Ahhh, the book of James! Now this is a book that is very easy to understand. The hard part is to put in practice the clear truths it teaches.
James is a book that has often been associated with “works”; with our actions rather than our “faith”. But in these opening verses James sets the rest of the book in the context of the importance of faith. We are encouraged to have faith in God’s ability to work even in the midst of our most difficult times; to have faith that God really will give us the wisdom we need for living through these times; to have faith that any sacrifices we make in this life are well worth the cost; and to have faith that it is better to resist temptation than give into it.
In each of these situations, our faith is the vehicle by which we are able to continue to confidently hope for the best, even when what life actually brings us is trials and tribulations. It’s what keeps us connected to God so that we are willing to pay the price necessary to live the kind of Christian life described in the verses to come. And let us make not mistake: there is a price to be paid in living the kind of life that follows in Jesus’ footsteps.
Take verse 12-15 for instance. Desire is, of course, desirable. But sometimes our desires are inappropriate, destructive, or hurtful. To say “no” to our desires is to say no to what we want, and that is painful. Is it really worth it?
Faith answers, “Yes, it is.”
As but one example, I think of wanting to maintain a healthy body weight. The benefits are many—less stress on the joints, less stress on the heart, increased likelihood of living a long and active life, and so on. To maintain a healthy body weight, I have to push away that second helping of food. I have to push away desert at every meal. It’s not easy—I really, really want that second helping or luscious desert. It would not be unfair to say I crave it. In the moment saying “no” is painful, but in the long run it brings far great rewards than a moment’s simple passing pleasure.
James tells us it is that way with all our “sinful” desires. It may well mean choosing pain instead of pleasure now. But faith answers resolutely, “It will be worth it in the end”.