13 January 2024

Wisdom in James: How can we ‘consider it pure joy’?

Major Tim Johnson

Major Tim Johnson encourages us to persevere through trials and temptations.

Key text

Sometimes our theology leaks out in surprising ways. At one corps I served in, the youth group went bowling. After a round where one individual had launched both shots into the gutter, that person announced: ‘That just shows that God hates me.’

They were having an over-dramatic moment, of course, but when things go awry, is there not something in many of us that asks: ‘Is this a punishment from God?’ Do the bad things in life – illnesses, accidents, bereavements or job losses – mean that God hates us? James suggests that such ‘trials’ are opportunities to learn and grow.

Pause and reflect

  • Read James 1:2–4. Note the phrase ‘consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds’.
  • What’s your first reaction to this phrase?
  • What kind of person do you consider James to be – a hard taskmaster or a wise teacher?

What defines the ‘trials’ James talks about? At the time of writing, ‘the testing of your faith’ (v3) might have meant arrest by the Roman authorities for following Jesus and possibly being tortured to renounce him and, instead, acclaim Caesar as lord.

Today, the nearest that might likely happen to us is that moment when someone asks, in front of everybody else: ‘So what’s your view as a Christian, then…?’ Or do the trials James is thinking of fall into a wider category than that?

Pause and reflect

  • What are the stress points in your life?
  • Write them down and then ask God to help you deal with them.

While we might not enjoy dealing with trials, we need to recognise how they help us grow. From being helped to deal with our first but-it’s-not-fair moment to grappling with much bigger injustices, there is a process of growth in character and resilience. How do we build up to the major events of our lives – such as bereavement or major illness – if we don’t first have the practice of dealing with small disappointments?

A photo shows a bowling ball about to hit skittles in a bowling alley.

James 1:4

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Read James 1

James says that perseverance produces a person who is ‘mature and complete’ (v4). What does this person look like? One dimension is that they can accurately categorise what is good and what is bad but are then able to see the blessings that less favourable moments bring.

Two images come to my mind. First, an immature individual who sees only the negative and unexpected and whinges about it. This type of person complains to a travel company that the beach was too sandy or that no one told them that there would be fish in the sea and their children were startled.

Then, at the other extreme, there is the person with a hallelujah-anyway attitude, who knows no bad and sees only good. They might seem to be very positive but can lack in discernment and empathy.

Pause and reflect

  • Think about the challenges that you have tackled and overcome. Reflect on the determination that this has produced in you and thank God for the strength you have.

In James 1:4–8, note how James pivots from being mature and not lacking anything to ‘if any of you lacks wisdom’. Wisdom is a central concept for James. Put broadly, wisdom is a reliance on God while engaging the heart and the mind. It’s a key Old Testament idea, expressed abundantly in Proverbs, that life is best lived with God.

James diverts to consider poor and rich people before returning to perseverance in verse 12. For him, those who are poor are exalted in God’s eyes, while wealthy people are lowered. James’s view is that riches will not get anyone into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus said: ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God’ (Mark 10:25). Poor people are necessarily more reliant on God rather than on material wealth.

Pause and reflect

  • How does James’s approach to wealth strike you?
  • Are you content with what you have – or is having more necessary for you to be happy?
  • Where does God fit into that balance?

The last section for this study ends where it started – with trials. The words ‘trials’ (v2) and ‘tempted’ (v13) derive from the same Greek word. If we overcome all the trials, tests and temptations in our lives, we will show ourselves as mature followers, worthy of the crown of life.

Life will bring us tests of good and evil. James is clear: God does not test or tempt us with evil; instead, he rewards us for following him faithfully.

James offers us two sides of God’s goodness: the encouraging Master, who wishes us to grow and overcome, and rewards us when we do (see v12); and the God of grace ‘who gives generously to all without finding fault’ (v5).

Pause and reflect

  • We are very accustomed to the idea of grace. Is it a surprise to you to see the image of a transactional reward from God in the Bible?
  • How do you react to such an idea?

Do bad things mean that God hates us? No. We are entrusted with the gift of life – which will encompass sorrow as well as joy.

It is up to us to reach towards God in all things. When we do, the riches in the character we build will be a reward in itself.

Bible study by

Tim Johnson

Major Tim Johnson

Corps Officer, Gosport

Discover more

Commit the year ahead to God and live in covenant with him.

Lieut-Colonel David Shakespeare encourages everyone to pray for the Territorial Appointments Conference this week.

Commissioners Jenine and Paul Main talk to Major Julian Watchorn as they take on their new responsibilities as territorial leaders.

14 to 25-year-olds invited to apply to the territory’s Justice and Reconciliation Youth Forum.