Chapter OneIntroduction to Unit 1
Wisdom in Troubles and Temptation (James 1)
Destination: To integrate the truth that God has promised to provide wisdom to handle the trials
and temptations that confront us in life.
When an older member of my (William's) extended family was struck with a disabling physical
condition, it fell to me to assume responsibility for her affairs when her husband died.
While I had begun playing an assisting role in their lives during the husband's final months-coordinating
legal and financial matters, looking after finances, hiring and managing in-home
health care workers-I quickly became overwhelmed with the complexities of the situation
after he died. Handling this type of situation long-distance (I lived in another state) required
skills I did not possess. I remember asking God often for help-for wisdom and skill-in
knowing how to meet this family member's needs.
That was more than a decade ago. Since then I have had to expand my skill set considerably
in carrying out my responsibilities to this family member. Though she has continued to
live, she exists in a totally disabled condition physically. While there are other family members
to consult on important decisions, I have become responsible for her day-to-day welfare.
Navigating the maze of medical and insurance details, overseeing her limited finances, looking
out for the home where she still lives, managing the cadre of around-the-clock sitters who
administer her medications-I now possess a measure of wisdom in an area of life with which
I was totally unfamiliar a few years ago.
Job said, "Man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7). While sometimes
trouble has malevolent or pernicious sources, more often than not the troubles and trials we
experience come simply from living in a fallen world. Things rust and break. We get sick. We
have conflicts with others. We are reviled for our faith. There is too much month for our
money. And because of all that, we get personally tired and discouraged and wonder how we
can go on.
Jewish sages had a word for the remedy for life's trouble-hokmah. We translate this word
as "wisdom," but its basic meaning is "skill." Wisdom, therefore, is the skill of living. It's the
ability to face an obstacle and figure out how to go over, around, or through it. It's the ability
to persevere without giving up. It's the ability to navigate the dangerous shoals without shipwrecking
our faith. James was a man with Jewish roots, and he wanted you to know that
"when you encounter various trials," you should "ask of God," who will give the skill (wisdom)
to make it through. You may never be baptized in the fire of long-term caregiver as I was,
but you have experienced (and will experience) serious trials and troubles for which you feel
totally unskilled, totally unprepared. What should you do? Ask God for the skills (the wisdom)
to meet the challenge.
James' emphasis on acquiring wisdom has led many to refer to his letter as the New
Testament's version of the book of Proverbs. Unit 1 of this GuideBook will help you explore the
first chapter of James and discover why asking God for skill in living is the best way to face
life's troubles and temptations. Acquiring wisdom is crucial for the journey to Christlikeness-becoming
like the one who was Himself "the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24).
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you
encounter various trials, knowing that the
testing of your faith produces endurance.
Overview of James
James as Literature
The book of James is a letter. And as such, it is not unique.
Of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, all but
five (the four Gospels plus Acts) were letters in their original
Author, Date, and Recipients
Four different men named James are mentioned in the New
Testament. Identify each one from the following verses:
Matthew 10:2; Acts 12:2
Matthew 10:3; Acts 1:13
Matthew 13:55; Galatians 1:19
Tradition has recognized the last of these four, James
the half brother of Jesus, as the author of the letter. This
James played a leading role in the first church council held
in Jerusalem around AD 49-50 (Acts 15), and the letter
produced by that council, under James' leadership, is similar
in tone and style to the book of James. In particular, the
same distinctive word for "greeting" is used in both the
book of James (James 1:1) and the letter from the
Jerusalem council (Acts 15:23)-and in no other apostolic
letter in the New Testament.
The prominent disciple named James (in the inner
circle of James, Peter, and John; see Matthew 17:1) was
killed around AD 44, and neither of the other two Jameses
occupies a prominent place in the New Testament. James
the half brother of Jesus is the most reasonable choice as
author of this letter.
