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Testing of Faith

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

James 1

Sometimes the Bible says some seemingly crazy things. Here is one:

James 1:2 NLT “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.”

JOY. Not a glumness. Not moping around. Not complaining. Not whining. JOY. Gladness. Not just in the little trials. Even in the great ones. Joy in the brief trial. Joy in the life-long trial. Joy in the routine trial that keeps coming up.

That sounds crazy!! How can that be??

Even something as wonderful as preparing a SERMON is a trial for me. I don’t have a count of how many sermons I have given. But 500 is a reasonable guess. 500 times. Wouldn’t you think that after that many times, I would never encounter pressure or doubts?
“Will this make any sense,” I can ask?
“What does this passage mean?”
“Am I obeying this?”
“Do I believe this, really?”
“I need more time.”
“I’m tired and don’t want to keep working.”
“Maybe Dave should teach this instead of me.”

Surely, after 500 times I would no longer experience sermon preparation as a trial. NOT SO. In fact, as long as I am in this body in this world, I will encounter trials of VARIOUS KINDS, just like James says.

Why are we so surprised that life can be very challenging? Why are we amazed that our FAITH….our trust in the Creator of the world…our confidence in the Savior of our SOULS…..can WAVER when the temperature of life gets hot? But how can we have JOY in these various trials?

Today we are beginning a 6-week series on the Book of James. This 5-chapter book may be the first NT book written. Perhaps 15 years after Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead. James is going to point us to a life of spiritual wholeness. A fullness in the faith.

I’m excited to go through this book. The topic of trials and suffering is just one of many important topics we will examine in this letter.

Overview

Before digging into chapter 1 and learning about TRIALS and JOY and other relevant topics, let’s get a brief overview of the letter. And the bulletin insert will add more than I will cover.

Author:
Why do we call this “James”? Vs. 1. Who is “James” in vs. 1?
There are 3 possibilities since there are 3 primary men named “James” in the NT.
1. James, son of Zebedee. Brother of John. One of the Twelve Apostles. He was martyred for his faith in Acts 12.
2. James, son of Alphaeus. Also, one of the Twelve. But virtually NO details are given about him.
3. James the half-brother of the Lord Jesus.
Jesus was miraculously born of a Virgin, named Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit.
James was born later from the same woman, but with a mortal father named Joseph.
Therefore James is a half-brother.

While there is some debate about which “James” wrote this letter, it is widely believed that he is the half-brother of Jesus.
He started out as an un-believer.
John 7:5 ESV “Not even his brothers believed in him.”
He didn’t believe that this man with whom he had grown up with could actually be God’s Messiah. The long-awaited Deliverer of Israel and of the entire world. At some point later, however, he believed.

The next news we have about James is 15 or so years later in Acts 15. James the half-brother of the Lord eventually became the chief of the apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem. He is mentioned in Acts 15 and 21. And Galatians. And in 1 Corinthians.

When we read this letter, we find it reads somewhat differently than other NT letters like from Paul and Peter. James writes in a rather crisp and succinct manner. His sentences are short, simple and direct.

Perhaps because of his style and his topics such as wisdom and speech, many have called James, “The Proverbs of the New Testament.”
Very “EARTHY” in his style. James uses metaphors of nature constantly. Up to 30 times.
waves of the sea, wind, flower, sun,
grass, conception, birth, shadow,
horses, forest, fire, animals, birds,
fresh water, salt water,
fig tree, mist, moths,
gold, silver, farmer,
rain, oil, crops.

Some features of this letter:
• James is very direct and has many commands. Over 50 commands in just 108 verses.
• The letter has a Jewish feel to it.
From verse 1, we see that James wrote it to the “12 tribes in the Dispersion.” He wrote this to Jewish Christ-followers. These Jews would, of course, have been quite familiar with the OT. In this letter, he alludes to more than 20 OT books. Plus several OT characters like Abraham and Rahab. And the Ten Commandments.
• James also has some themes in the Sermon on the Mount
It’s difficult to find an overriding PURPOSE or THEME to the letter. There is such variety of topics and little flow.
But I do think we can discover James’ main concern: An exhortation to maturity and holiness. Spiritual wholeness.
He wants our lives to match what we say we believe. He wants to see FRUIT in our Christian lives.

