1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.

2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 6 But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7 for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

9 Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, 10 and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away. 12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

13 No one, when tempted, should say, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one's own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.



  • James calls himself in this passage, not the brother, but the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though he was a highly prominent leader in the early church—possibly Peter’s successor in the leadership of the Jerusalem church—he kept a humble disposition and a down-to-earth perspective. Anyone in a leadership role needs the same attitude. We are here to serve.
  • The “twelve tribes” most likely refers to Jewish Christians. They are scattered among the heathen. The question: to succumb and compromise, or stay strong and remain faithful? This is a question confronting every Christian everywhere, and every day.
  • Why does the letter of James cut the heart of every man and woman who reads it? Why do so many feel that this letter is so down-to-earth and readable? James is so practical because it addresses Christians under pressure—and aren’t we all under pressure?
    • Medical professionals tell us that without pressure and stress, the human body soon slows down and dies. Pressure keeps the blood flowing, the adrenaline surging, and the character changing. That is the good side of pressure.
    • But there is also a bad side, especially when we do not have a spiritual perspective.
  • How are trials to be met? Trials such as poverty and oppression by the rich (chapter 5), or other testing situations?
    • With pure joy. This is hardly our natural reaction when we face trials of any kind at all! But God is at work.
    • Romans 5:1-5 amplifies the thought. Christian joy isn’t the blithe, naïve grin of the traditional “believer,” insulated and self-focused. Rather, it’s something deeply imbedded in the heart of a committed Christian on the radical edge, like James, who met hardship with prayer, earning his reputation as “Old Camel Knees.” (So often did he pray that thick calluses formed on his knees!)
    • Perseverance must finish its work. There are only two options: we continue in the process of becoming mature and complete, or we leave the narrow road. That’s blunt, but it’s the truth. The flesh shuns hard work and discipline. (So does the “fool,” according to the book of Proverbs.) The Christian life requires tremendous discipline! Maturity isn’t just spiritual longevity; it’s shown in how you react to pressure.
    • If we lack wisdom, according to James, all we need to do is ask for it. God wants to bless us. “Wisdom” doesn’t mean intellectual knowledge or high IQ. Rather it is something spiritual: knowing what to do in tricky situations. It is not likely God will make you more intelligent than you already are, but it’s a promise of God that he will enable you to act more intelligently! James assures us that this kind of wisdom can be attained through prayer. Any Christian has the capacity to become “wise beyond his years” by becoming a diligent student of the Scriptures and human behavior, then testing what he has learned in daily life. That’s possible only through prayer and dependence on God.
  • James puts the material world in perspective. Poor people can be saved, and so can rich people (see 1 Timothy 6), but both need to watch their step. Two biblical books which focus extensively on the theme of wealth are Proverbs and Luke, each of which has more than thirty verses on the use and misuse of money and possessions. See, for example, Proverbs 30:7-9, which teaches a middle way between poverty and riches because each has its own dangers.
  • If we keep our head and our faith, and keep away from the perils of materialism, we will one day receive the “crown of life.” This crown is received neither quickly nor cheaply. The price is high, the reward infinite. We can persevere under trial, or we can frown and get a bad attitude. The attitude may be directed towards any human individual, or it may be against God. Yet we should never blame God. He is always fair. We take it as axiomatic that God is both good and fair, and we should sooner doubt our own existence than doubt the basic justice and goodness of God.
  • Don't rationalize. If we are convinced God loves us (v.12) and will help us find a way, we will overcome the odds and move through trial after trial.
  • James likens the process of temptation to biological growth: conception, pregnancy, delivery, growth and maturity. Desire itself is not sin; sinful desire cherished, however, is lust. As Martin Luther was fond of saying, “You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep him from building a nest in your hair”! We are not victims, and by God’s power we can be victors!


