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Blessed Through Trials

James 1:9-18

Perseverance and carrying the cross faithfully will lead us to receiving the crown of life and so much more for eternity. 'Blessed is he who perseveres through the trials.'


We are continuing through the first chapter of the book of James, and his strong theme of trials, tribulation, and our response to these things continues.

In this passage, we see James elaborate on some of the ‘various’ types of trials, including physical and spiritual circumstances. James continues in his exhortation to “consider it all joy,” but in this case it is not just “when you meet trials of various kinds” but also deeper in the reasoning behind what joy we should consider.

Whether rich or poor, we all have the same grace applied through Christ, which is the only thing we can cling to and rely on for eternity. This salvation, this adoption as sons of the Most High, co-heirs with Christ is the joy that should push us toward Christ. Our joy being found in and our reliance on Christ is the only thing that will allow us to persevere to the end and receive that crown of life.

Taking Pride in Salvation

In these first few verses, James points out the commonality between the rich and the poor: where our pride should be based from.

If we are honest with ourselves, we are all by nature prideful creatures. Regardless of how far along in the sanctification process we might be, pride is always present. What changes, however, is the source of that pride within us. There is both a sinful, selfish pride that is found in oneself and a holy, selfless pride that is based on your salvation in Christ.

[9] Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.

“In humble circumstances..” here is intentionally a direct contrast to what we will see in verse 10. It is looking at the earthly status of an individual, in this case someone who is poor, or does not live in luxury. While this believer may not drive the nicest car, have the nicest house, or even be able to properly (at least, proper according to their local culture) provide for themselves or their family, they can still walk with their heads held high, not being ashamed of the position they are in.

Whether it is proper or not, it is likely common in most people to look at those around them and compare lives. When surrounded by people with more (money, possessions, food, etc) there will be a tendency to feel shame at the position currently held. James here wants to disconnect physical, earthly possessions and status from how one considers and carries themselves.

Looking at the interlinear for “ought to take pride…” the word used here is kauchaomai or “let boast.” It carries with it the essence of living with your held up high, regardless of circumstance. It is not a spirit of sinful pride, but the ultimate confidence and knowledge of who God has made you into: His child. Rather than feel shame at not having what the world preaches, we are called to take pride in our spiritual status and be thankful for our reliance on and salvation from God.

[10-11] But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

The pride a rich man feels is typically based on their wealth, or their abilities that created such wealth. When you have great possessions and wealth because you “earned” it by being smarter or working harder you might feel justified in taking pride that you are a “self made man.” Another base of pride in the rich is just pure comparison, thinking that since you have more possessions, you are worth more as a person. While some blatantly admit this, most of us struggle with one or both of these sentiments often without even realizing it.

James here is giving us a stern, definitive reminder that everything we have is quickly fading. Our possessions will rot and be lost. Our knowledge and “smarts” will fade with our minds in our old age. Our earthly status will one day end, just as the flowers of the field shrivel up and fall to the ground, being reclaimed by the dirt from which they grew. If our pride is found in these things, then our lives will be meaningless and in opposition to God who gives or allows us to have such comforts.

Rather than relying on and taking pride in our earthly status, we are to remember that our humiliation, the fact that our earthly status will fade, should be the source of our pride. For if our humiliation is our fading earthly status, then our exaltation is our gift from God of eternal salvation. Walking in a confidence that is based on an eternal perspective allows us to walk with our heads held high knowing that regardless of if we have much or if we have it all taken away, our identity is still found in Christ and the salvation He offers. Paul expresses this exact sentiment and focus in Philippians 4:11-13.

Blessing Through Trials

As we have seen already in James (v2), trials come in many forms. While it is often not the focus of discussion, I believe that both being poor and being rich on earth each bring their own unique trials and that is possibly why James brought it up in verses 9 and 10.

[12] Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test…

The one who perseveres under trial is blessed. Perseverance in this case should be defined as a reliance on and trust in Jesus Christ through any trial, tribulation, temptation, or general circumstance.

