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Steadiness in Life

James 1:1-4

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.


In this passage, James is introducing himself and a theme that will be repeated later on in the book. This mindset James encourages (or possibly even commands) is one that can be very hard in practice, but is one that would change the lives of anyone who can adopt it.

[1] James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ

James, though he was the biological brother of Jesus Christ (through Mary, Matt. 13:55), does not wish to claim his biological connection to Christ, but instead seeks to be known as a servant of Christ. Not even just a servant, but in some translations the term “bondservant” is used, with the original word having more of a connotation of “slave” than a brother would typically willingly volunteer. James is replicating (albeit on a vastly different scale than the Word Himself from John 1, who is stated to have considered Himself a slave in Philippians 2:6-7) the humility of Christ, not considering his state as equal in any way to Christ, but rather as a slave to his Lord.

This shows his devotion to God and serves as an example for us; that we should value God even over family. It also serves as an example of one who had (from a worldly perspective) something to brag about but chose not to. 

While James handles this well, we often see situations where others do not. A sense of entitlement can creep into the life of one who is deeply connected with a leader, pastor, celebrity, or business owner. Because they know ‘the boss’ they (at least think they) can get away with bad behavior, more access than others, or an entitlement thinking they have a moral, spiritual, or physical upper hand. James here is showing us exactly how these situations should be handled. We are nothing, and Christ is everything.

James is a humble soul, and offers a black and white exposition of real-life, applicable truths. John MacArthur offers a very thorough and well-written article on this topic from one of his sermons “An Introduction to James, Part 1”  that I highly encourage you to read to go more into this first part of this first verse.

[1] To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings

As with any letter written, you must address who you intend to read it. At this point in history, the Jews had undergone many dispersions throughout their nation’s history. The Jews were a nation abroad, a heritage spread throughout many nations, and these Jews outside the then-current nation of Israel were the direct, intended recipients of this letter. Put in the wording of John MacArthur, “the term Dispersion refers to the Jews living outside of Palestine.”

For a deeper understanding of the dispersion, I recommend John MacArthur’s sermon/article “An Introduction to James, Part 2” where he details out each dispersion of the Jews in historical detail, but let’s continue.

More specifically than just “the Jews living outside of Palestine”, we can see that further on in the letter James refers to them as ‘my brethren’ or ‘brothers and sisters’ leading us deeper into an understanding of his audience: Christian Jews. Those who already were exposed to the gospel by missionaries (the apostles or others) and accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

Who the letter is addressed to is probably the reason this letter is so applicable. James was writing to Christians who were struggling daily with faith, hard times, temptations; all of the things Christians still struggle with to this day (and will until Christ returns).

This is an amazing book of the Bible, with so many applicable lessons we can learn. So let’s dive in further!

Trials Bring Steadfastness. Steadfastness Brings Perfection.

[2] Count it all joy, my brothers…

James starts off his first lesson with a word I overlooked for a very long time. He says to “count” it all joy. The Greek word used here is transliterated to ‘hégeomai’. This can more directly be understood as “[consider] it all joy”, with the word having one definition of “the leading thought in one’s mind” though in verb form like this perhaps the better understanding would be that of “to esteem (regard highly)”. 

We are to regard [it] highly, to value what [it] brings. So, what is “it”?

[2] …when you meet trials…

Trials! James is telling us to regard highly and be joyful about trials? This is very much a mindset that is vastly countercultural at best, or from a worldly perspective (hence the ‘countercultural’ designation) quite insane. We are to look at the face of these trials that we encounter, and we are to not solely bear whatever comes our way, but to take things a step further and be thankful for it.

While not explicitly stated in this way elsewhere, we can see examples of this mentality in Scripture, with the top example I think of (at least in the New Testament) being the apostle Paul. The amount of persecution and general trials Paul met would bring most people to their knees (2 Corinthians 11:16-33), but he uses all of these things to further glorify God, strengthening his faith and considering it a blessing. He faces trials, and considers it a joyous opportunity to be blessed by Christ.

