Don't Waste Your Trials
Topic: Faith Passage: James 1:1–1:11
Discussion Questions: James 1:1-11
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Background: The book of James is a letter written by James, the half-brother of Jesus. Mary and Joseph had other children after Jesus was born (Matt. 13:55-56). Like his other siblings, James was initially skeptical of Jesus’ claims (John 7:5, Mark 3:21). However, after his resurrection, Jesus specifically appeared to his brother James (1 Cor. 15:7). James would go on to become an Apostle, and he was one of the leading elders among his fellow Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:19, 2:9; Acts 12:17, 15:13, 21:18).
Scholars believe that the book of James is one of the earliest letters in the New Testament, likely written in the mid 40’s A.D. James addresses his letter to the “twelve tribes” in the “Dispersion” (James 1:1). The “twelve tribes” is likely a reference to the many Jewish Christians who would have left Jerusalem due to severe persecution there (Acts 8:1, 11:19). The Greek word translated “Dispersion” is a technical term referring to those Jews living in lands outside of Jerusalem and Palestine. So, as one of their pastors, James writes his letter to these Jewish Christians who were scattered outside of Jerusalem, instructing them in how to live obedient and active lives in consistency with their faith in Jesus Christ.
- In light of the background described above, is it significant that James identifies himself in verse 1 as merely “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” making no mention of his family connection to Jesus as his half-brother? What can we learn from James’ example?
- In verses 2-4, James begins his letter on the theme of joy in the midst of trials. He says we should “count it all joy” when we face trials of various kinds. To “count” means to “think, consider, regard.” We’re told to mentally reckon our trials as an occasion for joy. What’s the difference between emotional happiness and a resolute attitude of joy? Why does this difference matter for how we face trials as Christians?
- Why should we count it all joy when we face trials of many kinds, according to verses 2-4? Can you share examples from your life where you have seen God use trials to test your faith, develop perseverance, and form your character? On the flip side, can you think of times when you have “wasted your trials”?
- Wisdom might be defined as “God’s perspective applied to the situations of our everyday lives.” Why do trials uniquely incline us to need wisdom? Can you think of times in your life when you cried out to God for wisdom, and he faithfully answered? Share your story with the group.
- In verses 6-8, James insists that when we ask for wisdom, we should ask “in faith, with no doubting.” It seems likely that James is referring to severe doubts. The person who doubts is “double-minded” and “unstable in all his ways.” He goes back and forth between allegiance to God, and allegiance to the world, like a wave going up and down in the sea – he asks God for wisdom on Sunday, and then he doubts God’s ability to provide it by Monday! It also seems likely that these doubts question the very character of God himself (see verses 5 and 13). In your opinion, why does God refuse to grant this kind of person the wisdom he asks for? How would you counsel a person experiencing these kinds of doubts?
- Verses 9-11 describe a unique kind of trial: the trial of poverty and the trial of riches. James says that the poor Christian brother should boast in his “exaltation” (he is spiritually rich in Christ!). By contrast, the rich Christian brother should boast in his “humiliation” (he must associate himself with the lowly Savior and his lowly cross, knowing his earthly riches will soon pass away). Which of these trials do you relate to more? The trials of the poor brother or the trials of the rich one? How so?
- Read Proverbs 30:7-9. How does the teaching there relate to James’ words in James 1:9-11?
Prayer exercise: Take time to share what kinds of “various trials” each member of the group is going through right now in their life. Pray for one another in light of this passage (that God would grow our faith, develop our perseverance, and mature us more and more. Pray for wisdom and godly perspective).