My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1: 2-5
There is an intimate relationship between faith, patience, and wisdom. Faith produces patience because it leads us not to expect instant gratification. Faith enables us to look past what the great Scottish minister Thomas Boston (1676-1732) called “afflicting incidents” or in old English “crooks” in life. A crook was not only a criminal, but things that happen in life that seem to impede our progress. Oftentimes that which impedes our progress are ways we express ourselves or carry out our duties or relate to other people that create problems. How do we make progress in our relationship with the Savior who saved our souls by dying on Calvary (not cavalry which is composed of mounted soldiers)? We are saved by grace, and that is a transformation that is profound which saves our souls and is often called justification. Yet, after that we enter into a process called sanctification whereby, we build an increasingly Christian character as we become more Christlike.
That takes time, thus the need for patience. There are setbacks on that path and failures, but we go forward – learning patience with ourselves and with others in the process – but as we move forward on the path of temporal and eternal Love that Christ has called us to, we need wisdom, and indeed we need to grow in wisdom. Wisdom can be understood as the practical application of Eternal Truth or Eternal Realities that we become aware of through our relationship with our Lord and Savior.
If we knew nothing of certain realities before we were saved, then we start from nothing and then move forward into a wholly unknown region and learn of those realities. We might learn for example of the mercy and fellowship from uttering simple words like “please” and “thank you.” If we knew something of these aspects of His Love – that is, being polite by saying please or thank you at the appropriate time — then we might move to a higher plane of fellowship. At the higher level, the saved person would be an encourager by connecting with others at a deeper level of their needs than one does when he or she is merely polite. Or if one as an unsaved person is already an encourager, he or she may go to a deeper level and be a prayerful intercessor for the other person – he or she would be deep in prayer for the dear ones we are both polite to and encouraging. We reach out to our Holy God who has the whole world in His hands, and we pray for others, both saved and unsaved to find a contentment and relief from whatever ills beset them. And if, before being saved, we were all three — polite, encouraging, and prayerful — then upon being saved we may go to a stage of total reliance upon the mercy and wisdom of the Lord and are thus able to “be still and know that I am Lord.” (Psalm 46:10)
James explains a number of areas of Godly wisdom that must be developed once we are saved, all of which require faith and patience. Let’s not forget: faith comes first. True patience and true wisdom cannot come without faith, but faith cannot manifest fully without patience and wisdom. Faith comes before true patience and true wisdom (there is patience and wisdom to a degree outside of faith, but that patience and wisdom cannot ripen into true patience or true wisdom without growing out of the fertile soil of faith).
In James, verse 26, he tells us to “bridle our tongues.” This is analogous to bridling of a horse which enables us to control and direct the horse. This bridling includes not cursing, not using the Lord’s name in vain, and not using vain put downs of people. Using the Lord’s name in vain is not properly honoring God and Jesus Christ who deserve all honor and praise, and this egregious breech of the Commandment not to use the Lord’s name in vain places us in the camp of unbelievers who dishonor and curse at the Lord openly or in their hearts day and night.
These unbelievers are pitiful citizens of the universe and are not sufficiently grateful for being alive and enjoying stuff in life like eating food, seeing the wonders of nature including the sunrise, or enjoying the cool breeze on a hot summer night. These are all possible ONLY because of the Lord who created nature as well as ourselves. What about our health? Are we not grateful to be able to ride a bicycle, walk briskly down the block, eat an orange without swallowing the seeds?.. If we are grateful how can we be like a dog who bites his master’s hand? Spitefully and disgracefully and ignorantly using the Lord’s name in vain is a profound ingratitude for the things in life that we rightfully enjoy and come from the hand of our blessed Lord and Savior.
Putting down others is not only a self-indulgent exercise, but it is a direct attack on others we are called upon to love. We are directed by Christ to “turn the other cheek.” (Matt. 5:39) We do not give tit for tat, although we have a right to defend ourselves from verbal or physical abuse. So what is proper defense and what, on the other side, are wrongful and antagonizing put downs? Under the directive to bridle our tongues, we patiently consider this matter and over time build the experience and wisdom to make this distinction, but we will never make this decision or distinction if we do not realize that there is a distinction between self-indulgent putdowns of others and legitimate verbal self-defense. That is why James directs us to “bridle” (control) our tongues.
In James, Chapter 1, verse 27, we are told to visit widows and orphans. Here, this particular application which was for the Jews can be broadened in our world to the dispossessed. In that ancient world, widows with children were often in very straitened financial circumstances. They depended on the good will and charity of others to survive. A friend of my family is a woman from the Philippines who now lives in Georgia. When her first husband died, her back was to the wall, her sisters did not help her much, and she had kids and herself to support. Those were very hard days until she met her second husband, an American, and she was able to take up life with him in the States. Where were the born-again Christians or even the Catholic Church in her time of need?
