Today I will be preaching from the book of James. James is in the New Testament, almost at the end, it comes after the book of Hebrews and before the book of 1 Peter. James is an interesting book of the Bible for a few reasons. First, the author, James, was the half-brother of Jesus. Imagine, growing up with Jesus, living in the same house as him, eating with him, playing with him, hearing him preach, seeing him do miracles. Probably very few people knew and spent as much time with Jesus as James did. Also, the book of James is very practical, this book is all about living life as a Christian. This book alone has over 50 commands and has much wisdom for life in it. The main theme of the book of James is that real faith is one that works practically in one’s life. “True faith is a faith that works.”
If true faith is a faith that works, then how do we know if we have true faith? Our faith at times must be tested to see if it really does work. There is not a person in this room that has not or will not struggle with his faith in some way. In this life we will meet trials and temptations. The message of the book of James is that we do not have to be afraid and run away from these trials and temptations. Jesus Christ is so powerful that he can get us through tough times. Notice, I didn’t say Jesus will get us out of tough times, but that he will get us through them. The Christians that James wrote this letter to were experiencing hard things. I believe James was worried about how their suffering would affect their faith and so James wrote this letter to encourage them.
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Before saying anything more you may notice that two similar words are used, “temptation” and “trial.” In the original language of the Bible these are the same word. As you can see the same word can mean two similar but different things, “temptation” and “trial.” The difference is that temptations are inner struggles toward sin. Trials are struggles outside of us out of our control, things like persecution, relationship problems, financial problems, etc. The core meaning of the word is “to find the true nature or character of someone.” Both the inner struggles of sin and the outside problems we face in the world are used to test our faith.
So after a short greeting James gets right into his message. First I want you to notice who the message is for (my brothers). Who are these brothers? Is James speaking only to men? No. This greeting was commonly used in the ancient world for men and woman who shared the same religious beliefs. So, it is fellow Christians that James is writing to. Which is important because we know that the message James gives applies to Christians, it applies to us.
Secondly notice the word WHEN, it is not IF you face trials, but WHEN. You know, God could have made it where once you become a Christian you go straight to paradise (how nice would that be), but He didn’t. That is not a mistake that is intentional. There is a reason God keeps us in this fallen world. In Acts chapter 17 (v26) it says God is in careful control of the details of our life. God choses the exact place of our life on earth and the exact length of our days. When trials and temptations come into your life they do not surprise God. God is in the middle of your trials and temptations.
What kind of trials is James talking about? Poverty was probably one of the trials. James’s letter is filled with references to poverty and wealth (1:9–11; 2:1–7; 2:15–17; 4:13–5:11), and he makes clear that at least the majority of his readers are poor. James 2:6–7 makes pretty clear that religious persecution was one of the causes of the poverty the believers were experiencing. Rich people, who were “slandering” the name of Christ, were “exploiting” the Christians and “dragging them into court.” But the verse says “different trials,” or “trials of many kinds.” So it is not just the trials mentioned in this book that James is talking about but all of the trials and temptations of life.
What are we to do about these trials and temptations? Consider it a great joy. What? Considerate it a great joy? Some questions come to my mind. First is, if God is good (as the Bible says) and if God loves us so much (as the Bible says), why would he allow these trials and temptations in our life? And why should we consider them joy? Look at verse 3.
“For you know that the testing of your faith produces (endurance)/steadfastness.” You see, God as a good Father knows that going through tough things in life, in the long run is good for you. It is actually because God loves you that he allows trials to come into your life. The trials that God brings into your life are for the purpose of your building your character. They are for the purpose of making you stronger.
The word translated testing in ESV is dokimion. The word refers to the process by which silver or gold is refined by fire. (Analogy of taking metals and working it for jewelry). (Analogy of a boxer training). You see this is what trials and temptations do for our faith, they cause our faith to become stronger.
Application: You are not perfect. God looks at you and sees remaining imperfection. Are you resisting change in your life?
We all have imperfections that need to be worked on, God needs to grow us. There are many character qualities we should have as Christians; the one James names here is endurance. The trials that we face in life are meant to produce endurance in us.
What is endurance in the Christian life? Endurance has two aspects to it:
- A fixed direction
- Firmness of purpose no matter what
Endurance is having a fixed direction and a firmness of purpose no matter what happens in my life.
What do I mean by a fixed direction? If we are Christians, that means God has chosen us by His grace, to be part of His agenda on earth. We are no longer to live for the small purposes of self but called to live for the huge purpose of God. As Christians our lives have huge meaning, eternal meaning. We have been brought into the Kingdom of God to work for the Kingdom…
Practically, having this fixed direction should change how and why we do things: how we speak, think, how we relate to others, how we spend our money, how we use our time and energy. Everything we do now has purpose, as a believer we should never feel purposeless. Jesus has called us to be a part of what He is doing on this earth in every way possible in our lives.
What does endurance mean? It means in the trials I do not forsake the fixed direction and firm purpose of living life as a Christian. That means in the trials I keep on living like Christ wants me to live.
Application: We cannot give ourselves this endurance, it is only by the grace of God working in our lives. This grace comes to us in uncomfortable ways. God will take you where you didn’t intend to go in order to produce in you what you couldn’t on your own. This is how God works and it is a gift. It may not feel like a gift, but later you will realize that it was a gift.
In verse 2 James tells us to consider our trials joy. This is why we can look at trials with joy. It is because we know that God will use the trials to shape and transform us.
Although we should consider our trials joy, trials are still hard to go through. One reason why trials are hard is because the way we respond to trials will always reveal to us our true values/character.
God calls us to be holy people. God tells us to be like Him. Trials help me become more like God, however I don’t always want to be more like God. Often I would rather be comfortable than do what the Bible says. Often I would rather feel important and be valued by people than to live in a way that pleases God. When I feel this way I need to confess and repent of this sin.
What is your heart ruled by? Power and control? Money? Comfort? The approval of others?
Perhaps another reason we do not meet trials with joy because the agenda for our life is different than God’s agenda for us. What we want for our own lives is different than what God wants for us. God’s highest value is that we would be holy like He is. How high on your value system is a life that is holy and blameless in God’s eyes?
Temptations that arise when trials come:
- I begin to permit bad attitudes in my heart
- Questioning God
- Doubting His love
- I begin to wonder if He is as good as the Bible says He is
- Envy (why do other people have better lives, etc.)
- Bad habits begin
- Stop praying (prayer doesn’t help)
- Stop reading the Bible (No need to read the Bible)
- Stop having fellowship with other Christians (Don’t want to hear how good other people’s lives are)
- Ultimately you step away from the fixed direction and firm purpose
- Become comfortable being away from God
“Let endurance have its full effect.” It is only when we remain in the trials does God really begin to work and transform us.
There is nothing in my life that is beyond the redemption of God. There is nothing to hard, or bad, or big, for God to redeem. Remember how good God’s promises are…but they are only for Christians. Salvation and redemption is found only in Jesus Christ. Go to Christ, seek Him.
(Preached June 5th, 2016)