“James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.” James 1:1
James continues his letter with a greeting to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. The word used for greetings carries an additional meaning. It doesn’t just mean “hello”, but rather “hello and be filled with all joy.” Joy because of our salvation, joy because through Jesus and our faith in Him we have become children of God. And joy because no matter what happens to us in this world we will spend eternity with Jesus. And not only has Jesus promised us this, but He also guaranteed it to us with His resurrection.
And the proof of His guarantee to us is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit takes up residence with every believer who places their faith in Christ alone for salvation. And He is our assurance and our proof that we will see Jesus face to face and spend eternity with Him. And until we go home to be with the Lord the Holy Spirit will remain with us, to guide us and carry on His work of sanctification in our lives.
The phrase, “twelve tribes scattered abroad”, was a reference to the entire nation of believing Israel. These were Jews living in all corners of the world. Those who were scattered by the expulsion of the Assyrians and Babylonians as well as those who were recently scattered by the martyrdom of Stephen. And even more recently by the persecution started by Herod Agrippa I. The martyrdom of Stephen happened around 31-34 A.D. and we can read about in the book of Acts, chapter seven. So James is speaking to those Jewish Christians who have been scattered because of the persecution.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4
By persevering through trials, God can use these moments not only for our spiritual growth, but also to bring others to faith in Christ. Because when the world sees us going through a trial with perseverance, honoring God, loving others and not lashing out. Then they want to know how and why we were able to stay strong through tribulation. They know from watching us that it is not something from within ourselves. They know what is inside of us did not come from the world. So they will wonder what is keeping us steadfast through the storm. And because of our witness, they will inquire as to the source of our strength. A strength which only comes from a relationship with Christ Jesus our Lord.
We should remember at this point before moving to the next set of verses. God does not cause bad things to happen. Bad things happen because of the fallen nature of this dark world we live in. The fall brought with it death, disease, decay and sin. Bad things happen because of the nature of this fallen world and because of sin, both our sin and the sin of others, as well as by the spiritual warfare that goes on around us. As Paul points out in Ephesians chapter six.
In addition, these first four verses of James show us a wonderful example of what Paul spoke about in his letter to the Christians living in Rome. That is, through the trials God will perfect us. In other words, God will use the trial at hand to bring about spiritual maturity in us. And because God works all things out for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purposes. Romans 8:28 He will use the trial to help us grow in Christ. He will make us more useful for His kingdom work, through the spiritual growth work inside of us as a result of the trial. God can do this because we are His children, His bond-servants who have given our lives over to our Lord and King Christ Jesus.