As we dive into the Book of James with the Awaken Faith study guide, I am also going to teach you methods for studying epistles in general. As believers, we love these New Testament letters. So, let's learn how to study them well. This will help us with our study of the book of James, but it will also help you as you study the Bible going forward.
Why do we study the Bible?
Let's begin with an important question: Why do we study the Bible? Why are we putting in all of this hard work and digging deep into Scripture? What do we hope the result will be?
One answer is this: We study to better know God.
We read about Him and examine His Word to better understand His character and to learn to see the world through His eyes. We ultimately desire a closer relationship with God and to live a life that honors Him.
As a part of our study of the Book of James, we are going to start compiling a list entitled, "What does James teach us about the character of God?” If you are following this blog post series with the study guide Awaken Faith - which I hope you are - you can find this list in the back of the book.
Making lists is a great way to keep track of what you are learning when you study any book of the Bible, especially epistles. I recommend taking this study tip to any New Testament letter that you explore in the future.
Every time you come across a character trait of God during the course of this Bible study, record it on this list. When James tells us in James 1:5 that God is generous and will give us wisdom when we ask for it in faith, record it on the list.
It may look something like this:
Studying Each Passage
We are learning to study epistles step by step and have chosen the Book of James as our example. It's time to study the first passage of this New Testament letter.
Begin by reading the full passage, so you can see the big picture of what James is about to teach us. We want to understand his flow of thought.
Then, we will study this passage phrase by phrase. This is the way you should approach studying any passage of any book of the Bible, especially epistles. James has a lot of important things to say. If we don't pay attention to his reasoning in detail, we may misunderstand him or God's message to us in this book of the Bible.
So, after reading James 1:2-12, start back with James 1:2 and pay attention to each phrase. The Awaken Faith study guide will take you through this passage verse by verse with questions and pointers. I highly recommend following the series with the study guide to get the most out of the Book of James.
Trials and Temptations
James starts this letter with a very tough challenge. He tells us to consider our trials and temptations an occasion for joy - pure joy!
Why would we ever look at trials in that way? James says that it is these trials that test our faith and produce perseverance. It is that perseverance that will lead to mature faith.
James challenges our whole outlook on life. He challenges us to not only look at our earthly circumstances and mourn them but rather to look to God and rejoice over this opportunity for spiritual growth.
James does not call our trials and temptations minimal. He is not telling us to "quit whining and get over it". Rather, he is pointing us to God and helping us to change our perspective.
Is it all semantics? It is similar to calling our weaknesses "opportunities for growth", for example? It is basically the same but called by a different name? No.
In the midst of our trials, we can recognize our seriously difficult situation as an opportunity. It is not semantics. Is it a change of perspective.
Have you ever been or are you currently in a situation that requires a lot of faith to persevere? Have you been able to view the situation as a chance to grow your faith? I'd love for you to share this experience, and how God has met you through your trials and strengthened to your faith. Please, consider sharing in the comment section and encouraging many with your faith story.
Wisdom from Above
In the middle of our trials, we are often lacking one thing: It is wisdom.
We wonder what in the world we are supposed to do now. I know I find myself in this spot a lot of times. it is easy to see the trial, but it is tricky to see a solution. So what should we do?
Of course, James tells us to seek wisdom from God. In fact, he promises that God will give wisdom to those who ask in faith. He challenges us to ask for wisdom without any doubt or wavering. That's the true challenge, isn't it?
It feels a lot more natural to most of us women to approach a friend for advice. With our cell phones never more than a reach away, it is easy to send a quick text message with a prayer request or to make an actual phone call to a friend. Hey, we just want to talk through the issue and get some perspective! We know our friend may have some good advice.
I am not knocking the idea of these types of relationships. I hope you have them. I hope you have that friend that is never more than a quick phone call away. I hope that she gives you Godly wisdom and listens patiently.
However, even the best friends in the world cannot impart wisdom as God can. Nobody can speak into your situation with more knowledge, understanding, and love than God! He is the one you should approach first and foremost.
So don't reach for that phone yet. Instead, get away to a quiet place and sit before the Lord. Ask for wisdom. Decide to trust that He will give you this wisdom in His timing. He will! You can trust Him - without a doubt!
James will talk about the rich and the poor several times in this letter. We get the clear picture that the audience of the Book of James was struggling with favoritism towards the rich. They treated the rich and the poor differently.
So early on, James brings up this issue while still addressing trials and our heavenly perspective on them. Whether we are rich or poor, our hope and ultimate treasure is in the Lord. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, our hearts should desire a close relationship with God far beyond riches or earthly possessions.
This can be a repeated struggle for many of us. What do we desire most? Is it to live your life in close relationship with God?
God does not tempt
Lastly, as James talks about trials and difficult circumstances, he clears up one common misunderstanding: God does not tempt us. Yes, we feel tempted to sin all the time, but it is never God who tempts us.
God is sovereign over your trials, that is true. However, He is not throwing them at you in order to tempt you. In fact, tempting others is a serious crime and therefore not something God would ever do to us. He is not sadistic. He is a good and loving God!
So when you are tempted to sin, James says, realize that it is your own evil desires that are tempting you. Those desires can lead to sin, and sin to death. So watch out! Recognize your evil desires and decide to follow God instead.
God is the Giver of good and perfect gifts from above. He will never change and neither will His love for us. He desires for us to walk closely with Him.
So today, challenge yourself to change your perspective on your difficult circumstances. See them as an opportunity to rejoice because they have the potential to lead you to a closer relationship with God. It's not that you are happy that things are rough. Rather, you detect an opportunity to trust God even now.
... And you can. You can trust God, the Giver of good and perfect things! Walk closely with Him, my friend.
What a powerful first passage in the book of James! Come back for more as James challenges us to let out faith impact our actions.