situation for what it is, and not blame God, nor Satan, nor other people.

There are simple things we can do to help us: we can fill ourselves with God’s Word.  We can pray.  We can avoid compromising situations.  We can gather regularly with our fellow believers in Christ.  We can make ourselves accountable to other people.

At this point it should come as no surprise when I tell you have James will have more to say on this subject later on.

Overcoming troubles requires wisdom, faith, humility, perseverance, and integrity.

God’s good and perfect gifts

James finishes this section with verses 16-18: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

What a wonderful close!  God, the Father of lights, the unchanging ruler of the universe, showers us with gifts: good and perfect gifts.  And the greatest of all these gifts is that we will “be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures”.  We are a harbinger of things to come.  Through the new birth, God makes us alive again.


At the end of the Star Trek episode we talked about earlier, Chief Engineer Scotty transports all of the troublesome tribbles from the Enterprise onto a Klingon vessel, where, he says, “they’ll be no tribble at all”.

I would love to be able to tell you that God will magically or supernaturally transport all your troubles to some distant place.  But God has a better plan.  He will take those troubles, and he will use them to help us grow to spiritual maturity.  May we not resist him in this holy and wonderful work but cooperate with him.