This article contains an exposition of James 1:2-18, as well as some discussion questions on the material.

3 pages.

James 1:2-18 – Temptations / Trials

An Unusual Command🔗

James begins the body of his letter with a strange command.  Literally it says: "Sitting in a pit filled with temptations/trials, say, 'all joy.' "

The Greek word which James uses can mean either trial or temptation.  What is the difference? A trial comes from God, and aims to bring his people to the right choice. This can occur only by seeking strength and help from him alone. Temptation is the work of Satan, who wants to draw us away from God. It is for good reason that he is also called the tempter (Matthew 4:3). In every trial there is a temptation to go the wrong way, and with every temptation we are tested to see if we will abide in the right way (consider Job).

All Joy🔗

James writes that his readers should rejoice in temptation/trials.  With trials we can think about sickness, death, poverty, etc.  With temptation think of persecution, and being reviled for Christ's sake. Blessed are you when men persecute you (Matthew 5:10-12).

We should not underestimate Satan's power as he tries to attack Christ by attacking the living members of the church, by making them forget and forsake Jerusalem, the mother of us all. He attempts to lead us astray so that we stop walking as children of the church. (cf. John 12:31; Revelation 12:12; 1 Corinthians 7:29; 1 John 2:18; Philippians 3:18)

What is the Goal?🔗

What is at stake in these temptations/trials? The readers should know why. They have experienced both. God has meaning for this. It must be manifest that the church is steadfast in its faith. The church must resist temptation through faith, and in the trials, her living members must show and profess their faith. Christ makes everything subservient to his work; the perseverance of the saints (Mark 13:20). It is to his honour and glory that the church faithfully perseveres in communion with him.

With what Help?🔗

How is it possible to be "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (v. 4)? The word which is used here for "perfect" reminds us of the sacrificial laws. Reference is made to a perfect animal for sacrifice, that is, perfect in every part and without blemish.

James uses that word more often (1:17; 1:25; 3:2). For such perfect steadfastness, wisdom is needed. For who knows the reason for God's testing? Or who is always able to withstand temptation? Wisdom from above is needed. This wisdom is a gracious gift of God, whereby man walks in the ways of the Lord in diverse (literally multi-coloured) temptations (Psalm 19:7; 111:10; Proverbs 3; 1:7; 9:10).  The church in this world, surrounded by temptations, and living in trials may never attempt to do it on its own, but must continue to pray for wisdom.

Pray for Wisdom🔗

As church we will pray for that wisdom, because the Lord has placed us on the narrow way, and he wants to keep us on that path. He has commanded us to pray for true wisdom. He grants that wisdom generously, not sparingly, but we must pray without doubting, without being tossed to and fro; not double-minded or of a divided heart.  The image, by which he who doubts is portrayed, is clear.  In the Scriptures, "double-mindedness" is the opposite of sincerity or uprightness (Genesis 17:1).

James does not say that the Lord first wants us to fulfill all sorts of conditions before he will give his help. On the contrary! However, the Lord must be petitioned in faith, without any doubts whatsoever. The man who doubts does not cling to God's Word as his only support. Consequently, he does not follow the Lamb who was slain. Doubt is sin, and its effect is to kill prayer.

Rich and Poor; do not be Conformed to the World🔗

James now speaks about rich and poor.  Later, he will return to this theme of riches and poverty (2:1-13; 5:1-6). There is no obvious connection with the preceding discussion of temptations/trials, unless our starting point is that the poor and rich are brethren. James is aware of the social situation in which the church stands.  James says to the poor in the church: let none of you be influenced by your lowly status (Luke 1:48) in the world, but rejoice that you have obtained the adoption as children of God. To the rich he says: do not let your position in the world have control over you, but rather let your citizenship in the Jerusalem which is above control you. Then you will only boast of the temporary and fleeting nature of your riches (2 Corinthians 11:30).  James illustrates this by using the well-known example of the flower of the grass which can wither overnight (Isaiah 40:6-7).

To both rich and poor James says: you must be influenced only by your citizenship in the kingdom of heaven. If you are poor do not fall into the temptation of complaining about your lack of status.  If you are rich do not become proud of your importance in this world. In both cases this would be conformity with the world (Proverbs 30:8-9). While the Lord permits different classes of people to exist in society, the class-struggle is the result of sin.

Personal Accountability🔗

With verse 12, James refers back to verse 2: everyone is answerable for him/herself.  "Blessed is a man"; not only men, but all men and women, boys and girls, "who persevere" or endure. It means literally to put your shoulder under a burden, to remain underneath, to bear it.

Consider well the connection between these verses: the Lord makes his church firm, steady, and unshakable. In his church everyone must stand firm through faith in Jesus Christ. The promise (v. 2) and the demand (v. 12) always belong together.

The goal of suffering and struggle for Christ's sake is the crown of life, the wreath of victory. It gives us everlasting life (2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10).  The Lord crowns his own work. There is only one battle and one triumphant goal through Jesus Christ. It is in this context that every Christian has his own calling and personal accountability. Verse 12 is a personal beatitude within the framework of the redemption of God's people.

James also sees a danger which threatens God's people, namely that someone would maintain that the temptations which afflict men, find their origin in God.   This is the case when a person is tempted into sin and then shifts the responsibility to the Lord. God indeed tests us, but he cannot be sought out by evil, and he forsakes no one.

God is sovereign, even over sin.  It does not occur outside of his control, but he is not to blame.  Nothing happens without his knowledge, yet God is not the Author of the sins which are committed nor can he be charged with them (Belgic Confession, 13; cf. Genesis 50:20; Acts 2:23).   We must not try God, either to acquit him or to condemn him, in order to "prove" him. We must simply believe him on his Word.

To God Alone Glory       🔗

We may never accuse God of wrongdoing.  We must always seek the fault in ourselves.  Whenever we succumb to temptation, we have become disobedient and have forsaken the Word of the Lord. The beginning of the destructive process of sin will ultimately end in death. James compares this process with the conception and birth of a child. We ourselves bring forth sin. 

Do not continue to wander from the truth.  Is the congregation living in the dispersion? The congregation living in the dispersion (in the world, but not of the world) must find her strength in God, the Father of lights, of the sun, moon and stars. We can observe their changes and we know that they will perish in time, but the Lord is a Light which can never be destroyed.  There is no changing, nor shadow of turning in him. It is man who produces sin and death. We may never say that the Lord is at fault. On the contrary, it is through the Word of truth that the Lord works the power of regeneration, so that the church may be the first-fruits of God's re-creation.

The church, being in the world but not belonging to the world, is proof that the world did not fall into the hands of Satan, but that it remains in the hands of the Lord, the Creator and Father. It is the Lord's cause for which we stand. It is all from him. Honour must be given to him alone. From him, and by him, and to him, are all things. Therefore, in all temptation, abide by the Word of truth.

Questions for Discussion🔗

  1. How does James address his readers? (vv. 2, 16, etc.) Compare this to Proverbs 1:8, 10.  Explain why there is a difference.  (Hint: Think about Pentecost.)
  2. When may we use the terms "brother" and "sister"?
  3. Are there unanswered prayers?
  4. The struggles in the church have involved a dispute about the correct meaning of James 1:18. Explain the nature of the controversy regarding the teaching of regeneration as an implanted seed of life. Note that the K.J.V. translates this verse incorrectly. Compare to the N.A.S.B.
  5. Many forms of doubt exist in contemporary culture.  How can the church effectively oppose doubt?  Explain your answer with reference to this part of Scripture.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.