James 1:2-4

Now let’s dive into chapter 1.

James 1:2–4 ESV “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

These are some of the better known and well-loved verses in the letter. WHY? Because we can ALL relate. We can immediately relate. We all have trials. Trials of various kinds, like James says.

By their very nature, trials are painful. If they weren’t a problem, we wouldn’t label them as trials. But we don’t need to be in denial. James himself, writing under inspiration from the Holy Spirit, admits that we will have very hard things happen to us and around us.

What he is telling us is how we should respond to those trials. How we should think.
James starts with a profound command: Consider it JOY…when you encounter ANY and EVERY trial.
First, he does not say to have JOY or REJOICE over the trial itself. We don’t rejoice in pain.
What he does call us to is to rejoice when we encounter trials of all kinds.

• Sermon preparation
• Financial challenges
• Relationship breakdowns
• Time demands
• Annoying people
• Our own SINS and brokenness

And he gives us the reason for our joy: Trials result in something good in us. Good comes out of the pain.

He says our trials are TESTS of our faith. The word “testing” is likely related to the refining of gold or silver. To purify and refine precious metal, the metal must be heated in the crucible. And as it is heated, the impurities rise to the surface and can be taken away.

Trials are the FIRE that heats up our FAITH. And the impurities are taken away, and our FAITH is stronger. More pure.
Recently I was talking with a friend who is enduring a very “HOT” trial, the most difficult trial he has ever encountered in his entire life. He does not like the trial—in fact, he HATES the TRIAL itself— but he LOVES the outcome. God is changing him. Good fruit is coming out of it in a variety of ways.

God is testing our FAITH. To have FAITH means simply, “To Trust.” To RELY upon him. To depend upon him. To believe what he says. Have CONFIDENCE.
Trials test our FAITH: What we know and believe about God.
Is he good?
Is he paying attention?
Does he care?
Is he in control, or is everything spinning wildly OUT of control?
Is he punishing me for some sin?
Does he love me?
Can he really bring good out of my pain?
Does he have enough power?

In this life, we will never be finished in our testing. To the very end of our lives, God will test us.

From a book on suffering that has been very meaningful to my wife, author Margaret Clarkson said this,
“There are no graduates in the school of human pain… All too often we will be faced with the necessity of relearning faith’s lessons and of remaking our commitments and renewing our vows. Truths of Scripture that we thought we knew not only by heart but by experience will have to be reapplied to our souls to meet our daily need.”
(Margaret Clarkson, Grace Grows Best in Winter, ch. 3)

I appreciate this insight. Because I can wonder, “Why is this so hard? I’ve been through this before. I’ve learned these lessons before. I thought I knew this already.” Trials bring a TESTING of our faith. The heat is turned up, and the impurities come out. Our knowledge of God will go deeper. Our hope in the goodness and power of God will increase.

Will we respond perfectly? And immediately? No. And when we don’t, we worship the Lord for his thorough and complete forgiveness through his Son. But we can actually have JOY in our Trials because God wants to do something very good.
James says, “When our faith is tested, we learn to persevere. We learn to keep going through the Dark times. Through the VALLEY of the Shadow of Death. And as we learn to persevere….to not quit….day after day…month after month…James says we grow. We change. We MATURE. We become complete.
THIS IS WHY we can consider it ALL JOY when we face various trials.

James 1:5-8

James 1:5–8 ESV “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

James may be connecting this to vs. 4, where he says as we mature, we won’t lack anything. But for now, we do lack something. We lack wisdom. We lack understanding. Insight. Knowledge.

We don’t understand our trials. We don’t understand people. We don’t understand God.
So what should we do? SIMPLE: Ask. Pray. Pray for wisdom. Pray for understanding. Pray to know God better. Pray to understand the Bible better. Pray for wisdom to know how to endure the very hard trials.

Two weeks ago, my wife was having a difficult day. She was feeling down about life. So that morning before she read her Bible, she prayed something simple like this: “Lord, I don’t know what I need. And I need wisdom to know you better and to know how to cope with life today.” A short time later as she was reading, the Holy Spirit encouraged her in a powerful way with truth from Psalm 13:5-6. She lacked wisdom. So she asked in faith, and the Lord gave generously.

