James covers many topics in his letter, but all are focused on his readers’ growth and ultimately written so that they will be lacking nothing. While some teachers and gurus have taught that right living will bring prosperity in health and wealth, James (and the other biblical writers) help us to understand what it really means to be lacking nothing.
Remarkably, James begins that discussion by telling his readers to embrace various tests or trials. He exhorts that we should consider it all joy when we encounter various kinds of difficulties (James 1:2). This might seem counterintuitive and is certainly counter-cultural, but James explains why such rejoicing is proper. The testing of our faith produces endurance (James 1:3). Trials and difficulties test our faith (our belief in Jesus), as we can sometimes wonder if He has left us or forgotten about us. But James reminds that these trials are ultimately for our good. The testing of our faith produces endurance. We are able to face difficulties with more and more strength because we know the outcome of that testing. Endurance also has a result: that we might be lacking nothing. James 1:4 says, “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (NKJV). The Amplified Bible brings out the spiritual aspect of the testing process: “And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking in nothing.”
James is not teaching a wealth and prosperity gospel. In asserting that the testing of our faith brings endurance (or patience), he speaks of our spiritual benefit. Endurance results in our lacking nothing. Far from promising wealth and health, James teaches that trials can often be related to being in humble circumstances (James 1:9), being poor (James 2:5), and even being in need of daily food or clothing (James 2:15). James understands that even those who are poor in other ways can be rich in faith (James 2:5). Lacking nothing isn’t about the absence of difficult circumstances; it’s about having the maturity to endure in difficult circumstances. James adds that there is a unique blessing for those who have persevered under trial and have passed the test (James 1:12a). They will receive the crown of life that is promised to those who love the Lord (James 1:12b).
To be lacking nothing isn’t a material or circumstantial thing; it is a spiritual thing. The brother who is dealing with humble circumstances is to glory in those circumstances (James 1:9) because of the resulting endurance. On the other hand, the rich person is reminded that his better circumstances can depart rapidly, and so can his very life (James 1:10–11).
Just as the farmer waits for what is planted to bear a full harvest, James encourages his readers to be patient and to strengthen their hearts, looking for the coming of the Lord (James 5:7–8). Much of that patience and strengthening comes from undergoing various trials and difficulties. James understands that the key to holding up under those trials is to joyfully endure, knowing the outcome—that we will be mature (or complete) and lacking nothing. We will have everything we need to sustain us through the difficulties of life as we look toward Jesus’ coming.