1. Experiencing Joy in Trials (James 1:1-18)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (29:20)
A sundial shows motion and change. But God is immutable, he "does not change like shifting shadows"

Imagine, if you can, a drill sergeant barking out to green trainees, "when you're ambushed and they start shooting at you, a grin is gonna break across your face, and you're gonna get real happy."

You'd think he was crazy ... and he might be.

But essentially, that's the same thing James is saying in our passage. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds..." (verse 2). Why should we have joy in our trials? To understand this, we need to understand the value of trials, the nature of trials, and our source of help in these trials. I'm going to consider these questions in a slightly different order than in our text, so bear with me.

The Value of Trials (James 1:2-4)

"2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4)

James says, "Consider it pure joy ... when you face trials ... because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" (James 1:3). In other words, we should have joy in knowing that our trials are doing some good. They are building in us a "hang in there" attitude, one which will continue on and not give up.

The word translated "trials" (NIV, NASB, ESV) or "temptations" (KJV) is the Greek word peirasmos, "test, trial." But the same word is also used for "temptation, enticement to sin,"4 thus causing a bit of confusion that James clears up in verse 13. James refers to trials "of many kinds." These may be adverse circumstances such as being hurt by a loved one, or bereavement, poverty, or oppression. Or these trials may be much more diabolical: actual temptation or overt seduction by Satan to sin, such as Jesus experienced (Matthew 4:1-11). As we've learned the hard way, trials and temptations come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. James tells us to let these be a stimulus to joy in our lives.

When we are brand new Christians, we have genuine faith, sure enough, but our faith is innocent, untried. As faith is tried, it deepens and matures, and is able to flourish in all sorts of circumstances. And as we know God's faithfulness in various places of testing, we develop the boldness of faith that only a tried and tested faith can possess.

Early in the twentieth century, when people volunteered to become members of the Communist Party in countries like the US or England, new recruits were given a stack of Daily Worker newspapers, and instructed to sell them on the street corner, and not return until the papers were sold. Imagine the kind of insults and abuse these green communists were subjected to. Those who continued as members of the Party did so with a commitment that had counted the cost. They were in it for the long haul. Count it all joy, says James, because trials create perseverance in you.

The Effect of Perseverance (James 1:4)

The word variously translated "perseverance" (NIV), "steadfastness" (ESV), "endurance" (NRSV, NASB), and "patience" (KJV) is the Greek word hypomonē, "the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty, patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance."5 The verb means "to remain behind, stand one's ground, survive, remain steadfast, persevere and also to wait."6 Trials and temptations build a maturity and completeness in us.

"Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:4)

"Mature" (NIV, NRSV), "perfect" (ESV, KJV) translate a word meaning "having attained the end or purpose, complete, perfect." When used of people, it means "pertaining to being mature, full-grown, mature, adult" or "'perfect, fully developed' in a moral sense."7 The accompanying word, translated "complete" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "entire" (KJV), is a qualitative term: "pertaining to being complete and meeting all expectations, with integrity, whole, complete, undamaged, intact, blameless."[8]

I've met some people, and so have you, who are trying to live as adults with a tiny Sunday School faith. They haven't grown. God intends our trials to make us complete and mature, to build integrity and wholeness in us. Have you let your trials do that? They are to complete us, so we are "not lacking anything."

One important part of this series of lessons are three or four Discussion Questions in each lesson. We learn by reflecting on what we have learned, processing it, and thinking through its implications. Don't skip this step, or you will have gained head knowledge without heart knowledge! I encourage you to write out your own answer to each question, perhaps in a journal. If you're studying with others, discuss it. If you're studying online, click on the web address (URL) following the question and read others' answers or post your own. (Note: You'll need to register on the Forum before you can post your own answers.

Q1. (James 1:2-4) What value have trials had in your life? Have you let Satan destroy you with those trials? Or allowed God to refine you? How have you changed?


Crown of Life (James 1:12)

Now we're going to skip forward for a moment to verse 12.

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12)

There is a promise that comes along with our trials, and that is "the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12). Our trials set us back. We struggle, we complain to God sometimes, and sometimes we just grit our teeth and hang on. But we do so with the vision ahead of a reward, a promise, a laurel wreath given to the winners, those who have "stood the test." That promise stimulates and encourages perseverance in us.

