James 1.2-4: Counting and Meeting

September 20, 2009 Series: James | Retro-Faith

Topic: New Testament Passage: James 1:2–1:4

Retro Faith: James 1.2-4 hurting and counting

September 20, 2009

Sam Ford

 

School Tests

I was a hard English teacher. I was the teacher you either loved or hated because I refused to settle for the status quo.  I never liked textbooks, pre-designed handouts, or stuffing student’s heads with knowledge they could regurgitate onto a test.  This is probably because, after the first few years of teaching, I realized that kids were very gifted at forgetting what you wanted them to remember days, if not hours, after the test.  It has been said that education is what you remember after you forget everything you learned.  I saw student after student getting grades, receiving diplomas, but still leaving immature and ill-prepared for the “real world” they were actually already in.  In truth, the kids with the “highest grades” weren’t the ones who were actually the smartest or the hardest workers; they were the ones who had learned the system.  I saw more energy expended on finding every creative means possible to “cheat the system” than I did on genuine learning.   

 

So I changed the system.  As you might guess, my methods and style were always a bit unorthodox.  But I decided to toss out the textbook, destroy the handout, and cease with “traditional testing” all together.  I made up my own classes designed more about the PROCESS of learning than the PRODUCT they came up with.  At first, students hated it, because it was very hard.  Instead of novels, I gave them scenarios.  Instead of individual tests I gave them group projects.  Instead of grades I made them hire, fire, and promote.  It was, for all intensive purposes, a crucible of academic pain and suffering that burned—but purified.  They would work in teams and I would give those teams scenarios.  Then, through the course of whatever project they worked on I would introduce CONFLICT without warning.  Students were forced to learn to problem solve through sitting in the tension.  Some would fight it and get angry, some would run out of the class in tears, but most would sit in the new “testing” environment and grow in more ways than ever possible with traditional school.  They not only left smarter, they left stronger and wiser with the scars to prove it.

 

Faith Tests

I believe that a lot of people who calls themselves Christians approach their faith much like the average high school students approach school.  They enroll (or believe), learn the system; practice the routines; regurgitate a few right answers when asked; all to get the grade.  Some want to do enough to pass while others get consumed with being an “A” student they become really good “test takers” but never actually learn anything.  They grow older in “faith” each year but they never actually mature. In 2Corinthians 13.5 , Paul charges us to TEST OUR FAITH:  5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!  How do you test yourself? It’s typically a disaster to have students make their own test because they will only ask questions they know they can answer without thinking.  If we weren’t scared of asking the hard questions, the ones that do more than get us a grade, but that make us work, the ones that are hard to answer, the ones we’re sacred to ask, or scared to find the answers to:  Do you depend on God for everything? Do you really trust that God is in control?  Do you trust that God is loyal and keeps his promises?  If God purpose all things for good, does “All” include evil?  Is making much of God more important than your comfort?

 

Today’s passage of Scripture is one of easiest passages of Scripture to read, especially to someone else, but probably the most difficult to LIVE, especially in the midst of pain.  We’re going to see that God tests the genuineness of our faith.  It is not the kind of test so that we get a passing grade; it is the kind of test that is intended to shape us into something more.  God moves us forward through trials, it is how he teaches us, how he changes us, and how he awakes us from a dead faith.  C.S. Lewis once wrote God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

 

READ James 1.2-4

James 1.2-4 2 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.

 

First Lesson – Look after self

The thing about James is that he doesn’t waste any time.  Most N.T. letters express appreciation for their readers in the form of a thanksgiving or offer a blessing to God for his provision. James, on the other hand, goes right for the throat and launches directly into what they must do themselves!  The Jewish Christians of the day were suffering.  While many experienced hardships such as famines and disease, others were impoverished, the rich were dragging some into court, many were exploited by their employers, some being slandered publicly and privately, brothers were judging brothers, prejudice abounded, and people, even those IN THE CHURCH, were being indifferent, cruel, and unloving towards one another.

 

Though much of the letter is about living out what James calls the “Royal Law of Jesus”, the command to love your neighbor as you love yourself, James begins by talking about the SELF.  He knows that our ability to love is predicated on our beliefs about God and what he is doing.  Success in dealing with the difficulties of life, which he will talk about, has more to do with our relationship with God than it does with nature of the difficulty. 

 

“WHEN” we face TRIALS when you meet trials of various kinds 

He tells his audience that VARIOUS trials are a part of life.  He does not say “IF” trials come, but when they do.  The Greek word for VARIOUS is POIKLOS, means “many colored:, variegated.”  A computer uses 16.8 million different colors to display a color photo, the variations of colors the human eye can see is in fact endless.  The kinds of trials that hit us, some big, some small, some irritating, some devastating, some obvious, some mysterious, come in all colors.  We experience suffering in the form of physical, emotional, relational, financial, material, and spiritual.  Some encounter the extremes of chronic sickness and death while others are crushed by disappointment or disillusionments. Of course, there are various causes for suffering.  Some of the trials we face are just and predictable, in that they are self-inflicted—consequences of our sinful and foolish choices.  And for others it is unjust and unexpected, caused by the sins of others.  And sometimes, it is unknown, somewhat mysterious as to what caused it.  But one CONSTANT is that we live out our faith in the meat grinder of life. 

