In a Nutshell
The process by which a disciple displays the "meekness of wisdom", becoming the firstfruits of God's creatures, is explained.
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Read Matthew 5:1-12, especially 11 & 12. Does this letter continue the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount? How would the first Christians retain the teaching of the gospel? Could we be reading poetry that invites us to sing it? Find a poet who will re-write this passage so you can sing it with Psalms 90 and 91!
Happy the man who endures [such] trial, for having such approval he shall [indeed] receive the crown of life, which has been promised [by the Lord] to those who love him. Let no man who is being tested [in this way, at this time] say, "I am being tempted by God," since God cannot be tempted with evil, and [likewise] He himself tempts no one. But each man is tempted by the outreach of his own desires, and such desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin, full term, brings forth death. Make no mistake [on this], my belovéd brothers [and sisters]. The [entire] giving of everything good and every perfect gift comes down to us [who receive or inherit it] from the Father of lights whose place [in our lives] is not about to change nor [is He] subject to [mere] shadows. By decisively bringing us forth by the word of truth, He purposed that we be a [distinct] kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Know this [then], my belovéd brothers [and sisters]: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce God's righteousness.
James reiterates the teaching of Jesus:
… where you treasure is, there your heart will be (Matthew 6:21) … you cannot serve God and your invested securities (6:24),
but does so in a way to encourage the rich man's rejoicing in the Lord. This is not simply because his flower has faded, nor simply because Mary's prophecy that the poor will be lifted up has been vindicated again, but also because the endurance of such trial is part of the down-payment for his crown of life. Not only does James bring to mind other teaching of the New Testament - and it does read like another beatitude! - he draws on the Psalms:
My Lord you have been our At-Home in every generation (Ps 90);
Whoever rests content at home with the Most Glorious will dwell in the shadow of Almighty (Ps 91).
This then is the context for understanding the difficult language we read concerning the inheritance from the Father of lights. Those who inherit His perfect gifts, live in His shadow. That is their safety and security for ever. The Lord not only prospers the works of their hands, He personally makes His servants into His handiwork (90:16-17). They are happily dependent upon Him for their safety and shalom henceforth, for ever and ever. Amen.
James relies on the Lord's promise of the crown of life to encourage those who endure trial. God's rule over all of life is not by sending trials and temptations. The trials James' readers confront will bring instability if they remain ignorant of their standing: the humble of their elevation and the rich of their humiliation. It is the crown of life to which their endurance, their resilience, is oriented, and that crown of life is, and always has been, decisively guaranteed by the Lord's promises. And so, in enjoining his readers to be "swift to listen; slow to speak", James reminds them of an inherited deafness, a blindness that will prevail if the light has not shone to bring assurance of God's true purpose (v.17) which is the truly distinct way in which God has chosen them to be the firstfruits of all His creatures.
This passage therefore draws on the first book of the bible, and the account it hands down to us "from above" concerning humankind's turn to the way of anger. That was a conscious and decisive turn; it had been an angry rebellion from the heart which presumed to test God's commands by entertaining the possibility that God's reliability needed to be proved. Was God's reliability ever in doubt prior to OUR proving Him to be reliable…?
James does not need to elaborate. God does not tempt and neither is He subject to temptation. It is we, humans made in God's image, who are called to live in His shadow (Psalm 91:1); it is simply a false imagination, dreamed up in the darkness, that assumes that He is to live in our shadow. That ancient and reliable account of the human predicament tells us that "anger" lurks in our human condition as an over-bearing self-confidence, that can only give birth to death, unless the promise of the crown of life takes hold again in our hearts.
James writes with an appreciation of the two trees that are singled out for special mention in that ancient story. It is the righteousness of God (v. 20) that renders people swift to hear the good news - such good news! - that they have been especially endowed by their Creator to be His harvest, the manifestation of the glorious fruit of the tree of life.
To confront trials requires joy, and as such the onset of a trial is not the time to re-define one's created situation as "God's intervention in my life". That will make not a scrap of difference to one's endurance. God's rule in our lives is not via such blind presumption. We are reminded of the prayer Jesus taught:
Lead us not into temptation … (Matthew 6:13),
because we need to know what You know Lord, that we are dust and are frail and only as your handiwork will we withstand any trials that come our way.