by Jim Deason
Synopsis: The wisdom literature of the Old Testament repeatedly affirms the blessed nature of one whose God is the Lord. In like manner, James announces blessings upon those who endure trials, seek after wisdom, and prove themselves doers of the word.
David wrote long ago, "How blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!" (Ps. 144:1). Without a doubt sacred history has proven this to be the case. Men who devote themselves to following the Lord are the most blessed of all the earth. Moses promised Israel that, if they would diligently obey the Lord, Jehovah's blessings would rain down upon them (cf. Deut. 28) and God proved true to His promises over and over again. Joshua said, "Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass" (Josh. 21:45). What Jehovah promises, He fulfills. God blesses His people.
In His mountain message, Jesus promised the blessings of God upon those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers (Matt. 5:3-9). God's blessings especially fall upon those who are "persecuted for the sake of righteousness" (Matt. 5:10).
Let's press the "fast forward" button and stop 2,000 years later. It's 21st-century America. It is virtually impossible for those of us within the family of God to "count your many blessings" and "name them one by one," because there are just too many. To attempt to list them might seem as boasting, and to recount our troubles would appear insignificant. In His lovingkindness, God seems to have emptied the storehouses of heaven and showered us with blessings until, as David said, our "cup overflows" (Ps. 23:8). To say that we should all be thankful seems far too little.
In this article I have been tasked with looking at James 1:12—"Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial..."
Even in a land of plenty there are trials to be faced. Difficulties between parents and children, or with other family members. Trials on your job, or maybe because you've lost your job. Financial problems brought on by bad judgment, or by outside circumstances unrelated to your judgments. Some trials are related to physical issues, i.e., sickness, disease, and possibly the death of a loved one. Everyone, at some point in their life (or maybe several times in their lives) will go through the valley of trial. Write it down as if it were written in the law of the Medes and Persians which cannot be changed (cf. Dan. 1:8), you will undergo trial! It is how you face the trial that is important.
Trials can be faced with joy when viewed through the prism of what they accomplish. James said that trials produce endurance which, in turn, produces maturity (Jas. 1:2-4). Paul expands upon this thought in Romans 5:3-5, where he says that tribulation produces perseverance, which develops (proves) character, and gives hope that does not disappoint. Argued backward it goes something like this: Our hope is of eternal life with God. We cannot have that life without developing the character of Jesus Christ. This character is strengthened within us through the perseverance gained by trials and tribulation. Therefore, anything that helps us attain our hope, even testing through trials, can be welcomed with joy because of what they accomplish in our lives.
If knowledge is the accumulation of facts, wisdom is the ability to understand and use these facts in a practical and profitable way. One might say that wisdom is common sense. We've all known people with a "head full of knowledge" who didn't have "coming-in-out-of-the-rain" sense—my grandmother, a very wise woman, combined these phrases often. Knowledge is important, but without the wisdom to use knowledge a person is immature.
We need wisdom, especially when our faith is under fire. When we are in the heat of trial there are often things we know to be true, yet we sometimes lack the comprehension to put all our facts together for an accurate view of the big picture. Our lack of ability to see the big picture is directly affected by the severity of the pain we experience; the greater the pain, the less we are able to see. This is when wisdom becomes critical; a lack of it can prove fatal.
So, in the heat of the crucible, we turn to God. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously..." (Jas. 1:5). It should be obvious that God wants us to have the wisdom to endure trials. He's willing to give that wisdom to all who ask in faith without doubting (Jas. 1:6).
One of the themes that courses its way through the book of James is the inequity that often exists between the rich and poor (cf. Jas. 2:1-13; 5:1-6; and perhaps also 3:13-18) and how each ought to treat the other. Persecution for righteousness' sake, however, knows no economical boundaries. Paul told Timothy, "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12). Furthermore, even without classical persecution, disease, hardship, and death come upon all—regardless of one's socioeconomic status. Trials are common to all.
The brother with little (Jas. 1:9) is to "glory in his humiliation," realizing that, though he has little of this world's goods, his reward in heaven is beyond compare. His trials are but "light affliction" compared to an "eternal weight of glory" that defies comparison (2 Cor. 4:17). The rich brother, through his trials, is taught not to fix his hope on his riches, but upon God who is the Giver of every good thing (cf. 1 Tim. 6:17; Jas. 1:17). The one thing that both the poor and the rich brother have in common is their faith that God will give them the strength to face trials. Faith in God brings them together as they face life's vicissitudes.
The nature of God is such that He cannot be tempted, nor does He tempt anyone (Jas. 1:13). To the contrary, God is the One who provides the way of escape from temptations (1 Cor. 10:13). God rescues the righteous from temptation (2 Pet. 2:9). Regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, temptation arises from within the heart of man. We are "carried away and enticed" by our own lust—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17). It is this lust that conceives and gives birth to sin (Jas. 1:15).
God should never be blamed for our trials, especially our failures when tried. We are warned to be "quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger" (Jas.1:19). I know this is true generally, but specifically in this context I believe James is talking about our conduct and words when undergoing temptation. Listen to God. Be careful what you say, and particularly who you blame. Do not be angry with God when you are tempted and fall, lest you blaspheme Him.
Finally, to truly be blessed, one must be a doer of the word. Perseverance and the approval of God require action (Jas. 1:12, 22-25).
It has been said that there are three kinds of people in this world: There are those who watch things happen, there are those who make things happen, and there are those who wonder what happened. This may be an oversimplification, and perhaps an overstatement, but there is some truth to it. When some folks are tried, they draw up into a shell and just let things happen to them, wondering, "Why?" James declares that the right course is to take action (Jas. 1:25).
When facing the pain of trial, we often become too self-absorbed. It's the natural thing to do—to hurt and feel one's own pain. Usually, there are others around us who are hurting also. James instructed folks undergoing trial to look to the orphans and widows who have no one to care for them and extend yourself to help. The difficulties of your own trouble can be mitigated by extending yourself to others. James called this the practice of "pure and undefiled religion" (Jas. 1:27).
Indeed, "How blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!" (Ps. 144:1), those who have faced life's challenges and persevered through them. These are those who, "will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (Jas. 1:12).
Author Bio: Jim Deason has been preaching for the South Cullman church in Cullman, AL for eleven years and has been serving as one of the elders for much of that time. He and his wife, Paige, have three children. The church website is southcullmanchurch.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.