Our tendency is to read the word ‘trial’ and think more so along the lines of ‘tribulation’ or ‘persecution’ but sometimes a trial is something that feels great. I think a proper definition of trial is important, and James in this chapter is showing that a trial truly can come in various forms and not only ones that feel negative. Based on this passage, and others in the Bible, I would define the word ‘trial’ being used here as something like “any circumstance that forces a choice between Christ and self.” Every circumstance can then be seen (and rightfully so) as a temptation.

Everything that happens to or around us is an opportunity to serve Jesus or ourselves; to choose between God or the world. Each occurrence, whether perceived as good or bad, leads us in one direction or the other.

Recently (as I am writing this), my church has been studying the life of Abraham. Throughout his life (at least, after God called him), Abraham constantly faced a choice: serve God or self. In many of the stories, we see a stark contrast between Abraham and Lot (his nephew). Abraham often (he was not perfect) chose God, but Lot nearly always chased self-service and the pleasures of the world.

In Genesis 12:8, we see Abraham nearing the land God promised him and pitching his tent between Bethel and Ai. What I had never noticed before that our pastor pointed out is something quite significant that relates directly to our definition of a trial being anything that is a choice between God and the world (or oneself). Bethel was named to mean “communion with God” while Ai was representative of the world and can mean “heap of ruins.”

Abraham’s tent in Genesis 12:8 is very much representative of the life of every believer (including Abraham, who consistently had to choose between believing God, or believing the culture in which he was raised). 

For the remainder of our lives, we will be constantly faced with circumstances where we must choose between God and the world. We will face trials of many kinds, easy and hard. We will face temptations to serve ourselves, the world, or Satan himself, but through it all we must persevere, relying on God so that we consistently choose Him over the world. This perseverance brings with it a blessing beyond what we can comprehend or imagine.

James calls the one who perseveres blessed, but what is the blessing we will receive?

[12] that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

The crown of life! The reward awaiting believers at the end of this life. The eternal adornment fit only for sons of the Most High, which we were made to be by the adoption of the Father through the sacrifice of the Son. Our glorification in Christ leads us to having a life of eternity with Him, free from the trials of this world.

Revelation 21:3-5 tells us that God will “wipe away every tear” and that there shall be no more “mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” This is the eternal gift of God, the blessing we are promised at the end of this life. The promise here is that we will live eternally in perfection with our Creator.

This is a promise from God, and our only requirement is to love Him! Oh how glorious this truly is!

Character: God vs Self

The rest of this passage focuses on temptation, but more specifically it focuses on what temptation reveals about our character and the character of God.

[13] When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;

Immediately in verse 13, James wants to be very clear that God is never the source of temptation. He reinforces that God is perfectly holy, and cannot be tempted by evil or be the source of temptation. To say that God is the source of temptation is borderline (or possibly fully) blasphemy! To say that God tempts us to sin is in large part implying that God is not perfect or holy, and that God does not actually want what is best for us!

For God to be able to be the source of temptation, He would have to not be holy, and not want only good things for us. The purpose of temptation is to cause the tempted to sin, which implies that God is capable of evil intentions, which is why this statement is so horrendous. Back in verse 7 James tells us that every good gift is from God. In Matthew 7:11 we see God as a good father who wants to give good gifts (wisdom and spiritual maturity). Throughout Scripture we are told of the goodness and perfection of God [Psalm 25:8; 33:5; 92:15; 145:9, 1 Chronicles 16:34, Ezra 3:11, Mark 10:18].

Psalm 34:8 implores us to “taste and see that the Lord is good!”

Psalm 33:5 shows us that “He loves righteousness and justice.”

We serve a righteous, good, and holy God who is incapable of being tempted and is never the source of temptation. James is adamant and VERY clear about this foundational truth because of it’s importance.

But if God is not the source of temptation, where does it come from? While we most often blame Satan (which can be true, as we will discuss shortly), James points out the root of our vulnerability.

