Before you begin …
• Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal truth and wisdom as you go through this lesson.
• Read James 1:1–12. This lesson references chapters 1 and 2 in Be Mature. It will be helpful for you to have your Bible and a copy of the commentary available as you work through this lesson.
From the Commentary
After well over a quarter century of ministry, I am convinced that spiritual immaturity is the number one problem in our churches. God is looking for mature men and women to carry on His work, and sometimes all He can find are little children who cannot even get along with each other.
—Be Mature, page 24
Q1: What is your immediate reaction to these thoughts on spiritual immaturity? Do you agree or disagree? Why? How would you define Christian maturity?
More to Consider: Churches take a variety of approaches to growing spiritual maturity in believers. Some depend on weekly church services and Sunday school classes to provide the meatiest teaching. Others leave the deeper teachings to small groups. Consider your own experience in the church. Where have you found the greatest personal spiritual growth? What does this tell you about today’s church—its strengths and weaknesses? What is a good measure of how well a church is growing the maturity of its believers?
Q2: Choose one verse or phrase from James 1:1–12 that stands out to you. This could be something you’re intrigued by, something that makes you uncomfortable, something that puzzles you, something that resonates with you, or just something you want to examine further. Write that here. What strikes you about these verses?
Throughout the Bible are people who turned defeat into victory.… Instead of being victims, they became victors.
James tells us that we can have this same experience today.
—Be Mature, page 31
Q3: Circle the imperatives in James 1:1–12. How do these statements support the idea that Christ-followers can turn defeat into victory? Can you think of examples from Scripture of people who turned defeat into victory? What were the primary reasons they were able to turn that defeat around?
More to Consider: Read John 16:33 and Acts 14:21–25. What do these verses tell us about the inevitability of trials and how we’re to respond to them?
Outlook determines outcome, and attitude determines action. God tells us to expect trials. It is not “if you fall into various testings” but “when you fall into various testings.” The believer who expects his Christian life to be easy is in for a shock.…
Because we are God’s “scattered people” and not God’s “sheltered people,” we must experience trials. We cannot always expect everything to go our way. Some trials come simply because we are human—sickness, accidents, disappointments, even seeming tragedies. Other trials come because we are Christians.
—Be Mature, pages 31–32
Q4: What words or phrases in James 1:1–12 support this idea that the Christian life is not easy? Underline these. Why does being God’s “scattered people” mean that we must experience trials? What sort of “scatteredness” do you think was being experienced by the people to whom James was writing? Which kinds of trials are more difficult to respond to—those that arise because we are humans or those that arise because we are Christians? Explain.
From Today’s World
The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had far-reaching impact. Not only were more than 1,800 people killed and thousands displaced, but also many others lost their jobs, their businesses. The devastation didn’t end when the winds died down. Certainly this was (and continues to be for many) a period of great trial.
Q5: James opens this chapter with a bold challenge to be joyful when facing trials (1:2). How do you think non-Christians who suffered from Katrina would respond to James’ challenge? Would this be any different than how Christians might respond? Why do you think this is James’ opening statement? In what ways does this statement set the table for what follows?
Q6: There is a logical progression in James’ argument for being joyful about trials: Be joyful because trials produce perseverance and perseverance is how we get to maturity. In other words: Trials bring you to maturity. What does “living for the things that matter most” look like according to James?
God builds character before He calls to service. He must work in us before He can work through us. God spent twenty-five years working in Abraham before He could give him his promised son. God worked thirteen years in Joseph’s life, putting him into “various testings” before He could put him on the throne of Egypt. He spent eighty years preparing Moses for forty years of service. Our Lord took three years training His disciples, building their character.
But God cannot work in us without our consent. There must be a surrendered will. The mature person does not argue with God’s will; instead, he accepts it willingly and obeys it joyfully.
—Be Mature, page 36
Q7: James suggests in 1:5 that God will give wisdom to those who ask for it (and don’t doubt God’s ability to give that gift). What do you think that wisdom looks like? How is it given? What relationship is there between this gift of wisdom and James’ earlier comments about trials?
