James, who is thought to be the oldest brother of Jesus (Introduction, The General Epistle of James, p. 1777), wrote about the purpose of spiritual maturity and the process we have to go through to gain spiritual experience. He said, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptation; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4). According to James’ teaching, we obtain spiritual maturity by experiencing various difficulties in our lives and the evidence that we have achieved maturity is our exhibition of patience in those situations. The Greek word James used that is translated patience, hupomone (hoop-om-on-ay’) means endurance, constancy (G5281). Another way of describing this quality would be stick-to-itness or not giving up when our circumstances become difficult.
James indicated the motivation for us to strive for spiritual maturity was the reward of a crown of life. He said, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12). The crown James was referring to may have been a wreath given to the winner of a race (note on 2 Timothy 4:8) in ancient Olympic games. The Apostle Paul used the metaphor of a race in his exhortation to live a life that is guided by faith. He said, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). James echoed Paul’s teaching in his identification of God’s word as the source of our spiritual strength. He said, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
One of the unique aspects of James’ teaching was his emphasis on doing what God’s word tells us to. He said, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22). Three times, James emphatically stated that faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 20, 26). What he may have meant by this statement was that faith was designed to do something, specifically, to bring about change in our lives. Therefore, if faith doesn’t produce change, it has become useless to us, like a dead body that can’t breath or move around anymore. James used a practical example to illustrate his point that spiritual maturity differentiates believers from the rest of the world and linked faith to something as simple as being able to keep our mouths shut when we are tempted to say something cruel or vindictive to a loved one. He stated, “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue amongst our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature: and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame: it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison…Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge amongst you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:6-8, 13).