Life through the lenses of joy
1. Recognize the Context:
In the previous blog entry, we looked at background information for the book of James.
Authorship James, the brother of Jesus, is the most likely candidate for authorship. Here is what we know about him. -He shared the same family skepticism about Jesus’ ministry (John 7:2-5; Mk 3:20-21). -Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). -He was present in Acts 1 (verse 14). -He became the leader of the Jerusalem Church (Gal. 2:9, Acts 15:12-21). -He changed his understanding of who Jesus was after the resurrection.
The recipients were called “the twelve tribes.” This phrase was used to recognize their Jewish heritage. However, we know they were Jewish Christian because James also considered them “brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (2:1)
Additionally, they were“scattered among the nations” The word “scattered” (diaspora) was a term used for the Jews after the exile to Babylon. Some Jews never returned to Jerusalem and remained a part of the diaspora throughout the Mediterranean world. Here, it referred to those Jewish Christians scattered from Jerusalem after Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 8:1-2).
Josephus, the 1st-century Jewish Historian, informs us that James, the brother of Jesus, was martyred approximately A.D. 62. Therefore, it was written sometime before his death, perhaps the late 50’s early 60’s A.D.
Literary Type James has several unique literary features, and they will be considered as we work through the biblical text. It begins like a 1st-century letter by identifying the author, recipients, and providing a greeting. However, this book does not contain other important letter characteristics such as the prayer wish and thanksgiving, typical letter structure, and a closing. Because James is not addressed to a specific city and congregation, it was probably cyclical and was passed on to different church gatherings scattered outside of Jerusalem. It has numerous Old Testament allusion, especially from the Wisdom literature. James also is influenced by the saying of Jesus, although never quoting Jesus directly. Finally, James reflects elements of Greek rhetorical structure from the 1st-century. All of these characteristics will be identified as we encounter them throughout the book.
2. Read the Scripture: James 1:1-4
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
3. Reflect on the Scripture: James identified himself as a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. This word “servant” indicated James had submitted to the authority of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. He also committed to the service of the Father and the Son. The title “Lord” was used in the Old Testament to refer to God, but eventually became a title used for Jesus throughout the New Testament.
Again, we see James' changed perception concerning Jesus. In the Gospels, during Jesus’ earthly ministry, James and other family members tried to stop him. Here in verse 1, after the resurrection, his relationship with Jesus had forever changed.
The term for greetings (Greek chairein) meant “to wish someone well,” and a form of this word was a typical salutation for a 1st-century letter. This exact word can also be found in Acts 15:23, which presents a letter associated with James and other church leaders in Jerusalem.
Greetings (Greek chairein) is in the same word family as the word used for joy (Greek charan) found in verse 2. This is a literary device used by James and is the first of several word pairs repeated throughout the first chapter. This rhetorical device was common in Wisdom literature and was utilized for easier memorization.
Verse 2 begins with an imperative, which seems counterintuitive. James encourages believers to view the various trials they encounter through the lenses of joy and gladness. Here, the word “trial” indicates a difficult situation to test or examine one’s faith. These trials are “faced." However, they are not chosen by the one experiencing them.
The pronouns used in verses 2 and 3 are second person plural (“you all”), which emphasizes not only this process in individual lives but also in the corporate believing community.
The intended product of tested faith through trials is perseverance. This means the ability “to hold out or bear up under difficulty.” Perseverance leads to personal and community maturity and completeness in faith.
Trials of faith-------perseverance--------mature and complete
All viewed with joy
Today, you may be experiencing significant resistance to the words of James. The thought may come to mind, “easier said than done.” Joy comes easier when “life is going well.” When we experience the trials of life, in a fallen, sinful world, it becomes more challenging to view circumstances with joy. Our trust in God can be challenged and shaken. James was not trivializing the real challenges and hardships of life we all experience. However, he does remind believers of the direction and goal of the Christian life, a life of maturity and wholeness.
4. Relate to life:
Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
No matter where you find yourself today, prayerfully ask God for more joy. Today, prayerfully consider those you know who are experiencing suffering in their lives or struggling to have joy in their current difficult situation.
While all Christian should affirm “Jesus is Lord.” But is he truly Lord of every area of your life? Ask God to reveal to you any area of your life where you struggle to allow him total access and control as the Lord of your life. Ask God for his grace to surrender them to his Lordship. Remember, this is a lifelong process.
Today, prayerfully ask God to help you embrace the process with joy: Trials of faith-------perseverance--------mature and complete
Given the prayer suggestions above, what can you incorporate into your life today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. Identify someone in your sphere of influence, experiencing suffering, and hardship today. What is one concrete action you can specifically take to encourage them?
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)
Read and study 2 Peter 1:5-7.
Use a concordance or a website like biblegateway.com and search other verses on joy, perseverance, and maturity.