  • According to 4th century church historian Eusebius (Church History 2.23.4-6), Hegesippus recorded: "James, the brother of the Lord... has been called Just by all from the time of our Savior till the present day; for there have been many who bore the name of James. He was holy from his mother's womb; and he drank no wine or strong drink; nor did he eat flesh. No razor came on his head. He did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath... And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was often found on his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel." His reputation for holiness is established, even among the Jews.
    • And yet this late description seems odd to me. It makes James a Nazirite. It has him violate the teaching of Christ about using lotions -- not drawing attention to one's spirituality.
    • We must always weigh church tradition; it often contains kernels of truth, but seldom can be swallowed whole.
  • James may have been written in the 40s AD. If this is the case, it predates 1 Thessalonians (about 50 AD) and Galatians (48 AD), and thus is the oldest NT letter—and probably the oldest NT document. On the other hand, there is no proof that it is early -- only that it was penned before James' execution in 62 AD.
  • In 62 AD there was a brief interregnum between two Roman governors (Festus and Albinus). It was in this period that a brief season of persecution broke out against the Christians, and the Jewish leaders executed James.
  • To appreciate James and the logical flow of the letter, it is vital to understand the political background of Palestine in the N.T. period. These were troubled times:
    • There was oppression under the Romans and those richer Jews who acted as their pawns, exorbitant taxes and food shortages and, with them, rioting and anti-Roman nationalistic fervor. Some landowners even hired to execute or at least threaten tenants who were falling behind in their payments.
    • The politically active Zealots, to whom Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus’ apostles, had belonged (Matthew 10:4), urged the nation to revolt.
    • This pressing combination of factors climaxed in the Jewish War of 66-73 AD. In 70 AD Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, never to be rebuilt. In 73 AD the fortress of Masada, near the Dead Sea, which had held out longer than any other outpost of resistance, fell with 1000 Zealots prefering suicide to capture by the Romans.
    • If the history seems tangled, let’s simplify: The rich were oppressing the poor. This is why James addresses the pride of the rich (1:9-11; 2:1-9, 13-17), persecution by the rich (2:6-7: 5:6) and economic exploitation by the rich (5:4-6).
    • Patient endurance, not violent retaliation, is enjoined upon the Christians. Without this perspective, the letter of James is difficult to appreciate and to understand.
  • James appears to have been written to Jewish Christians—Christians familiar with the Jewish Law (what we call the Old Testament) and following it to some extent, and proud of their religious roots.
    • He writes to the “Twelve Tribes” (1:1). This does not necessarily indicate that all the tribes were intact, but was most likely a way of identifying their Hebrew heritage.
    • James mentions the synagogue (“meeting”, NIV) in 2:2. Abraham is “our ancestor” in 2:21.
    • There are several references to the Old Testament (OT) (5:10, 11, 17), as well as allusions like those in 1:25 (“perfect law”) and 2:8 (“royal law”).
    • The elders in 5:14 may have been Jewish elders before their conversion.
    • The “twelve tribes” of the dispersion (James uses the word “scattered”) points back to the captivities suffered by the Jews during the Assyrian and Babylonian periods (8th-6th centuries BC). The continual peril faced by the twelve tribes was not so much annihilation as assimilation. Assimilation of morality and spirituality to the low levels of paganism and ultimate absorption into the mainstream of heathenism. Read all about it in 2 Kings 17. The constant temptation to compromise cost most of the descendants of Jacob their salvation, as the OT makes very clear. For Christians scattered throughout a heathen world, the goal is to remain in the world without becoming of the world! And isn’t that our own challenge, twenty-one centuries on?
  • For more on the Greek words appearing in vv.13-15, click here.
  • Note: the material for our study of James has been adapted from James, Peter, John, Jude (IPI, 2006, 2012). For a complete study of the seven general letters (the epistles from James to Jude), get the book.

Thought questions:

  • What was the last big trial that you faced? How did you respond? Did you let God “disciple” you, or did you resist, complain or even retaliate?
  • Do you take responsibility when under pressure, or do you make excuses? Is your tendency to look for someone else to blame, or do you own up to your own failures?