And so as we grow in the Christian life, we move from innocent, infant faith, yet untried, to faith that is tested and found true, to a confidence in God that enables us to be "more than victors" (Romans 8:37) and laugh with joy at our trials, knowing that God's love for us endures, and that we look forward to a crown of life. This crown is not a reward for extra service, above and beyond the call of duty. It is the crown that consists of eternal life itself. We have that life now; we look forward to the words at the end of our journey, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord,"9 the joy of life in his immediate presence forever.

The Nature of Temptations (James 1:13-15)

We have examined the value of trials. Now let's consider the nature of those trials.

"13 When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:13-15).

When we get into trouble, it seems like two questions tumble out of our mouths: "What did I ever do to deserve this?" and "Why is God doing this to me?" God allows evil in the world -- that's part of him allowing us our free will. Did God create evil? No. He created the possibility for evil, but that is not the same as creating evil. Let's rephrase that statement. Does God create injustice and unrighteousness? Of course not! He stands diametrically opposed to injustice and unrighteousness, to moral evil of all kinds.

James applies this by asserting that God does not tempt (peirazō) us with evil in order to see if we will fall. It is with this negative sense of "to tempt with evil" that James asserts, "no one should say, 'God is tempting (peirazō) me.'" In the same way, Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Lead us not into temptation (peirasmos), but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13). God tests us to strengthen and confirm us in our faith, but the evil in our struggles doesn't come from God -- he can't be tempted by evil and never tempts with evil himself.

Q2. (James 1:13-15) Why do people blame God for evil? Does God tempt us with evil? Does he tempt sinful people with evil? Why does he allow people to sin? Why does he allow evil to exist at all?

Evil Inside (James 1:14)

The source of the evil is something inside us. "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed" (James 1:14). We don't like this sort of teaching, of course. We want to believe that man is basically good and that evil is an aberration, not inherent in man. But the Bible seems to indicate the opposite.

"And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5)

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9, KJV)

"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'" (Matthew 15:19-20)

"... We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: 'There is no one righteous, not even one....'" (Romans 3:9-10, quoting Psalm 14:3)

These verses and others are at the root of what is known as the doctrine of original sin. As St. Augustine expressed it, all men inherit natural corruption from Adam. God created man in his own image (Genesis 1:27) and declared his creation "very good." But Adam and Eve sinned, and they and their offspring "fell" from the original goodness in which God created them. Only Jesus is without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Only he can say, "... The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me" (John 14:30, KJV). Our sins create "footholds" for the devil (Ephesians 4:27), but in Christ there was no foothold of the evil one. Only a single-minded love for his Father.

The Inner Battle

Though there are many evidences of God's good creation, this fallenness or depravity extends to every part of man's nature. When we receive Christ as Savior and Lord, there is a desire for God in the inner person, but at the same time a war is raging within us. St. Paul wrote,

"For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do -- this I keep on doing." (Romans 7:19)

It is the life of the Spirit within us that delivers us from the power of the sin within us (Romans 8:1-17). But this is a gradual process, called in theological terms, "sanctification."

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

"... until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13)

"Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (2 Peter 1:4)

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

Double-Mindedness (James 1:5-11)

"5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable10 in all he does.

9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position.
10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business." (James 1:5-11)

James introduces two powerful ideas into his letter:

  1. We are tempted by the evil desires that remain within us (James 1:14), and
  2. Double-mindedness keeps us from receiving God's wisdom and strength (James 1:7)

"Double-minded" translates a word meaning: "pertaining to being uncertain about the truth of something, doubting, hesitating," literally, "double-minded."11 Until we come to the place where we are willing to face up to the sins that hang on in our lives, we continue to experience the inner war that St. Paul alluded to. Until we surrender our evil desires to God and let him work on them, we are an easy target for sin's temptations.

But trials have a way of forcing the issue. When we have no other place to wriggle out of, in our extremity God helps us identify those parts of our character that are sinful and wrong. We are able to identify those unsurrendered desires that Satan entices and lead us into sin. And at those times, he grants us the ability to repent and see the hold of those sins break and lose their power. Unless we come through these difficult testing times, we don't sort out our priorities and become single-minded in our love for God. Our faith remains stunted and crippled by our double-mindedness, and we remain spiritual babies.

So, in a real way, we can often look back on our trials with pure joy, since it is in those times that God is able to get our attention, help us make new commitments, and embark in new directions.

