Consider it pure joy

June 21st, 2017

This week we are starting a new series on the Book of James. James is one of my favourite books of the Bible. I think I have said before that whenever I attended a new church and Bible study as a new Christian, they always seemed to be starting a study on James. It seems God had some practical things for me to learn on how to live as a Christian.

Introduction to James

Before we get into today’s text I thought I would give us a general overview of James.

Bible Scholars generally agree that the author of James, was James the half-brother to Jesus. Four men in the NT have this name. The author of this letter could not have been the apostle James, who died too early (AD 44) to have written it. The other two men named James did not have the stature or the influence that the writer of this letter had.

Paul described James as a pillar of the church in Galatians 2:9, Peter told his friends to tell James when he was released from prison (Acts 12:17), James was one of the leaders of an important council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13) and James was one of the first people Jesus appeared to when He was raised (1 Corinthians 15:7).

Bible scholars date the book of James somewhere between 50-60 AD, so it was one of the first New Testament books written. History tells us that James was martyred in 62 AD.

In his Book, James uses descriptive figures of speech to present instructions regarding practical wisdom and guidance for Christian attitudes and conduct. From the Christian perspective, he deals with a variety of topics such as riches and poverty, temptation, good conduct, prejudice, faith and actions, the use of the tongue, wisdom, quarreling, pride and humility, judging others, boasting, patience, and prayer.

In his letter, James emphasizes the importance of actions along with faith. Faith in Christ alone brings salvation, but for faith to be alive and vibrant he says, “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless”. (James 2:17 NLT)

Text for today – James 1:1-12

James 1:1-12 – This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the “twelve tribes”–Jewish believers scattered abroad. Greetings!  2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.  6 But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.  7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.  9 Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honoured them.  10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.  11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.  12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

Points for today

Today I have three main points I want to bring out.

1. James tells us that we should be joyful when struggles come our way.

Verse 2 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.”

This verse really got my attention when I sat in that first Bible study all those years ago. When bad stuff happens, I should be joyful. I sat there and quietly thought this is crazy. Only a crazy person would be joyful in tough times.

But as I sat there and listened to the rest of the study I soon realised that the next verses gave that context. Verses 3 and 4 say, “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing”.

James was saying that faith that is tested, grows. And faith that grows comes to maturity. And when we are mature we lack nothing as it says in verse 4.

James who wrote this book knew what it was to face trials. He saw His half-brother Jesus die on the cross. He was there for the early persecution of the church. Likewise, the Apostle Paul knew suffering. He was beaten, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, he was imprisoned, and lived with not much at all. Yet he had a rock-solid faith and was a great missionary for God. The Apostle Peter was imprisoned for his bold preaching. Yet he was the rock that Jesus built the church on and thousands were added to the church as a result of his Holy Spirit empowered preaching! History tells us that James, Paul and Peter were all martyred for their faith.

The thing I find interesting about James is how he started his book. Of all the themes he talks about, he chose to touch on trials and temptations first. It is almost like he is saying that if want a live a life that really makes an impact for the Kingdom, you can expect trials and temptations to be part of your journey. After all in verse 2 he says, “When trials come your way”, …not if they come your way!

Sometimes in this life, God allows trials to come our way. This is not because He is a mean God. It is because He loves us and He wants us to grow and mature. As I have said before, “God loves us the way we are. But He loves us too much to leave us that way”.

Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest put it this way. “Saints [believers] are like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly.”

The arrow can’t fly as far, if the bow is not pulled back far enough. So trials are necessary for our growth and for God’s purposes in us to be fulfilled.

So years on from that initial Bible study, and being a little bit more mature I can see what James means when he says, “consider it pure joy when trials come your way”.

2. James tells us that if you need wisdom ask God

James 1: 5 says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking”.

Who knows that when we go through trials we need wisdom? Wisdom from God is so vital when we are going through trials.

