Sibling rivalry has always been a thing. The Bible’s most notable sibling rivalry is probably Jacob and Esau whose feud over a birthright lasted for decades, but just imagine that your brother is God. No, he doesn’t just think he’s God or God’s gift to mankind, He actually is God and the greatest gift to mankind ever. Jesus was and is a hard act to follow, especially from a familial perspective. “Oh, James why can’t you be more like your brother Jesus. He’s perfect!” I wonder if James ever told his friends, “It’s always Jesus this and Jesus that”.

You would think that would give James a massive inferiority complex that could possibly drive a huge wedge between the two of them. Jesus actually had four brothers James, Joseph, Judas (not the Judas that betrayed Jesus), and Simon. It is also mentioned that He had sisters, plural, but we don’t know how many, and aren’t given their names. They had a lot to live up to. I’m not sure about the others, but despite living under Jesus’ God sized shadow, James doesn’t run from it or resent it. He embraces it. He believes his brother is who He says He is, becomes a leader in the early church in Jerusalem, and is still encouraging us today to believe and follow through this book (letters) in the Bible.

The book of James doesn’t really read like a letter, even though it begins with a greeting to the 12 tribes of Israel. According to the introduction in the Bible App, “It’s actually not like other letters of the time. It is a collection of short sayings and slightly longer discussions of practical topics. The conversational style, the short, pithy sayings and the interweaving of themes all make this book similar to the wisdom writing found in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.”  Whatever the style, it contains some of the most practical teaching on Christian living in the Bible, and that’s why we’re going to campout with James for a few weeks.

Being “practical” is being concerned with the actual “doing” or use of something rather than with theory and ideas.  This “doing” is one of the major themes of the book of James. Our faith in God was never meant to be complicated from a Biblical perspective. It’s pretty straightforward. The Apostle Paul is also a great resource for practically applying God’s word to our daily lives. In Philippians 4:9 he says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” While that sounds pretty simple, “putting it into practice” or just “doing it” isn’t so easy.

After a brief introduction in James 1:1, the book of James begins with an interesting statement. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” (James 1:2 NIV) The Greek word for “trails” in this verse is πειρασμοῖς (peirasmois). It’s meaning includes adversity, discipline, temptation, a time of proving or testing. Does that sound like fun? Maybe not. So how in the world can we consider it “pure joy” or even “enjoy” it when we are facing these trials? Is this what we signed up for when we knelt at the altar and made our profession of faith, got saved, or prayed to receive Christ? As we saw in our last series, the disciples weren’t truly prepared for the reality of Jesus’ being arrested, tried, tortured, and executed, even though Jesus told them it was coming. They did bounce back, but they weren’t experiencing “pure joy”  between Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. It was definitely a “trying time” for them to say the least, and their trials had just begun.

The Greek word for “joy” in this passage is χαρὰν (charan). It means gladness, cheerfulness, calm delight, etc., but it also is closely related Χάρις (charis) which means grace, kindness, goodwill, and favor. So how are we favored or what benefit comes from trails, temptations, and adversity that we experience in life. Do we feel calm delight when faced with adversity?

Okay before we go on, we need to be reminded that the state of our existence is heavily impacted by sin that entered the world in the garden. Due to human disobedience to God’s commands, there were consequences that included not only physical death but pain and adversity. Genesis 3:16-19 gives us a snapshot of what life was going to be like after sin entered the world.

16To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.” 17To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:16-19 NIV)

Uh, Robby weren’t you talking about “pure joy” just a minute ago? Talk about a killjoy! I know that part is not very encouraging, but it’s important to remember why we experience trials or “trouble” in life as Jesus called it in John 16:33. Okay, let’s move on to the rest of this section in chapter one of James.

3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:3-5 NIV

Even though we have to face difficult trails, temptations, and times of testing in our lives there is hope. It is found in the grace and favor of God. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 5:8 that God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Despite our sinful disobedience God is still at work redeeming and reconciling us to Himself. There is a way back, a path of grace through Jesus Christ that leads us back to a right relationship with God. It’s not an easy path by any means, but the testing of our faith is not without benefit or purpose. It is supposed to “produce” something. James tells us that our trials produce perseverance, maturity, growth, faithfulness, and ultimately completeness. If we can endure them, good things can happen. It’s also encouraging that we don’t have to do it alone. We can ask God for help in the form of wisdom or the ability to make the right decisions when we’re faced with various trials. However, God isn’t going to do it for us. There is some “doing”  or assembly on our part that is required.

If we go back to the word “trial” or πειρασμοῖς (peirasmois) from the Greek, we know that it refers to adversity or difficulty, but it also refers to a “time of testing or proving”. James elaborates a bit more on this in verse 12 when he says, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” Likewise, the Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:3-5 to “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules”. (NIV) In the King James Version of the Bible it says, “endure hardness”.

We are encouraged to endure hardship, trials, and the tribulations of life as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, our “commanding officer” just as a soldier follows orders and carry’s out his or her duties to please their “commanding officer”. He also uses a sports analogy in verse 5 emphasizing the importance of “competing according to the rules”  or following the rules in order to receive the “victor’s crown”.

These “rules” are examples of practical application. A rule is a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere. The Bible contains specific regulations and principles that apply to living out our faith, beliefs, and our relationship with God. This is what James calls “doing what it says” in verse 22, being a “doer of the word” or applying it to our lives. Rather than just hearing it, we “do it”. (Remember the Nike marketing campaign, “Just Do It”.)

Okay, I’m going to stop here. There is so much to explore in the book of James, so we’ll be unpacking and listing some of those practical examples in the coming weeks. However, some may be wondering why we have to prove ourselves or be put to the test if our salvation is a “free gift” from God. (Romans 6:23 NASB) More on that next week.

Have a great weekend! Love y’all!

Robby Morris
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC