April 1, 2020 Morning Verse Of The Day

The Reward for Perseverance

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (1:12)

Makarios (blessed) is the same word with which each of the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 begins, making this verse itself a beatitude. Blessed means much more than the mere happiness of a carefree life that has little conflict or trouble. It rather carries the idea of profound inner joy and satisfaction, a joy that only the Lord Himself is able to bestow on those who, for His sake and in His power, faithfully and patiently endure and conquer trials. “In this you greatly rejoice,” Peter says, “even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6–7).

The man who perseveres under trial is the man who never relinquishes his confident trust in God. He is a true believer, who perseveres and becomes the man who has been approved (by passing the test with faith intact). The principle is simple, clear, and marvelously gracious: perseverance brings God’s approval, and His approval brings the crown of life. The term for “crown” is borrowed from athletics rather than royalty. It was the wreath placed on the victor’s head in athletic events, symbolizing persevering triumph. And a more literal translation could be “the crown which is life,” that is, eternal life. Consequently, a more accurate statement of the principle is this: perseverance attests to God’s approval, for it gives evidence of eternal life (salvation). In other words, perseverance does not result in salvation and eternal life, but is itself the result and evidence of salvation and eternal life.

“In the future,” Paul assures us with divine authority, “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8; cf. Rev. 2:10). In his previous letter, the apostle admonishes his beloved son in the faith, “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Tim. 6:12). Another great apostle gives believers the same assurance: “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4). This crown—referred to as “the crown of life,” “the crown of righteousness,” or “the crown of glory”—is the same crown and will be received by every believer. It is not one of the various rewards that believers will receive based on their faithfulness (as mentioned in 1 Cor. 3:12–15) but is the common “reward” of salvation that is bestowed on all believers because of their saving faith in Jesus Christ.

James clearly associates faithful perseverance under trial with genuine love for God, perseverance being one of the surest evidences of those who love Him. That phrase, in fact, is a biblical definition of a genuine believer—a person who truly loves God. John repeatedly connects love of God with genuine faith. “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8); “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (v. 16); and, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (5:3). Peter writes, “And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). Paul wrote that any person who does not love the Lord is cursed (1 Cor. 16:22).

A genuine Christian is not someone who at one point in time made a profession of faith in Christ, but he is a person who demonstrates true faith by an ongoing love for God that cannot be damaged, much less destroyed, by troubles and afflictions, no matter how severe or long-lasting. Like obedience to God’s will (John 14:15; 15:9–10; 1 John 2:5–6; 4:16; 5:1–3), love of Him is certain evidence of true faith.

Gardiner Spring, a well-known evangelical pastor in New York City in the early nineteenth century, wrote concerning the persevering power of genuine love for the Lord:

There is a vast difference between such an affection and that selfish and unhallowed friendship to God which terminates on our own happiness as its supreme motive and end. If a man, in his supposed love to God, has no ultimate regard except to his own happiness; if he delights in God, not for what He is, but for what He is to him; in such a sentiment there is no moral virtue. There is indeed great love of self, but no true love to God. But where the enmity of the carnal mind is slain, the soul is reconciled to the Divine character as it is. God Himself, in the fulness of His manifested glory, becomes the object of devout and delighted contemplation. In his more favored hours the views of a good man are in a great measure diverted from himself; as his thoughts glance toward the varied excellence of the Deity, he scarcely stops to inquire whether the Being whose character fills his mind and in comparison of whose dignity and beauty all things are atoms and vanity, will extend His mercy to him.… His soul cleaves to God, and in the warmth and fervor of devout affection, he can often say, “Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none on the earth that I desire beside thee. As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God” (Ps. 73:25; 42:1). (The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character {Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, n.d.], 25–26)[1]

Overlapping Transition: Blessings for Those Who Persevere Under Trial (1:12)

12 This verse plays a vitally important role in the book’s double introduction. As noted in the introduction to this commentary, it forms both the conclusion to 1:2–12 and the introduction to 1:12–27, the author crafting it as an “overlapping transition.” The reference to endurance under trial reaches back to 1:2–4, while the “blessed” person theme reaches forward to 1:25, where the author begins to draw the introduction to a close. He also uses v. 12 to lead into the discussion of temptation’s true nature in vv. 13–16.