We see here that James is echoing the thoughts of Christ in His beatitudes recorded in Matthew 5:10-12. Jesus tells us “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven.” Jesus said it, James echoed it, and Paul detailed out how he lived it.

[2] …of various kinds…

At this point in his letter, he intentionally leaves the specific types of trials as vague. While intending to dive deeper into the kinds of trials we will face, this statement is merely a warning that trials and suffering will come, but we cannot let suffering bring forth sin. When we are in pain, hurting, mourning, or lonely; this is when we are most vulnerable to temptations. These are the times where we most importantly and most consciously must choose to focus on God, praising Him for what He has given us and asking Him for what we need (be it comfort, peace, strength, wisdom, patience, or faith).

[3] …for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Finally, the reason for considering it joy! The wording in English translations may be different depending on your translation (in the ESV it uses ‘steadfastness’), but the word in the Greek (hypomonēn ~ hee-po-mo-neen) means a steadfastness, perseverance, or long-suffering form of patience. Not one that is easy to endure, but a strength from God through faith that allows us to bear anything.

Our faith can be tested in many ways, whether it be desires of the flesh rising up and drawing our hearts toward them or whether it be a hard time or significant event in life that tempts us to focus on self over God. It should be noted that we are not promised that life will be easier, but that as we are tested it will produce steadfastness, like gold that is refined by fire, only more precious and worthy of our desires (1 Peter 1:7).

Steadfastness is defined as 'resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.'

The image shared here is not of someone dodging the arrows of the enemy. It is not an image of someone swept away in a flood. It is an image of someone with their feet planted strong taking everything thrown at them looking to God for strength and relying on Him in faith. It is an image of a child of God “taking up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

We must dig deeper and rely stronger on our faith during trials, not allowing ourselves to waver. This means having a resolution to follow God, rely on Him, and trust that He will carry us through anything.

Philippians 4:12 tells us that Paul knows “how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” This is the verse preceding the famously misused passage “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” (4:13). Paul is saying that no matter how difficult life is, or how much he has been given, He can do whatever God is asking of him. Throughout his imprisonment, the constant threat of death, being shipwrecked, and being bitten by a poisonous snake, Paul trusted that God would provide what is needed to do anything he is sent to do. That is steadfastness.

Steadfastness is merely an attribute, however; a means to an end. But what is this end, this goal, that steadfastness provides?

[4] And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Perfection, completion, and lacking in nothing! These are the glorious truths and results awaiting believers who persist in faith to the end. This is the reward we are promised and should desperately desire. This is the effect that steadfastness will have on us.

“Hold on,” one might say upon hearing this. “That’s contradicting the gospel and our need for Christ! Our entire reason for needing Christ is that we cannot persevere. We cannot attain perfection.”

These statements are true, and James is reinforcing these truths, not contradicting them! He is highlighting the fruit of the Spirit; the results of a believer in Christ who pursues and trusts in Him.

Everything Points to Christ

We see in Romans 3:23 that perfection is unattainable, impossible for every human. Our sin is the reason for the law being given: to show us our need for a Savior. We are being called to the impossible, which is really a call to rely fully on Christ.

To “be perfect” in this passage is the greek word τέλειοι (teleios) which the pulpit commentaries say is “applied to the initiated, the fully instructed, as opposed to novices in the ancient mysteries; and as early as 1 Corinthians 2:6, 7 we find τέλειος [teleios] used for the Christian who is no longer in need of rudimentary teaching, and possibly this is the thought here.”  This is outlining the process and results of sanctification in Christ.

We can see now that it is not something we will quickly achieve, and certainly something that we cannot achieve apart from Christ. This passage reflects the sentiments that are well-explained in 2 Corinthians 12:9 where Paul quotes Jesus saying “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Another of Paul’s writings comes to mind and fits well with this passage: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Consider this passage and the intentions of James to point us toward Christ and an eternal perspective. Consider that your primary goal in life is to glorify God and serve Jesus as Lord!

”Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.“