More to Consider: Wiersbe writes, “God wants to make us patient because that’s the key to every other blessing.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Explain.
When Peter started his walk of faith, he kept his eyes on Christ. But when he was distracted by the wind and waves, he ceased to walk by faith, and he began to sink. He was double-minded, and he almost drowned.
Many Christians live like corks on the waves: up one minute, down the next; tossed back and forth. This kind of experience is evidence of immaturity.
—Be Mature, page 39
More to Consider: Read Ephesians 4:7–14. What does Paul say in this passage about the role community plays in growing Christian maturity?
Q8: How is learning not to doubt God evidence of maturity? In Matthew 14:22–33, what does Peter’s experience of walking on water tell you about doubt? About the challenges facing Christians who want to grow in maturity?
Q9: Reread James 1:9–11. Why do you think James inserts comments about pride and riches in the middle of his treatise on trials? What role does humility play in learning to deal with trials?
In James 1:12, James used a very important word: love. We would expect him to write, “the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that trust Him” or “that obey Him.” Why did James use love? Because love is the spiritual motivation behind every imperative in this section.
Why do we have a joyful attitude as we face trials? Because we love God, and He loves us, and He will not harm us.
—Be Mature, page 40
Q10: Verse 12 promises a reward to those who persevere under trial. What is this “crown of life” that James is talking about? How might the promise of this reward be an encouragement for those to whom James writes?
Take a moment to reflect on all that you’ve explored thus far in this study of James 1:1–12. Review your notes and answers and think about how each of these things matters in your life today.
Tips for Small Groups: To get the most out of this section, form pairs or trios and have group members take turns answering these questions. Be honest and as open as you can in this discussion, but most of all, be encouraging and supportive of others. Be sensitive to those who are going through particularly difficult times and don’t press for people to speak if they’re uncomfortable doing so.
Q11: How are your circumstances like those of the people to whom James writes? What effect does your desire for maturity have on how you deal with the trials you face? How has your humility (or lack thereof) impacted the way you’ve faced trials?
Q12: What obstacles (physical, emotional, psychological, relational) make it difficult for you to persevere under trials? How does doubt factor into this?
Q13: What are some ways you currently seek to become mature in your faith? What new insights did you gain in exploring James 1:1–12 that can help you mature? What does the application of those insights look like in practical terms?
Think of one or two things that you have learned that you’d like to work on in the coming week. Remember that this is all about quality, not quantity. It’s better to work on one specific area of life and do it well than to work on many and do poorly (or to be so overwhelmed that you simply don’t try).
Q14: Do you need to work on “hanging in there” in a specific difficult circumstance? Write that here. Do you need to work on humility? On finding joy? On trusting God? What does working on this look like in practical terms? Be specific. Go back through James 1:1–12 and put a star next to the phrase or verse that is most encouraging to you. Consider memorizing this verse so it can encourage you when trials arise.
Real-Life Application Ideas: Choose a trial you’re experiencing in life today and talk about it with a trusted friend. Don’t shy away from expressing the pain or frustration you’re feeling. Ask your friend to help you step back from the circumstance and, together, look for ways God might be using this experience to grow you in maturity. Whether or not you find hints of God’s purpose, pray together for wisdom as the circumstance plays out. Then offer to be a listener for any challenging situations your friend may be facing.
Q15: Write a prayer below (or simply pray one in silence), inviting God to work on your mind and heart in those areas you noted above. Be honest about your desires and fears.
Notes for Small Groups:
• Look for ways to put into practice the things you wrote in the “Going Forward” section above. Talk with other group members about your ideas and commit to being accountable to one another.
• During the coming week, ask the Holy Spirit to continue to reveal truth to you from what you’ve read and studied.
• Before you start the next lesson, read James 1:13–18. For more in-depth lesson preparation, read chapter 3, “How to Handle Temptation,” in Be Mature.