Historians place the death of James at around AD
62-66, but evidence suggests his letter may have been
written much earlier-as early as AD 46-49. If so, it was
likely the first apostolic letter written to the early church
(that is, the first letter that has been preserved). Several factors
point to an early date of composition:
1. Jewish-Gentile relations, prominent in later New
Testament letters (Romans and Galatians), are absent from
this letter. That suggests a setting in which the church was
still predominantly Jewish.
2. James' emphasis is on behavior rather than theology.
The pattern in Paul's letters was often theology first, practice
second (see, for example, Romans and Ephesians). This
suggests an early period when faith was conceived of simply
as belief in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
3. In the Greek text, James calls the meeting place of
the church a "synagogue," an indication of the early, transitional
setting for the letter (James 2:2). His references to
church leadership also reflect a Jewish heritage, as he refers
only to "teachers" and "elders" (James 3:1; 5:1).
4. James does not mention the watershed results of the
Jerusalem council, which may indicate the letter was written
before the council took place.
To whom did James address his letter (see James 1:1)?
Where did they reside?
According to James 1:2-3, what were they apparently
Most Bible scholars believe that "twelve tribes" were
Jewish converts to Christianity who were driven out of
Jerusalem in the persecution that arose after the martyrdom
Read the following verses and characterize the growth
of the church in Jerusalem following the ascension of
When persecution began, where did the church flee
(see Acts 8:1; 11:19)?
How does this situation fit with James' words in James
The father of the Protestant Reformation, the great theologian
Martin Luther, called James a "right strawy epistle."
He, and others of his day, felt James' letter placed too much
emphasis on works and not enough on faith. This view is
understandable in that Luther and other Reformers were
battling to reinstate faith to its rightful, biblical position
after salvation by works had become a dominant emphasis
in church teaching.
But James' letter is not contradictory to the letters of
Paul ("the righteous man shall live by faith"; Romans
1:17); it is complementary to them. James stresses the truth
that genuine faith will manifest itself in righteous living
and that "faith, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:17).
The same criticisms leveled against James have been leveled
against the teachings of Christ in the Sermon on the
Mount, and understandably so-both stress the righteous
lifestyle that should be evident among citizens of the kingdom
The following two passages are perhaps the most central
to James' message (for the verses, see appendix A).
Summarize in your own words these primary themes of the
Bringing It Home
1. What areas of life can you identify-whether spiritual,
practical, relational, or moral-in which you need
greater wisdom (skill)?
2. What do you see in James 1:5 that indicates God
would welcome your request for increased wisdom in
any area of your life?
3. Self-deception is subtle. Name any behavior in your life
that is evidence of deception (James 1:22). What must
you do not to be deceived any longer?
The Old Testament Roots of Wisdom
Wisdom is one of those words used by many and defined
by few. We think we know wisdom when we see it, but we
have a hard time telling anyone else how to look for it.
While James encourages us to ask God for wisdom (James
1:5), if we discover the roots of wisdom in the Old
Testament, we'll know better what we are asking for, how
to know when we have received it, and how to make it a
characteristic of our life.
The Skill of Wisdom
As mentioned in the introduction, the Hebrew word for
wisdom is hokmah, meaning "skill." This word, in its various
forms (the verb "be wise," the adjective "wise," and the
noun "wisdom"), occurs more than three hundred times in
the Old Testament.
To see hokmah in its most practical, concrete settings,
identify the "skill" that is referred to in each of the following
2 Samuel 13:3
Whether dexterity in engraving, shrewdness in negotiating,
adroitness in navigating, passion in mourning, or
discernment in speaking, skill was a valued characteristic
in the Old Testament world. It is easy to see how the concept
moved from the concrete realm of physical activity to
the more abstract realm of words and ideas that today is
most closely associated with wisdom. As examples of the
more abstract expressions of wisdom in Hebrew thought, a
wise person was one who was skilled in giving advice,
interpreting dreams, settling disputes, or influencing and
The Only Wise God
What does a wise person do? He or she, in a manner of
speaking, brings order out of chaos. Take the building of
the tabernacle, for instance. It took a group of wise
(skilled) craftsmen to transform a multitude of raw
resources-leathers, fabrics, metals, stones, and wood-into
a beautiful worship center in the Sinai desert. Where
did people learn such skills (that is, acquire such wisdom)?
