"Blessed is the man." James echoes the language of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, where He pronounces nine blessings on those who seek God and a life of godliness (Matt. 5:3-11). As used by Jesus and His younger brother, the term "blessed" is not equivalent to our word "happy," which has become almost meaningless through overuse. We say we are happy whenever some little thing makes us feel good. But to be blessed is a far greater benefit. It is to receive favor from God, and His favor is not confined to a single kindness. Rather, His favor introduces us to a life where every experience, large or small, is guided by a loving hand, and where every moment fits into a larger plan to enrich us with good things. So, whereas happiness is to feel good in the present moment, blessedness is to experience nothing but good forever.
The classic picture of the blessed man is, of course, in Psalm 1. He is blessed because, in forming his own opinions, values, and goals, he has turned away from the world’s influence and taken guidance from the Word of God (Ps. 1:1-2). God’s thoughts are so important to him that he meditates upon them day and night. They are his foundation for life.
Turning back to the Epistle of James, we find that a special blessing comes to "the man that endureth temptation." Here again the temptation James intends is not the kind that offers opportunity to sin, but the kind that subjects a man to hardship and loss. To endure means not just to get through the trial. A man can survive yet fail to endure. "Endure" means to stand firm in faith and testimony. The prime example was Job. His trial was perhaps the most severe any man has suffered. He lost his possessions and family and finally his good health. The devil took everything but his wife, and he left his wife so she could tempt Job. Her faith collapsed under the weight of her anger against God. She urged Job to curse God and die (Job 2:9).
We should not deny her our pity, however. We remember Job’s sufferings, but we may not remember that his wife suffered nearly as much. Yet although her faith faltered, it was later restored. How do we know that? Because God blessed her by making her the mother of another family.
Earlier, when she turned against God, Job did not follow her example. In fact, he declared, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15). The steadfastness of his faith brought him the blessing that James says will come to any man who endures temptation. At the end of Job’s sufferings, God repaid him double for everything taken away (Job 42:12-13).
As we go through a trial, the promise of blessing helps us endure, for whatever we lose, we know that God will, in His own good time, whether in this world or the next, give us compensation. Not only will we receive blessings, but blessings with greater value than anything we lost.
The crown of life
Some distort the Epistle of James by claiming that he teaches works salvation. One text they offer to prove their interpretation is this: "For when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life." The idea they find here is that a man must earn eternal life by enduring temptation. But we can say emphatically that James is teaching no such thing. The word "tried" suggests the testing of a precious metal to see whether it is genuine. Thus, the purpose of trials is not to make someone a Christian, but to show that someone is a real Christian already. Before the visible world of men and the unseen world of angels and demons, they put his faith on display and bring glory to God, for a steadfast faith in the heart of a mortal, sinful man must be a divine work.
The reward for enduring is a crown of life. "Crown" here is the usual word stephanos, which can refer to a victor’s crown or a king’s crown. James evidently views it as a token of victory. He could be referring to an actual crown, but more likely the meaning is figurative. That is, is merely saying that after we have completed our passage through this vale of tears, God will bestow upon us eternal life, a reward priceless and beautiful like a crown. Eternal life is what God has promised to those who love Him.
Love as our motive
The crown of life is promised to them that love God. James brings in the concept of love at the right moment to show the importance of love in God’s program. Love is the reason we are willing to endure trials. Except for our love of God, we would never accept the suffering that He permits in our lives. Instead, we would be consumed by resentment and hate. What enables a child to accept a spanking from his parents? Love for the parents. What enables a parent to put up with his child’s foolishness? Love for the child. Likewise, love of God is what motivates us to obey God and to keep a sweet confidence in His goodness despite all the troubles of life. Indeed, these troubles make us love God even more, for each time we choose to praise Him instead of complain, our love grows stronger.
So now I will state a principle that is one of the most important I will ever teach you. If you can grasp it, it will help you make sense of the hardest moments in your life. It will give you a foundation for faith to build on, and it will protect you from corrosive doubt and despair. It is this. The whole scheme of life in this world is designed to produce creatures who will give God a measure of love that He finds satisfying. The basic reason He puts us through suffering is therefore to build our love for Him.
God created us because He wanted to receive love in return for His love. His love was so great that God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, died a horrible death to save us from sin. Our love for God is naturally weak by comparison and needs strengthening. Even the hardest trial is a strengthening tool if we choose by faith to believe that God has intended it for our good.