[14-15] …but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

We are the reason that we sin, and the only ones to blame. But what about Satan?

We have the horrid tendency to think of God as smaller and less powerful than He truly is, but we also have the tendency to think of Satan as stronger and more able than he truly is.

We are promised in James 4:7 (spoiler alert!) that if we resist the devil, he will flee! Here we begin to see that Satan has no power over believers. In Luke 22:31-32 Jesus Himself mentions that Satan has had to ask for permission to tempt Peter. To further this, I can think of no better example than Job.

In Job 1:9-12 we see Satan asking permission to test Job’s faith in God. Satan sought to turn Job away from God, but he could not even affect the things around Job without permission from God. We see that God placed a hedge of protection around His servant Job, preventing Satan from nearing him.

From this, we can see that Satan is not to blame for our failures; we are. James is pointing this out directly, and is something we should all be aware of as it exposes a simple but profound truth. Whether we sin or not is entirely dependent on our focus. When we are focused on God, allowing Him to renew our Spirit and reproduce His holiness in us and consistently crucifying the flesh and its desires, we will produce holy things (Galatians 5:22-24). But when we fail to focus on Christ and instead allow our fleshly desires to spring forth, that is when we sin (Galatians 5:19-21).

In Galatians 5:21, Paul tells the churches of Galatia that those who “do such things [sin] will not inherit the kingdom of God.” James echoes the same warning in verse 15, saying that sin “gives birth to death.” Just as Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, and death along with it (as God warned in Genesis 2:17), so too does sin bring death to those who never repent (eternal damnation to hell).

There is a serious danger to having a scapegoat, for if we blame Satan for all of our sin, taking no responsibility ourselves, then the urgent need for repentance is lessened in our minds. Regardless of if the temptation originates with Satan, or just within your fleshly desires, ultimately the responsibility for the sin committed is on the one who committed the sin.

While we (far too often) do not comprehend the might and goodness and power of God to its full extent, and we minimize (in our minds) the significance of sin in our lives, James here is showing a glimpse of the truth of our character versus the character of God. The more we understand ourselves and God, we learn of the vast difference between our own (fully depraved) souls and the (perfectly holy) nature of God.

[16-17] Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James continues driving this point warning us not to be deceived, encouraging us with an amazing truth about our good, good Father: that every good and perfect gift comes from God our Father! Even further than that, we can rejoice that God “does not change like shifting shadows.”

God never changes! This is a delightful statement meaning that every promise God has ever given us will forever remain true and unchanged in even the most minor way. This means that God’s character will never change. His loving salvation will never be withdrawn!

Going further, we see in the interlinear the word translating to “no variation.” We do not have to worry about God changing from one extreme to the other, but even better than that: there is a definitive attribute and single truth governing everything God does, and there is never even the slightest change to Who He is or how He acts. What God considered good at creation is the same exact thing that God considers good today. To us, thousands upon thousands of years and countless humans, cultures, religions, and ways of life have passed into history, many forgotten, but God remains exactly the same today as He was at creation. This should give us joy and confidence in Him.

[18] He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Lastly, James ends what is now referred to as chapter 1 with a revelation about the love of God: God’s choice.

“He chose” further reinforces that God always does good things for us, even when we do not deserve it, understand it, or even know we should desire it. Every good gift comes from God, and it all starts with our salvation. God makes us new in Christ Jesus. He makes us reborn through the gospel (the Word of Truth).

Love is a choice, not just an emotion. God Loves us. God chose us.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- Romans 5:8

James ends this chapter strong, and if there is anything to take away from this passage it should be this: God is good, and we are not. We can and should praise Him for His holiness, goodness, and protection from evil. We can and should desire and seek to know Him more. We can and should seek to persevere in this life, looking to “Bethel” and not “Ai” taking refuge in the promised reward to come.

”Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.“ 2 Corinthians 1:­3-4 ­ESV