Q3. (James 1:5-8) How do trials help cure us of "doublemindedness"? How do trials help us grow in faith?

The Unchangeable Father (James 1:16-17)

"16 Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:16-17)

No, God's testings don't lead us to sin. He allows testing in order to deliver us from sin. The temptation comes from the evil desires that are within us. Instead, God sends us "good and perfect gifts."

Notice how God is described in verse 17. "The Father of the heavenly lights," an interesting phrase that indicates his role as the Creator of the universe. He is the Light of lights. Next, we see a phrase which indicates that God does not change. The KJV puts it very literally:

"... with whom is no variableness12, neither shadow of turning."

"Shadow of turning" refers to the variation in shadows when an object is turned in relationship to a light source. The point is that God the Father does not change nor vary. He is immutable.

This probably doesn't seem to make much difference until you consider what happens when you teach, as do the Latter-Day Saints, that God changes, that he was once a human being who progressed to godhood. This passage teaches clearly and unequivocally that God does not change.

The reason, of course, that James mentions this is that he is making the point that God is committed to "good and perfect" gifts (James 1:17), not temptation to evil (James 1:13). God is seeking our good and our perfecting, not our failure or downfall.

Ask God for Wisdom (James 1:5)

Now that we've understood the value of trials, let's go back to verses 5-8 to understand our need for wisdom.

"5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does." (James 1:5-8)

And what are we to do when we are pressed to the wall and our sins and weaknesses lie exposed? We ask God for wisdom.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." (James 1:5)

When we ask people for wisdom, we often hear judgment instead: "I told you so." But not with God. And we have a very clear promise: "It will be given to him."

There is a condition to the promise, however. We must ask with a clear commitment and faith. Unless we deal with our mixed motives and sins, we won't be able to hear wisdom even if God speaks to us. Coming to God without repenting of and forsaking the sin that divides our allegiances won't work, either. Adversity and trial have a way of clarifying the issues and highlighting the decisions we need to make. Faith flourishes where we come to a place of a single mind about the things of God, a place where doubt and indecision do not disable action, but where clear, single-mindedness enables it.

Q4. (James 1:5-8) What is the promise to claim in verse 5? What is the condition attached to this promise in verse 6? How do trials help us receive this wisdom?

He Chose to Give Us Birth (James 1:18)

The passage closes with a wonder-filled statement of God's grace and mercy towards us, despite our bent to sinning:

"He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created." (James 1:18)

James: Practical Discipleship, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.

James speaks of the new birth we have received from God. We'll consider this passage more fully in Lesson 2.

But the point is clear, my friend. God has chosen to give you birth. He knows about your struggles and sin. They are no surprise to him. Your sins are why Jesus died. Jesus bore your sins on the cross and redeemed you. And your trials and temptations have meaning. They are leading you towards God's wholeness within.

You are his choice. He has life for you, and a plan -- to be a firstfruits, a harbinger, a herald of a new age. God himself chose to give you birth. What a wonder!


Father, thank you for your patience in refining me through my trials. Thank you for helping me really know you better now. Continue to have mercy on me as I grow. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds." (James 1:2, NIV)

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." (James 1:5, NIV)

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17, NIV)


References and Abbreviations

[4] Peirasmos, BDAG 793, 1 and 2.

[5] Hypomonē, BDAG, 1039, 1.

[6] Ulrich Falkenroth and Colin Brown, "Patience," NIDNTT 2:772-776.

[7] Teleios, BDAG 995, 2 and 4.

[8] Holoklēros, BDAG 703.

[9] Matthew 25:21.

[10] "Unstable" is akatastatos, "unstable, restless," of vacillating persons (BDAG 35).

[11] Dipsychos, BDAG 253

[12] "Variableness" (KJV), "variation" (NASB, NRSV, ESV), or "change" (NIV) is translated from the Greek word parallagē, "change, variation."[12] This is a rare word, used only here in the New Testament. It is used in Greek for the setting of teeth in a saw, or for stones set alternately, for a sequence of beacons or seasons (Adamson 74).

[13] "Chose" (NIV), "of his own will" (ESV, KJV), "in fulfillment of his own will" (NRSV) is the Aorist passive participle of boulomai, "to plan on a course of action, intend, plan, will" (BDAG 182, 2b).

Copyright © 2023, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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