Before starting this study, take a moment to read James 1:1-8. Although I’ll primarily be using the NIV version for the preparation of this study, you can read from whichever version you prefer.
James doesn’t pull any punches at the beginning of his letter. He seemingly skips pleasantries and jumps right into the content of his letter. In James 1:1-8, we see a theme of trials and temptations and what those things mean for Christians in the early church.
Scholars disagree about when James was written and which James is responsible for the letter. Some believe that this is a pre-Christian, Jewish document that was edited and presented to young Christian churches after Jesus was raised from the dead. Others believe that the brother of Jesus or another New Testament James wrote the letter to encourage and admonish early Christians.
Most evidence, however, points to the letter being written by someone named James who was well-known to the early church. There are several men named James mentioned in the Gospels and any one of them could have written the letter.
Trails Build Character
Verses 2 through 4 explore the issue of trials faced by early Christians. It’s significant to note that James talks about facing trials, since his phrasing indicates that these trials are not things caused by their own sinfulness. James will confront the issue of sin later in the letter, but here he is talking about unwelcome experiences that happen to all of us.
Although God is not the cause of these trials, these trials are an opportunity for the faith of early Christians to be tested. Hard times have a purifying quality about them. When people face hard situations, their true character is often revealed.
James reminds Christians that perseverance under suffering allows Christians to grow “mature and complete” (verse 4). Perfection in the Old Testament (and here in James) is an idea of wholeness, not faultlessness. We all have faults and are prone to human frailties. However, despite those things, we can be mature and complete in Christ.
What you’re facing today builds the character you’ll have tomorrow. Everyone is struggling in different ways, especially after a year and a half of uncertainty and stress caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. This doesn’t mean God is causing you pain. It’s also not an invitation to seek out trouble just to strengthen your character.
It’s important to remember that the trials James describes in these verses refer to things that happen unexpectedly. These are not consequences for your actions, but unexplainable incidents. These are the pandemics, deaths, miscarriages, injuries, illnesses, setbacks, and trials that happen to all of us.
Praying for Wisdom
Verses 5 to 8 continue the thought, reminding us that we’re supposed to ask God for wisdom. We need wisdom when facing trials. Fortunately, the God we serve is one who is faithful to give us wisdom freely when we ask for it.
Wisdom allows us to see past our temporary circumstances to see God’s purpose for our lives. As I write this, know that I’m not writing trite encouragement to make everything better. When I had my miscarriage back in 2012, I spent months out of my mind with grief and anger. I could not see past my grief to see where it fit into God’s plan.
And I’ll be honest: sometimes I still don’t. While senseless pain still seems senseless, God was faithful to provide wisdom and strength to get me through the darkest days. Wisdom doesn’t mean having all the answers, but resting on the promises we have in Scripture. God is faithful to walk with us no matter how dark the trial we face.
Verses 6 through 8 remind us that when we ask for wisdom, we should do it without any doubt. We’re called to confidently approach God’s throne in prayer. The problem with doubt is that it too often leads us to inaction. Here, we’re called to singular devotion and faith in God. We’re also reminded that the perfection God seeks is not faultlessness, but wholeness.
God wants you to be whole, no matter what you’re dealing with today. Take a moment to pray for wisdom, specifically about whatever struggles you’re currently facing. Know that the God you serve is faithful to get you through this day.