- The Explore the Bible lesson for Oct. 21 focuses on James 1:2-15.
The New Testament books of Galatians and James correlate nicely. Readers easily can transition from a renewed understanding of living out salvation to a real expectation of living out salvation. Think in terms of going from the pre-game to the kick-off.
The very practical letter of James offers specific examples of what to expect when living the Christian life in a broken world. It is one thing to produce the fruit of the Spirit, but it’s a whole other thing to maintain fruitfulness during difficulties and trials.
What forces us to mature as humans? One answer would be experience. Taking what we are taught and living it out by experience validates or invalidates what we believe. We will see that this letter’s purpose is for “believers to live out their faith in concrete ways and to demonstrate the maturity that true faith brings” (Jim Samra, James, 1&2 Peter, and Jude, 2).
Joy over Progress (James 1:2-4)
I often quote these verses as a reminder to be patient, because I am not a patient person. In particular, letting “patience have its perfect work” is a reminder for us all to endure (in the KJV, perseverance is translated as patience). Enduring, or pushing through difficult times, is significant enough, yet James adds one more element: joy.
Why do we have to be joyful when things are tough? Perhaps one thought would be for us to be so happy that we cannot be sad; however, that does not seem to be the author’s point. Rather, we can have joy because something about enduring the trial will help us to mature.
Here is good question to ask: What has to change for me to see trials as an opportunity instead of an obstacle? Surely, our mindset has to change. We need to see each trial as an opportunity to grow and become more of who God wants us to be. Ask someone to share an example of how a trial in life helped them to mature and become more complete.
Confidence in Him (James 1:5-8)
Another element that seems outside of our natural tendency is wisdom. Culture teaches us certain things are adaptable. For example, nowadays “truth” is adapted from person to person, even though it should not be. Wisdom is God-given, and so we should fight the tendency to adapt wisdom from person to person.
One thing we must agree on is that God—and only God—is the author and giver of wisdom. So for us to receive wisdom, we must ask. This needs to become part of our daily prayers, even though we do not fully know what we are asking for. Asking God for wisdom is inviting his influence into our thoughts and actions.
Proverbs 1:20-33 gives an interesting glimpse into wisdom’s voice, and it is worth considering for this section. Confidently remind your group that if you ask for wisdom and if you ask without doubt, God will grant you his wisdom. This is a promise worth believing.
Focus on the Crown (James 1:9-12)
We all grapple with our human frailty. We are not created to be permanent. Our bodies usually give way sooner than our will to live. Verses 9-11 set us up to understand our frailty, but verse 12 reminds us of eternal opportunity. If we endure, eternity can replace our human frailty.
What is the most encouraging statement of these verses? There may be a variety of answers, but all will focus on the reality of “now” eventually giving way to the hope of “later.” Hope for what will come can feed us an appetizer of joy in the present.
Guard Against Sin (James 1:13-15)
Since temptation is associated with our earthly trials, we need a right understanding of temptation and God: “God would never tempt believers to sin, because God never deviates from his singular purpose of creating believers with character of the highest quality” (Jim Samra, James, 1&2 Peter, and Jude, 12). With God, we need to guard against temptation and sin.
Look closely at the conception and birth of sin in verse 15. How closely does this correlate with how a child is conceived and born? What does this tell us about temptation and sin? Just as maturing is a process, sinning is also a process. Clearly, we need to focus on doing the former while resisting the latter.
It seems strange to conclude without reading verses 16-18, so consider this as a closing piece to verses 13-15. Rather than being deceived, we need to be wise and realize that only good things come from our Father; thus, only bad things can come from anyone or anything else.
Matthew 7:7-12 draws a similar portrait of how good a Father our God is, and how even we as imperfect, tempted and tried people can witness his goodness. Enduring the challenges of life reminds us to live along with God, not away from him. In him we experience joy, wisdom, forgiveness and a future.
As encouragement, recall the words of this gospel song: “Farther along we’ll know all about it. Farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up my brother; live in the sunshine. We’ll understand it all by and by” (W.B. Stevens, “Farther Along”).
Heath A. Kirkwood is lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Lorena.