Maturing through Trials
Philippe R. Sterling
Press on to spiritual maturity through the endurance of purifying trials which involves being swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.
The author identifies himself as James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1). Which James is this? He may be James the half-brother of Jesus (see Matt 13:55-56; Mark 6:3).
James and the other siblings at first did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah (John 7:1-5 and Mark 3:31-35). Then we find them in the Upper Room praying with the disciples (Acts 1:14). What brought about the change from unbelief to faith? Jesus appeared to James after His resurrection (1 Cor 15:7) and this perhaps convinced him that Jesus was the Christ and he believed in Him for everlasting life.
James became a leader of the church in Jerusalem. Paul refers to him as a “pillar” of the church along with Peter and John in Gal 2:9. He moderates the council in Acts 15.
James addresses the letter to the twelve tribes who are scattered abroad (1:1). The phrase seems to identify the recipients as Jewish. Persecution had scattered Jewish believers from Jerusalem throughout Judea and Samaria and beyond (Acts 8:1; 11:19). Wherever they went they shared the good news with other Jewish people.
These Jewish believers were going through difficult trials. The stress of these trials surfaced problems in their fellowship. Some of the believers catered to the rich and neglected the needy among them. Some were seeking status as teachers. Some were quarreling with each other.
These problems were due to spiritual immaturity. James writes to encourage his “brethren” to press on to maturity by rejoicing through trials and resisting temptations. He uses the word “perfect” several times, a word that means “mature, complete” (see 1:4; 2:22; 3:2). The joyful endurance of trials brings about maturity. When we respond to trials with a persevering faith that is swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, the process has a maturing effect on our lives.
Literary Structure and Content
I. Greeting: James greets the scattered Jewish believers (1:1).
II. Introduction: James encourages them to press on to maturity by rejoicing through trials and resisting the
temptation to blame God (1:2-18).
A. Press on to maturity by rejoicing through trials with God’s wisdom (1:2-12).
1. Attitude in Trials: Rejoice through trials because of the opportunity for growth that trials provide (2-3).
2. Advantage of Trials: The joyful endurance of trials brings about spiritual maturity (4).
3. Assistance for Trials: Pray in faith for the wisdom to understand and endure trials whether poor or
rich — endurance leads to approval which leads to reward (5-12).
Key Verse: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (1:12). Jesus rewards perseverance under trial.
B. Press on to maturity by resisting the temptation to blame God (1:13-18).
1. Source of Temptation: Temptation does not come from God but from within ourselves (13-14).
2. Steps in Temptation: Temptation begins with out-of-control desire which leads to disobedience and ends
in death (15-16)
3. Solution for Temptation: We guard against temptation by trusting our unchanging God who gives good
gifts and relying upon the word of truth which gives us life (17-18).
We are in danger of falling before the attacks and pressures of trials. We are also subject to falling before the attractions and fleeting pleasures of temptations. No matter what may be the trials on the outside or the temptations on the inside, we are to press on to maturity.
III. Summary Exhortation: Be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger (1:19-20).
IV. Extended Exhortation: Press on to spiritual maturity through the endurance of purifying trials which involves
being swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger (1:21–5:6).
A. Be swift to hear (1:21–2:26).
1. Being swift to hear means to be an effectual doer of the word (1:21-27).
2. Being swift to hear means forsaking partiality and practicing the royal law of love (2:1-13).
3. Being swift to hear means maintaining an active faith (2:14-26).
a. A workless faith is lifeless — it withers and dies (14-17).
b. A workless faith is useless — it benefits no one (18-20).
c. A working faith justifies before men — it evidences faith to men (21-26).
B. Be slow to speak (3:1-18).
1. We need to control our words because the tongue is powerful, perverse and polluted (3:1-12).
2. We control our words by exercising the wisdom that is from above and not the wisdom that is from
C. Be slow to anger (4:1–5:6).
1. Worldliness creates anger (4:1-5).
2. Humility cures anger (4:1–5:6).
a. Humility enables repentance from sin (4:6-10).
b. Humility enables restraint in speech (4:11-12).
c. Humility enables reluctance to boast (4:13–17).
d. Humility enables regard for the needs of others — implied by the last days judgment of those who
oppress others (5:1-6).
V. Concluding Exhortation: Persevere in trials until the coming of the Lord waiting for His reward and relying
upon prayer (5:7-20).
A. The Lord will appropriately reward perseverance at His coming (5:7-11).
We should be patient like the farmer who waits for his crops, and like Job who endured his sufferings and was eventually blessed by God. The imminent return of the Lord encourages us to be patient and refrain from complaining against one another.
B. Prayer enables perseverance (5:7-20).
We should pray if we are undergoing trials. The prayers include asking God for the wisdom and the ability to endure the trials that we might become more mature. We should sing praises when God helps us to be joyful in the midst of our trials.
Those who are weakening under their trials should call for the elders of the church to pray for them and anoint them with oil. The anointment with oil represents the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit that will restore the weak believer. Those who have weakened to the point of wandering from the truth should be sought out and encouraged to return.
Theological Reflection and Application
We are to examine ourselves to see if we are pressing on to spiritual maturity. We must first have been born again since apart from spiritual birth there is no spiritual maturity. James mention the new birth early in the letter: “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth” (1:18a). The Spirit of God generates spiritual life in the person who believes the word of truth. The word of truth in this case is the promise of Jesus for eternal life
If we have been born again, we must examine our lives in the light of the word. James compares the word to a mirror (1:22-24). As we look at the word, we see ourselves as we really are.
We must act on what we see and not merely look at the image and walk away. We must be “doers of the word and not hearers only.” The blessing does not come in hearing the word but in doing the word.
We must be prepared for trials. God is preparing mature men and women for service. He forms our faith through the furnace of trials. Press on to spiritual maturity.