The word translated “Blessed” (makarios, GK 3421) calls to mind Jesus’ teachings, especially the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3–11; 11:6; 13:16; 16:17; 24:46; Lk 6:20–22; 7:23; 11:27–28; Jn 13:17; 20:29), which hark back to Jewish tradition embodied, for instance, in the Psalms (e.g., Pss 1:1–2:12; 31:1; 39:5; 83:5; 111:1; 143:12). “Blessedness” has to do with well-being in life that flows from the favorable position in which one is rightly related to God (Johnson, 187). Here the blessing is for the person who endures a trial. The absence of the Greek article probably indicates that no specific trial is in view, and the earlier passage, 1:2–4, has noted that trials are “various” (NASB). James, then, is interested in giving his readers encouragement in the face of discouraging and difficult experiences in general.

The basis for this proclamation of blessing and, therefore, the source of encouragement follows: “because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life.” In Jewish literature, the concept of being “tested” is almost ubiquitous, being found wherever God relates to his people. The most famous story in Jewish tradition is the testing of Abraham through the offering of Isaac (Ge 22). Jacob, Ruth, David, Daniel, and many other biblical exemplars face tests of various kinds, and the tests reveal the character of the one tested.

Thus for the believer, it is when one has been “approved” (NASB) that the crown of life is gained. In the OT “crowning,” in a general sense, can symbolize the blessings of God, as in Proverbs 10:6 or Isaiah 35:10 (Ryken, 185). Yet crowns in the ancient Mediterranean world were of various kinds and, therefore, could symbolize various dynamics. The winner of a battle or athletic competition was, at times, honored with a bay or olive wreath; royalty wore crowns representing their authority; and a flower garland, worn during a time of celebration such as a wedding or festival, represented joy (Laws, 68). It may be that the first of these images is in mind here. In the NT the athletic imagery is, at points, overt (1 Co 9:25; 2 Ti 2:5), and in line with such imagery, “the crown” is given, as here in James, to those who faithfully endure various difficulties associated with living for God (2 Ti 4:8; 1 Pe 5:4; Rev 3:11). That it is the crown “of life” (Rev 2:10) can be understood epexegetically as meaning “the crown that is life.” In other words, those who endure are honored with the full realization of eternal life in the presence of God. Accordingly, this crown is reserved for those who, through their faithful perseverance under trial, through an embracing of God’s way of wisdom in the world, have demonstrated that they love God.[2]

12 Following Hort, in order to avoid the admittedly slight element of ambiguity, we prefer the translation happy (beatus) to “blessed” (benedictus) in this context. A. Meyer (pp. 270ff.) and B. S. Easton (p. 26) find supposed tribal references to Jacob and Issachar. The idea is familiar in Judaism: “Happy is the man who can withstand the test, for there is none whom God does not prove.” The thought is quite typical of James. Happy is the man who here and now, from day to day, withstands peirasmos: he is progressing toward salvation (as in 1:3), and if (as 1:4 requires) he endures to the end, then at last, winning final approval, he will receive the final reward, the crown of life.

Peirasmos here must still be taken in its most comprehensive sense. Ropes (p. 150) is right when he says that has been approved is another way of saying endures, not a further condition of receiving the crown. “The word will, in almost every case, imply that the proof is victoriously demonstrated, the proved is also approved, just as in English we speak of ‘tried men’.” The word therefore contains not only the notion of trial, but also trial and approval (2 Cor. 10:18; 13:7; 2 Tim. 2:15). This notion of genuineness is well brought out if we contrast the antonym, which means “rejected” or “reprobate” (as of silver in Jer. 6:30).

The crown, head-wreath, chaplet, circlet was the victor’s prize in the Greek games; it might be given to a man the public wished to honor; it was worn in religious and secular feasts. There is no need to catalog its secular and religious uses (see Ropes, pp. 150ff.). But whereas Paul finds occasion (1 Cor. 9:24, 25) to remind us that in the races only one competitor received the prize, in Christianity, as in scholastic examinations, there is no reason why all candidates should not pass the test. The Christian is not competing against his fellows as do the athletes; yet the image was felt to be, and was, relevant. The clue to our understanding its appropriateness is in Heb. 12:1. There we have the crowd of spectator-witnesses, the past heroes of the faith, the stripping off of encumbrances, as it were of clothes (see Jas. 1:21), for the race: it is the race of endurance; and the model of endurance, and the founder and perfecter of the faith which by endurance we must maintain, is Jesus. Whereas the athletes have human competitors, the Christian’s adversaries are the powers of darkness, trying to drive him out of the course and prevent his ever finishing it. The metaphor of the fight (and some fights did come into the Games) would have been a closer parallel; so R. Simeon b. Lakish said: “It can be compared to two prize-fighters, one of whom was stronger than the other. The stronger prevailed over the weaker and then placed a garland over his own head.”75 Yet, notwithstanding his opening verses, James, unlike Paul, does not elaborate the metaphor of athletic competitions. The crown is the reward of the Christian’s effort, which against the powers of evil is no less agonistic than the athlete’s against his fellow competitors: the crown as his reward is eternal life.

