For the next several weeks, we will return to the New Testament and read together through the book of James (New Living Translation). This epistle contains some of the toughest teaching in all of scripture. We are called to follow Jesus with both faith and action, living out what we believe through wisdom, moral uprightness, compassion, and words that honor God. I hope you will be both challenged and encouraged by these devotions.
This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
Do you look at the glass as being half full or half empty? Some people always seem to dwell on the problems in life, noticing even little flaws in otherwise good situations. For them, dark clouds are constantly gathering and every blessing seems to come with strings attached. Other people have a way of finding what’s good in the midst of hard times. They watch for the sun to shine again and believe better days are around the corner. Pessimists might be depressing while optimists might seem naïve, but if we had to choose, I imagine most of us would rather surround ourselves with “the glass is half full” kind of people. Maybe it’s reading too much into these opening verses to label James an optimist, but calling trouble “an opportunity for great joy” certainly isn’t the sentiment of a pessimist.
James was Jesus’ brother, inasmuch as anyone could claim to be related to the Son of God. They shared the same earthly parents, and while we don’t know when James came to faith, he expresses here the wonderful truth that he is merely a “slave of God” while his older brother is “the Lord.” We will see throughout this letter that James had a deep faith and believed following Jesus should transform every aspect of our lives, from how we think to how we treat other people. Even experiences like suffering or having your faith put to the test should be brought under the lordship of Jesus as the Spirit works redemptively in our hearts. In that sense, James was an optimist, seeing the good that could come even out of trouble. He was also something of an absolutist for whom there were few shades of gray. Everything was either great or terrible, “perfect and complete” or “filth and evil” (1:21).
As we read through James, you may be challenged by his strong language and direct tone. Some passages will step painfully on your spiritual toes. When that happens, remember these opening lines. The troubles you face, including having your faith tested and your behavior criticized, are opportunities for joy and growth. Jesus is your Lord, He wants the best for you, and He won’t let you settle for imperfect faith.
Thank You, Father, for Your word that calls me to follow Jesus. Help me to grow in joy, faith and endurance as I submit every part of my life to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian