The Epistle of James was not received by many churches without opposition. Some men of the past have rejected it as being without authority. I receive it completely because I see no reason to reject it. It contains nothing unworthy of an apostle of Christ. It is full of beneficial instructions for every believer on the subjects of patience, prayer, humility, good works, the restraining of the tongue, contempt for the world and true faith. The writings of Solomon differ much from those of David, just as the writings of James differ from those of Paul. This diversity, however, does not make us approve of one and condemn the other.
(Vs. 1.) "James, a servant." In identifying himself, James claims no distinction except that which we all possess, "servants of God" (Ps. 116:16, 18). We never (nor do we want to) rise above this blessed position, not even in glory (Rev. 22:3).
"And of the Lord Jesus Christ." In all of our worship, service and praise we honour the Father and the Son (John 5:23). The Father will be honoured, worshipped and known only in the Son (John 14:6). We look to Christ for atonement, acceptance and assistance.
"To the twelve tribes." The Jewish people were referred to as the twelve tribes, named for the twelve sons of Jacob. I am sure, however, that James had in mind not simply Jews, but believers (of his own nation). They were the true Israel! I am sure also that Gentile believers are not excluded from this salutation, for we too are strangers and sojourners on this earth, citizens of another kingdom, seeking a country.
(Vs. 2.) The next verses deal with trials which every believer shall have in this world (John 16:33; 15:19, 20;2 Tim. 3:12). How are we to regard these trials? What is to be our attitude? "My brethren, consider it joy of the highest kind when you are put under trial by the hand of God" (Matt. 5:11, 12; Acts 5:41; 2 Cor. 12:10).
(Vs. 3.) Three reasons are given why we should regard our trials as blessings.
1. We are providentially brought under these trials by the hand of our heavenly Father, who will work all things (difficult as they may seem) together for our good (Rom. 8:28; Heb. 12:5-8). We should rejoice in the prospect of the future good that we shall receive from these trials.
2. Faith must be tried. It can only be proved by trial. How often faith is counterfeited! Trials are given that we may determine if we are leaning on the flesh or the Lord. If I would know the genuineness of my faith, if I would know that I have not run in vain, if I would know that I am not a stony-ground hearer, my faith must be tried!
3. Trials not only reveal faith, but they work, bring out and encourage patience (Rom. 5:3). Were God not to try us, leaving us free from trouble, we would never learn patience, pity, compassion or perseverance.
(Vs. 4.) We are to endure trials without seeking a quick deliverance, so that the full work may be done, the lesson well learned. We must not grow weary and seek a premature relief. We must not resign from the race, but we must endure to the end that we might be fully developed and mature in grace. "Wanting nothing," That is, lacking nothing essential to a strong, mature believer in Christ, being grounded and settled in faith! We must be gracious in love, as well as grounded in truth. We must be strong in practice, as well as sound in principle. We must be givers of mercy, as well as receivers of mercy.
(Vs. 5.) These next verses are connected with the preceding ones. How can we be happy in the midst of trials? We are to endure trials without complaining, fretting or questioning God"s providence (Job 1:21). We are to endure trials without seeking a quick deliverance, that the full work of God might be done. How can we be patient? How can we pierce the darkness of divine dealings? How can mere human beings submit to the will of God and become disentangled from our own flesh, will and desires?
James bids us to ask the Lord to give us wisdom! The term "wisdom" is more than knowledge, information or learning. We can have vast stores of knowledge and be fools! "Knowledge is the horse; wisdom is the driver who steers him in the proper direction." Wisdom is the proper combination of truth and Spirit, of faith and conduct, of mind and heart, of knowing the will of God and yielding to it. Wisdom is discernment of heart and discipline of mouth. Wisdom is seeing the mind and providence of God and yielding to it in the face of opposition from within and without, regardless of frowns and flatteries which Satan uses to turn us aside.
"Let him ask of God." It is not, "Let him search the writings of men," or "Let him copy other experiences." Far simpler and far more effective is this way: "Let him ask of God" (Matt. 7:7-11). No real seeker is sent away empty. That which is for our good and his glory is given liberally and bountifully.
"He upbraideth not." He does not point to the past and say, "Look what a mess you have made! Look at how you have failed! You don"t deserve what you ask! You don"t appreciate what you have!" We never weary our Lord by asking too much or too often! He is plenteous in mercy.
"It is not really the trials themselves that produce patience, godliness and faith. Trials determine nothing themselves. It is our attitude, feeling and behaviour under trial that produces the results. Actually, trials may harden instead of softening. They may drive us away from the Master instead of bringing us near. It depends on how we react to them" (John Adams).