“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” ~ James 1:12
Explanations of Text: Exclaiming that those who have persevered through the trials are blessed, James brings the end result of steadfastness mentioned in verse 4 to its fullest realization telling readers they will receive the crown of life. The verses have now gone from beginning to end. Beginning in verses 2-4 he tells believers that joy can be found by recognizing the end result that comes from enduring trials. Now in verse 12, he expands that theme to share the end result is the crown of life.
Starting the verse with blessed, the encouragement here is a call to believers to acknowledge that they have been blessed by the enduring of trials. George Guthrie explains blessedness as ‘the well-being in life that flows from the favorable position in which one is rightly related to God.’ However, blessing does not necessarily mean material possessions as the world has misconstrued it to be, but rather refers to the position we have in Christ. A blessing is that which God has given a person so that He may be glorified, not so that the person may be glorified. The word blessed in this context would refer to being joyful. John MacArthur adds further to the definition of blessed, explaining that it “carries the idea of profound inner joy and satisfaction.” Remembering that James said to consider trials pure joy, we once again see that come to completeness here in verse 12 with being blessed by God for faithful endurance.
However, James explains that being blessed is reserved for those who remain steadfast under trial, or as some translations say, persevere under trial. These individuals are ones who have stood the testing of their faith, enduring through the trials with steadfastness. The concept in this verse is referring to those who have maintained their confidence in God, never wavering or being tossed about like a wind-driven wave. For those that have maintained their faith, God rewards them with a crown of life. In the ancient world, wreaths were awarded as crowns to those who won the race. A sign of victory, the wreath was worn to boast on a person’s own accomplishments. A believer’s only boasting comes through Christ Jesus alone, through whom we can persevere towards the crown of life. It is in gaining this crown of life, that a person begins to experience the fullness of God’s gift of eternal life.
It should be noted that in no way is James claiming perseverance under trial is a saving work. We know from passages of Scripture, that saving grace only from the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and not based on man’s own works (John 1:12, Ephesians 1:7, 2:8-10; 1 Peter 1:18-19). James is instead saying that perseverance comes from a recognition of God’s work in your own life.
Examination and Application of Text: This text should be both comforting and convicting to you as a believer. Comforting because as one who passes the test, you will receive a reward. In that context, it should be comforting to know that God, being omnipresent and omniscient, knows all about us during the trials, enough to know if we have ‘passed the test’ so to speak. Likewise, it should be convicting to think about the consequences for not passing the test, recognizing that in His omniscience and omnipresence, God also knows our deeds well enough to know if we didn’t pass the test. Nothing can be hidden from Him. Both the comfort and the conviction should serve as motivating factors to any believer.
In looking at the text we see that the crown of life is presented. Like Paul, James is using the term crown in relationship to the crown that is given to the victors in a competition. Therefore, the crown is a reward. What kind of reward? Life. The one who is victorious receives the crown of life. Using rewards as motivation can be a negative thing because they become the focus. We humans start doing things not because of obedience and desire to serve, but because we want something out of it. We are more concerned with the ‘what’s in it for me?’ This should not be the case. However, we must realize that rewards sometimes to serve as motivation, and that is the case here. Douglas Moo points out that in this context, only a Christian can truly appreciate this type of reward. Therefore, because only a true Christian can participate in these rewards, it is expected that there is a right motivation because it would be useless for a non-Christian to seek after them.
Finally, James notes that this reward is available only to those who love God. The question then becomes, what does it mean to love God? This answer can be found in three passages within Deuteronomy.
1) Maintaining Fullness of Heart (Deuteronomy 6:5; see also Matthew 23:37; Mark 12:30; and Luke 10:27) – In this verse, we see that one must love God with their whole heart. This is a complete commitment and one’s love of God cannot be defined by a partial undertaking. When Christ called people to follow Him, it was exhaustive, requiring that one give their whole life (Luke 14:25-33). This call included the entirety of one’s heart. Therefore, one is to have a heart directed towards Him. Your heart cannot be divided between two worlds, which means that even the smallest corner must be given over to Him in service and sacrifice (See Romans 12:1-2).
2) Maintaining His Ways (Deuteronomy 10:12) – The people of God are called to walk according to the precepts of God. God has outlined His will for every believer, and if one loves Him, they will indeed walk according to that will. The idea of walk here indicates that this is to be a way of life. Walking according to the ways of God is not something that one chooses to do only part of the time. Remembering that each of us continuously battles our sinful nature, each person must make it a priority to put the ways of God first, so that God is made known by the way in which one lives.
3) Maintaining His Word (Deuteronomy 11:1) – Finally, one who loves God will keep the charge of God, the statutes of God, the rules of God, and the commandments of God. As one who loves God, a believer will keep His law. Throughout the Bible, the authors (through divine inspiration of course!) refer to it as the law. Being all sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16) the Scripture is meant to be both a guideline and the authority for how you live. Therefore, be in it daily and seek how to live it, doing so in an act of obedience because you love God.
James has issued the call to persevere through trials, knowing that a person will be made complete through them, noting that they will receive the crown of life. This crown of life is the motivation of obedience for every believer, not because they desire to have a crown, but because they desire to be in the presence of the true and holy God. Therefore, maintain His ways as outlined in His word, with a fullness of heart. May God know we love Him by our actions of obedience.
 George Guthrie, James, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 219
 John MacArthur Jr, James, MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), 41
 Douglas Moo, The Letter of James, Pillar New Testament Commentary (William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), Location 1094).