James 1:2-4, 12 – “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. … Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
According to the first verse in this epistle, James is writing to the twelve tribes of Israel in the Dispersion. These are the scattered Israelites who were the descendants of those who had been taken captive during the Assyrian and Babylonian campaigns to overthrow Israel roughly six hundred years previous. Some of them had attempted to maintain their Hebraic identity, but most had been assimilated into the cultures of the nations to which they were taken. James is writing to them as a believer in the Messiah; this is a call to return to the faith of their fathers with the fulfillment of the restoration of Israel through faith in Messiah.
In living among the pagan nations, they experienced many trials in attempting to live as Hebrew believers in the one true God. James addresses this as the primary issue they faced, but he does so in a way to encourage them that these trials actually demonstrate the truth of their faith. Though their faith was being tested, it was also being proven. The word for testing also serves to illustrate the proof of that faith. As they remained vigilant and steadfast in their faith, the quality of their faith was being proven to those around them.
This steadfastness of faith is a term derived from the original Greek which means “to remain under.” It is sometimes translated as endurance or perseverance. It illustrates that their faith was being proven as they remained under the pressure of the trial.
This is a similar characteristic that the apostle Paul mentions in his letter to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
James takes this endurance a step further by saying that the endurance or perseverance during trials provides a completeness to one’s faith; it’s as if the faith is lacking something until it actually undergoes a trial to see if it is genuine. In doing so, one receives the crown of life, the reward of the victor through conquest. In the culture of the day, the wreath or crown was only awarded to the athlete who endured through the contest of strength and overcame the adversity by persevering above all others. However, in the spiritual contest of the new believers in Messiah, their reward was life itself, not just a wreath to adorn their heads.
We today are in a similar situation as those scattered Israelite descendants of long ago. We have echoes of a spiritual heritage that has become enmeshed with the culture around us. Yet, through the same faith in Messiah, we are tasked with demonstrating a perseverance in that faith which results in a continuation of that same life that has been provided throughout the intervening millennia, “the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
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