Promises via Faith

Posted: September 28, 2009 in James

James 1:1-8, “Promises via Faith”

You may have noticed that the book of James follows the book of Hebrews in your Bibles. 🙂 Although the book order is not considered “inspired” in the same way that the actual text of the Scripture is, I truly believe God superintended the order of these particular books. In Hebrews, Jesus was proclaimed to be better than any prior revelation God had given in the past – Jesus is superior to all of them (angels, priest, prophets, etc.). And the singular call throughout the book is to hold fast to Jesus by faith – never abandoning Him, never letting go, fixing our eyes upon Him. Amen.

There’s a lot of theological truth to that. But it’s easy to follow up with the question: “But what does faith look like?” The book of Hebrews gave us many examples of faithful saints of the past, but what does faith look like in a practical sense today for the believer? When faced with trials or prejudice or infighting – how does a believer respond to these situations in faith? How does the rubber meet the road? That’s what the book of James is all about – if there’s an overriding theme, it’s one of “practical faith.” Whereas the book of Hebrews is one of deep theology, the book of James is one of dramatic application. [preaching vs. meddling] James is going to preach – and to some, he’s going to meddle – but through this little book, the Holy Spirit uses him to help us get to the nitty-gritty of putting our faith into action; making sure that our faith that saves is a faith that works.

So who was James? Several “Jameses” are mentioned in the NT, and it was a very common name in the 1st century. There are only really 2 likely possibilities: (1) James, one of the original 12 apostles – one of the sons of Zebedee & one of 3 in Jesus’ inner circle of friends. (2) James, the half-brother of Jesus (born of Joseph and Mary), who quickly rose up to be one of the primary leaders of the Jerusalem church (as seen in Acts 15). Considering the Apostle James was martyred in Acts 12 (probably in 44AD – 10 years after the Cross), the most likely James is Jesus’ own brother (often referred to as James the Just).

When was this written? If this James was the half-brother of Jesus, then it had to have been written prior to 62AD (when he was martyred, according to Josephus). Some estimate this to be one of the earliest books written in the NT (perhaps even 2nd after Matthew). What’s interesting about this is that it means the Epistle of James is older than any of the letters written by Paul. Some have attempted to argue that James was written to refute Paul’s teaching of justification by faith – but the date proves it couldn’t possibly be… This letter is an independent letter – but actually complements the later writings of Paul (as we’ll see in Ch 2).

To whom was it written? Vs. 1 makes it pretty clear: “the twelve tribes…scattered abroad.” Referring to Jewish Christians throughout the Roman empire. (Which is another indication of its early date. The Church was still primarily Jewish at the time; not Gentile.) Basically – this is written to the church-at-large. Unlike “Galatians” or “Ephesians”, this letter was written to all Christians at the time. It definitely has a Jewish flavor – but that’s to be expected considering the author & the times.

It’s worth noting that James has somewhat of a checkered reputation. The Church Fathers quoted it often, but others like Martin Luther had issues with it & called it a “right strawy epistle” (he included it only in the appendix of his NT translation). His problem was all the calls to action within the book; it didn’t fit well into Luther’s viewpoint of grace. What Luther missed is that when a believer in Jesus Christ follows through in these various exhortations & does all these many works, it’s because of the grace of Christ! None of what James challenges us to do is possible in our flesh – our flesh rebels against all the good works of God! It’s when Jesus saves us by His grace, makes us new creations, and empowers us by the Holy Spirit that any of this is possible…and that makes this a truly God-centered New Testament book for the people it was written to, and for us today.

So how to begin? With a testimony (declaration) & 2 promises. James starts with an introduction (albeit a very brief one) in which he gives his testimony…and it’s glorious! (And it’s not too different from ours.) From there, he gives 2 promises – assurances of things we can know that are available in Christ Jesus; we simply need to trust the Lord & His work to provide them to us.

James 1:1-8 (NKJV)
1 James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.

A. Hope you didn’t miss the testimony; here it is. 🙂 James describes himself as “a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This might look pretty standard at first glance, but it’s actually quite spectacular when we take a deeper look.