Some later manuscripts—apparently contrary to Jewish custom—specifically mention “the Lord” or “God” as giver of the promise to “those who love him.” This promise does not appear in so many words in the OT, and it means that here and in 1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Pet. 5:4; 2 Tim. 4:8, and especially Rev. 2:10, we have an otherwise unrecorded saying of Jesus; confirmation is also found in its “strong liturgical flavor” (von Soden). Dibelius shows (p. 87) that the words “those who love him,” common enough in the LXX and later Jewish and Christian tradition, are traced back by the rabbis to Judg. 5:31. Man’s duty of love to God is as old as any in Hebrew religion, and from Ezekiel onward the prophets take up the theme with renewed emphasis, in which they are followed by Jesus and, after his example, by James and Paul.[3]

Recapitulation (1:12)

The recapitulation of the themes of 1:2–11 involves three elements: a blessing (1:12a), the condition of the blessing (1:12b), and the reason for the blessing (1:12c). We begin with a brief sketch of the background to the term “blessed.”

Excursus: Macarisms in Context

This beatitude, or macarism, is similar in form and substance to the Beatitudes of Jesus. The Lukan Beatitudes (Luke 6:20–26) are a clue to the comparative nature of beatitudes: when one group is praised for its behaviors, another group is denounced for failing to exhibit such behaviors. The same is found in Jewish parallels:198

“Cursed be anyone who makes an idol or casts an image, anything abhorrent to the Lord, the work of an artisan, and sets it up in secret.” All the people shall respond, saying, “Amen!” … (Deut 27:15).

Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock (28:4).

These curses and blessings, which are simply lifted from a long list of both, are rooted in a covenant formula with a clear sense of conditionality. Disobedience incurs curse and obedience incurs blessings. So it begins with this:

Then Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Keep silence and hear, O Israel! This very day you have become the people of the Lord your God. Therefore obey the Lord your God, observing his commandments and his statutes that I am commanding you today (Deut 27:9–10).

The same theme can be seen in Ecclesiastes 10:16–17:

Alas for you, O land, when your king is a servant,

and your princes feast in the morning!

Happy are you, O land, when your king is a nobleman,

and your princes feast at the proper time—

for strength, and not for drunkenness!

And in Tobit 13:12, 14:

Cursed are all who speak a harsh word against you;

cursed are all who conquer you

and pull down your walls,

all who overthrow your towers

and set your homes on fire.

But blessed forever will be all who revere you.…

Happy are those who love you,

and happy are those who rejoice in your prosperity.

Happy also are all people who grieve with you

because of your afflictions;

for they will rejoice with you

and witness all your glory forever.

R. Akiva, when imprisoned, was joined by Pappus b. Judah, who said,

Happy are you, R. Akiva, that you have been seized for busying yourself with the Torah! Alas for Pappus who has been seized for busying himself with idle things! (b. Berakoth 61b)

Frequently interwoven in macarisms is a reversal theme: those who are promised great things presently do not have those great things. The Jesus tradition, for instance, promises the kingdom to the poor and persecuted and threatens destruction on the rich (Matt 5:3, 11; Luke 6:24–26). This comparison and reversal establish a significant link with James 1:9–10, where the poor are promised exaltation and the rich are promised humiliation, providing yet more evidence that we are dealing with a cohesive unit from 1:2 to 1:15. C. H. Dodd observed that the language of James reflects “a well marked attitude or frame of mind, characterized by an acute sense of the miseries of an oppressed class, and by the expectation of a peripeteia [‘reversal’].” This macarism of James also breathes the spirit of the Magnificat and longs for the establishment of justice (cf. 1:20) and peace (3:18).

