Church

What Does it Mean to be “Perfect and Complete”?

Diane Woerner

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)

James, like many other Bible writers, does not speak of self-improvement. That’s a human-level perspective on God’s agenda. Rather, he uses these enormous, impossible words “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” All of us have a sense that we ought to be getting a little more holy over time. But very few of us dare to measure our lives on a daily basis against God’s divine standard of perfection.

However, if we look closely at James 1, we will discover that we’re being asked to do things we actually can do. He understands that as we do these things, God Himself works His perfection into us.

“Count it all joy”

James opens his discussion with the phrase, “Count it all joy.” He’s not saying we should naturally be happy when we find ourselves in times of trials. The joy he speaks of is not a response. The word “count” is a matter of the will, not the emotions. We are to choose to see our trials as good and acceptable because of their power to bring us to God’s perfection. Our emotions may tremble or grieve, but our spirit can find peace in the knowledge that God is working something of great value in these very difficulties.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubt, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (5-8)

Next on our to-do list is asking. Among the challenges of the Christian walk is that there is much we don’t understand, and there are many decisions that are hard to make. God tells us that when we ask Him for the wisdom we lack, He will give it to us “liberally and without reproach.”  But we must be very serious about accepting this wisdom and adjusting our lives accordingly. God isn’t going to give us something to simply ponder, another viewpoint we can weigh against other competing views to see which we prefer

Our Attitude Toward Wealth

Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. (9-11)

Here is one of the things God wants us to be wise about: our attitude toward wealth. Being poor, James tells us, is a position of honor, whereas riches can be a snare that leads us to put our energies into things that will quickly disappear. Notice again that our assignment is to “glory” in our lowliness. Like “counting it all joy,” this glorying is a matter of the will. We must deliberately choose to evaluate poverty and wealth—and every other aspect of life—in the same way God does.

This reinforces the truth that God’s wisdom is often backward from the world’s and is therefore not something that can be successfully merged with it. I should also point out that James is not saying we should pursue either poverty or wealth. Rather, if we are poor it is something to rejoice about. If we are rich, we should have a sober and humble awareness of the unreliability and transience of our wealth.

Endurance

Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (12-15)

Next is endurance. The key to endurance, according to James, is our understanding of temptation. Temptations are different from trials in that trials are about suffering, whereas temptations are about sin. When we give in to something that tempts us, it is like testing positive for a disease. There’s something wrong inside. Our inclination is to blame the tempter (Eve tried that, remember?). But God says we are drawn by our own desires.

We can only endure (that is, make it through a temptation without falling for it) when our desire for God becomes stronger than our desire for the thing that would entice us. In other words, we must become so aware of the beauty and desirability of God that our love for Him changes us on the inside. And that is, again, a matter of choice. We must choose to think about God and to keep our eyes and minds away from those attractions that do not fully honor Him.

“Do not be deceived”

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. (16-18)

Here the instruction is to “not be deceived.” This one is a little tricky because deceptions are, well, deceiving. So James spells out the lie: He says that no one else but God is responsible for the things that are good in our lives. No one else can take credit for truth, for human achievements, or for the blessings we enjoy. The government doesn’t give us our security, colleges don’t give us our wisdom, technology doesn’t give us the solutions to our problems, and (most of all) we ourselves don’t earn or deserve the successes we experience. If something is good, it has come from God and God alone.

God’s Part in Our Perfection

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (19-21)

Although this seems like just another series of to-do’s, James is actually beginning to describe the picture of God’s part in our perfection. Because the testing of our faith has taught us patience, because our understanding has been made clear by God’s wisdom, because we now are able to evaluate our lives from His perspective, because we have learned to endure temptations and to reject lies, “So then….” So then, we are able to be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to become angry. So then, we will lay aside filthiness and wickedness. So then, we will receive with meekness the redemptive words of God.

The Perfection is God’s

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (22-25)

Do not misunderstand. We still must make continual and deliberate choices to live out the perfection God has worked into us. But that perfection is now truly ours. We know the truth of God’s priorities. Our faith through patience and endurance has built into us a supernatural strength. We have discovered God’s love, and we respond by loving Him.

How can we test our perfection? That’s simple, says James.

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (26-27)

God is the Source of Perfection

If God has made us complete, it will be made evident by what we say and do. Our words and actions are the result, not the source, of our perfection. Good talk and generous deeds and clean living mean nothing unless they are the outflow of God’s own nature in us. If they come from anywhere else, they are not part of the righteousness of God and have no eternal value.

We must begin by gratefully acknowledging that our sufferings are God’s chosen means to teach us patience. We must prayerfully seek His wisdom, to understand and follow in His ways. As our knowledge of His perspective on things (such as wealth) increases, our attitudes and choices should reflect these same values. Finally, when temptations come, we must resist them with great endurance, knowing that if we do, we will “receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

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