“Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” – James 1:18 (ESV)
Let’s take a moment to recognize how often we misunderstand the meaning of God’s promises because we use our own finite ability to reason out what makes sense. If a passage makes sense in our own reasoning there is no guarantee that we have a good understanding of what the Holy Spirit wants us to know of His inspired and authoritative words in Scripture. By example the promise in today’s verse teaches us that our regeneration is fully according to God’s will. He wills and it happens. “Of His will” a Greek. word that makes the point that regeneration is not just a wish. It is an active expression of God’s will. He always has the power to accomplish His will. James places this phrase at the beginning of the sentence in Greek, in order to emphasize that the sovereign will of God is the source of our new life. Regeneration, or the new birth is described as “He brought us forth.” We are God’s chosen “firstfruits” of the work Christ accomplished for us through His death. Let’s reflect back to the previous verses (James 1:16-17), where God promises us every perfect gift comes from our Heavenly Father.
“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” – James 4:2-3 (ESV)
When we consider what God’s word teaches about prayer, we find that we are to ask—and to ask with humility, sincerity, and love, and with an understanding that God is sovereign and that His will is what we most wish to be done. For Jesus prayed in this way in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying “Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:16) It was a bold prayer and Jesus had the courage to ask God to do something humanly impossible. Yet He showed complete submission to the Father’s will. It was God’s sovereign purpose that kept the cup from being removed as Christ prayed. In the same manner, the boldness, childlikeness, and eagerness we demonstrate when asking God to do the impossible are not undermined by His sovereignty; they are mercifully controlled by it. With boldness we too can come before our Father, trusting Him to accomplish all we need and all we ask that is in accordance with His will. We can never ask for something that is too big for God to do. So let’s ask!
“You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? – James 4:4-5
It is a metaphorical description of many people’s hearts due to spiritual unfaithfulness. The first readers of this letter from James, the half brother of Jesus, would have found this familiar. In the Old Testament, the only scripture available at the time this letter was written, often describes the unfaithful Israel as a spiritual harlot. James has in view professing Christians who are outwardly associated with the church, but in real living are holding a deep affection for the world system which is evil. These professing but not faithful who identify as Christians are nothing but friends of the things and ways of world and so in enmity to God (a really terrifying thought). Plainly put, there is no way to be friends with the world and faithful to God at the same time. It is like claiming we are one with God while we have dalliances with what is worldly fun and pleasure. It is not safe for our God is called a “consuming fire” and a “jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Let’s be sure to not be “stepping out” on God with that which He says is an enemy.
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” – James 2:22 (NASB)
“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” – James 2:25 (NASB)
Sometimes we hear without listening and when asked, “Did you hear?” we may reply “I heard you.” But we may have only heard, but not listened. If we listen, then we can respond by being a doer. God’s Word is given to us so that we can become doers of what we have listened to do. God wants each of us to become a doer.. How do we listen? By paying attention to what we read in the Word of God or listening to those teaching the Bible to us. James calls professing believers to be “doers,” rather than simply to do, because he emphasizes how our entire personality should be characterized in that way. Those who are only hearers are like those who can’t remember who they saw after looking at themselves in a mirror. Practice makes permanent and God wants us to be permanent doers of His law. Throughout the Bible, God’s revealed, inerrant, sufficient, and comprehensive Word is called “law.” The presence of His grace does not mean there is no moral law or code of conduct for believers to obey. Believers are enabled by the Spirit to be faithful doers. Let’s do that today.
“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.” – James 1:16-17 (ESV)
Have you ever been deceived? Of course you have. We all have been deceived by what others have done and by what others have taught us. We have a warning to not be deceived in today’s verse which should give us the encouragement that we are able to avoid deception if we ask for and receive the wisdom God has for us. The wisdom in this verse is the means we need to avoid deception. The original language expression in today’s verse refers to erring, going astray, or wandering off. Christians are not to make the mistake of blaming God rather than acknowledging their sin (James 1:13-15). Two different words for “gift.” First, is the act of giving, and the second, is the object given. Everything related to God’s giving is adequate, complete, and beneficial. The ancient expression for God was the “Father of lights.” It acknowled Him as creator of lights. “Lights” are the sun, moon, and stars. From man’s perspective, these celestial bodies have variation in their different phases of movement and rotation, they change and vary in intensity. But God does not—He is changeless and in Him there is no variation or shifting shadow.