With this historical sketch in mind and before we return to James 1:12, a word about the form of a macarism. It is a brief set of two parts: a blessing is pronounced on a person or group, and then the reason, or blessing, is provided. As illustrated above, this form of a blessing is found throughout Judaism.202 In the form we find in James, the Hebrew term behind Greek makarios would be ashre and not the much more liturgically-shaped form we see in the baruk-tradition. The distinction between the general blessing and the liturgical blessing is notable: James’s macarism is less about a divine liturgical blessing. Instead, James is concerned either with moral wisdom that brings deep joy, justice, and peace or with eschatological confidence in spite of current conditions.

1:12 What does “blessed” in James 1:12a mean? The term, as rich in suggestion as it is varied in application, describes the special favor of God on his people both physically and spiritually and the resultant state or sphere in which they dwell. Several elements combine to give makarios its meaning. First, the source of this joy is God or, as a fuller Christian theology would say, the triune God. Second, there is an eschatological orientation to the macarism: it is not so much that life on earth is abandoned, for James clearly does not permit such exclusiveness or withdrawal, but that fullness and final justice await the follower of Jesus in the kingdom of God, whether this is an earthly inauguration of that kingdom or the future ultimate manifestation in the new heavens and new earth. Third, the notion of reversal shapes the entire context and substance of the macarism. Fourth, the experience of this macarism is conditional: the messianic community is exhorted to love God and others and to live faithfully under trial, to use one’s words with wisdom, to care for the poor and widows, etc. Those who do such things will find the joy James promises. James 1:12 brings this to the surface in “who endures,” “one has stood the test,” and “to those who love him.” Fifth, the eschatological shape of the macarism has already been inaugurated: James does not have in mind simply a hope in heaven but a reality into which the messianic Jewish (and poor) community can now enter. Notice that James speaks of one who “has stood the test.” This also draws us back to 1:2–4, where James focused on the moral formation that can occur if one responds to tests properly. Sixth, the nature of this blessing in James 1:12, in contrast to the classical formulations of Deuteronomy 28 or the wisdom literature, is that one may see God’s blessing not in material abundance but in an inner confidence that God will bring to fruition his promises and kingdom and in a morally-formed character and community.

The condition, so typical in macarisms, is spelled out: the blessing is for “anyone who endures temptation.” Generically, “endures” (hypomenei) means to sustain one’s strength or courage or moderation or self-mastery through difficulty, and the term takes on heroic, philosophic, and Stoic dimensions. In Judaism, the source for strength to endure is God (Pss 39:7 [LXX 38:8]; 71:5 [70:5]) and waiting on his promises in faith. Thus, because God made himself known in covenant and Torah, the heroic dimension of endurance comes to fruition as fidelity to the Torah (Ezra 9–10) even to the point of martyrdom (so 1 and 2 Maccabees). So Daniel 12:12: “Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three hundred thirty-five days.” Jesus builds on this deep Jewish tradition by summoning his followers to run the gauntlet with him and warns those who fail to run it of dire consequences (Mark 8:34–9:1; 13:13; Matt 10:22; Heb 12:2–3). Early Christian theology reflects the same need for fidelity (Rom 2:7; 12:12; 1 Thess 1:3; 2 Tim 2:10, 12; Heb 10:32; 12:7; 1 Pet 2:20). There is no disputing the necessity of endurance in early Christian praxis (Mark 13:13; Rom 2:7; 2 Cor 12:12; Col 1:11), and James fits snugly into this stream of conditional thinking.

Once again, James uses the term peirasmos in his description of the condition (cf. 1:2). It can mean either “test” or “temptation,” and James moves from one to the other in 1:12–18. By 1:13 he clearly means “tempt.” Does he in 1:12 as well? Is the blessing for the one who successfully endures through temptations or through the tests of life? Once again, there are few options and they are mostly shaped by whether one reads 1:2–18 as a unity (so that 1:2 and 1:12 have the same concern) or as a series of topics, in which case 1:12b could refer to “temptation.” Put differently, is peirasmos in 1:12b a play on peirasmos in 1:2, or is it the same word with the same meaning? Many favor the view that the meaning shifts, that peirasmos refers to “temptations” here, and that it sets up 1:13–18. Others see it as a general reference to anything that threatens one’s fidelity to Christ as a “test.”212 Both options are reasonable explanations in this context, but it is hard to think that either James or his readers would be dabbling in general moral considerations when their survival was at stake. We should perhaps recognize the emotional heat of 1:9–11: there is more than a hint of vindictiveness, triumphalism, and perhaps even sarcasm that will carry over into what the author has to say in 1:12. Contextual flow, then, suggests that James has “test” (particularly the financial tests that press the issue of fidelity to the Messiah) in mind here as in 1:2. Because these tests are so severe (again, 2:5–7; 5:1–6), the promise of eternal reward, the ultimate trump card in economics, is all the more appealing.

