Today we enter into a 6 week series entitled All Day, every day in which we will be exploring the 5 chapters of the New Testament book of James. And then on the 31st of January is our 5th Sunday Day of Service where we will partner and work with Lincoln Middle School.
A famous Theologian and Pastor once quipped about the book of James, that it was an “epistle of straw” but he was merely reacting to how the church was using the book to defend the idea that salvation could be “purchased” by our good works. But what does the book of James actually teach and how does it apply to our lives today? The book of James is one of the most practical books in all of the entirety of Scripture. It has a down-to-earth feel to it and shows us what it really means to follow Jesus and to live out his Kingdom here on earth.
So today we are going to look at James 1:2-18 as well as give an overarching understanding about the book of James and a little context regarding the book.
The book of James is believed to have either been written in the early 60’s but there is indication that it was written before the 60’s due to it’s distinctively Jewish nature, a simple church order, no reference to controversy over Gentile circumcision, and the Greek term synagoge is used to designate the meeting or meeting place of the church. So if the early dating is correct, James is the earliest of all the New Testament writings- with the possible exception of Galatians.
The book of James is believed to have been written by James, the half brother of Jesus. There are 4 other James in the New Testament (the apostle James, and the other two James who didn’t have the statue nor the influence that the writer of this book had). While we don’t know for 100% certainty that the writer of this book, James is the 1/2 brother of Jesus, he is however the most likely candidate for authorship. He was a strong central leader in the Jerusalem church over the first 30 years of Christianity. He was martyred in 62 AD.
The book that bears the name of James was written to encourage Christians across the world (the world at that known time) which he sees as the new version of the “12 dispersed tribes of Israel” to face up to the challenges of the faith. It was probably written to primarily Jewish Christiansbecause at the time of writing (before 60 AD) the church was probably primarily still a Jewish movement within Judaism. Also we listen to this book of James because so much of this text echoes the teachings of Jesus. In fact, there are over 15 allusions to the Sermon on the Mount in the book of James.
So with some history, context and background out of the way, let’s turn to James 1:2-18 and see what we might learn about following Jesus in the midst of the Two T’s.
James 1:2-18 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature( and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”
The first T that we are faced with in James chapter one is the T of trials. James considered trials for Christians to be inevitable. In fact, the moment you decide to follow Jesus is the moment to expect trials to begin. If someone tells you that deciding to follow Jesus is easy, and will make your life better in this world, run away as fast as you can. Because following Jesus is not easy and you should expect trials to come as a result of deciding to follow Jesus. There are many kinds of trials from actual persecution (which for the most part we in the American Church currently have undergone at all), to fierce and nasty temptations, to physical sickness to bereavement to family or financial troubles. These trials, whatever form they may take, will according to James, will seek to test our faith. And in the midst of those trials, James actually tells us to consider it all joy. What? To be joyful in the midst of pain, struggle, heartache, loss, and trials? This seems upside down and backwards and very very hard to live out.
Now to consider it pure joy when we go through trials is not about being happy, or having a state of happiness. Joy is much much deeper than happiness. In fact, happiness is usually defined, a lot of the times, by external stimuli but joy is rooted deep in our souls. Deep in God. Rick Warren defines joy this way, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” When we confuse joy with happiness we get into a lot of problems, especially when trials come. This call that James is sharing with Christians is not easy to live out. It isn’t easy to face a trial with joy.
But what is the end result of approaching trials with joy? It is perseverance. And when we persevere through trails, we end up mature in our faith, not lacking anything. This perseverance is not a passive waiting and just getting through the trail, no it is an active endurance, seeking to grow, develop and mature to become more and more like Jesus- in whose image we are all created. Faith and maturity is tested through trials and is not produced by trials. Trials have a way of showing us how much faith we do or don’t have as well as showing others what our faith is like. And trials have the possibility to see where we are lacking and how we can grow in our maturity in the Lord.
Is it possible to become mature in Christ without trials of any kind? I would imagine, but I don’t know one person in all the world who hasn’t, in someway, faced trials of some kind. Trials can test us to see what we do- whether we turn to God or run away from God.
Let’s turn to the other T- that being Temptation. James is very very clear in the matter of temptation. That God is NOT the author of the temptation. That temptation is from within. James puts it this way about the author and location of temptation,
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” He locates the temptation within us and our own evil desires. This verse from James reminds me of a quote from Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” None of us start with pure intentions. While God is not the author of temptation, he does allow us to go through it.
Notice the difference from the trials which produce perseverance and eventually to maturity to the temptations that we face, and how when we give in to temptation that leads to maturity as well, just the maturity that leads to death. James says that when we face trials and persevere through them we will receive the crown of life. But on the other hand when we give into temptation we receive the opposite, maturity which leads, not to life, but to death.
What should we do though in the midst of trials and temptations? The answer to how we mature through trails and temptation is found in verse 5 which says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,( who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Turn to God. We endure trials and temptations by drawing near to God and seeking his wisdom and asking him for strength, endurance and trust in the midst of them. We can also fight off temptation by turning to God and his word in the midst of our temptation. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Many times that way out is in communion an relationship with Him. Look at what Jesus did when he was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. How did he endure under the temptation from the evil one? He used the Scriptures as means of holding up under the weight of the temptation, “It is written…” And if Jesus, who is our model of what it means to live out the Kingdom of God in this world, needed to use Scripture as a means of standing up to temptation, and gaining victory over it, how much more should we turn to the Scriptures (and even knowing it by heart)?
Trials and temptations have the ability to do one of two things…they will either drive us to our knees in prayer, relationship and in communion with God or they will drive us away from God. It is really our choice of what the end result of the temptation or trials that we face. We can choose to let the temptation and trials drive us towards God or drive us away from God.
In closing, we need to know something that James makes crystal clear. A lot of the times when we face trials and temptations of any kind the way we look at God can change. We say things like, How can a good God allow bad things to happen or If God was actually good this wouldn’t have happened. But James makes it crystal clear that God is good, even in the midst of the trials and temptations that we will face as followers of Jesus. James puts it this way, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
So before we turn to our discussion time, I want to let you know that if you are struggling right now and you are living in the midst of trials, know that God is there, that God is good, and that he will meet us in our time of trials and temptations.
So let’s unpack together how we can mature in our journey with Jesus in the midst of trials and temptations. Let’s see how we can help each other towards maturity when we are facing temptations and trials. And let’s see what God might be saying to each one of us and what we should do about it?
1. What thoughts, questions, comments, insights, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What are some ways that you and I can mature in your walk with God and connect with him during Trials and Temptations?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?