We noted in the first article on this subject that applying scripture seeks to answer two very fundamental questions. When we read a passage, we are seeking to understand: Why does this matter? What do I do now?
Let’s consider some thoughts about the subject of faith. James writes:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. – James 1.2-8
Now let’s break this down using the suggestions made previously.
Who are the people in this passage: It is written to Christians (v.2), and we are also Christians, so this may be something we can learn from their experience.
What is the setting of this passage: James is clearly trying to encourage people who were suffering from various difficult circumstances, and since we also suffer from difficult circumstances, there are likely some parallels here.
What is happening, what action is there in the text: It is not a narrative (a story), but an instructional writing. So there is no real “action” involving characters, but instead instruction about circumstances where there is action. James is encouraging brethren who are dealing with trials of various kinds, and cannot understand why. We often encounter the same kinds of difficulties. Life is sometimes hard, and we wonder why things go wrong.
What is the primary message, what were they supposed to learn, and what can we learn: James wants them to understand the relationship between trials, wisdom, and faith. These things are related.
- Trials test people to produce steadfastness. Steadfastness is the art of not growing discouraged by trials to the point of unfaithfulness. Steadfastness, in turn, is a quality that helps complete faith.
- Wisdom is exercising good judgment in practical circumstances. In this case, James urges them to pray for wisdom, so that they might clearly understand the positive effect that trails can have.
- God gives wisdom liberally. But we have to understand clearly its source. Wisdom (the exercise of good judgment) comes from God’s word, if we are willing to listen to it and trust it. But, largely, wisdom comes from experience – from bad judgment, mistakes, heartache, and failure – because we are often too stubborn to take God’s word (or an older person’s advice) for things, and have to learn life’s lessons the hard way. So when we pray for wisdom, we are actually praying for confidence to accept God’s instruction, and also to learn the right lessons from our personal trials and how they can help us grow as disciples.
Is there foundational truth revealed here: Yes, James is teaching in principle, because he does not know all of the specific trials they are facing. But what he is saying is, ‘Don’t let difficulties discourage you because they have a long-term positive effect.’
How is this relevant to my situation in the world: Present day is no different in terms of the challenges and hurdles people face. Life can be hard sometimes, regardless of when or where we live. We need to learn that this can be good for us, because it can help us grow.
What situations in my life could this apply to: Now we’re getting specific, and for every person this involves self-examination. Look at the circumstances in your life that are presently causing you difficulty. Understand that these (if they are not sin, or a consequence of sin) are for your betterment. Study God’s word for instruction, and pray for wisdom and steadfastness, for strength to endure, and for long-term positive effects; and don’t be discouraged. This is helping you.
What adjustments can I make in my life: Have a more positive attitude when you realize that these difficulties in life have a purpose for your ultimate good. Pray for things that test your faith, and then endure them with the knowledge that this helping you grow spiritually.
How can I make this adjustment: Be positive, and pray to God. Understand that there will be things you cannot control; control what you can, leave the rest to God. Casting aside worry and fretfulness over difficulties will make it easier to focus on things you can control, and to endure what you cannot control, knowing that it will make you better. Any time we overcome a difficulty, it makes it easier to do the next time.
This passage is about growing faith. James teaches later on in his epistle (2.14-26) that faith is the proper exercise of behavior toward God in whatever circumstance we are asked to obey. The Hebrew writer says it this way:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11.1
Faith is active belief that moves us to action in the hope of something to come, believing in things because of evidence we cannot see. It is not blind, it is based on evidence and confidence in God. Faith in God means doing whatever God says to do, particularly (even especially) when we do not understand how a certain course of action is best. The Bible calls this trust.
Practically there are several applications from James 1, particularly when coupled with other passages that further explain the nature of faith. One in particular is noteworthy here, from Paul’s letter to the Romans:
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. – Romans 10.17
The source of faith is the word of God – there is no other source. God’s word is the single arbiter of what is true, and the single basis upon which faith can be built. So we if we want to increase our faith, we need to spend time in God’s word – and not so much in the thoughts, words, and opinions of men.
May grace reign through righteousness in your life.
– Bo Couchman