It behooves us to help people who are economically deprived in some ways through charity — the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas gift boxes are one great outreach to the world’s poorest children. And from personal experience, this writer knows about the joy that even a very few pesos can bring to some children in the Philippines. This admonition by James is still relevant in the world and even in the USA. But here we have entitlement to such a degree that one wonders about the selfish me-ism that is so prominent in the USA among both poor and rich. Can welfare state practices ever be a substitute for a gift from a heart of love? Where are we going with this? They have free breakfasts in schools in New York City to prevent what is called “food insecurity.” Yet, when I arrived at Brooklyn Tech in the mornings, sometimes I would see immense amounts of discarded containers and cardboard plates and trays – with their contents only half eaten or un-eaten. Literally mountains of polyethylene accumulated in the mornings with containers still stuffed with food. The sight of huge trash baskets filled with this gave this writer an attack of “plastic insecurity.”
Many students (though not all) are more interested in getting high than getting fed. “Getting fed” is taken for granted by many, including the poor whose moms often can’t be bothered getting up and making their kids breakfast or packing a lunch. Or mom may have to get her act together and go to work, so, pressed for time, she yells out to her kids, “Remember, get to school early so you can get something to eat before class.” When I consider the neglect of the children with respect to breakfasts, it breaks my heart.
In James 1:14-15, it is written, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” We are warned about being enticed into sin. Temptation comes into every life. When one is born again, temptation does not magically retire from experience. The saved lover of God who has been embraced by Jesus Christ will face temptations going forward. James calls on us to have the faith, patience, and wisdom to resist temptation. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” (Matt. 6:13) We should resist stealing, resist sexual sins, and resist going to spiritist or psychic events like seances or tarot card readings. Men should resist dressing as women or women dressing as men (expressly stated in Deuteronomy. 22:6).
We need to resist mind numbing activities involving drugs and alcohol. The individual will need a lot of wisdom. For some people, the drift from one glass of an alcoholic beverage to multiple glasses to dependence to deeper addiction is more likely than others. How often have people said, “One glass of wine is not excessive.” And before they know it, they are drinking three or four or more glasses at one sitting. Actually, I was on that path myself beginning as early as my 20’s, but I of course didn’t realize I was in a downward slide. Years later, my roommate told me he was going to say something about it to me, but then he realized that he was doing the same thing I was, so felt that since he was not on the moral high ground, he could not legitimately criticize me. (Although not a born-again Christian, — he grew up in a Quaker family –he knew the teachings “judge not lest you be judged” and “before you cast the speck out of your neighbor’s eye cast the log out of your own eye.”) I was on that path myself, and by the time I was in my forties, I would have two or three glasses of wine after work every day at a bar near where I worked and would go back home and have ¾ or a whole bottle of wine before crashing. This came upon me very slowly, and at that time I was not saved. But we see testimonies from great Christian outreach ministries to addicts at America’s Keswick in New Jersey that even men and women who grew up as born-again Christians followed the same path, eventually arriving at some dark place of booze or drug addiction and the loss of all family and friends resulting from that addiction.
In 1:19, James tells us to be “good listeners.” That speaks for itself. We are not to be quick-tempered, but to think before we speak. This is a specific variation on the bridle your tongue theme of the earlier verse. Here’s my favorite example of holding one’s tongue, but then being backed by the Lord to really speak out. Jeremiah was confronted by Hananiah when he came to the midst of the leaders to prophesize. He wore a yoke around his neck to symbolize he was yoked to God. He prophesied the fall of Jerusalem to the Chaldeans (Babylonians), but they did not want to hear that. The residents of Judah were obsessed with self-justification because they had the Temple located there in Jerusalem.
How would God who did not allow the Assyrians to take over allow the Chaldeans to overrun them? Hananiah talked to Jeremiah as though he were a real moron, and then he broke Jeremiah’s yoke and sent him packing. Jeremiah was stunned into silence, and just nodded feebly as he went on his way. But when he arrived home, the Lord told him to go back and tell Hananiah that the Chaldeans were indeed going to overrun Judah and Jerusalem, and that Hananiah would be dead and eaten by dogs within a year. He was protected by God, so Hananiah did not kill Jeremiah when he came back. Jeremiah under the anointing or appointment of the Lord went back and got back in Hananiah’s face, and all that he said came to pass.
Lastly, in 1:9 we are told to “glory in His exaltation.” Here James asserts we are to give thanks and ultimate credit to God for our successes in life – our health, our promotions, our economic well-being, our bonuses, our awards, and the respect that is shown to us by others. Yes, we are being honored but, especially in our own minds, God should get the glory. However, our personal, prayerful gratitude does not exclude public appreciations for God’s generosity. We have seen various Superbowl quarterbacks or players give thanks to Jesus Christ when they have been awarded the cup or the plaque at the end of the game. They give all thanks and honor to Almighty God or to His Son Jesus Christ. It may bother some people, but James would approve. Manny Pacquiao, a great Filipino boxing champ for a few years, would be thanking Jesus profusely after a victory. And by the way Pacquiao invested in simple but durable housing for the poorest of the poor in the Philippines with some of his millions. Thanking the Lord in no way detracted from his skills and abilities. He knows if he had had scarlet fever as a kid or been in a terrible auto accident, despite his athletic gifts, he would not be a champion in the spotlight with millions of dollars coming in.
James was used by the Lord to express His loving desire that we implement the program of love and forgiveness that He planted in our hearts.