Faith Works: A Study in James


How does faith work when you are in a trial? 

Imagine a scene where you’ve recently bought an old house. It’s been cleared of furniture, but up in the attic, there are a few odds and ends including a dusty old box of letters dated as far back as the early 1900s. 

In order to understand this correspondence, you’ll have to aim at establishing a few things first: what the original intention of the letter was, who the author and recipient were, and in what context the author and recipient lived. The same thing is true when we approach writings in the Bible. 

Before we begin applying the meaning of a biblical text to our own lives, we have to do the same kind of detective work. 

First, church history tells us that this letter was penned by Jesus’ half-brother James. James lived an extraordinary life. Imagine what it would’ve been like to grow up in the same household as Jesus. James was given a front row seat into the daily life of Jesus as He was empowered by the Spirit to fully and perfectly obey God in all of life. In Galatians 1:19, James is considered one of the most highly regarded and respected Christian leaders alive on the earth, and in humility, he uses for himself the simple title of “servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

James was also a leader in the mother Church in Jerusalem (Acts 15) and was skillful in resolving conflict. He included the Gentiles as a part of God’s people (Amos 9:11, 12). He further went on to explain that Jewish and Gentile Christians could and should fellowship together, and that the Gentiles were not required to observe ritual law. He also urged Gentile Christians to abstain from potentially offensive behaviors to the Jews. 

The intended audience of James appears to be largely Jewish Christians, the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” The twelve tribes refer to the historical origins of Israel, descended from the twelve patriarchs (Deut. 33). But the people were scattered due to the Assyrian and Babylonian military victories over the nation. The church then, appropriated the title “Dispersion,” with Jesus as their Messiah who reestablished the twelve tribes (Jer. 3:18; Ezek. 37:19–24; Song of Sol. 17:28), and Christians (Jewish or non) recognized themselves as the true heirs of the Jewish faith (Rom. 4; 1 Cor. 10:18; Gal. 4:21–31; Phil. 3:3). In Christ, the instruction and exhortation of the book of James is for all in the family of God through faith in Christ. 

If there is anyone in history that could legitimately name-drop, it would be Jesus’ half-brother, James. Surprisingly though, James doesn’t introduce himself as an apostle or even make the familiar connection as someone with the authority to write to his fellow believers. He calls himself a “servant” of God and Christ, a man bound to his Master, living his life in loving obedience no matter the cost. Verses 2-8 reveal that God gives two things: trials and good gifts. Sometimes, they are one in the same. 

Life is filled with pains, problems, and perils. When they inevitably come, our first response is anything but joy because these seasons are hard to enjoy. According to James, though, these are opportunities to grow in faith. In our limited understanding, health, wealth, ease, and comfort define our ideas of a full life. God, however, wants us to invest in our character and hard times can produce the holiest people. 

In and through trials, God gives us both the testing of our faith to reveal where we find our true identity and stability, and the wisdom to withstand the trial. Experiencing joy at the introduction of a trial rests firmly on a deep faith in the character of God and the power of the Spirit of God. This is the example Jesus set for us as He walked through the cross before heading Home. 

What truths (from this passage and elsewhere in Scripture) must we cling to in order to meet trials with joy?