The reason for James’s blessing is spelled out in 1:12c: “has stood the test and will receive the crown of life.” The telos of the “test” shifts in this section: in 1:2–4 it was moral formation, but in 1:12–14 it is eschatological reward. And a similar shift is seen in “has stood the test”: in this term we find a reference back to a cognate in 1:3 (dokimion), where the emphasis was process, while in 1:12 dokimos is used of the person who has already successfully endured that process. Other New Testament uses of this term reveal a notable gravity, putting the emphasis on divine and final approval. A good parallel can be found in 1 Peter 1:6–7:

even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

The connection between fidelity and reward, or the focus on the conditionality of blessing, is therefore typical of early Christian thinking. Those who meet the conditions, if one begins to compare the literature, “will receive” a variety of rewards or, perhaps better, such rewards are described with a variety of images. The word common in the Gospel tradition, misthos, is not found here, but its theology is assumed. Those who are persecuted will receive a great reward (Matt 5:12); deeds done to be noticed will not be rewarded (6:1); rewards are granted for service to servants of Christ (10:41); Jesus radicalizes rewards by turning them into gifts in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (20:1–16); that reward is already inaugurated (John 4:36). Paul sees rewards based on carrying out one’s gifts (1 Cor 3:8, 14). 2 John 8, like James, speaks of reward for fidelity, as do Rev 11:18 and 22:12.

James 1:12 is more like Jesus and 2 John and Revelation than like Paul. Here the issue is one of the stress that puts fidelity to the test and the consequent reward for endurance. Those who endure the “test” will receive “the crown of life.” In context, the “crown of life” needs to be associated with “raised up” in 1:9 and “the kingdom” in 2:5. A “crown,” known so well through the poetry of Pindar and others, could be a victory wreath or a royal crown or even the garland worn on occasions of joy. Since the crown is given to the one who endures the tests, it is most likely that James has in mind the crown given to winners in competitions (cf. Heb 12:1–3). That crown is “life” itself,222 the promise that those who endure the tests will inherit the kingdom of God and obtain eternal life (James 2:5).

Such a reward is what “the Lord has promised.” Early Christians regularly conceptualized the work of God through Jesus Christ and the Spirit as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise,224 but the focus of the promise in James is “eternal life.” By bringing up promise, James touches here on the center of biblical theology.226 Three terms are interrelated, though with different degrees of emphasis, in the Old Testament—Torah, Covenant, and Promise—and none can be considered separately without doing violence to the others. These terms function as hermeneutical grids through which a person reads the Bible and understands history. Even more: these are the terms through which a person or a community received identity, and identity had more than one crystallization among Jews and early Christians. James evidently read the Bible through the lens of Torah, but he does so as one who sees Torah as fulfilled in Jesus’ teaching of the centrality of neighbor-love from Leviticus 19:18 (see below on 2:8–11). Thus, it is a Torah-through-Jesus-shaped identity that James discovers and passes on to the messianic community.

James’s sense of endurance and fidelity is clarified at the end of 1:12: “that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” In 1:2–18 James has used two primary terms for how the messianic community is to live: “faith” and “endurance” (1:3). Now he shifts to “love” (the verb agapaō), making it clear that faith and endurance are dimensions of love. As will be clear in the commentary at 2:8–11, James practiced the Shema as taught by Jesus: every morning and every evening, and perhaps on every entrance into or exit from the home, Jews recited the Shema. Though we are not sure of the specifics of first-century Jewish liturgical customs, it is likely that Jews recited the Ten Commandments and other scriptural texts along with the Shema. Jesus amended the Jewish practice of reciting Shema by adding Leviticus 19:18 (neighbor-love) to the recital (cf. Mark 12:28–32 pars.). In reciting the Shema, one was afforded the opportunity to reflect on one’s relationship with God as one of love, and it is likely that this enabled James to see love as the global response to God. In the Ten Commandments is a promise that God’s “steadfast love” (hesed) will be shown to those who “love me (leʾohavay) and keep my commandments” (Exod 20:6; cf. Deut 5:10). Instead of “steadfast love,” James promises “the crown of life” to those who have “stood the test.”

