“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.” James 1:17 (NET)
Think of someone whom you know well—a husband, family member, or close friend. What if a person came up and described someone totally different and suggested that it was the same person? If someone described my husband as 6’5” and blonde, I would say that they have the wrong guy! And I would be right to take up for him because I know who he really is!
People of different cultures give us different pictures of God, proving the truth that we cannot fathom God with our own minds (Is. 55:8-9). We can see His power and divinity in the creation that He has made (Rom. 1:20), but beyond the basics, we can’t figure God out on our own. That is why God has always been in the business of revealing Himself to us. We can’t come to understand Him so He comes to us to show us what He is like; we read what He has revealed in the Bible. He doesn’t want us confusing Him with someone else!
When put in hard and difficult times, we sometimes have nothing else to rely upon other than what we know about God and so it is essential that we truly know Him. Pray that you will recognize who He really is so that your life lines up with Him and not a god from your own imagination, who will always disappoint!
Last week we studied James 1:1-8 together, looking at trials in our lives. Review those verses to put today’s verses in context.
Now read what follows: James 1:9-12.
1. In this section James deals with life situations of two kinds of people: (1) the one of “humble means” (NET), “humble circumstances” (NIV) or “the lowly” (NKJV), and (2) the rich. Since they are in contrast, what kind of situation does humble describe? What does he tell the person in each situation to do?
2. Now this is a thinking question and your answer may be “none”. But think about it! What relationship do you see between James 1:2-8 and James 1:9-11? Why would James move into this seemingly new topic?
The word for “pride” (James 1:9 NET, NIV) is “kauchastho (boast). It is used in this identical form four times in Jer. 9:23-24 in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint).”6
3. Since the same word is used in the same way in Jer. 9:23-24, read that passage. Then, explain what it means for a believer to “take pride in” (NIV; NET) her/his high position (James 1:9).
4. James says that the believer “of humble means” (NET) is to take pride in his high position. What do you learn about your high position as a follower of Jesus from these verses?
a. Luke 6:20
b. Eph. 1:3
c. Col. 1:22
d. Col. 1:27
e. Col. 3:3-4
Stronger Jeans (optional): Use your concordance to find other New Testament verses that deal with poverty or the poor. What do you learn from them?
5. Sharing Question: You may or may not have ever been in a position of monetary need. If you have, share with your group how that felt. If you have not, you may someday face a situation where you feel humbled by your circumstances, a need of any kind. Think through a practical way that you can remind yourself of your position before God when that happens.
6. Responding to God: Go through the verses from #4 in this lesson. Take each verse and thank God for what it says about your position as a believer. Or write a poem thanking Him for your high position.
Yesterday we looked at James’ words to the believer of humble circumstances. Today we will study what he says to the rich.
Reread James 1:9-11.
There is debate among scholars as to whether James is speaking of rich believers or of wicked unbelievers here. If this is a believer, taking pride in his low position would mean that “the rich believer is to boast not in his wealth or his elevated social position, but in his identification with Christ and his people, a matter of ‘humiliation’ in the eyes of the world.”7
Stronger Jeans (optional): Study your commentaries or study Bible about the meaning of “rich” here. Is it a believer or not? Explain the arguments for both views.
1. What pictures or illustrations does James use to teach the rich? What point is he trying to make to them?
In case you are wondering what James means when he says that the rich “pass away”, Moo has this to say: “The verb ‘pass away’ is never used in the NT to denote judgment. Rather, it typically has the idea ‘cease to exist.’”8
2. Read these verses and write down how they relate to James’ teaching about the rich:
a. Isa. 40:6b-8
b. Ps. 103:15-16
c. Ps. 49:16-17
3. Materialism is rampant in our American society today. How would truly believing James’s words here affect our attitudes toward money and other material possessions?
4. Sharing Question: What is God saying to you about money or material things? He may be showing you that you are selfishly hoarding money. You may realize that you value people with money more than others. Perhaps God is saying that you spend inordinate amounts of time shopping and buying things. What one thing can you do this week to let go of wrong attitudes or actions?
5. Responding to God: Write a prayer to God about what He showed you in the previous question. Write down your commitment to follow through with that one action.
Read James 1:12.
1. How does this verse relate to James’ message in 1:2-11?
2. What makes the person in v. 12 “happy” (NET) or “blessed” (NASB; NKJV; NIV)?
Moo explains: “A person who is ‘blessed’ may not be ‘happy’ at all. For our emotional state may and will vary with the circumstances of life. But we can rest assured that, whatever those circumstances, if we endure them with faith and commitment to God, we will be recipients of God’s favor.”9
3. Sharing Question: In your experience, have you ever been blessed but not necessarily happy? Tell your group what happened, how you were blessed, and how you felt.
Stronger Jeans (optional): Use a concordance or Greek dictionary and look up the word for blessed or happy in James 1:12. Look up some of the other verses that use the same Greek word.
