“Consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and compete, not deficient in anything.”
Blue Jean Faith—what in the world does that mean? Blue jeans have always been worn by the working man and woman because of their practicality and durability. In recent years they have become stylishly popular as people have determined that comfort can be chic! But if you need long-lasting strength, denim is your logical choice. That is what we want in faith—a faith that lasts and is practical in our world today. We desire to have a faith that works right here and now!
As you begin this study, ask God to help you make your faith very practical. Ask Him to help you live out what you believe. Align yourself with God’s purpose and His plans. The best place to be in life is living right in line with the work and character of the Creator. If you will consistently spend time in God’s word and discuss it with other believers, God will show you how to live out your faith.
The book of James begins with one of those hard, but necessary topics: trials. The author deals in a very practical way with the subject and gives us insights to help us make it through difficult times. Begin today learning your memory verse, which we will call “wisdom for a Blue Jean Faith.” If you will place these truths in your heart week after week, by the end of this study you will have ten verses which can help you make your faith more durable and practical!
1. Spend your time today reading through this book as if it were a letter from an old friend. Don’t worry at this point about understanding everything; just get a feel for the book. Record your initial thoughts and feelings below.
2. Responding to God: Write a prayer to God, expressing your response to Him about something you read in James. Maybe you need to thank Him for a blessing. Perhaps you need to praise Him for something about His character. Or maybe you need to confess that you aren’t doing well at something He asks of you! You will not have to share your answer!
Stronger Jeans (optional): The book of James seems to involve many loosely related topics. As best you can, choose themes for each chapter and an overall theme of the book. If you know how to put it in a book chart, you may want to do that. This will be your optional assignment for the entire week.
Today we begin looking in more detail at this book. Some questions will require you to observe simply what the verses say. These help you read the text more carefully, to be sure you are noting what it really says and grasping the main points. Other questions will ask you to think more deeply or to share. Before you begin today—and every day—ask God for insight into His word.
Read James 1:1.
1. Who wrote this book and how does he describe himself? How does he describe the people to whom he is writing?
The NET Bible gives us insight into the Greek term used to describe the author: “Traditionally, ‘servant’ or ‘bondservant.’ Though doulos is normally translated ‘servant,’ the word does not bear the connotation of a free individual serving another. . . . The most accurate translation is ‘bondservant’ . . . in that it often indicates one who sells himself into slavery to another. But as this is archaic, few today understand its meaning.”1
2. Sharing Question: What would it mean for you to be a slave, servant, or bondservant of Jesus Christ? Write down one thing that you would have to do differently today if you were to live that idea out.
Read James 1:2-4.
Douglas Moo comments: “’Pure joy’ is a good rendering of the Greek phrase pasan charan (lit., ‘all joy’) since the word pas here probably suggests intensity (complete and unalloyed joy) rather than exclusivity (nothing but joy).”2
3. Consider this attitude that James tells you to adopt. Explain your understanding of it in light of Dr. Moo’s explanation. Does his explanation help you see how you could do this when all around is crashing?
4. James 1:3-4 tells us why we should adopt that kind of attitude. What is a purpose of various trials in your life according to these verses?
We will look more closely at the intended results of trials tomorrow.
5. Responding to God: Consider a trial with which you are currently dealing. It could be a health issue, a loss, grief over your circumstances, loneliness, financial need, or any other situation that has come into your life through no cause of your own. Talk to God about it. Write down a prayer asking Him to give you the grace to look at it from His perspective (vv. 3-4) with the right attitude (v. 2).
Review James 1:2-4 and what you learned yesterday about trials.
1. Compare the reactions to trials in the following verses with what you saw in James.
1. How different are these kinds of reactions to what you see in the world today? How do you generally see people respond to difficult times and overwhelming situations that they face?
We saw from James 1:2-4 that there are positive results to trials in a believer’s life. The word in James 1:3-4 translated “patience” (KJV), “perseverance” (NIV), or “endurance” (NET; NASB) is explained by D. Edmond Hiebert: “It presents the picture of being under a heavy load and resolutely staying there instead of trying to escape.” 3
What is your natural tendency in trials—to run or to stay? I think we would all agree that we prefer to run. How do we run? Sometimes running means that our focus is on asking God to take the load away rather than focusing on how He can use it for His kingdom and His glory. Sometimes running means that we put the load down and run away ourselves if we have that option!
Since this is a study for women, I want to be sure you don’t mistake this as a call to put up with physical abuse. Run and get help! But if the abuser is your husband, don’t give up on the relationship in the process. This is your husband so do everything within your power to preserve and rebuild the marriage that doesn’t risk you or your children.
1. Sharing Question: Share with your group a trial—doesn’t have to be a big one like financial ruin or a death threat—from which you chose to run rather than face it. Or share about a trial from which you learned endurance because you did stay under it.
2. Responding to God: Pray about a situation in your life right now that is so difficult that you want to avoid it. Pray for God to teach you “endurance” through this situation. Tell Him that you choose to carry the load until He takes it from you. Write down your prayer below.
Review James 1:2-4.
1. James says that endurance is a positive result of trials for the believer; however it is not the final result. What is the result of endurance, according to v.4?
Dr. Hiebert says that the term for perfect “does not imply absolute perfection, but rather the ethical character of the mature believer.”4
I think that all of us who desire to be all that God wants us to be want to get to that point that he describes, but the way there is difficult. We prefer to run.
2. Consider others whom you admire as “mature believers.” What do you know about their lives and the trials they have endured? If possible, talk to one of them and ask how God has brought them to this place of maturity and trust of Him. Ask about their experiences and feelings. Without sharing names with your small group, share what you learned about the place of trials in the person’s maturation process.