Evidently, however, some in James’ audience saw this testing by God as an act whereby God was actually tempting humans to sin. James responds to this pastoral problem by appealing to the total goodness of God in what can only be called an extended discussion of God and temptations.[4]

Conclusion (1:12)

James’s opening statement was a surprise: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials” (1:2). But now James returns to the theme of trials: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (1:12). This confirms that James’s first theme is the trials of life. We face short-term temptations and long-term tests. Some, such as illness, are obvious. Others, such as prosperity, are not. Yet God uses trials to reveal our spiritual flaws and to test our love for him. So then, in time of trial, let us seek not simply to escape, but to find godly maturity.

  • When we plead for wisdom in a trial, let us love God enough to trust him to provide.
  • When a trial deprives us of worldly goods, may we love Jesus all the more. May our affection never fade even if his external gifts disappear.
  • When our possessions multiply, let us still love the Lord more than our goods.

We may look to Christ in two ways as we pursue this goal. First, Jesus faced trial after trial in this life. Satan tried him directly in the wilderness temptations (Matt. 4:1–11). Jesus had “no place to lay his head” (8:20), so he also faced the trial of poverty. Later, he faced hatred, verbal abuse, and physical abuse of every kind. Above all, he endured the trial of crucifixion before God the Father raised him to life and to glory. Thus he became the prime example of “the man who perseveres under trial” and then receives “the crown of life” (James 1:12). Second, if we fail to persevere in trials and do not deserve to receive the crown of life, the gospel remains. Indeed, when we fail to persevere and we honestly take our failure to the Lord Jesus, confessing our sin, he will “give us birth through the word of truth”—that is, the gospel. By that word, he will redeem us “that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (1:18).

The Jewish Christians who first read James needed to hear this teaching, and so do we. Many are strong in knowledge of the faith, but weak in the life of faith. James brings a corrective. The trials of life test our faith, pushing us to act, not just to think. If we withstand the tests of life, we see that our faith in Christ is genuine. Then, when God has confirmed our faith, he will grant us the crown of life eternal. Then we who love him and grow in maturity toward him will dwell with him forever.[5]

The high high (v. 12)

Having encouraged low believers to think of their high position in Christ and high Christians to think of their low position as mere mortals, James moves to a point that unifies and thrills Christians of all stations in life. He writes of ‘the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him’ (v. 12).

The crown of life! What does it mean? James was obviously drawing on something with which all his readers were familiar, namely, the realm of sports. Here are some runners preparing for a race. They strip off everything that would weigh them down and step up to the starting line. Every muscle is taut and every nerve ready as they await the signal. And they’re off! Each puts every ounce of strength and energy into the race, straining for the finish line. What does the winner receive? He or she is crowned with the victor’s wreath.

Through this imagery James was affirming that Christians are running a race that will end in glory. That is where the finish line is!

But there is a difference. All Christians are winners as they cross that finish line. There the Lord God himself will greet them and will crown their efforts with eternal life.

And in glory there will be no rich Christians and no poor Christians. There will simply be believers in Jesus who are astonished and amazed that the God of glory was gracious enough to forgive them their sins.

The key for us in this life is to keep our eyes trained on the finish line in glory. How very easy it is for us to get our eyes on the wrong things! How very easy it is for us to look with disfavour on fellow-Christians because they are lower than we are, or because they are higher!

If we keep our eyes fixed on eternity, these lesser matters will be seen as lesser matters. In eternal glory, God’s people will experience the ‘high high’. They will be as high as they can possibly go, and nothing will ever be able to bring them down.

