Monday, November 28, 2022

Standing The Test (James 1:12)


Blessed in 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. [James 1:12, ESV]

    In a previous part of this series, we examined James 1:2, which gave us quite the challenge:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.

    In other words, rejoice when you go through trials in life. Why would anybody want to rejoice as he goes through some kind of hardship in life? More importantly, how could somebody rejoice during hard times? The answer to the former question will provide us with an answer for the latter. We have already covered James 1:3, and how the testing of our faith produces steadfastness, and how that steadfastness will ensure that we are complete, lacking in nothing [James 1:4], but there is more to have joy about than the prospect of one’s character being refined as a result of enduring through trials of various kinds. In James 1:12, we are given another reason to rejoice in our suffering. Steadfastness can only come from enduring for a time, meaning that one has to actually suffer for longer in order to gain it. One can not gain steadfastness if he only suffers for a moment, for example. It is after a prolonged period of waiting, of perseverance, of enduring trials, and relying upon God, that one can develop steadfastness.

    Steadfastness enables us to rely upon God, to trust in Him more, to seek Him diligently, and to be patient in times where it is difficult to remain calm. Furthermore, steadfastness ensures that future trials will be more manageable (and, perhaps, less frequent). Steadfastness will give us the ability to keep fighting, to keep seeking God, and to stand firmly in faith during times where our faith is under attack.

    The real subject of this essay is what James means when he describes the “crown of life” that will be given to those who stand the test, and who love God. Initially, I believed that the “crown of life” was a reference to the gift of eternal life that is given to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I am not convinced that such an interpretation is incorrect, but I do have reason to doubt my previous understanding of the verse in question.

    In preparation for writing this essay, I read some commentaries about James 1:12, including a commentary by Charles R. Erdman. I am only familiar with Erdman because of his commentaries, of which I own quite a few. After reading through the introduction to his commentary on the book of Galatians, I was so impressed that I went out and purchased every commentary that my local Christian bookstore had been selling at the time (every commentary that was not too worn, though I did return and purchase those later on). While I disagree with him on some of what he writes about, I cannot say that he was misinformed, nor can I say that he was deliberately ignoring context, or trying to push a narrative onto the reader. No matter how much I disagree with his theology, I must give him credit for the way he articulates his thoughts, and for how well he explains the Scripture.

    It was in a commentary by the gentleman in question that I came across an entirely new way of looking at the meaning of James 1:12. Rather than paraphrasing Erdman, I would like to quote him. In his commentary on the General Epistles (James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude), he writes the following:

“...he [James] speaks of ‘the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him,’ by which he means that one whose faith stands the test, one who views each event of life in the light of the wisdom which God gives, receives as a reward, as an inevitable result, life in ever fuller, larger degree, life more abundant, life for time and for eternity.” (page 23)

    I did not want to share this idea with others before I did some research of my own, so I read what some other people said about James 1:12. The most interesting thing that I found about this verse comes from, which describes the different interpretations of the verse in question. Their reason for the writers of leaning more towards the idea that the “crown of life” is meant to signify better circumstances on this side of Heaven, rather than eternal life itself, is a compelling one. In their description of the interpretation of the “crown of life” being a reference to eternal life, the writers claim that such an interpretation would be “an unlikely meaning”, as our salvation “is not hinged on our works or faithfulness”.

    I agree that, if we are discussing a Christian enduring hardships in general, the crown of life would not be a reference to his salvation. However, when I read this verse, my understanding has always been that the “test” that we are to stand is not a reference to the day-to-day struggles of life, but to the overall endurance of a person through life, against the pressures to turn away from God. If one stands the test, if he stands firmly rooted in his faith, then it would make sense that the “crown of life” would be the gift of salvation that he has accepted, but can only enjoy following his earthly death. In short, if one interprets the meaning of the test in question to be a reference to general issues in life, the reward would not be salvation. As previously stated, and as Paul writes throughout his epistles, we are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works. James says the same thing in his epistle (which we will get to later on in this series).

    As I have previously written, the meaning of this verse hinges upon one’s interpretation of the “crown of life” that James speaks of. With the two major interpretations in mind, let us examine the Scripture.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,...

