James is a book written to a group of first-century Christians who were struggling. The book assumes its readers already know the foundations of the faith. It's purpose is not a defense of the truth. James mentions Jesus twice, never the cross, atonement, Holy Spirit, or resurrection. The book does not emphasize doctrine, but focuses on practical living. The focus is not on what we believe, but what we do. Someone said Bible focuses on two themes: the way to God, the walk with God. If this is true, James is the latter. Ours is a difficult world. If persecution purifies the person, constant suffering suffocates the spirit. That was happening in the first century, and it happens in our day too. Slowly, surely, often unseen, discouragement sets in. It is easy to buckle under the pressures and doubts of life. All need exhortation and encouragement. All need reminders to maintain faith. Further, ours is a shadowy world, filled with instability (1:8, 17, 6-8, 2ff, 22-24). This theme is reflected in the first chapter of James. How shall we accurately, adequately define the character or nature of this shadowy world which has so little substance? It is paradoxical, backward. It is undependable, temporary, tossing us, filled with trials and temptations, deceptive.
Against the backdrop of this kind of world, we seek solutions. James gives them, but it is helpful to understand the rhythm of book. While we have five chapters, these are likely fewer sections. Consider the following outline which between an introduction and conclusion identifies three admonition-application sections. (The number-letter combinations represent chapters, e.g. 1A is the first part of chapter one, 1B the second part.)
I. Faith when stretched doesn't break, but produces genuine stability.
This it does as we Learn to Listen to God, 1:16-27
II. Faith when pressed doesn't fail, but produces genuine love.
This is does as we practice faith, overcoming indifference and mere mental exercises with obedience
III. Faith when expressed doesn't explode, but produces genuine control and humility.
This it does as we seek God's wisdom.
In midst of trials how shall we respond? With faith. Because faith when it is distressed does not panic, but produces genuine patience. We may find trials in materials things, in sickness, in sin, in deprivation, in worldliness, and even in the correction lovingly extended by others.
Faith allows us to be patient, persevere, despite suffering, look to God, who is the only ultimate source of substance, stability.
I am reminded of 2 Cor. 4:7ff. Power is from God. So we are pressed but not crushed; perplexed but not despairing; persecuted but not deserted by God; knocked down but not destroyed. Knowing this we do not lose heart.
We listen, obey, with wisdom from God. Depend upon God, come to him, depend on him for strength when life and sin overwhelms, depend on him for salvation when we cannot find it ourselves, depend on him for renewal when your will alone cannot restore the God relationship, depend on him for power for living despite the problems. This is stability in a shaky world, something solid in a shadowy world. Lean on him, the everlasting arms.
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