So let us keep eternity in mind even to the point that we daily repeat the prayer of Joseph Bayly: ‘Lord, burn eternity into my eyeballs!’[6]

1:12 / James begins with a beatitude: Blessed is the man. Like Jesus in Matthew 5:3–12, he pronounces a surprising group blessed, those who persevere under trial. It is not just the person who is tested who is considered happy or blessed but the person who endures or remains faithful. In 1:2–4 James has said that testing produces endurance; now he states that enduring creates true blessedness. Yet James is neither a masochist nor a stoic, neither claims that trials are fun nor that one should enjoy pain. Rather, he points out that the trials serve a purpose, the experiential proof of the reality of faith, and that that should give one the perspective for deep joy. From reactions to testing one knows one is truly committed and that when [one] has stood the test a reward will come. A person passing a test is like silver being assayed and receiving the hallmark of purity: God marks the person “approved”; his or her faith is sound.

Such a person will receive a reward, that is (in the Greek idiom), “a crown of life.” This pictures the last judgment as if it were a judges’ stand at the end of a race (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8). The victorious runner approaches and a laurel wreath is set on his or her head. But this wreath is life itself (cf. Rev. 2:10), and not just one winner but all who finish the race (endure) receive the reward, for God has promised it to all those who love him. Salvation has only one price, an enduring love of God. With this prospect in mind, Christians can consider themselves truly blessed or fortunate despite outward circumstances, for they already taste the reward.[7]

Sustaining the Test


James returns to the theme he introduced at the beginning of his epistle: perseverance under trial (vv. 2–4). He calls the persevering believer blessed and tells him that because of his love for God, the believer “will receive the crown of life.”

The author displays a fondness for using key words. With these words he advances the flow of his epistle. In verse 12 he explains the meaning of the expressions trial and test; this leads him to an explanation of the verb to tempt. Verse 12, then, is introductory to the next section.

12. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

Note these points:

  • Man

The term blessed relates to the Beatitudes of Jesus. Matthew records a series of nine such statements (5:3–11) in the Sermon on the Mount. The complete expression—“blessed is the man”—appears frequently in Psalms, Proverbs, and the Prophets.

The Jews were fond of using the word blessed (makarios). Both in the New Testament and in extrabiblical literature the word is common. For example, in the New Testament it occurs fifty times.

Who is the man the Bible calls “blessed”? He is the person who finds complete happiness in God. He may be poor, meek, hungry, or persecuted—but he is happy. This appears to be a contradiction. From a worldly perspective only the rich and those who are secure can be happy. But Scripture says that “the man who perseveres [endures] under trial” is blessed.

  • Test

God tests man’s faith to learn whether it is genuine and true. For instance, we test the purity of a bowl made of lead crystal by lightly tapping the outer edge. Immediately we know its genuineness when we hear a reverberating, almost musical sound. We also know that the lead crystal bowl went through the fire when it was made.

Similarly, God tests the faith of man as, for example, in the case of Job. Faith that is not tried and true is worthless. God wants the believer to come to him in a time of trial so that he may give him the strength to endure. God is not interested in seeing the believer falter and fail; he wants him to endure, overcome, and triumph.

See how Peter encourages his readers to persevere: “But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (1 Peter 2:20).

  • Promise

Why is the believer who perseveres during a time of testing happy? Because “he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

After his period of testing has ended, the believer will receive the crown of life. No one competing in games receives a crown until the race is over, and then only one person gets the crown (1 Cor. 9:24–25). The phrase the crown of life, it seems, was a well-known idiom in the first century. It occurs in the letter addressed to the church in Smyrna: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Writes R. C. Trench, the crown of life “is the emblem, not of royalty, but of highest joy and gladness, of glory and immortality.” The phrase, then, suggests fullness of life that God grants to those who endure the test of faith. God has promised this gift “to those who love him.”

Man cannot earn the crown of life, for God gives it to him full and free. God asks that man place his complete confidence in him and love him wholeheartedly. To love God with heart, soul, and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself constitutes the summary of the Ten Commandments. Interestingly enough, James returns to that royal law, as he calls it, in the next chapter (2:8). However, James teaches that God chose man who then began to love him (2:5). John says the same thing when he writes, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God comes first, then man.[8]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 41–43). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 219–220). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (pp. 67–68). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] McKnight, S. (2011). The Letter of James (pp. 106–114). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[5] Doriani, D. M. (2007). James. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 28–29). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[6] Ellsworth, R. (2009). Opening up James (pp. 37–38). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[7] Davids, P. H. (2011). James (pp. 34–35). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[8] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 46–47). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

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