B. “bondservant” = δοῦλος. At its most basic definition, it simply means “slave.” There were different types of slaves within Hebrew & Greek cultures – but at its core, this is a word that simply denotes someone who does not have ownership of him/herself. He/she has a master/lord/king, and that lord was the absolute ruler over his/her life. How does that apply to James? James knows to whom he belongs…

C. James is a bondslave of God. That’s to be expected of someone in church leadership – but it’s still something worth noting. James apparently was well-respected by Jew & Gentile. Other religious teachers among the Jews may have held their head high in pride – giving the impression that what they received from the Lord, they deserved because they were children of Abraham. [Re: Pharisees & John the Baptist, Luke 3:8-9] Not James; James is simply a bondslave of God. God is God & he’s not.
__a. Many times, this is something we forget. We claim God to be our God & sing praises to Him as our King – but how many times to we attempt to wrest control out of the hands of God & take it to ourselves? “God, I know your word says to turn the other cheek, but I just gotta say _____ to that person!” “God, I know You call me to holiness, but I’m going to do this anyway. Can You just look away for a bit?” When we do that, we’re taking the place in our lives that God rightly deserves. Understand that you (as a redeemed believer) have been bought at a price; you are not your own. When you trusted Jesus as Lord, God became your King/Master/Owner. We are simply slaves/servants of God…and privileged to be so!

D. James is a bondslave of “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Don’t forget the relationship here; James is talking about his own brother. … There was a time that James (along with Jude) did not feel this way (John 7:5). When did this change? Sometime soon after the Resurrection – Acts 1:14 shows the brothers of Jesus with the apostles waiting for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. By this time, James has gone from brother to bondslave – utterly convinced that the same Jesus with whom he played as a boy & grew up with, is none other but Christ (the anointed chosen One of God to take away the sin of the world) and Lord (God in the flesh, having supreme authority).
__a. Quite a testimony!

2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,

A. Talk about starting off with a bang! The church was still new at the time & had been baptized by a fire of troubles. After Stephen was stoned in Jerusalem as the 1st martyr of the church, Christians started scattering out all over Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1), and Saul (and probably others like him) persecuted the church wherever they could find it. Just being a Jew in the Roman empire was hard enough – but to be a Christian on top of that was to be truly outcast from the world. The 1st generation of believers definitely knew what “trials” were. Define “trials” = a proving ground for faith. Perhaps a temptation – perhaps a struggle; anything that would put our faith in the Lord Jesus to the test.
__a. We may not yet be persecuted for our faith – but we all face various trials. (Struggles in marriage – job loss – disease – prodigal children) These things put our faith to the test as we struggle with the question of “why” – to which we may never get an answer.

B. “And you want me to rejoice because of that?!” No…not really. Look at the verse: “when you fall into various trials.” IOW, we don’t rejoice because of the trials (who would?!); but we can rejoice in the midst of the trials… “All joy” has the idea here of “whole joy / unmixed joy”…same phrase is used in Phil 2:29 when Paul asks the church to receive Epaphroditus with “all gladness.”

C. This obviously isn’t our normal 1st reaction… … We need to change our perspective on things. Like James, we no longer belong to ourselves; in Christ, we’re the bondslaves of the Lord Jesus. … Thus our Lord Jesus has control of our lives – and He can use our hurts, our trials, and the results of living in this fallen world for His glory. (Rom 8:28)… Every trial we’re in gives us another opportunity to glorify God in the midst & live as His redeemed people…

D. Something always results in the lives of believers as a result of trials – see vs. 3…

3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

A. WHY is it we’re to count it all joy in the midst of trials? Because one way in which God chooses to glorify Himself through our trials is through the development of our character. The fruit of tested faith is patience (endurance / steadfastness / perseverance). Gk is a compound word meaning “to remain under” – this isn’t ‘waiting around in the doctor’s office’ sort of patience; this is ‘facing the storms head on with the strength to endure’ sort of patience. Who wouldn’t want that?