There are only two criteria.
1. We must ask.
2. We must ask in FAITH and not DOUBT.

Now we all will have moments of DOUBT. We pray, then we wonder. We are all tempted to UNBELIEF. That’s normal.
But the key is: Will we stay there? Will we stay in a place of wavering back and forth? James says that person is double-minded. He thinks YES one minute, and NO the next.

But the goal is not mere POSITIVE THINKING. We don’t merely talk ourselves into something. FAITH…confidence in God…is founded upon the very nature of God. James promises that God is generous.
And he promises that God will not reproach you. He will not criticize you for your lack of WISDOM. Psalm 103:14 says he understands our frailty, and he has compassion.

Two truths I often consider here to help me pray in faith and NOT Doubt:
1. Remember what Jesus has done.
Romans 8:32 ESV “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
If God didn’t spare his own Son from the tortures of the judgment YOU deserved, do you really think he will be STINGY now and not give you what you need and ask for? With Jesus in mind, it is actually RIDICULOUS to NOT believe in God’s goodness and power.

2. Be like the man in the gospels.
In Mark 9, a father had a son who was demon-possessed, and the father was desperate. So he says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, help us!” Jesus replied, “IF you can? Everything is possible to him who believes.”
And the father cried in return, “I do believe, but help me in my unbelief!”
I have prayed that many times. I know I’m wavering, but I want to believe. So I pray like that desperate father.

You and I do lack and will lack wisdom in TRIALS and in all situations of life. James calls on us simply to ask for WISDOM. And he offers us this beautiful promise that we will receive it.

James 1:12-15

What we are about to read…if you have never read it or understood it before… may unlock powerful understanding about human nature. You can gain great WISDOM from God here.

James 1:12–15 ESV “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

First, another word on trials.
This time, he points us to eternity. To future reward from God to all who keep going during trials and don’t quit.
This may be the most powerful motivation you will ever find for not giving up during difficult trials.
But you must have FAITH that God will reward you some day.
The CROWN of life. I don’t know what precisely this is, but coming from our Powerful, Generous Creator God, we can be assured the reward will BLOW our MINDS.

Then in vs. 13, he moves from “TESTS” to “TEMPTATIONS.”
First, and quite importantly, James says, temptation NEVER come from God. God will TEST us as in vs. 2 to help us grow and succeed. Satan and even our own flesh will TEMPT us to push us towards failure.

From Genesis and the gospels and other Scriptures, we know clearly that some temptation comes from the devil.
But not all temptation is from the devil.
James tells us that temptation can come from within us.
There is something in our nature, inherited from Adam in Genesis 3 that entices us. That LURES us away from godliness and toward evil.
Have you ever been surprised by some dark, evil thought that just seemed to POP into your head? I have. But I shouldn’t be. My sinful flesh is capable of all kinds of temptations. It seems like every day, some DARK, EVIL thought pops into my mind.
“Whoa! That’s terrible! Where did that come from?”

AS AN ASIDE, temptation itself is not sin. Jesus was tempted, but never sinned. Only when we GIVE IN to the temptation does it become sin.

And vs. 14 is fascinating. James says when we are tempted, we can be LURED and ENTICED by our own desires. What’s remarkable is how James uses words. These are words from HUNTING and FISHING.

You HUNTERS and FISHERMEN do this: You lure the animal and the fish into your lair. You want to capture them and kill them. This is precisely what temptation and our evil desires do.

Then in vs. 15 James changes metaphors.
Here he speaks of conception and birth. When DESIRE conceives, it gives birth to SIN. When SIN grows up, it leads to DEATH. What a vivid illustration. We can picture the progression, beginning with temptation that ultimately leads to death.

James is passing on extraordinary wisdom here.
Do you see the progression here?
Now there is hope, of course, for us through the power of the Holy Spirit. We find this throughout the NT.
Fleeing temptation stops the progression.
Repentance stops the progression.

Though James is not giving us a full discourse on victory over Temptation and Sin, his words here give us great wisdom.
When we wonder why we are so susceptible to temptation and sin, this is why. There is something in our nature that pulls us.
And when we need a warning of the destructive power of sin, this passage speaks to us.
And we cannot blame GOD. We cannot even blame SATAN.
We cannot pass sin off as some sickness. Ultimately, we are morally responsible.
To be victorious, we start with WISDOM to know this. To know our ENEMY.
To understand EVIL. Only then can we fight and win.
James calls on us to not be NAÏVE, and to grow in WISDOM to know where temptation and desire… AND sin and death come from, and how it works together.

