Comments on James 1:9-18

1 Jul

Continuing with brief commentary on James, here are my notes on James 1:9-18 . . .

1:9 Now the believer of humble means should take pride in his high position. 1:10 But the rich person’s pride should be in his humiliation, because he will pass away like a wildflower in the meadow. 1:11 For the sun rises with its heat and dries up the meadow; the petal of the flower falls off and its beauty is lost forever. So also the rich person in the midst of his pursuits will wither away. 1:12 Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him. 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. 1:15 Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. 1:16 Do not be led astray, my dear brothers and sisters. 1:17 All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change. 1:18 By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
Biblical Studies Press. (2005). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Jas 1:9–18). Biblical Studies Press.
Here James begins his first discussion of poverty and wealth, a prominent theme in the book of James. He also revisits trials and goes into more detail in discussing the nature of temptation. Ultimately, he ends this section with two verses which point to the grace and sufficiency of God.
1:9 Now the believer of humble means
This would have been a great majority of the Christians James was addressing in his letter. Indeed, by our standards almost everyone he was addressing was living in humble means. It is clear here that the context is that of the church by the use of the word “believer.” James is not talking about a general principle that applies to all people but about how poverty and riches apply to the people of God.
should take pride in his high position.
Here we have one of the great reversals the Bible is famous for. With affinities to Jesus’ teaching that the last will be first and the first last, James tells those believers of few means to boast in their high position. What we all consider a position of lowliness is actually an exalted place, likely in James’ mind because our need drives us to deeper dependence on God and strengthened faith.
1:10 But the rich person’s pride should be in his humiliation,
On the other hand, James tells the rich person to boast in his humiliation. Now the fact that he says “person” rather than “believer” has prompted some to speculate that this second statement is a blanket condemnation of the rich rather than something aimed only at believers. But I believe the context tends toward believers, in light of the verses to come. The fact is that the rich are told to exult, and unless these verses are an attempt at sarcasm by James, there is a way the rich can exult. Their exultation is linked to humiliation. This sounds bad but in God’s eyes it is good. When humiliation produces humility then faith can grow. The source of the humiliation in this case is the recognition that riches are a passing thing not ultimately worth pursuing. Note verse 10b and verse 11.
because he will pass away like a wildflower in the meadow. 1:11 For the sun rises with its heat and dries up the meadow; the petal of the flower falls off and its beauty is lost forever. So also the rich person in the midst of his pursuits will wither away.   Certainly in James’ day, and often in ours as well, rich people were regarded with special respect, high esteem and some envy. The one who seemingly has it all is often viewed as being someone on an elite level in comparison with others. But James levels the field as he speaks of the fact that these riches will pass away as even the rich person himself will fade and pass away. And then what? An eternity in which earthly riches will do absolutely no good for us. So whereas the temptation of the poor is to think badly of themselves because of their poverty and maybe even question God for their place in life, the temptation of the rich is to depend on their riches in such a way that they trust in their wealth more than they trust in God, a strategy which will leave the rich person cold in the end. 1:12 Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him.
There are great riches, just as Jesus promised in the Sermon on the Mount, for those who endure the testing of life. Remembering how endurance is earlier connected with faith, I take this to mean that the one who endures testing with a heart of faith in God is the one who is happy, or blessed. The testing proves the genuineness of faith, much as Peter says in his epistles. This proven faith, this persevering faith, is crowned with the eternal life God promised to those who believe in Him (John 3:16). Notice here how love is connected to enduring faith. The one who says, “I love God” but is not seeking to trust God daily is on very shaky ground.
1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.
Now James turns to the subject of temptation. There are “fightings within and fears without” for the Christian and James knows this. Therefore, just as he would not want us to shake our fist at God for the circumstantial trials we face but instead rejoice in them for their faith-strengthening effect in our lives, so he does not want us to blame God for the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil we face in everyday life. We tend to de-spiritualize trials and over-spiritualize temptations. The outer circumstances we face are not just luck but are ultimately part of God’s design. On the other hand, our inner trials are most often because of the pull of our flesh, as James will go on to say in the next verses.
1:14 But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. In temptations my problem is not from God but is because of my own desires. Temptation is the enticement to turn away from a life of faith to a life of temporal self-satisfaction. When I choose this path daily it becomes my lifestyle and is the opposite of godliness. Worldliness comes when I daily choose to serve myself rather than God.  1:15 Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.
James illustrates this principle of temptation in a very sobering way. He pictures the life cycle of a person from conception to death and says that this move from desire to sin to fully grown sin leads to death. In contrast to the enduring faith and life that comes from trials joyfully faced, there is only the promise of death for those who build their lives on the desires of the flesh. Why? “No man can serve two masters.” Or as John says in his first epistle, “Love not the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him.” These are severe warnings but James is looking at it from the perspective of the overall trajectory of life. Here is a man or woman who has given their heart to pursuing a life of sin. This is a person whose end will be death. In contrast, the person who endures trials and temptations with a heart of faith shows that their heart belonged to Jesus, thus they will have eternal life, not because of their works, rather, their works demonstrated the condition of their heart.
1:16 Do not be led astray, my dear brothers and sisters. 1:17 All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above,
The great temptation we face here is that we regard what the world offers as better and more satisfying than what Jesus offers. We begin to look at a God who brings trials into our lives and allows us to face temptations as a God who is less than good. So James reminds us that God is good and the giver of good gifts. He is generous and perfect in all His ways. We cannot always see this but we can trust that it is true.
coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change. We can also take the character of God to the bank, knowing that He is light, in Him is no darkness, knowing that He will not change. For us a lack of change is boring but for the infinitely perfect God, His unchanging nature provides us great comfort and endless joy and a solid hope for our lives.
1:18 By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. This last verse points us to the truth that in the end it is the sovereign hand of God that has given us even an inch of standing in Him. We didn’t save ourselves, He saved us. It was His sovereign plan. It was a new birth (see John 3:3). This new birth came through the message of truth (what an encouragement to us to share the gospel as God’s sovereign plan is to use the gospel proclaimed as His means of saving souls). This new birth results in the believers of James’ day being among the earliest generations of Christians, the firstfruits of the work of Jesus. More is coming. God is bringing a new world through the work of His Son, and we are part of that new world as well. Praise God for His generous, good, unchanging character. Praise God that He can use both trials and temptations to make us more like Jesus.

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