B. This is a promise we can bank on! Having patience develop as a result of our trials isn’t something we might hope to one day have; we can “know” this. If we can’t always answer the question of “Why is this happening?”, we CAN always answer the question of “What is God going to do with it?”. God may do many things with a particular situation to glorify Himself – but one of those things is that He’s going to build patience and endurance into the lives of His children. ‘Big deal. So I get more patient. How’s that supposed to help me maintain an attitude of joy when my life is falling apart?’ Trials are still trials – agony is still agony. But as born-again Christians, we never go through the agony alone because the Lord Jesus is always with us. And because we know that the Lord Jesus is with us & still sovereign, we can trust that He’s going to use the pain in our lives (as hard as it may be) to both glorify Himself and to strengthen us in Himself.
__a. Paul wrote much the same thing in Romans. [context: rejoicing in the glory of God re: justification] Romans 5:3-5 (3) And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; (4) and perseverance, character; and character, hope. (5) Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. []

4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

A. There’s another aspect of patience; it helps us be complete in Christ Jesus. This is not to say that until we’re patient Christians, we’re not really ‘true’ Christians. The minute you forsake sin & turn to Jesus Christ as Lord & Savior (as the risen Son of God), you ARE a true Christian. That’s the work of justification… But there’s also the work of sanctification… … Christians who are growing in holiness – Christians who are gradually becoming more and more like Christ NEED to have patience. Why? Because that’s what Jesus was! The Lord Jesus was immensely patient & longsuffering. Over and over again the Jews would want to alternately make Him king by force or stone Him for blasphemy. He endured the rejection of His family, of many of His disciples, of the people He came to save – and was even betrayed by one of the 12. He was grieved at the idea of going to the cross & becoming sin and bearing the wrath of God (so much so that He sweat blood). He bore the physical agonies of the scourging, the nails, and the crucifixion – and He bore the spiritual agony of having His Father forsake Him while hanging there. And yet He endured. The Lord Jesus was not on that cross by force or compulsion (no one took His life; He willingly gave it up – John 10:18). He could have had legions of angels as protection with a word (Matt 26:53). Instead, Christ Jesus chose to persevere & endure to the glory of God. THAT’s the kind of perseverance and patience that God wants to build into your life as a disciple and servant of Jesus Christ.

B. Take that from another angle: without patience, believers in Christ are NOT complete. Not talking about doctrine here; but rather character. An impatient Christian is an immature Christian; God wants to bring us to maturity. I expect my 5-year old to cry and whine about things that are minor to me (which are major to her); but I pray she’s stronger when she’s 15-25-35. Likewise, God wants us to mature. So God allows trials and tribulations to come into our lives to further refine us and mold our character into the character of Christ Jesus. [Peter’s prayer for the church] 1 Peter 5:10-11 (10) But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (11) To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. [] Notice when the maturity comes; after the suffering/trial. Do we rejoice because of the suffering? No – but by faith we can rejoice in the midst of the suffering because God is working upon us.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

A. So we know we need faith to have joy in various trials, we know God’s working within us to mature us, we know that this requires us to change our perspective on things. How do we do it?? We need wisdom! And that brings us to our 2nd promise: God promises to give wisdom to those who ask. Notice that James doesn’t write “knowledge” – though knowledge can be very helpful & we shouldn’t hesitate to go to God for knowledge. But knowledge is relatively easy to obtain; the understanding of how to apply that knowledge is far more rare…and that’s wisdom.

B. Note how direct this is. If you lack wisdom, ask God – and He WILL give it! That’s a promise straight from the word of God! It makes sense when we think about it – what father wants their child to be a fool? In God are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3); wisdom is ours for the asking! [Solomon’s prayer] 1 Kings 3:11-12 (11) Then God said to him: “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, (12) behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you. [] What an answer to prayer! God still answers this same prayer! We obviously won’t be made the wisest on earth for all time; but God apparently loves to answer prayer requests for wisdom. Notice how He gives it:
__a. “liberally”: abundantly / generously. God has the treasures of wisdom – and He gives it freely to His children.
__b. “without reproach”: without upbraiding / reprimand. God is not going to get angry with someone for coming to Him for wisdom… We can go to Him over & over again, and God will always give it.

