Can you imagine growing up in a family of siblings with Jesus as your older brother?
I can’t imagine it, but James actually experienced it. Strictly speaking, James was Jesus’ younger half-brother. Mary gave birth to both boys—as well as to several other children (see Mark 6:3)—but Jesus, as Mary’s firstborn, was miraculously conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:35). James grew up with an older sibling in the household who just happened to be the Son of God and Messiah.
James didn’t believe in his brother as the Messiah at first (John 7:5). In fact, at one point in Jesus’ ministry the family thought that Jesus was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). James’s heart changed forever, however, when the risen Lord appeared to him after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). James quickly became a key leader in the early church in Jerusalem and, judging from the New Testament letter he wrote, a persuasive, powerful, straight-talking, gospel preacher.
In James 1:2-15, James gave believers four “tough-love how-to’s. He had compassion for believers who were facing trials and persecution, but he never sugarcoated his exhortations. He told Christians the truth in love—and he was practical; he spelled out how believers could and should live out their faith in everyday terms.
- Focus on the positive potential of experiencing tough times (1:2-4). As believers, we shouldn’t be surprised when we experience hostility and opposition to our faith. We shouldn’t think that being Christians immunizes us from trials and tribulations. Here’s what we can do instead when those difficulties arise. As believers we can face tough times as the stuff that tests and toughens our faith in Jesus Christ. As we endure trials, we mature as believers. We grow up.
- Need wisdom? Pray in faith (1:5-8). Navigating a holy life in a worldly, idolatrous culture takes wisdom—God’s wisdom, not just human cleverness. God’s wisdom takes the long view of life. It’s not necessarily what is expedient or popular. Where and how do we find God’s wisdom? God has given us an unending stream of wisdom in His Word. Psalm 19:7 says, “The instruction of the Lord is perfect, renewing one’s life; the testimony of the Lord is trustworthy, making the inexperienced wise.” Moreover, Jesus promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all the truth (John 16:13). As we pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us “according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:27). To pray in faith is to be convinced that when you ask God for wisdom, He wants you to have it and will reveal it to you.
- Stay humble about your circumstances—whatever those circumstances are. If life seems to throw you nothing but curve balls; if it seems as though you can’t get through one crisis before another hits; if you’re constantly wanting to cry out, “Why me, Lord?” keep in mind that the glory Christ has in store for His people will one day make our trials and tribulations in this life fade into nothingness (Rom. 8:18; 1 Cor. 2:9). On the other hand, if you enjoy sumptuous material blessings in this life, stay humble, grateful, and willing to share with those in need. Material wealth can shrivel up like wild flowers in the blistering heat of midday. The Christian life is not about how much you have—it all comes as a gift from God—but what you do with all that you have.
- Stop blaming God for your struggles with sin. As immature children, we learn the blame game all too quickly. If we fail at something or are caught misbehaving, we deflect the accountability—we blame someone (or something) else for it. As immature adults, we sometimes take the blame game to its ultimate conclusion. We blame God: God made me this way; God didn’t show up to help me when I needed help; If God didn’t want me to sin, He should not have created the temptation. To all these versions of the blame game, James countered with the truth: “God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire” (Jas. 1:13b-14). Mature believers own up to their sins, confess them, and gratefully receive God’s forgiveness.
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.