James 1:19-21

James 1:19–21 ESV “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Someone said, “God gave us TWO ears and ONE mouth. Use them in that proportion.”
How true and important. But this is enormously difficult, isn’t it.
We’ll hear more about our speech in Chapter 3. But for now, James is tying this in to our ANGER.

James is writing to these Jewish believers in Jesus. And they knew well the OT, including all the wisdom of Solomon.
Solomon in Proverbs had much to say about speaking and listening. AND ANGER.
Proverbs 10:19 ESV “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
If you talk a lot and don’t listen much, you cannot avoid sinning.
But the one who restrains his words is prudent. WISE.

Proverbs 29:11 ESV “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”
When we BLOW UP like a VOLCANO with our words, we are FOOLS.
Or, if you want a more GRAPHIC image, when we blow up with our words, it’s like we VOMIT all over others.
But when we have wisdom, we hold our tongue.

James is speaking with wisdom like Solomon.
Then in vs. 20 he says, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
I think, quite simply, James wants us to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God.
Peter, in his epistle years after this, quoted Leviticus, and said, “Be holy as the Lord is holy.”
Man’s self-centered anger doesn’t help us become more Christlike. When our words spew our anger like VOMIT, we become UN-Christlike.

A number of years ago, I was trying to help a friend of mine who was frequently angry. He was a hot head. His anger was obviously hurting his marriage and his family. He continually was VOMITING his anger on his family. Eventually, that contributed to the failure of his marriage. It cost him dearly.

To be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to be angry, takes POWER from the Holy Spirit.
This is not something we can muster up in our own strength. We need to call on the Lord for power. We call on him for wisdom, to understand the POWER of our tongue, both in a HEALING sense and in a DESTROYING sense.

And in vs. 21, James gives us two important principles:
“Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
FIRST, to reject SIN. Put it away. Cast it off.
SECOND, humbly RECEIVE the “implanted word,” that is, the gospel message that saves you.
Let the truth of the gospel message impact your mind and heart.
Go back to what saved you. Remember the gospel. Remember the GRACE Christ showed you. And let that impact you again and again. As he does throughout this letter, James is calling us to Spiritual Wholeness.
Man’s anger doesn’t make us whole. It tears us apart. So James is pointing us to wholeness.

James 1:22-25

We will finish up with vs. 22-25.

James 1:22–25 ESV “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

I think about vs. 22 all the time. It may be the most well-known verse in the entire letter.
Very simple: “DO” the word. That is, OBEY it. Don’t merely listen to it and walk away. If you do that, you will become deceived.
And how do you get deceived??? You do it to yourself. You can blame no one else. We bring sort of a self-inflicted judgment on ourselves.
So this is a rather serious call.
When you read the Bible, you should be determined to respond to God appropriately.
Respond in worship.
Respond in prayer.
Respond in thanksgiving.
Respond with, “Lord, I need help.”
Respond with, “Lord, strengthen me to walk with you in this today.”
When you hear a sermon, you should determine to respond.
When you study the Bible with friends, you should decide ahead of time to be a DOER of the word, not merely a hearer.

Actually, the sobering part about this?
If I don’t respond to God’s word, I would have been better off to never have heard it.
Now, it’s NOT good to NOT hear God’s word. We desperately need it. So we do need to hear it. We actually are deceived already if we don’t know truth.
But I am worse off if I hear and ignore God.
• So tomorrow morning when you sit down and read your Bible, pray for a heart to OBEY what you read.
• This week, when you read the Bible at the dinner table or with some friends, ask the Lord for the strength to ACT.
• Next Sunday before you enter this building, pray that you will be a DOER of the Word of God, lest you deceive yourself.

Conclusions

To finish here, this letter written by James is quite unique. Fast moving. Succinct. He directs us with many commands. He calls us to wisdom and insight. And he yearns for us to be spiritually whole. To become more complete. To learn how to LIVE out our Faith in Jesus.
So as you read it and as we preach on it, seek after a Greater WHOLENESS in your faith. A completeness.