Notes on James 1:12
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Jas 1:1, KJV 1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
Several men were named “James” in the New Testament. James “the Less” and James, son of Zebedee and brother of John were among the original Twelve Disciples. The Lord Jesus Christ had four half-brothers, named James, Joses, Judas, and Simon plus at least two half-sisters (Matt 13:55-56, Mark 6:3). The writer of this letter was probably James, the Lord’s half-brother. James, the son of Zebedee had been executed relatively soon after the Church had been brought into existence (Acts 12:2). Little is known of James the Less so he probably didn’t write this letter either.
Something to keep in mind is that this letter is probably one of the first Christian letters ever written. James specifically mentions the “twelve tribes . . .scattered abroad” and hardly mentions the Gentiles at all. So his focus or audience is most likely the earliest Jewish believers, probably those who had come to faith in Jesus as Messiah in Acts 2 and up to the first persecutions (Acts 8-11). An interesting observation is that the Jews who had been scattered abroad over most of the known world (Acts 2, see the list of nationalities where these Jews lived) were now scattered abroad again. The first scatterings were due to disobedience to God; the second was because of their faith in God!
Jews were still living in any number of places in the known world, more or less equivalent to the Roman Empire, specifically the Mediterranean area. The Acts and the Epistles speak of Jewish synagogues and the reactions of the Jewish people when they came in contact with the Gospel. Even Paul, of the tribe of Benjamin, had lived in Tarsus and in Jerusalem before he became a believer, seemingly never having lived in what had been Benjamin’s inheritance per the Book of Joshua.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
James is speaking to fellow Christians. “Divers temptations” could also be rendered “various trials”. Believers have had to deal with trials of various kinds, all the way back to Adam! James will mention one of the classic tests of faith when he speaks of Abraham in a later chapter.
3 Knowing (this), that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
Patience here means endurance. This is the real test of faith, being able to bear with or endure any trial or testing that comes against any believer.
4 But let patience have (her) perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
James gives a word of warning here, not to try and force patience to happen (some have said that one prayer, prayed very often, is “Please give me patience, right now!”) “Wanting” here means "lacking". "Perfect" here doesn’t mean “sinless” but “complete”.
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all (men) liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
In the context, James is speaking of any believer lacking wisdom to face the various trials which will come to every believer. The early Jewish, Messianic, believers in Jesus faced their share of trials and even though Jesus Himself had said trials were coming (John 13-16 has references to this), they were probably surprised that the trials had indeed come to them.
Wisdom is not a blanket, or one-size-fits-all kind of quality; rather, it seems that the Lord gives wisdom as He sees fit and upon our asking for it. Best of all, God will not “upbraid” or chastise any believer who asks for the wisdom he or she needs!
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
James could have had any number of examples in mind. The Hebrews, wandering in the wilderness, had been promised that God would supply their needs but they complained often, expressing doubt that God would really fulfill His promises. Gideon’s father, Joash, had built an altar to a pagan god (Baal) but didn’t do anything to Gideon when he tore down his father’s altar (Judges 6:25-32). The ten northern tribes had by and large forsaken the God of all Israel for Jeroboam’s golden calves but there were still a good number who worshiped the True God only. When Elijah called for the contest between himself and Baal’s prophets, actually between God and Baal, he said plainly they were “ . . .halt . . . between two opinions" (1 Kings 18:21) and to make their choice that day as to Whom they would worship.
Further, James was raised along with Jesus and the rest of the family near Nazareth and could have easily seen the waves on the Sea of Galilee. Storms would sometimes arise with little warning—this happened to Jesus and the disciples when they were crossing the lake in a boat (Luke 8:24, e.g.).
Perhaps he had even seen or heard of the waves of the Mediterranean Sea during storms. He must have known about the waves, how the water would reach the shore and then retreat. What a picture of people who refuse to make a decision and follow through on it.
7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. 8 A double minded man (is) unstable in all his ways.
Notice how James compares the sea, driven and tossed by the wind, with a person who affirms and yet doubts, is confident and then wonders, expects and yet receives nothing.
9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:
Here James is giving a somewhat blanket statement but he no doubt had any number of examples in view. Abram was rich before he left Ur of the Chaldees but had no permanent dwelling after he followed the Lord. Moses had been a prince in Egypt but spent 40 additional years as a shepherd. David, arguably Israel’s greatest king, had been a shepherd before he learned the arts of war. Lazarus was a beggar (Luke 16) but received “good things” after his earthly life was over. Even the disciples were basically lowly, working class men but they followed Jesus and were rewarded by becoming the Apostles. One may be born into, or basically forced to live in a position of low degree on this earth—but the rewards for following Jesus are going to be so much more (1 Corinthians 3)!
10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. 11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
No matter how wealthy anyone is on this earth, he or she will face the same fate (death) as any poor person. Solomon wrote of this in Ecclesiastes and Jesus Himself had said that nobody could serve God and “mammon (money, wealth, riches)” at the same time (Matt 6:24, paraphrased).
James also reminds his readers of Isaiah 40:7-8, where Isaiah wrote that the grass withers and the flower fades but the Word of God abides forever! The rich of history have pretty much been forgotten—there are exceptions—but regardless of how much they earned, they faded away. God’s Word does abide forever.
12 Blessed (is) the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
“Endureth temptation” also means “perseveres under trials”. Abraham failed certain tests or trials but there were any number of trials in which he persevered. He never lost his faith in God: witness the encounter with Isaac, when God told Abraham to offer him as a sacrifice. Believers in James’ day were going through trials and temptations—to give up the new Christian faith and return to Judaism was one such trial. There also seemed to be plenty of “Judaizers” ready to impose the Law of Moses on Gentile believers soon after James wrote this letter.
So James does not deny that temptations or trials will come. Rather he pronounces a blessing on those who can endure or persevere during these events. He also promises that the one who endures will receive the “crown of life”, promised by the Lord to those who love Him. Also, this crown is also promised to those “who overcome”, as in Smyrna (Rev. 2:10), who were “faithful unto death”,
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).