Today we move on to another sermon series and another book of the Bible. We will spend the next several weeks looking at the book of James. This is a fairly short book, only five chapters, but it is full of hard hitting stuff. I chose this book for a sermon series because I don’t like what it has to say. James steps on my toes every so often and serves as a reminder that I’m not perfect and that I haven’t arrived yet.
So, with that in mind, I will warn you that you will have your toes stepped on over the next few weeks and you will be called out of your comfort zone. For these things I make no apologies because my job is only to preach the Word. If you don’t like what is being said, then you can take it up with James.
Incidentally, you wouldn’t be the first person to disagree with the book of James. The great reformer Martin Luther struggled with the book of James. He could not properly balance James’ writing about faith and deeds and felt that it minimized the importance of faith. Because of this, Martin Luther placed the book of James at the end of his German translation of the Bible.
James is actually the first book of the New Testament that was written, being record between 45-49 AD. This would mean that this could have been written as early as twelve years after Jesus’ death.
The writer of the book is not the apostle James whose execution is recorded in Acts 12. Instead, it is James the half brother of Jesus. During Jesus’ ministry, His brothers did not believe in Him and even mocked Him at times. However sometime after His resurrection James becomes a believer. Not only does he become a believer in Jesus but he becomes a leader of the early church and specifically the church of Jerusalem.
With the background of the book out of the way, let’s move on to the book itself.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
The Greek word for trial and temptation is actually the same. The context of the sentence determines the meaning. Trials come from outward circumstances whereas temptations come from within.
Sometimes people are led to believe that their life will be easy if they become Christians. This is sometimes just a mistake on a person’s fault and sometimes it is the result of dishonest evangelists who pretend that this is the case. James tells us otherwise. He doesn’t say if you face trials, but rather when. And there won’t just be a couple of small trials but rather trials of many kinds.
There is good to come out of trials though. Trials are used to develop us and make us into better Christians. Difficulties in life are used to hone us and knock the rough edges off of us. Whenever I am in a counseling situation I tell people that they can go in one of two directions – they can either use this as an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord or they can use it as an excuse to drift further away from Him. This is what trials do, they make us prioritize our life.
Some people face trials with the help of God and they come through it as stronger Christians. Other people choose to blame God for their trials and thus move further away from Him.
Sometimes it seems like we face the same trial over and over again. This could just be coincidence or the result of a recurring health problem or a crummy car that keeps breaking down. But it could be that we haven’t learned our lesson from the previous trial.
I have a pastor friend that has trouble with his in-laws. I don’t remember all of the specifics but some of the things that his in-laws have done are right up there with sitcom level obnoxiousness. And he has openly admitted that they try his patience. So what happened to him the other year than his in-laws coming to stay with him for five weeks. And they continued to try his patience during this stay.
This doesn’t mean that this friend is doing anything sinful or wrong regard to his in-laws but God may use such a recurring situation to continue to teach him patience or keep him humble or something else like this.
So if you have trials that keep coming back, it could be coincidence but I’d advise you to clearly ask God if there is something that He wants you to learn from the situation. And if you do, the trial just might go away.
Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Perseverance is a sign of a mature Christian. It is very similar to patience or what some Bible translations call longsuffering. The goal of a Christian is to become a mature fruit bearing Christian. Paul details what a mature Christian looks like in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
So how does one develop the fruit of the Spirit and reach maturity? Quite simply, they ask for it.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
Our prayers are often too narrow in their focus. There is nothing wrong with asking God for healing of a friend or loved one but too many times our prayers do not go beyond mere physical needs. And then we wonder why we struggle with trials and temptations. James gives us the answer right here. We struggle with trials and temptations because we are not mature Christians.
This doesn’t mean that mature Christians don’t have trials and temptations but they are better equipped to handle them. From an outsider’s perspective they don’t fall to pieces the way some other people do. If you are a person of faith however, you can recognize that faith being lived out. Non-Christians will see it also but they likely won’t recognize the mark of a mature Christian unless they ask why a person can keep their cool in the midst of trial.
James also tells us that we are not mature Christians because we haven’t asked to be made mature. Too many times we think that maturity is just going to happen. It doesn’t happen in our physical life and it doesn’t happen spiritually either.
As children, we all grow toward adulthood. This is a natural process that we can’t stop. But we also know that there are healthier choices that we can make along the way that will help kids grow. But physical maturity is a far cry from mental maturity. This is why we see so many people who are legally adults but act much worse than someone who is only 16 but is mature.
There is someone I know who is still in the hospital as far as I know because of an accident several weeks ago. This person has two young children and they were out late at a party. They were all drunk and neither she nor the two men she was with were wearing seatbelts. The two men were dead at the scene and she had to be placed in a medically induced coma. Physically and legally this person was an adult but the choices she made were far from mature. And this doesn’t even mention the fact that someone else must have agreed to watch her two young children to allow this woman to spend a night out drinking.
Maturity doesn’t come automatically in real life so we shouldn’t expect it to come automatically in our spiritual life either. The church is full of Christians who are immature because they have never asked God for help in reaching maturity and they have never put in the effort to grow.
When we do ask God in prayer, we must do so in faith. One would think that any prayer we offer to God would be in faith. If we didn’t believe, why would we bother asking? But this isn’t the case. So often God is a last ditch effort to get out of a jam, even to the Christian. We rely on our own strength and abilities first and only when we come up short do we even think of calling upon God to ask for help.
Jesus’ disciples had the same problem and often Jesus chastised them for their lack of faith. They would grow in their faith but at the time they were lacking.
Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
We too must have even a small amount of faith when we pray to God and ask for His help.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
There are a few things that we need to learn about temptation here. First of all, temptation is not of God. God may use trials to bring about maturity in a person but He is not the source of temptation. We are the source of temptation.
As James writes, his implication is a person who gives into temptation. It is not wrong to be tempted. It is wrong to give into that temptation. Being tempted is part of our human nature because we want things that are contrary to the nature of God.
Remember that Jesus was tempted in the desert. It was very much a temptation to turn stones into bread and feed Himself. The difference is that He did not give into this temptation and commit sin.
It is not wrong to notice a beautiful woman or a good looking man but this is temptation. It immediately moves beyond the realm of temptation when lustful thoughts occur or sinful actions are carried out as a result of this temptation.
God does not tempt however. We are tempted when we have desires outside of what God has given us. We have two options when we have a desire. We can ask God to fulfill that desire or we can attempt to fill it ourselves.
God will only fulfill righteous desires and these are the only ones we should bother asking Him for. If we have desires that we wouldn’t ask God to fulfill, this is a great indication that it is a desire that we shouldn’t be seeking to fulfill ourselves. This is an easy way to spot temptation. If we don’t feel comfortable asking God for this desire, then we’d best stay away from it entirely and not fall into temptation.
So, we end with the two directions that people can take. Outward struggles are trials that we must deal with in life. By relying on God and overcoming these trials we build perseverance and maturity. On the other side we have temptations. These come from within. We can ask God to fulfill our righteous desires and if we ask in faith He will answer these prayers. But if we seek to fill our desires on our own, we give into temptation and we will fall into sin.