Verse 1, James, a slave of God . . . (continued)
James, the slave of God through the Lord Jesus Christ, addresses the Word to “the twelve tribes scattered abroad.” A better translation would be: “to the twelve tribes which are in the dispersion.” There are two possible interpretations of this. Some take it to mean literally the Jews who had been converted and were now dispersed throughout the world. Others understand this to be a reference to “spiritual Israel,” children of God of both Jew and Gentile. The former explanation is no doubt correct for several reasons. There is frequent reference to Old Testament examples: not only to saints such as Abraham, Rahab, Elijah, Job; but also to such things as the early and latter rain, the husbandman, the synagogue. There is the absence of any reference to the many problems encountered by the church when the Gentiles were called into the fellowship of the body of Christ—problems concerning circumcision, for example. Finally, the fact that the readers are described as being “in the dispersion” strongly argues for our position. These are no doubt the Jewish Christians who were forced to flee Jerusalem as a result of the persecution which followed upon Stephen’s martyrdom (cf. Acts 8, 9).
This, of course, does not mean the Letter has no significance for us today. There is no cleavage between Jew and Gentile; all are one in Christ. And, the eternal Word of God speaks to the church in every age. Still more, the dispersed Jewish Christians picture vividly the Church of Jesus Christ scattered throughout the world, the “elect strangers” to whom the inspired Apostle Peter writes, (I Peter 1:1, ff.) who are “born again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you. . . .” These are in but not of the world of sin. Therefore they are hated, persecuted; friends of God, and thus enemies of the world. To these, the Jewish Christians in the dispersion in the first century, and to the believers dispersed in the world today comes the Word of God through His slave, James.
That word is very simply, “greeting.” The word really means “rejoice, be glad.” It was a form of wishing one happiness. Now, this is not just the wish of James for the church but the living Word of God. God is saying to believers in the dispersion, “greeting, rejoice, or be glad.” And, when God Who “speaks and it is done, who commands and it stands fast,” says, “rejoice,” we rejoice! His Word is a powerful, creative: life-giving and life-changing Word; it fills us with the joy of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Verses 2-4, “The Joy of Temptations” . . .
With that brief introductory greeting James gets right down to the first need of the saints of God scattered throughout the world. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
What are these “divers temptations”? We should understand that James means the temptations of the devil. Some commentators would translate “divers trials,” pointing to verse 13, where the Scripture clearly states that God tempts no man. Besides, those of this opinion argue that Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” How then could the scriptures admonish God’s children to count it all joy when they fall into divers temptations? In order to understand clearly the meaning of the text it is well that we pay attention to the distinction between temptations and trials. While the means may often be the same, temptations are not the same as trials. They are different, first, as to their source. Temptations always come from Satan and never come from God (cf. vs. 13); while trials always come from God and never from the devil. The motive of the two differs. Satan, that old deceiver, tempts us because he hates us; and he hates us because he hates God. Because he hated God and desired the destruction of God’s cause, the devil tempted our first parents (Gen. 3). The devil has been busy doing the same ever after. God, however, tries His people because He loves them in Christ and desires that they enjoy the blessings of salvation. Thirdly, trials and temptations differ as to their goal. The devil’s goal in tempting us is to cause us to sin. His purpose is to destroy us and ultimately to destroy God’s cause. God tries us, on the other hand, to save us. His purpose is always to draw us into deeper fellowship with Himself.
James is saying here that we are to count it all joy not when we fall into divers trials, but most emphatically when we fall into divers temptations. When the devil tempts you, count it all joy. That this is true will become evident as we proceed to listen to what the Spirit says to the Church in these verses.
These temptations are said to be divers. This word means of all sorts of colors or many different shades. Very simply, then, the temptations of the Evil One are of a host of different forms and variations. All of them, contrary often to appearance, are vicious attempts on the part of Satan to destroy us. Today the devil is busy using the wealth and ease of the world to tempt. His aim is to get us all wrapped up in what the Bible calls in Hebrews 11, “the pleasures and treasures of Egypt.” Cunningly the devil works, tempting us one step at a time; gradually our spiritual senses become dulled, and we become lax and apathetic. The end of the process is reached when our entire life is consumed by things earthly, so that the focus of our living becomes the job, the beautiful home, the vacation, the ball game, or whatever, while the affairs of Church and Kingdom become secondary. We worship on Sunday but have no time for Bible study. If there is time left over we may squeeze a few moments to work for evangelism or attend an occasional society meeting or work for the Christian School. Satan bombards us with enticements which appeal to our sinful flesh. He uses the means of television, radio, and printed page to hold before us the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eyes, making it almost impossible to shield our children and bring them up in the fear of God.
The Tempter also appears on the pulpit and in the classroom through false preachers and teachers. Very subtly he chips away at the truth of the Word of God. He calms the uneasy by assuring them that these preachers and teachers are sincerely pursuing the truth. After all, the sixteenth century creeds cannot possibly speak to the needs of the Church in the twentieth century. The Church must keep on reforming, and there must be freedom for theologians to discuss and develop our understanding of the truth.
And when all else fails, Satan will scorn and ridicule and even kill the faithful. The history of God’s Church from the very beginning (witness the murder of Abel) testifies to this in the clearest of terms.
Thus the slaves of God through the Lord Jesus Christ, scattered abroad in the world, fall into divers temptations. Note: James does not say we are to put ourselves into divers temptations. Always we are to flee temptations, and never are we to seek tempting situations. We tie instructed precisely for this reason to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” But, we do fall into temptations; i.e., we fall among divers temptations, or into the midst of divers temptations. That’s bound, to be, merely because we are the slaves of God in the dispersion. Through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ we have been taken out of the misery of sin and translated into the Kingdom of God. Hence we are in, but not of, the world of sin. We are already raised up to newness of life by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; and therefore our citizenship is in heaven, whence also we look for the Savior (cf. Romans 6, Philippians 3). What the Scripture is saying, then, is: when because you live by faith out of Jesus Christ and seek the Kingdom of heaven as God’s slaves, when you fight the battle of faith against Satan, the world, and your own sinful flesh, when, as a result of that, you find yourselves in the midst of divers temptations, and the way is very narrow, and you suffer for Jesus’ sake, what must your attitude be? How must you regard this?
The answer is: “Count it all joy”! We are to consider or judge those divers temptations into which we fall all joy, i.e., pure or unmixed joy.
That is a difficult Word to receive! If the Scripture admonished us to bear those temptations, submit or be resigned to them, we could understand it. Or if James had said we are to trust in the Lord Who will never suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, we would not find it so difficult. If the Word here were that we should be thankful even in temptations because someday we will be in glory, we would understand. Or if we were reminded of reasons to be joyful even in our sorrows, we would understand. While all this is true enough, the text goes a step farther and exhorts us to count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations. Count it all joy that you have to battle the devil on so many fronts and in so many ways. When you have to struggle against the Evil One day in and day out and you grow weary as it becomes increasingly difficult to be faithful, count it all joy. Consider it all joy when you are scorned because you refuse to compromise the faith. There is in all of this absolutely no reason for grief. The divers temptations which result in the great struggle of the Christian and in his suffering for Christ’s sake are reason for great, unmixed, whole joy. As difficult as that may be to understand, that is the Word of God. And the Scriptures are full of this; Matthew 5, Romans 5, I Peter 1, 4 and many other passages all speak of essentially the same truth.
(to be continued)