When I was a new Christian and bad things happened, I would throw my hands up in the air and whinge at God. I would say things like “How could You let this happen?” or “Why have You left me alone?” or “Are You really there God?”. Over time my questions changed as I matured. I said things like, “Where are You in the midst of this Lord?” or “What are You trying to teach me Lord?”. Rather than whinge at God I prayerfully proclaim His faithfulness and all the times He had helped me in the past. And how I knew this trial would not last forever. I would see things through the lens of eternity, not just the here and now. This is a more mature way of looking at things.

Wisdom as we know is so much more than knowledge. Knowledge means we know stuff. Having wisdom means we know what to do with the knowledge we have. It is about making right decisions at the right time.

James tells us ask God if we lack wisdom. He tells us to ask the One who knows the beginning from the end. He tells us to ask the One who is all powerful and all knowing. He tells us to ask the One to where our help comes from, the maker of heaven and earth. If you need wisdom, you just need to ask God.

James also warns us in this section to make sure we look to God alone. Verses 6-8 remind us that, “6 But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.  7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”

James is saying we can’t look to God for wisdom or guidance about the future and then look to the world for answers, like go to a psychic or read our horoscope. We can’t look to God for provision and then go and buy a lotto ticket hoping you would win. We can’t look to God for relational advice and then go and complain to our friends about our spouse. We need to look to God and wait on Him for answers. Our loyalties can’t be divided. We have to stay the course. We have to believe God will answer our prayer for wisdom and in time He will guide us in what to do. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to look to God and lean not on our own understanding, and He will show us which path to take.

If you need wisdom in your current trial, seek God and ask for wisdom. He will give it.

3. James tells us that God promises to bless us

Verse 12 says, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him”.

All of us here could probably stand up and tell us of a trial they are going through or have been through. Health issues, family issues, problems at work, financial issues, legal issues, or issues with other people. None of us are immune. We live in a fallen world that is effected by sin. As hard as it is when we are going through it, if we walk through it with God, we are not alone. And if we walk through our trials with God, we grow our faith through them. On the other side of the melting pot of the trial, we are made mature. We have a deeper faith and trust in God and we are better able to handles the stresses of life. We lack nothing.

Those of you who know me well know that I am into sports and keeping fit. Fitness is one of those things you have to work at consistently and if you want to improve you have to put the work in. I have been doing weights since I was 18. I started with light weights to strengthen my body that was ravaged by Rheumatoid Arthritis. When I started I could lift a 3kg dumbbell for some exercises. Over the years I have gradually got stronger and I now do the same exercise with 20kg. I couldn’t do squats at first and now I squat over 100kg. I couldn’t do deadlifts, but now I deadlift over 100kg. To do this I have had to work hard and be consistent to build strength, build fitness and build my body.

It is the same with building our faith and trust in God. We read our Bibles, pray and come to church to encourage each other. That helps our spiritual muscles to grow. But we need something extra to really build our maturity, we need trials and the blessing that comes from going through them. We need to archer to stretch the bow.

Would I want to go through the things I have been through in my life again? No way. But I am glad I have been through them. Because I have a depth of relationship with God and an unshakable trust in Him that I would not have if I didn’t face my trials.

If you are going through some sort of trial at the moment I would encourage you to look to God. Look for His strength to help you through. Look to His wisdom to let you know what to do next. Look to the future with hope knowing that once you are through this, your level of faith and trust in Him will be greater than you have ever known. You will know a level of maturity that only comes through walking through the valleys of life. This to me is one of the great promised blessings God gives us in this life.

Stand firm, stay the course. God promises that blessing is coming. And a crown of life.

Some words from Paul…

2 Corinthians 4:8-11 – We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.  11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies…

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Closing

Today we have started our series on James. I hope you have been encouraged by our first sermon. I hope that if you are going through a trial at the moment, you will remember these three points.

  1. James tells us that we should be joyful when struggles come our way – because it a chance for growth.
  2. James tells us to ask God if we need wisdom – He will give it to us.
  3. James tells us that God will bless us if we endure through trials – we will grow and receive a crown of life.

Amen