4. Let’s look at some biblical figures who endured very difficult trials. Compare their stories to what James says about trials in 1:2-4.
a. Joseph—His story is long but read these verses at least: Gen. 37:23-24, 26-28; 39:11-20; 45:3-8
b. David—again, a long story! Read 1 Sam. 18:6-12; 20:32-33; 24:1-15; 26:5-11.
5. Sharing Question: What has God said to you from these stories about a trial with which you are dealing? What do you need to do about what you have learned?
6. Responding to God: Spend time praising God for the positives that He brings out of trials. Pray for the ability to have His perspective on your particular trial right now.
Today we will move on from James 1:2-4. I am sure that you are ready!
Read James 1:2-8.
1. Write down all that you learn about wisdom from this section of James.
2. In the context of trials, James provides this instruction about wisdom. How does it relate to trials? In other words, why would he give this information at this point in his letter?
Curtis Vaughn says, “To James wisdom was more than knowledge and more than intelligence. It was a moral and spiritual quality based upon the fear of the Lord—the sum of practical religion.”5
3. Read these cross-references on wisdom and compare them with what James says.
4. What do you learn about God from James 1:5-8?
5. Responding to God: spend time thanking God for who He is according to these verses. Consider how you rely upon God’s revelation of Himself. Write down your response to His character below in a prayer or poem.
At the end of each week’s study you will have a story to read. These are true stories as told by the women who lived them. In some cases, the names have been changed to protect the identity of the storyteller, but most of them include the first name of the real-life person.
It has been 7 years since that hot August day when my husband went out to check the mail and came back in the house looking like he was in shock. I asked what was wrong and he said "you will never believe what I found in the yard." He had found pages from the Bible ripped out and laying against the trunk of the tree. The pages were from the book of Job. I had been studying my Bible when he came into the room. I said "Honey, look down." My Bible was open on the footstool in front of me to the book of Job! That is what I had been studying for a Bible study I was writing at the time.
Well of course we tried to analyze it to death to try to determine what this could possibly mean in our lives. It wasn't until years later that we looked back and realized how God was preparing us for a ministry to people who suffer loss due to crimes against them, or because of natural disasters. And so we have seen firsthand the trauma to individuals who have encountered various trials that have been completely beyond their control.
Loss is difficult in anyone's life, but seeing it in the lives of others is much different than when the loss involves your children or your own personal health. Then it becomes devastating to you personally.
And so, that brings me to James 1:2. How can we count it all joy when we encounter various trials? The trials in our lives have been many. We have experienced difficulties in our lives of all types including health. Within a 5 month period, my daughter, my husband and I have all been diagnosed with different types of cancer. During this same period of time, we sold our house and moved with a closing date set. At the last minute, the sale fell through leaving us with double expenses. At the same time, we were criticized by those closest to us. Does this sound like a Job experience? Job suffered family, possession, and health loss as well as criticism from friends.
So what have we learned from this through the years to sustain us in current circumstances? We have learned that joy does not mean 'happy'. You can have joy without enjoying! You can even be in grief but still experience joy. Joy is deeper than being happy. It is abiding in you as you abide in Christ to strengthen you with His peace in times of trouble. If I am going to count the trials, then I need to also count the joy; all of it for all of them. I know from experience that every trial that has tested our faith HAS produced endurance in us. It is this endurance which has enabled us through the next set of trials. And in those moments when I have felt like giving in to despair, the still, small voice of God whispers; “Trust Me, keep your faith". In those moments when the devastation is overwhelming, God is there to give hope and comfort. He is an ever present help in times of trouble. Is the help when and how we want it? Of course not! If it were, it would be by our own will.
But God works His will in our troubles. And it is there, in His will that we find true joy because we know we didn't have anything to do with the result except to trust Him.
Then, somewhere along the way of trials no matter what they are, He will give nuggets of His truth to cling to; nuggets that come when you least expect them. At a low point in our trials I prayed and told the Lord how weak I was in faith. He strengthened my faith by reminding me first of Job. Then, in a message from a pastor, He reminded me from Rev 3:8 that He knew my strength was weak but that I had kept His word and trusted Him. He would open doors to us that no one could shut. That was my nugget of truth for that particular low point to strengthen me till the next one. It was my nugget of truth to spur me on to continue keeping His word and continue trusting Him. God is so awesome and amazing in how He gives real encouragement to enable us to press on. He knows when we are weak, and it is in our weakness that He is made strong.
And so how do we 'count it all joy when we encounter various trials'?
God will strengthen, He will comfort, He will provide, He will help to see you through. Then when you pass the test, you will have proven the power of God to be victorious over Satan and his schemes to destroy. You will experience joy beyond measure from the endurance of your faith.
Yes, there are times when difficulties may be discipline, but there are other times when trials are a test of our faith; not because we are sinful, but because we are faithful. When God allowed Satan to sift Job (Job 1:8), He knew of Job’s faithfulness to God and the victory to come that would prove the power of God in Job’s life. It is in knowing this and keeping the life of Job in our minds that has given us so much hope in our trials; therefore, in our trials there is true joy! The joy comes from deep, abiding faith and in due time, the reward. Praise Him.
“…Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Rev. 2:10c
1 Note #2 in NET Bible: New English Translation (Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., 2003), p. 2210.
2 Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), p. 53.
3 D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1979), 75.
4 Hiebert, 77.
5 Curtis Vaughn, James, Bible Study Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 22.