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James 1:218comment (0)

November 5, 2009

By Michael Wilson

Related Scripture: James 1:218

Bible Studies for Life
Director, Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence, Samford University

James 1:2–18

When Hurricane Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast a few years ago, most large ships that were docked in ports and harbors along the coast put out to sea before the storm arrived. People unfamiliar with sea travel might wonder why big ships leave port when a powerful storm approaches. Wouldn’t a harbor or inland port be safer? Seasoned sailors know that there is no safe harbor from a raging storm. Big ships fare better by putting out to sea, even when the seas are raging. After Katrina passed and surveys of damage began, many ships not put out to sea before the storm were found pushed far inland from their coastal moorings. Sailors know it is better to face a storm head-on.

All of us face our share of “storms,” and Christians are not immune to the challenges of adversity. This Sunday’s lesson invites us to consider how facing adversity with faith can deepen our relationship with God.

We Have Reason to Rejoice (2–4)
Darkness and light are common, familiar themes in Scripture. One of the most meaningful Old Testament stories is the Exodus 20 account of Moses and the Hebrew people, fresh out of Egypt, gathered before Mount Sinai, the “mountain of God.” The summit of the mount was obscured by dark, ominous clouds. Flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder made the gathered multitude afraid. We read in verse 21 that “Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.” Christians who are experiencing maturing faith understand that it is often in the “dark” times they experience God’s presence most noticeably. Perhaps this is why James offers the imperative that Christians regard adversity with joy: It is an opportunity to encounter the sustaining presence of God. When we look back on “dark” times and see how God was with us, we face the next test of faith with less fear and more hope.

Divine Wisdom Is Available (5–11)
One of the Christmas gifts I received last year was a silk-screen T-shirt with the words “Half Full” placed under a coffee cup that is half-full. Most of us have been around people who, for any number of reasons, have a “cup half-empty” view of life. Some people have experienced long-term challenges and struggles that seem unending. It is no wonder many view their experiences through the lens of pessimism rather than hope and optimism. If we take seriously James’ imperative to be joyful in adversity, then Christians, of all people, should work to have a “cup half-full” outlook. The wisdom James speaks of is what helps us respond with hope and optimism. Such wisdom is one of God’s gifts to us, offered generously and freely. James contrasts the readiness of God to give (5) with the ambivalence of people when they ask (6), suggesting that unanswered prayers are because of a lack of faith.

Verses 9–10 are difficult to understand. One perspective is that James called poor Christians to glorify God in the midst of the adversity of poverty because He gave them faith to persevere and not lose hope. Wealthy Christians who lose everything should “take pride” because they were able to move through the adversity of losing what they had without losing faith. Another perspective might be that the one who was poor should be glad because God had called him to true riches — the riches of the Spirit.  The one who was rich should be glad because God had shown him his spiritual poverty even in the midst of great material wealth, wealth that would surely pass away.

God Is Good All the Time (12–18)
The result of faithfulness to God in the midst of trials and adversity is “the crown of life.” Another rendering of the language of the text is “the crown which is life.” The prize for which all believers hope is abundant life now and eternal life to come.

James shifts focus from enduring outward trials to resisting inward temptations. Our natural tendency is to blame others when we fail — even God. We are each responsible for our actions. Our struggle is with addiction to “Satan’s LSD” — the lust that leads to sin, which leads to death. Only through the unchanging goodness and grace of God are we able to break the addiction.

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