Summary: We try to avoid the very things God wants to use to mould us into the glorious creatures He intends us to be.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”
It is noteworthy that the man who, by the time of this writing had become the apparent leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15 & 21), and without challenge could lay claim to a blood relationship to the Messiah, introduces himself in his letter to the brethren as, “James, a bond servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He was a bond servant. A willing slave. Motivated by love. That is the only message meant to be conveyed in his salutation. We know very little about James and the other brothers of Jesus, which makes the big jump from doubter (Matt 12:46-50 Jn 7:2-5) to humble servant and leader of the church seem that much more amazing. We see him once and he’s challenging Jesus to go public and prove Himself, next time we see him he’s right up there with the Apostles in church leadership!
And here he is, writing a letter that he obviously intends to be issued over a wide physical area, since he addresses it to ‘the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad’.
Take note that he refers to his reading audience as the twelve tribes, yet calls them brethren (vs 2).
So that probably means that this was written after the martyrdom of James the brother of John, since it was that event that scattered the new followers of the Way back to their homelands. Also, since we know he is writing this letter to Christians, we take the word ‘brethren’ to be a reference to those in the faith with him, over and above simply being brothers according to the flesh; fellow Jews.
Men who know more than I do speculate that this letter was probably written prior to the Jerusalem Council, recorded in Acts 15, since there is no reference to that meeting in this letter. They reason that if he had written it after the council he would have mentioned here the conclusions arrived at during that meeting.
Take that with a grain of salt. After all, the Jerusalem Council resolved issues pertaining to the emerging Gentile churches, and as has been pointed out, this letter is addressed to the dispersed Jewish believers.
On the other hand, he would have wanted the Jewish followers of the Way in other regions, to know what decisions had been made concerning Gentile believers, so they would not in their ignorance impose regulations and restrictions on the Gentiles that were not necessary.
Just food for thought.
In any case, if the scholars are correct, this would probably be the earliest written of our New Testament books.
Getting back to the point, James is writing this to Jewish believers who have been scattered abroad by the beginnings of persecution. With these things in mind then, there should be no cause found for wonder that he would get his greeting out of the way and then dive right into the topic of trials and suffering.
CONSIDER IT ALL JOY
There are a few things that are common to every person who will ever be born onto this planet. One of them is that everyone dies. Another is that between birth and death we will have trouble.
Job’s friend Eliphaz knew whereof he spoke when he said, “For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.” (5:7)
Can you picture this? Job and his visitors have been talking for some time now and evening is coming, so someone builds a small fire against the cold night air, maybe to fix some s’mores…, then in the midst of Eliphaz’s speech someone tosses a chunk of wood on the fire and as lighter-than-air cinders rise up and disappear into the dark, Eliphaz snatches the opportunity for illustration and says, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘Trouble doesn’t just appear for no reason and from nowhere. Man was born for it just as surely as sparks fly up from the fire’.
The Jews as a people certainly can attest to this. I was watching a program where Jewish comedians were being interviewed and one of them was making quips about the ability of Jewish people to worry. I can’t remember his precise wording so I won’t put it in quotes, but the gist was this.
He said when you’re oppressed and persecuted for 500 years, that’s one thing. But after a couple thousand years a pattern begins to emerge, and you just begin to see that this isn’t going to stop.
The suffering of God’s chosen people over their history is not funny, of course. But sometimes the best humor is that which makes us chuckle at circumstances we cannot change.