4. Sharing Question: If you believe the promise of James 1:12, what encouragement does it give you today for your present trial? If you are not facing a trial right now, how can it help you next time that you do?
5. What are some other “crowns”, or rewards, promised?
a. 1 Thess. 2:19
b. 2 Tim. 4:8
c. 1 Pet. 5:4
d. Rev. 2:10
6. Responding to God: Draw a picture of your receiving a crown from Jesus. Which one might it be? Think about what that will feel like. Talk to God about it. And yes, you can draw!
Read James 1:12-16.
1. What causes us to be tempted?
2. What does James 1:12-16 teach about God and His character?
Douglas Moo explains what we cannot see from our English translations:
The Greek word for ‘test’ in v. 12, peirazo, is the same word that is translated ‘tempt’ in vv. 13-14. Using this term as a link-word, therefore, James makes the transition from testing to temptation. God, James has said, promises a blessing to those who endure trials. Every trial, every external difficulty, carries with it a temptation, an inner enticement to sin. God may bring, or allow, trials; but he is not, James insists the author of temptation (v. 13).10
Stronger Jeans (optional): Look for the word temptation in your concordance and find cross-references. What do you learn about temptation from them?
3. Sharing Question: Tell your group about a time when you faced a trial and ended up being tempted in some way—perhaps, not to trust God or to be angry or to run from the trial. How did you respond when tempted?
4. How did Jesus handle temptation? Read these verses and write down your insights:
a. Mt. 4:1-11
b. Mt. 26:36-46
c. Heb. 4:14-16
5. How can you apply the lessons of the verses in the previous question when you face temptation?
6. Responding to God: Think of a specific area of temptation with which you often deal and pray about it. Ask God to help you face temptation as Jesus did, with His power and His help.
Read James 1:12-18.
1. What truths about God did James mention in 1:17-18?
2. How might knowing these truths help you when you deal with temptation or trials? In other words, why may you need to know them? What may you be tempted to believe about Him?
Be sure and memorize James 1:17. You may need to remember this truth about God next time you encounter a trial
Stronger Jeans (optional): Upon what other truths about God do you lean when you struggle with trusting God in a hard time? Find some verses that are helpful to you at those times. Pray for God to show you someone in your small group with which to share those verses. You may want to write a note which includes a verse. You may want to write out several verses on index cards for her to carry with her during her current trial.
3. Sharing Question: Write down the story of a difficult time in your life when you doubted the truths that James teaches about God here. Be prepared to share it with your group.
4. Sharing Question: How do the truths about you as a believer in 1:18 encourage you today? Why do you need that encouragement?
5. Responding to God: Write down your poem or prayer expressing your praise of God for what you learn about Him in James 1:17-18.
I learned about God’s character as I went through tough times. I was married while still in college and soon had four healthy children and tried to be the best wife and mother that I knew how to be. They all loved the Lord and going to Sunday School and we were very involved in the church. My husband was very involved in his job and we seldom saw him, so when he was transferred to Houston, I thought it would be great for our family to be living in the Bible Belt and having their father around more.
Our boys were in Senior High and the girls in Junior High, and they had always walked to school, but now the boys would be taking the bus. Later I learned that their first day on the bus, they were both introduced to marijuana and found it very helpful in relaxing in their new environment and making new friends. We all had lots of adjustments to make and since my husband was now the manager of the Houston office, he was as busy as ever. By January of our first year, I was a Bible study discussion leader and found it so exciting. About that same time, our oldest son stole the car and tried to run away to Mexico, but was caught at the border. He thought we would be better off without him. We now know that he also had Aspberger Syndrome, a highly functional form of Autism. By the end of our first year in Houston, three of our children were on drugs and alcohol and the oldest had dropped out of school after being kicked out. Soon after, our fourth child joined the others because the other kids weren't allowed to play with her because of her brothers and sister. Our whole world had turned upside down and the children I loved were like complete strangers who were destroying themselves.
Even though I was in great pain, I knew that God was faithful and that all of my children belonged to Him. During that time, I began to experience God's grace and mercy. First he had placed me in the Bible study leadership group just when I needed them; every week, they prayed for me and my family, never judging me. Also, He began sending other people to me who were also experiencing pain and I was learning that God was able to use my weaknesses instead of what I thought were my strengths. (II Corin.12:9) That period of our lives lasted at least five years with various ups and downs, but God remained closer to me than at any other time in my life. In fact, I had such a peace during that time that my father-in-law said it proved that I was mentally ill from all that religious junk. God also protected all of our children during that time and they all say that they know it was my prayers that kept them alive. Experiencing God's grace and mercy during the worst period of my life has taken away any fear of what the future may hold for me or our children and grandchildren.
6 Bruce B. Barton, David R. Veerman, and Neil Wilson, Life Application Bible Commentary: James, ed. Grant Osborne (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992), 15.
7 Moo, 66.
8 Moo, 67.
9 Moo, 70.
10 Moo, 72.