 

And the natural effect of various trials is that they hinder our faith. Countless times I have run into people, young and old, with stories about how they “used to go to church until…” or “believed in God many years ago before….” only to find out the until or before was an unexpected, unplanned, and undeserved hurtful experience or terrible tragedy.  In reality, FAITH often collapses in sorrow or disappointment.  Many people say they believe but until that belief is actually TESTED, their faith doesn’t ever become a deep-rooted unshakeable conviction.

 

 ‘YOU KNOW’  the TESTING OF FAITH for you know that the testing of your faith  

James teaches us that these trials come to test our faith.  He tells them, “BROTHERS”, Christians “YOU KNOW that there is more than meets the eye with trials.  You ought to know.  The Bible does not promise to that everything works out for everyoneBut the Bible does promise for those who have put their faith in Jesus, that their trials, good, evil, big, small, blue, pink, puce, or burnt sienna He does purpose for good:    Romans 8.28  28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 

 

The Bible also does not promise everything will work out for the good we want.  The Bible does not promise that we define what that “good” is.  Our good would be comfort.  A successful trial is one we ESCAPE from not one we GROW IN.  Testing is a Greek word that refers to the trying of the quality of something and the purifying of something like silver of gold. Trials burn away the impurities; trials melt off the stuff that is unnecessary and in fact hinder us.   

 

God puts us in the crucible to refine us.  The trial is not intended to determine whether a person has faith or not, but to purify the faith that already exists.  Even if we sit in the trial versus run away, often times we FIGHT what God is actually doing to us, doing to me. We deny that there is nothing wrong with us—at our core, in our heart, not just in our behavior.  We adapt a “martyr’s mentality”  believing that the “GOOD” that has must be for SOMEONE ELSE or SOME GREAT THING I’LL DO IN THE FUTURE.   It is ALWAYS about what God is going to do, or what he has done APART from me.  What if it is FOR YOU and FOR RIGH NOW? 


What if the purpose of the trial is to CHANGE you?  Even if it is tragic, even if it is terrible, what if YOUR FAITH is the thing that God wants to change, what if YOUR attitude is what God wants altered, what if it is YOUR mind that has misperceptions, or YOUR heart-idols that need to be destroyed. 

 

TRIALS PRODUCE SOMETHING IN US produces steadfastness.  

Christian, James says, you should know this—you should meet trials differently than others.  You ought to know that God tests us, not so that we will fail, but to produce something IN us that would NOT be produced unless he allows, ordains, sends, trials in our lives.  It produces steadfastness.   Steadfastness does not imply passivity as if we just get punched in the face with a smile.  But it does imply fortitude, courage, and staying power instead submission to circumstances.  The kind of endurance that comes from hardships such as accidents, poverty, sickness, EVEN prosperity, knowledge, high position, when fully realized, results in spiritual maturity. 

 

LET STEADFASTNESS HAS ITS “FULL EFFECT”  4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, 

But I don’t know if we stay in the trial long enough.  I was moved the other night watching the reality show, BIGGEST LOSER.  On the show there is a woman, 29 or 30 years old.  Everyone on the show is extremely overweight and each has a story to go along with it.  Her story was especially tragic.  Two years ago, she was happily married with a nine year old girl and a two week old son.  Then, in a flash, her entire faily was killed in a traffic accident.  There I sat studying about ‘trials’ trying to hold back tears.  And this strong woman, said something very powerful: (paraphrase) that the easiest thing to do was to die or crawl in a whole.  The harder more courageous thing was to live, and that with a purpose. Although that an extreme example, all trials do not take the form of death, sexual abuse or the like.  We encounter trials every day as parents dealing with the uniqueness of our children, as husband and wives dealing with each other, as employees dealing with bosses that seem like they hate us! 

 

James warns us to “LET” steadfastness have its full effect—speaking to those who might be tempted to give up in the middle of a trial like a runner in the middle of a race or a house halfway built.  It’s hard to stay in the heat!  Many perhaps MOST give up, many surrender, many, start to doubt, and many walk away from marriages, relationships, families, jobs, even churches.  The faithful do not choose the easy path. Don’t get me wrong, that does not mean to stay in a situation that is personally destructive BUT our tendency is to FREAK OUT like we do in the Northwest when it gets one degree over 75!  Those who do this produce a “faith”, instead of a faith that is constant and steadfast, their faith becomes irregular and erratic—and so does their character and their hope.  Romans 5 says that sufferings can produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.  Without faith, it will produce instability, bitterness, and despair.

