Study 1 THE PATHWAY TO SPIRITUAL MATURITY
THE LETTER OF JAMES
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: James 1:1-4, 12
It is generally accepted that the writer of this letter was James, a brother of the Lord Jesus, known to the early Church as James the Just. He, with others in his family, were opponents of Christ, as we learn from Mark 3:21 and John 7:1-10. His conversion came about after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). Later he believed, and became bishop, or leader, of the Jerusalem church. His letter was written to the whole church, for the reference to “the twelve tribes” in verse 1 is a symbolic description. This letter is therefore for us today!
James opens his letter with the theme of spiritual maturity (verse 4), where we read that God’s purpose for His children is “that (they) may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”. Surely we all want to become spiritually mature. We do not want to remain immature with all the marks of spiritual infancy about us; look up Matthew 5:48, where the word ‘perfect’ = ‘mature’. What, then, is the process by which we may reach this goal? What is the pathway to maturity? The answer is in James 1:1-4, and in verse 12.
1. We must begin by entering God’s family by placing our faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord.
Notice the word “brothers” in verse 2. This implies a new and wonderful relationship. It means being a child of God and a member of His family. No-one can grow up into Christ and become mature who has not first been born into His family. There must be birth before growth; so before 2 Peter 3:18 can take place there must be the experience of John 1:11-14.
2. We must recognise our family relationships and responsibilities.
James addressed his letter to “my brothers” (verse 2). Not only was James himself a child of God, but he wrote to other children of God who were, of course, his brothers and sisters in God’s family. See this truth emphasised in Ephesians 3:14-15. All Christians, everywhere, are my brothers and sisters. What a privilege this is! – but what a responsibility it places upon us also! To become spiritually mature we must recognise our family relationships and enjoy fellowship with those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
3. We must seek the grace of humility.
The opening words of verse 1 read – “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ2. He could have said: ‘James, brother of our Lord…’; or ‘James, Bishop of Jerusalem…’; but having emphasised our Lord’s deity (note the words “of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”) he chose to introduce himself as “a servant”. What humility! It is submission God-ward, (James 4:7 and 10); and man-ward (Ephesians 4:2 and Philippians 2:3-8). How we need to obey the injunction in 1 Peter 5:5-6!
4. We must take our place as a slave.
When James calls himself “a servant of God” he means that he is His slave. This implies absolute obedience. A slave knows no law but the word of his master. He has no rights of his own. His master literally owns him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Peter 1:18-19). To be a slave also implies utter loyalty – pledged to his master. His own profit, and even his comforts, do not matter. What a privilege to be a slave of the Lord Jesus!
5. We must expect our faith to be tested, and must submit to the Lord in all His dealings with us.
James takes this up in verses 2, 3, 4 and 12. What do we learn here about trials and testings, about God’s dealings with us with a view to our ultimate spiritual maturity?
- (1) We must expect trials and even welcome them (verse 2). This does not mean that we shall like them, but we shall rejoice because of the purpose behind them. Look up and compare Matthew 5:10-12; John 16:33; Philippians 1:29; Hebrews 12:6-11; 1 Peter 4:12.
- (2) Trials often come suddenly (verse 2, KJV) – we “fall” into them. How true to life this is!
- (3) Trials and testings are varied (verse 2) – there are different kinds of testings. They may be physical, they may touch our affections, they may have to do with the loss of possessions. Think of Job, or Paul, or those we read about in Hebrews 11. What varied trials God’s servants experienced!
- (4) When trials come it is our faith which is tested (verse 3). Faith is the principle of our new life. We are believers – “The righteous will live by faith” – compare Luke 22:31-33 with 1 Peter 1:7, and read the whole of Hebrews 11 to see how faith is tested!
- (5) We have great assurance, because we know God is working out His purpose for us and in us with a view to our maturity. Notice in verse 3 the words “know” and “develops”, and compare Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 1:6.
- (6) The testing may be long and arduous. Verse 4 means, ‘Let the process go on until the work is complete’. The length of the process is seen in the first part of verse 4; the result of the process is in the last part of the verse.
- (7) When faith’s testing is completed we shall be blessed (verse 12).
The lesson that we must learn from this study is that in all God’s dealings with us we are not to view the process only (James 1:2-3), but we are to see the finished product (James 1:4). Look up Jude 24.