Note: This is the outline for a weekly Bible study that I do for our High School and College groups. Some of my previous articles were taken from our last Bible study on the book, “A Call to Die” by David Nasser. This new Bible study is a follow up to that study.
In our previous Bible study on David Nasser’s book, A Call to Die, we spoke at length about becoming true disciples of Christ. The study was based upon Jesus’ call for those who would follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him (Matthew 16:24). Our focus was on the initial steps to becoming a disciple of Christ, what it meant to let go of our selfish desires and offer our entire lives to the cause of Christ, and spiritual growth. Our study on the Book of James will take that one step further. James speaks a great deal about spiritual growth the the practical steps to take in order to be what God has called us to be. The Book of James primary focus is on action. He speaks of the importance of commitment and acting on the things we have learned. My desire for our study on this book is that we will:
-Understand the magnitude of the calling of God on our lives.
-Find an increased confidence and faith in God.
-Grow in our understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
-Be called to action rather than merely sitting on the sidelines.
The Book of James was written by James, the half-brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55). He was also the brother of Jude. The interesting thing about James is the fact that, although his half-brother was Jesus, he did not become a believer until after the resurrection. Once he became a believer, he also became a prominent leader and the pastor of the church in Jerusalem during the early spread of Christianity (Acts 12:17, 15:13; Galatians 2:1-12). In the opening remarks of the Book of James, he only refers to himself as “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1, NASB).”
James makes note of the recipient of letter he writes: the Jews who are dispersed throughout the land. There was intense persecution from several directions during early Christianity. The Roman government was well known for their brutality toward Christians, but there was also persecution from the Jewish religious leaders. For this reason, many Jews who had become Christians fled Jerusalem for fear of persecution (Acts 11:19). The references throughout the Book of James to meeting in “synagogues” along with the fact that James is believed to have been martyred around 62AD leads most scholars to believe that this book was written during the early spread of Christianity and intense persecution.
Joy in the Midst of Trials (1:2-18)
It seems unthinkable that James would call for Christians to find joy in their trials. It is evident from the history of early Christianity that there were trials for anyone who was a disciple of Christ. Jesus himself had spoke of the inevitability of trials for his followers during his last days on earth (John 15:18-20). The same words spoken by Jesus so many years ago are still relevant for the Church today. If we take a stand on the principles of the Christian faith, we can find ourselves on the receiving end of trials and persecution. It may not cost our lives, but it very well could. We may experience trials in the form of financial troubles, spiritual warfare, physical illness, or relationship problems, along with many other things. The fact remains that, in this life we will have trials. But James calls us to find joy in the midst of those trials, but why?
The testing of our faith produces endurance (1:2-8). Endurance is a word that reminds us of an runner who trains for a big race. Many runners will start training by sprinting a short distance, then gradually increasing the distance each time they train until they build an endurance to run long distances without stopping or walking. The same thing happens in our Christian walk. The trials that come our way have the ability to cause us to grow in our endurance over time. It isn’t something that happens overnight, but gradually we find ourselves more mature and stronger in our faith than when we first started out. But that can only be gained during times of trials. In the same way that our physical bodies grow in endurance under the stress of exercising, we do not grow spiritual endurance without trials.
Spiritual endurance ultimately leads to completion, or maturity. This aspect of trials is the reason that we can find joy in the midst of the trials of life. It is during those trials that we grow in our walk with Christ. We grow in our dependence upon His strength in our times of weakness. We grow in our understanding of the bigger picture. This life here on earth is not all there is to it; this is a preparation ground for eternity. Endurance causes us to grow in our confidence in God. We understand the reason for many of the trials we face, knowing that God allows those things to happen to draw us closer to Him and to point others to Him. Our response to trials is one of the greatest opportunities to share the Gospel with people around us. Let us respond to trials with a renewed confidence in the power, provision, and love of God.
The Generous Giver (1:5-8)
James states that when endurance through trials leads to maturity, we find ourselves complete in Christ. If there is ever a time when we find ourselves in need, we have the ability to go before the throne of God and ask Him for whatever it is we need. In particular, James speaks of the need for wisdom. If any person finds themselves lacking wisdom, all they have to do is ask. The amazing thing is that the God we serve is generous and is willing to give us exactly what we need. But, we must ask in faith. Many places throughout Scripture we are advised to ask God in faith and the inability to please God without faith. Faith is essential, especially when approaching a holy and righteous God. If we are going to ask Him to do something, we must have faith that He has the ability to do what we ask, but also that He will answer our prayer. If we pray with doubts as to whether He can or will do something, we might as well not even ask. The person who asks God for something with reservations or doubts is like the waves in the ocean, tossing back and forth. They are unsure and unstable. This type of person is unable to commit themselves to God. This is because they waffle back and forth from confidence to distrust.
The Level Playing Field (1:9-12)
The fact is that trials are inevitable for Christians of all ranks, from the poorest to the richest. We must be careful not to look at ourselves as being at a place where we will never experience trials. When it comes to the trials of life, we are all on a level playing field. James says that the poor should boast in their status, while the rich should boast in their humiliation. There should be a recognition in our lives that our status on earth does not determine our status before God. Even the wealthiest of individuals stands in need of the grace and mercy of God. The amount or possessions or wealth, or the lack thereof, is no indication of our standing before the Almighty God. Our possessions cannot purchase joy. Joy in the midst of trials comes only with a confidence that God is sovereign over all and He is going to provide for His children.
The Blessing of Endurance (1:12)
Ultimately, endurance leads to rewards from God Himself. James says that the person who endures is “blessed”. This same word is used in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). The person who endures is fulfilled, full of joy, peace and contentment. We may never receive recognition or a reward in this life for the trials we have endured, but rest assured that God takes notice and we will be rewarded. The “crown of life” that James mentions is a recognition from God Himself. What better reward than to have our Creator and Savior to recognize our faith and endurance through the trials of life?