 

 PERFECT, COMPLETE, LACKING IN NOTHING that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Contrary to popular belief perpetuated by some heretics, God’s goal for our lives is not our pleasure or comfort; it is not for our prosperity or success in this world. Though he may give you pleasure and bless you prosperity, those can equally be just as trying.  His purpose is to glorify Himself and does so by transforming us into the image of his Son.  You cannot STAND in the gospel, SEE your sin, ACCEPT GOD’S GRACE daily and be UNCHANGED.  He wants to build our faith and will do so until we are perfect lacking in nothing.  In short, ALL of LIFE is an UPHILL struggle…until we die.  Philippians 312-16. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

 

THE RIGHT & WRONG RESPONSE TO TRIALS

Let’s spend the last few minutes on perhaps the most difficult aspect of the passage.  “Count it all joy,” It is clear and obvious that life is full of all kinds of trials.  We can handle the idea of God’s Tests, but having JOY in the midst of them makes James sound like some sort of masochist. 

 

ABUSED Passage 

This passage has been woefully abused in times past.  People experience various trials in their life and they will flip over to James chapter 1 and say, “Take joy; be glad this happened to you…praise Jesus!” I don’t see Jesus acting that way. When his good friend Lazarus dies, he does not show up a few days later and, in the midst of mourning say, “Be joyful.  God has a purpose.”  While he would have been true, he comforted them.  He recognized the real emotion, the pain that sufferings being. The other extreme is just as wrong.  Where, as soon as we experience a trial, we run away from God.  Our relationship with God is as fickle as a high school girl who has a new boyfriend every month.  So what can James mean we are to take joy in?

 

COUNT “IT ALL”

THE FIRST thing that James tells us to “Consider,” to STOP and think, to take a mental judgment about trials.  Paul uses the same term when he says, “Too often our faith moves are from TRUTH of God’s WORD and toward the TRUTH of EXPERIENCE.  God’s truth should shape our experiences versus our experiences shaping God’s truth.  From our limited, imperfect, incomplete, restricted, inadequate, finite, narrow and partial point of view—ALL Trials seem like accidents—this is NOT the way things should be going.   In fact, this same idea is perpetuated often times by other Christians who say that God wants us to prosper, to experience wealth, health, and you just have to believe positively about such things.  God very well may want you to be wealthy or healthy, but he may also want you to be poor and sick.  BOTH are TRIALS and BOTH are worthy of rejoicing because through them, James says, God is strengthening our faith.

 

Instead, we are to exercise our faith as we look past the adversities of the process, like an athlete getting in shape, or a farmer working his field, or even a woman who is pregnant and about to give birth, to see the joy of the end goal like Jesus did (Heb. 12.1-2).

 

JOY-  Count it all joy, 

There is a difference in fighting for happiness than there is for fighting of joy.  I DO NOT believe that Christians are supposed to be singing zippity-do-dah and remain emotionally indifferent toward the world crashing around them.   Happiness is different than joy in that happiness is rooted in circumstances.  Happiness is a fleeting thing dictated by the current conditions.  James does not suggest that Christians facing trials will HAVE NO emotional response other than joy, as if commanded not to be sad.  

 

He is pointing out that Christians make choices every day and every moment.  Trials will come—how will you choose to respond?  a Christian WILL CHOOSE NOT to be OVERWHELMED by trials. Though it might not make them “happy”, they choose the joy the see beyond circumstances.  They will choose to look UP and not just OUT.  What do we actually think it means when Paul says WE WALK BY FAITH not by SIGHT.  The incredible thing about James teaching here is that he doesn’t declare this as extraordinary but ordinary FAITH!  Our joy DOES NOT result because:

-          We see how God is working,

-          or can predict how it will shape us,

-          or even that we understand what God is doing to us,

-           

Our joy is a result of trusting GOD is BIGGER and BETTER than anything we could possibly face.  It is believing with conviction, as one commenter wrote, “There is NO Trial, not great calamity or small pressure, no overwhelming sorrow or small rub of life outside that plan of God, whereby it is a stepping stone to glory.”  If you are NOT a Christian, you have faith in nothing but this world, and in our own ability to get through it.  It makes sense that you look to ESCAPE trials in order find joy, that you sit in judgment on God as bad or not powerful.  You have no hope but what you see in this world.         

 

But for those who claim Jesus as their Lord and their God, after the emotions have passed….(which are not sinful) TRUE CHRISTIANITY, AUTHENTIC BELIEF, GENUINE FAITH the Christian, we place NO HOPE in the things of this world.    1Peter 3.6-9  3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

Conclusion

James is trying to get us to think radically different about trials.  He wants to reform our perceptions and attitudes SO THAT we are governed NOT by the circumstances (however big or small, tragic or irtritating) but by the Word of God.  Brothers and sisters, we make a decision as both James and Paul did to: count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3.8).  Trials do not surprise us nor do they shake us for we know that our master, Jesus, has gone before us on the same path.  If the master walked this path, then the servant must follow if he wants to be like him.  Do you want to be like Jesus? That is what a Christian life is.

 

Hebrews 12.1-2   Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

 

Prayer – For those in the midst of trials.  Don’t give up.  Don’t run away.  Exercise hope for what you want to happen, but exercise faith that God has you. 

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