    Whenever I write these essays, part of me worries that I bore people when I get into the meaning of the original language, but I believe that the words used in the original Greek provide us with a much better understanding of James’ intended meaning. The word I want to look at is the word “blessed”, which is translated from the Greek word “makarios” (μακάριος). “Makarios” is an adjective that is used to describe “a person as experiencing positive circumstances or a happy disposition” (Lexham Theological Workbook). This is one of two words that is translated as “blessed”, with the other word being “eulogētos” (εὐλογητός), which is used in reference to God, and describes one who is praiseworthy.

In addition to Lexham Theological Workbook, both the DBL Greek and the NASB dictionaries define “makarios” as an adjective for one who is happy and fortunate. Therefore, when James says that “blessed is he”, he is telling us that the one who does what he will describe will be blessed. The one who does what James is about to describe will experience “positive circumstances or a happy disposition”. I believe that this would suggest that the meaning of the verse is more likely to be that one who endures trials will be rewarded on this side of Heaven.

When one remains steadfast, he is making use of one of the results of enduring hardship, which would also suggest that James 1:12 is describing the rewards that we will receive on earth. If steadfastness comes by the testing of our faith, and if we are blessed when we are steadfastness during trials, would we receive more steadfastness? If we refer to James 1:3, the answer is clearly “yes”, steadfastness is produced when our faith is tested. However, if James wanted to reiterate what he writes in verses 2 and 3, why would he do so in the same chapter, using different language? Would it make more sense to conclude that James 1:12 is reiterating the point of James 1:2-3, or that James is returning to the topic of steadfastness in order to expand on what he has previously described?

…for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God promised to those who love him.

    In the first part of this verse, we established that the man who is steadfast during times of trouble will be blessed. In this part of the verse, we are greeted with the word “for”, which tells us that what follows is James’ justification for why he that endureth temptation (to quote the King James Version) will be blessed. When one perseveres, remaining steadfast in the faith that has been tested, he will receive the crown of life.

    As previously described, the meaning of the “crown of life” is where the two major interpretations of James 1:12 go off in different directions. The part about how the crown of life has been promised to those who love God goes against the idea that the crown of life symbolizes the earthly blessings that are given to those who remain steadfast in their faith. It is through faith that we receive the gift of salvation, not a result of our works. If the crown of life is given to those who remain steadfast under trial, and the trial is not life in general, then would not this interpretation imply that by works we are saved?

    On the other hand, one could interpret this part of James 1:12 to be about showing God that we love Him by keeping His commandments despite our sinful desires and the influence of an increasingly anti-Christian culture.

    So, what does James 1:12 mean? As I said at the beginning of this essay, I began researching this verse with the understanding that James 1:12 was describing the gift of eternal life that we will enjoy after we endure a lifetime of our faith being tested. However, as I continued to read about the meaning of the verse, my understanding of James 1:12 has changed. While both interpretations are based in Scripture, this essay is not about the Bible in general, it is about a single verse. In conclusion, I lean more toward the interpretation that James 1:12 is describing the way that life becomes so much more enjoyable when we remain steadfast in our faith. I have experienced the way the joy of the Lord affects life, and I believe that the more steadfast one is in his faith, the greater his joy will be. From the moment that I set my heart on God, asked for His guidance, and allowed Him to work in and through me, I have seen my life change dramatically. To be more specific, my life has not changed as much as my approach to life has. No matter how bad things get, I have joy in my heart, and that joy turns the hardest days into the greatest opportunities to grow in my relationship with Christ. That joy turns the best days into even better days. Everything I have I am able to appreciate more, and that which I lack I am not upset by. If God wills me to have something, I will have it. If I suffer, I have another opportunity to grow in my faith, to learn more about living as God called me to live, and to trust God more than before. The greatest joy that I have received through my suffering is the opportunity to encourage others who are experiencing things that I have been through. I have thanked God for the opportunity to encourage others from the moment that I felt called to do so, and I continued to thank God as I waited for Him to give me the opportunity that He had promised to me. Here I am, after all that suffering, and I have seen God do what He has said He would do. There is a joy that comes from trusting in God, being steadfast in faith, and putting God first in life.


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