Because men and women are created in the image of God
the Creator, they too can become skilled at bringing order
out of chaos.
God is the One who, in the beginning, transformed a
lifeless chaos (Genesis 1:2) into a living cosmos (Isaiah
42:5), and wisdom was His instrument of creation. Wisdom
is personified in Proverbs 8, where it is pictured as being
present with God in the creation of the world. Using
Proverbs 8:22-31 (see appendix A), list the parts of the
earth and universe to which God brought order by the use
God brought physical order out of chaos at Creation by
employing His wisdom. He wants us, by the use of His wisdom,
to bring order into the moral and spiritual chaos that
sin has produced in the world-beginning with our own
lives. Draw lines connecting the following verses with the
area of life where wisdom brings order out of chaos:
Proverbs 2:9-10 The realm of personal peace
Proverbs 2:12-15 The realm of personal reputation
Proverbs 2:16-17 The realm of appropriate relationships
Proverbs 3:4 The realm of intellect and knowledge
Proverbs 3:13,17 The realm of sexual morality
Wisdom and the Fear of the Lord
If wisdom belongs to God (Job 12:13; Daniel 2:20; Romans
16:27), how do we get it from Him? As mentioned previously,
we have the potential for doing wise (skillful) things because
we have been made in His image. But how do we know what
is truly wise, and then how do we increase in wisdom?
One element in Scripture is consistently linked to the
discovery and application of wisdom in life. To what is wisdom
linked in Proverbs 9:10 (see also Job 28:28; Psalm
111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 15:33; Isaiah 33:6)?
In Psalm 34:11 the psalmist suggested that the fear of
the Lord can be learned or acquired. How did the author
of Proverbs suggest that one acquire (come to understand)
the fear of the Lord? Summarize in your own words what
you believe to be the theme of Proverbs 2:1-5 (found in
James and the Old Testament Roots of Wisdom
One verse in the Old Testament says what the fear of the
Lord is: Proverbs 8:13. Define the fear of the Lord based
on this verse.
We can conclude the following about the Old Testament
roots of wisdom:
Abstaining from evil is to fear the Lord.
To fear the Lord is to gain wisdom (skill in living).
Therefore, abstaining from evil is to gain wisdom
(skill in living).
James revealed his Old Testament understanding of
wisdom by contrasting true wisdom with false wisdom. List
the characteristics of each as found in James 3:13-18 (see
True, Heavenly Wisdom False, Earthly Wisdom
How does James' understanding of wisdom match that
of the Old Testament?
Bringing It Home
1. Obedience is at the heart of fearing God. Though James
didn't per se mention the fear of the Lord in his letter, it
is obvious that he wanted his readers to move beyond
knowing God to obeying God. The letter you are about
to study is filled with practical examples and exhortations
to live in a manner that will cause you to gain
wisdom. Perhaps now would be a good time to follow
the admonition of Proverbs 2:3 ("Cry for discernment,
lift your voice for understanding") and compose your
own prayer, asking God for wisdom as you study James.
How to Handle Trials
You may not be in the same situation that James' readers
were-scattered from your hometown, living in unfamiliar
surroundings, not sure if you will ever see familiar faces
again-but one thing connects you to them: trials!
Suffering is a common thread that unites all humanity, but
it takes on a special purpose for those who know God.
Before we discover James' insights on the "whys" and
"hows" of trials, what is the largest trial looming on your
horizon at the moment?
Keep that trial in mind as you study James' words,
looking for insights and God's perspective on how you
should handle it.