In the opening section of his letter (1:1-18), James addresses the theme of trials and Christian maturity.1 When considering James 1:12, I thought it helpful to explain it using three categories: lifelong endurance, God’s generosity, and our blessing.
This passage is calling you to lifelong endurance in the midst of trial. The NASB translates the second part of the verse as, “for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life…” Withstanding the test or being approved is the goal for the believer in this life. One pastor has famously described the Christian life as “a long obedience in the same direction.” And as believers we know that this lifelong endurance involves a pattern of daily obedience as well as daily repentance for all the ways in which we fail to live up to God’s perfect standards. And while God’s holiness in and of itself is a strong incentive for daily obedience; in his generosity, God has promised us rewards.
Christian, you serve a generous God. Your God is not stingy; he’s a lavish giftgiver. James 1:17 says, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” God, in his fatherly care, knows that we, as his children, desperately need various motivations to assist us in our obedience. At the end of your lifelong endurance, God has promised a crown. Notice the status and the duration of the reward. Crowns are given and worn by royalty. And this is not just any crown, but a crown of life. Christian, your royal crown will endure for all of eternity.
The final takeaway in this verse concerns our blessing. The person who remains steadfast under trial is blessed for two reasons. First, you are blessed because you receive the crown of life as seen above. But, in addition to the crown, you are blessed because your endurance shows that you love God. Those “who remain steadfast” are one and the same with “those who love him.” In the end the Christian is blessed because their actions show that they love God. Do you love God? One clear way to show it is through daily obedience. Will you demonstrate your love for God today?
The ultimate example of this blessed man is none other than Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we see most fully the embodiment of lifelong endurance, God’s generosity, and our blessing. Jesus remained steadfast in the midst of severe trial. His trial included physical suffering, derision, abandonment, humiliation, and death, yet he never wavered in his obedience. As 1 Peter says,
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:21-23 (ESV)
As a reward for his endurance, Jesus has been highly exalted (see Phil 2:9-11). God demonstrated his generosity towards Jesus in his vindicating resurrection and ascension. Additionally, Jesus is the example of the ultimate blessed man. He is God’s beloved, the one in whom he is well pleased. Jesus says in John 8:29, “[The Father] has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” In his lifelong obedience, Jesus demonstrated his love for the Father. Because of what Christ has done, we have the opportunity to be blessed, to be lovers of God, and to be recipients of his promises.
There are two practical applications that I commend to you from this passage: joyful response and Scripture memorization.
First, when we consider the nature of the reward and our blessing, we are enabled to respond to trials with joy. As James writes in the beginning of the chapter,
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (ESV)
Trials and the testing of our faith are an opportunity for God to work in and through us. Matthew Henry writes, “Christianity teaches men to be joyful under troubles: such exercises are sent from God’s love; and trials in the way of duty will brighten our graces now, and our crown at last.” As believers we experience this fruit of the Spirit through communion with God (see Psalm 16:11). When you experience trials this month, would you respond in joy remembering that no trial is outside of God’s gracious and good will for you?
Second, memorize James 1:12. The verse begins with the phrase “Blessed is the man…” which for many of us will naturally remind of us of Psalm 1.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seats of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:1-2 (ESV, emphasis mine)
A natural way in which we can delight and meditate upon God’s law day and night is to memorize the Scriptures. Would you memorize James 1:12 with me this month? Some helpful tips for Scripture memorization include writing the verse down onto a notecard or sticky note and attaching it to a place of frequent visibility (e.g. wall/bathroom mirror/car dashboard) so that you can recite it aloud whenever you see it. Once you have memorized it, recite it daily so that it will stick with you in your mind and in your heart.
Church, I pray that this verse, as well as the rest of the book of James, might be an encouragement to you to remain steadfast under trial in the month of September and beyond.
1DA Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 620.