C. Is God where we go for wisdom? God has promised to give wisdom to His children, but do we seek Him for it? Or do we go to the world? Too often, our question isn’t “What would Jesus do? (Or have me to do)” but “What would Oprah do?” It doesn’t matter in the slightest what the world recommends on how to walk through your trials; it matters what God says. We have a book FULL of His wisdom; we need to search it… We serve a God who LOVES to give wisdom; we need to pray to Him for it… Where does it start? The righteous fear of the Lord (9:10); from there all we need to do is ask & keep on asking.

6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.

A. We know WHAT God gives: wisdom. We know HOW God gives it: liberally. But how do we ask Him? In faith; not with doubting & being skeptical. “God, give me wisdom. But I’m not really sure if You can or will…so maybe do it, if You want to get around to it.” No wonder James uses the example of being tossed by the wind & waves…that’s not faith! We know that God has wisdom – we know that God desires to give wisdom – we know that we belong to God through Christ Jesus – why then would we ever doubt that God would give us wisdom when we ask Him?

B. So is this saying that as long as we have faith, we can ask for a double-cheeseburger & have one appear in our hands? Of course not. So-called healing evangelists will quote this verse all the time to accuse someone of not having enough faith to be healed – saying that the person had a “negative confession” & canceled out what God would have otherwise done. The theological term for this is “baloney.” James 1:6 does not promote nor teach “positive confession” or the “word of faith” doctrine so often seen on TV. Look at the context: what are we asking for? Wisdom – which God desires to give to all of His children. Whom are we asking? God. Who then has the power to give wisdom? God. The power isn’t in our faith; it’s in God! The word/faith teaching puts all the power into the hands of man (it’s OUR faith, OUR belief, OUR word, OUR claim on the promises). But go back to vs. 1: we are but slaves & bondservants…GOD is God & we’re not. The word of God tells us to ask God for wisdom & the word of God proclaims that God gives wisdom abundantly; so we can stand on faith on that promise. The Bible does not proclaim that every believer in Christ is to drive a Rolls-Royce, or live in a mansion, or grow back an arm, or whatever else we dream up. It does tell us to have faith in God & that certain miraculous faith is a gift of God – but the focus of prayer is never on us (fulfilling every wish we have like Aladdin & the genie); it’s always on God & His glory.

7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

A. Literally, the “double-minded man” is a “double-souled man.” (Clarke), “The man of two souls, who has one for earth, and another for heaven; who wishes to secure both worlds; he will not give up earth, and he is loth to let heaven go.” Quite the opposite of faith! The man or woman of God who fixes their eyes upon the Lord Jesus and walks in faith according to His word is submitted to God in whatever they do – be it prayer for wisdom, or enduring in trials. If the doubting man is instable – what is the man or woman of God who asks in faith? Stable. Faith in Jesus helps us stand on the Rock of His promises (Matt 7:24-25).

B. Faith isn’t just helpful in our walk with Christ; it’s essential…

What a glorious God we serve! He called us & saved us by His grace. This includes heaven, but it’s far more than future glory – we experience His grace in the here & now as God continues to work on our character & conform us to the image of His perfect Son. How does God do this? Through faith!

• We need faith to believe the gospel. We are all to be bondslaves of Christ Jesus…
• We need faith to rejoice in trials. Our perspective changes from sorrow to joy because of the work of God in our lives…
• We need faith to ask for wisdom. God has wisdom & God desires to grant wisdom. Faith keeps us looking to God for wisdom & not the world…

So how’s your faith? Jesus said that if we even have faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move mountains (Matt 17:20) – and that’s exactly what happens when we face trials by holding fast to faith in Jesus Christ! How else can we respond to the biopsy results with solid confidence? How else can we wait patiently upon the Lord to convict our prodigal sons & daughters to repent? Or endure the hundreds of other massive trials that come our way as a result of living in a fallen world? These are mountains! And we can endure!


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