“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” – James 1:12 (ESV)
We are promised blessings if we remain unfaltering under trial. This is a promise we all need because steadfastness is not easy to come by. And when we are depending upon ourselves, it becomes impossible to fend off the doubts and uncertainties that come with the trials and testing of our faith. Believers who successfully endure trials are truly happy. Nobody is saying that trials are easy to face and live through. Quite the opposite and that is why a passive, painful survival of a trial results in endurance and focuses on a victorious outcome. Through such endurance we do not relinquish our saving faith in God; we successfully have the victory over these trials which is evidence of our faith. The “crown of life” promised is best translated “the crown which is life.” Our ultimate reward is eternal life which God has promised to all who believe. It is granted in full at the time of our death or at the time of Christ’s coming again. This promise is given to those who love Him. By grace and through faith we declare our love for Jesus who secured our eternal life in his death and resurrection.
“But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:6-8 (NASB)
We all wrestle with doubts. Sometimes, they are proper but some doubts are dangerous. We read yesterday (April 5) that God has wisdom for us and is ready to give it to us without reproach. We are commanded to ask for the wisdom that shows us the way of living for God’s glory. Then, James puts out a serious warning against doubting. Why does he do this? Because when we pray for wisdom our prayers must be offered with confident trust in a sovereign God. Without any doubting. It’s more than merely because of mental indecision but it is rooted in inner moral conflict or distrust in God. If we are one who doubts God’s ability to keep his promise or willingness to provide this wisdom is likened to the stormy, restless sea, buffeted by the waves from the wind and moving back and forth. It is impossible to make progress when our expectations are so far removed from what God has promised. Such action is that of a double-minded person. The literal translation of this Greek expression means having our minds divided between God and the world. Let’s ask in faith and avoid the doubts of the unstable unbeliever.
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” – James 1:5 (NASB)
Too often perhaps if even once, we are prone to expect to receive what we are “owed” or “due.” The faulty thought that leads to this includes the idea that we don’t need to ask to receive what we are entitled to. We speak out only when we feel disenfranchised. Continuing the lessons and promises from the book of James, we find this command is a necessary part of the believer’s prayer life. When we need wisdom we are to ask God to give it to us for God has wisdom in abundance available and He is eager to provide it for those who seek it. God intends that trials will drive those who believe to a greater dependency on Him. They show us our own insufficiency. James’ Jewish audience recognized this as the understanding and practical skill that is necessary to live life to God’s glory. It was not wisdom of philosophical speculation, but wisdom contained in the pure and peaceable absolutes of God’s will revealed in His Word and lived out. It is only this divine wisdom from God that enables believers to rejoice and be submissive in the trials and testing of our lives.
“… knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:3-4 (NASB)
Picking up from the passage yesterday (April 3) we know that testing can bring joy and should bring a joyful attitude because it is for a purpose. Testing means “proof” or “proving” that our faith is true and strong. The first of three important words is ‘endurance’ because through tests, we who believe will learn to withstand tenaciously the pressure of a trial until God removes it at His appointed time. Two more words in verse 4 stand out with important lessons. The second word is ‘perfect’ which describes our end result of testing. It is not a reference to sinlessness or perfection without sin. Perfect means maturity, specifically in our verse, spiritual maturity. The ongoing testing of our faith should be driving us who are believers to deeper communion and greater trust in Christ—qualities that in turn produce a stable, godly, and righteous character. The third word is ‘complete’. Translated from a compound Gr. word that literally means “all the portions whole.” God’s purpose is that through our trials and testing we end up lacking nothing we need. But we acknowledge this does not speak of material or temporal but spiritually needs.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, …” – James 1:2 (NASB)
This might not make sense to us. Let’s just be honest first. Trials, tests, difficulties and many things we would rather avoid still come into our lives mostly unannounced. They are uninvited and unwelcome but in today’s passage we are instructed by the Holy Spirit in the letter written by James, the half brother of Jesus, to consider their arrival joyfully. ‘Consider’ may also be translated ‘count’ or ‘evaluate’ which means a willful, purposeful, thoughtful, and conscious commitment to face them with and attitude of joy, and actually with all joy. We are not to split our emotion reaction to trials between a natural disgust and some joy. Only joy, all joy, just as Paul teaches in Philippians to ‘rejoice in the Lord.’ (Philippians 3:1) God brings such tests to prove—and increase—the strength and quality of our faith and to demonstrate its validity. Every trial in our life becomes a test of faith and is designed to strengthen our faith: if we fail the test by responding with a wrong attitude, that test then becomes a temptation, or a solicitation to evil. It’s best to trust God for all things, even the trials that test.