11 November 2013

James 1:1-11

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (vv. 2-3)


The Letter of James had a difficult journey into the New Testament. It was not until the end of the 4th century that it was acknowledged as Scripture by both the eastern and western Churches. Jesus Christ is only mentioned twice, at the beginning of chapters 1 and 2. There is no clear progression of ideas, as the first 11 verses demonstrate. It has been described as having no theology, and has suffered since the 16th century from the comments of the reformer Martin Luther, who described it as "an epistle of straw". Despite that, the letter is worth reading as a guide for practical Christian living.

After his initial greeting, addressing the letter to a wide readership, rather than to one particular group of Christians, the writer begins by reminding his readers that the life of faith is not easy. There will be many trials on the way, but they are to face them joyfully, for they are growing points in life, working to produce deeper, stronger, more certain faith. He does not spell out what those trials might be, whether outright persecution or the challenges of daily life, but in order to use those testing experiences in the right way, wisdom is needed.

James sees wisdom as a gift of God, which is to be prayed for. In verse 6, he talks about the importance of faith in prayer. Prayer is to be made expectantly, and those who approach prayer without any sense of expectation will be unable to receive from God.

In verse 9, James seems to enter upon a new subject - the question of wealth and poverty in the Christian community. There are echoes here of Mary's song in Luke 1:52-53, which speaks of the poor being lifted up and the rich sent away empty in God's kingdom, but perhaps James here is reminding the poorer members of the church of their status as children of God, and warning the wealthier members of the transitory nature of wealth.

To Ponder

  • People say 'these things are sent to try us' when going through difficulties in life. How do you feel about that statement?
  • James seems to be quite hard on wealthy people, as did Jesus. What do you consider to be the difficulties faced by the rich in living a Christian life?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.