James chapter one pictures our trying experiences in a twofold light. In a positive light as seen from God’s perspective (James 1:2–4, 12). The purpose of our trials is to purify and strengthen us (James 1:2–3). The products produced in the process are perseverance (James 1:4a) and maturity (James 1:4b). The promise is that God will someday give the crown of life to those who successfully endure. (James 1:12)
These trials are also pictured in a negative light as seen from Satan’s perspective (James 1:13–16). Satan’s purpose is to pervert and weaken us (James 1:13–14). The products are evil actions (1:15a) and eventual death (1:15b–16).
Next, James speaks of trusting (James 1:5–8). James instructs us to trust God (James 1:5) when we need wisdom. We need only to ask him in faith. Because, wisdom will not be given to a faithless person. James then touches on the shortness of life using the example of human life and glory being like a beautiful flower that blossoms and soon fades away.
James then gives an exhortation (1:9b, 10b): Only God’s life and glory are eternal. James next speaks of treasure (James 1:17–25). The treasure here is the Bible itself. The source of this treasure is in (James 1:17): It came as a perfect gift from the unchanging God, who “created all heaven’s lights.” There is salvation to be found in this treasure, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:18). We should be doers and not just hearers of the word, “19Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:19-22)
James compares this treasure to a mirror (James 1:23–25). The best mirrors were of Corinthian bronze, but no mirrors of that period produced the accurate images available today. Those with enough resources to own mirrors used them when fixing their hair; if James alludes to such people, he portrays the forgetful hearer as stupid. More likely, he refers to many people who had no mirrors and saw themselves rarely, who might more naturally forget their own appearance. In this case the reference is to the ease with which one loses the memory of the word, if one does not work hard to put it into practice.
James next speaks of true religion (James 1:26–27). Some believe they can claim the name of Christ and continue to slander other Christians, “26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” (James 1:26) In the words of Ben Haden, “if your own heart hasn’t been broken, you tend to be insensitive, except to those people you like.” James lists two, of many, signs indicating true religion; having compassion upon orphans and widows (James 1:27a) I read recently of a teaching hospital that found one of its young resident students had a marvelous effect on children. They responded to him with delight. They would do things for him and yield to his ministrations in a way that they wouldn’t do for any other person on the staff. They assigned a nurse to discover what the secret of this young resident was. It wasn’t until the second week when she was on night turn that she found out the secret. It was simply this: Every night on his last round he would kiss, and hug, and tuck in every one of the children. It was in that act of compassion, you see, in that act of sympathy, that he made his contact. And it’s this—this sympathy, this compassion that belongs to Jesus—that reaches out to us.
In First Things First, A. Roger Merrill tells of a business consultant who decided to landscape his grounds. He hired a woman with a doctorate in horticulture who was extremely knowledgeable. Because the business consultant was very busy and traveled a lot, he kept emphasizing to her the need to create his garden in a way that would require little or no maintenance on his part. He insisted on automatic sprinklers and other labor-saving devices. Finally she stopped and said, “There’s one thing you need to deal with before we go any further. If there’s no gardener, there’s no garden!” There are no labor-saving devices for growing a garden of spiritual virtue, you must trust and obey God.
James next speaks of keeping ourselves from the pollution of the World (James 1:27b)
D. L. Moody once said, “When I was converted, I made this mistake: I thought the battle was already mine, the victory already won, the crown already in my grasp. I thought the old things had passed away, that all things had become new, and that my old corrupt nature, the old life, was gone. But I found out, after serving Christ for a few months, that conversion was only like enlisting in the army—that there was a battle on hand.” Soren Kierkegaard noted, “God creates out of nothing. Wonderful, you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners.”
Do you trust God for wisdom? Do you understand the shortness of life? Do you understand what the Bible says about salvation? Do you understand that to fully know the Word of God you must practice it. Do you understand that talking the talk of religion is not the same as being saved? Put your trials behind you and trust God.
Dr. Bill Helton is a professor at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville.