James 1:1-5 Joy in trials
Topic: Stand Alone Passage: James 1:1–1:5
James 1: 1-5 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion (scattered abroad):Greetings. 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. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
And all God’s people said, “This is God’s Word”.
Married to Carly 8 years – known her for 14; 2 kids. 2 Parents live in Stanwood. Older Brother and his wife and their newborn live in Seattle. I work for Housing Hope, an amazing 25 year old, local nonprofit. Grew up Snohomish County most of my life. And love it here.
Raised in a Christian home. Put my young trust in Christ in 1st grade. For the next 11 years or so, I’d describe my faith as moral deism. I knew God existed and sent His son to die in my place for my sins, but I got the impression from church, Sunday school, daily life. that once I trusted him for salvation and had my fire insurance, He was mainly concerned with my behavior—that I was good and didn’t break the rules. I got good grades in school, was never really rebellious. I was the white-washed sheep. It was easy to be the white sheep because my brother, 5 years older, was such an excellent black sheep. He’s the one who rebelled, broke curfew, got drunk, and so on. I looked like Pope Pious next to him and was more than happy to maintain that façade to my parents and family.
During the summer of my junior year in highschool, I had the opportunity to go to the YoungLife camp, Malibu, way up in the Canadian Rockies. I think I’d only been to 1 or 2 YoungLife club meetings prior to that, but a friend of my mom’s sponsored my way, so I accepted. What I experienced there was a life changer. Up to that point in my life, my faith really was just moralistic. In a phrase, it was “do no harm”. But at that camp I saw student leaders and young adults, 3-5 years older than me, who had a faith that was alive. It affected the way they lived and interacted with others. One image that has stuck with me some 15 years later is of one of the female volunteers, on her hands and knees with a fork, scraping moss out from in between the cedar planks of the boardwalk that runs around the camp. When I passed her, she looked up and had the brightest, most genuine smile. One of the least glamorous jobs at the camp and you wouldn’t know it. I hadn’t seen that kind of joy before and I wanted it.
So when my mom’s friend offered to send me back up the following summer, but this time for Beyond Malibu, a weeklong backpacking trip in the Canadian Rockies, I was in. Besides the absolutely stunning natural beauty I saw, including the Northern Lights, God spoke most clearly to me through the authentic, humble, manly example of our two 20-something guides, Bill and Lehman. Over the course of that week, their willingness to be transparent and share their brokenness and to show us what an authentic relationship with Christ looks like left a huge impression on me.
Following that summer I attended George Fox University near Portland. I met Carly that September in 1998 and knew she was the one, but much to her shagrin we didn’t start dating until May of 1999. My 4 years at George Fox were incredibly rich and formative for my faith.
Upon graduating from George Fox in 2002 with a degree in Christian Ministry and having a strong sense that Carly was the woman I was going to marry, like any red-blooded male would do, I promptly …ditched her in Washington and moved to Chicago where I lived in the inner-city for a year with 5 other young adult in a 2 bed, 1 bath apt. We were part of a program called Mission Year. Its founder figured that if Mormon youth can spend 2 years of their lives on mission, why can’t Christians young adults spend at least 1 intensely focused year on loving God and loving their neighbors.
My 11 months in the West Garfield neighborhood of Chi-Town were life altering. He gave me so many rich life-lessons about incarnational ministry, racism, living my faith out in community, the centrality of the local church and more.
I came home from Chicago and did one of the wisest things I’ve ever done, which was to marry my better half Carly in December 2003. Since then we had our 2 boys and have just been endeavoring to be as faithful as possible with the life and opportunities that God has given us. God brought us to Damascus Road in late 2009 and we’ve enjoyed being a part of this family ever since. (10 MIN)
So I approach our text today, a text about the fruit that God brings out of trial, with great humility. I haven’t survived the Holocaust. I haven’t survived cancer. I haven’t survived the untimely death of an immediate family member. I haven’t survived a lot because God has spared me from a lot. So I approach a text like James1 fully aware that it’s the authority of His Word and His Spirit that have to carry the weight, not my experience.
And yet that’s the very reason I’m drawn to texts like James 1 and 1 Peter 1 and Romans 8. It’s because I know that greater suffering is coming, in all likelihood. My co-worker just told me that her 57 year old dad had gone into an emergency 9-way bypass surgery for a heart attack he’d had, only to suffer a stroke while in surgery. They’re just beginning to figure out the next steps for him. Thankfully she trusts in Christ and is leaning heavily on Him through this. And I’ve seen that same response, in the last 2 years we’ve been here, from several of you who’ve experienced gut-wrenching trials. So I tackle a text like this because we’re promised hardship in this life and I want all of us to be as prepared possible to respond in ways honoring to God.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Who is James
There are three James in the New Testament, two of them were apostles, neither of which is the author of this letter. The 3rd James was a prominent leader in the church at Jerusalem and also just so happens to be the ½ brother of Jesus.
Now if there’s ever a time to do a little name dropping and earn yourself some street cred, this seems like the perfect opportunity—especially when you’re writing a very heavy letter to Jewish Christians scattered abroad—urging them to, among other things, rejoice in suffering. You might expect something more like, “James, servant of God and BROTHER, that’s right, BRO-THER of the Lord Jesus Christ, as in, I got pictures of the two of us in the bathtub when we were 5 – knew him before he made it big – BROTHER of Jesus.
What a perfect opportunity for James to cement his place of prominence within the newly emerging church by highlighting his relationship to Jesus as brother. But James foregoes the opportunity and simply calls himself a servant, heeding Jesus’ exhortation in Matt 23:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees…do all their deeds to be seen by others…they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. … 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
When the elders invited me to prayerfully consider going through the candidacy process and possibly becoming an elder, this aspect honestly gave me pause, having been in other positions of leadership in the past in a community of Christians. Carly and I felt a love for and ownership of DRC soon after we began attending in December 2009. It felt natural for us to want to begin serving as needs and opportunities arose.
What gave me pause is that when you take on a title like elder/pastor, whereas you might think that the impact of your words and actions would increase, it often feels like your voice is muted because, you’re a “pastor”-- you’re “supposed” to do and say “that”. We have this warped understanding of the church, the body of Christ. We make this artificial distinction between the laity and the “professionals”, as though the elders are the super cool bionic body parts and the non-elder members are just funky toe-nails or belly button lint. Recognizing this reality, I prayed and considered where and how He could use me to have the deepest impact possible. Ultimately I felt Him leading me to take the next steps, trusting that the Holy Spirit can worry about the impact piece while I focus on doing my best to rely on God’s grace to be a faithful servant, just as James, the brother of Jesus, models the way for us. (17
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion (scattered abroad):Greetings.
James writes this letter sometime between 40 and 45 AD. 5-10 years before this, Christianity was essentially a small, local, Jewish sect called “The Way” (Acts 9). It remained relatively anchored around Palestine until, as we read in Acts 7 & 8, Saul murdered Stephen mob-style and a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, causing Christians to scatter throughout the Mediterranean world. To be a Jewish Christian was no easy thing. Jews were already treated like a toilet bowl of society by nearly every other nation. And now, on top of this, for those who converted to Christianity from Judaism, not only was the whole world against them, but their own people persecuted them as well. And it’s to these people that James writes to encourage them not run from their trials, but to face them head on.
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
This is one of those verses in the Bible that just makes you want to puke. Honestly. This is a verse that our Christian brothers or sisters with the permagrin on their face are all too apt to “encourage” us with when life punches us in the gut. With them, we want to toss this verse out the window.
But it’s holy Scripture, so we have to wrestle with it and face it head on. James doesn’t give us any wiggle room. He uses the all-inclusive terms ALL and VARIOUS to pretty much cover all the exits.
Understand, we don’t rejoice in trials for the sake of the trials themselves. Suffering, in and of itself, isn’t to be sought after. God is not moved by our attempts to earn His favor through self-flagellation. Some religions think this world is just an illusion, and that suffering is the means for us to recognize that illusion and break out of it. Yes, I’d agree that we’re all too attached to the things of this world-money, relationships, status, possessions and so on. But the things aren’t the problem. God created the world and said, “it is GOOD”.
The things aren’t the problem, WE ARE. Our little idol-making hearts are. They’re fickle, self-absorbed and quick to curse God at the first sign of hardship.
James goes on to share that we’re to count it all joy when God brings us into a trial…
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.
It’s worth pausing here for a moment, because if you’re anything like me, you are far too often governed by your senses and emotions and feelings. If we’re honest with ourselves, our guiding principle for how we respond in any given situation is often simply listening to our old, dead, crucified self and his stupid feelings and inclinations instead of asking ourselves what we know is true about God and who we are in Christ.
If we rely on what we feel, we’ll be lead astray every time when faced with a trial. We’ll claw and fight and psychoanalyze our way out of the situation if at all possible. Because who enjoys how trials FEEL?? More than that, who enjoys what trials REVEAL about our hearts, our character and all that we lack? While it FEELS like our trials only produce pain and misery, we can KNOW that we are in the hands of God, our Great Physican Who does wound us, but only to produce a greater, deeper healing and greater fruit.
Notice here that steadfastness, or patience isn’t the end result. He doesn’t just want a polite people. He wants PERFECT people. 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Let’s not change the standard and high call of God just so that we can feel better about ourselves. So often we hear, “Hey, I ain’t perfect, lay off.” While there’s an element of truth to this, in that we ought to be gracious with others, I fear that when God brings a trial into our life to reveal our idols, rather than acknowledge our guilt and celebrate Christ’s righteousness that covers us, we try and lower His standards and ignore his calling. “Relax. Lay off God. I ain’t perfect, just forgiven” He doesn’t suggest we be perfect or make a good go at it, He COMMANDS that we be perfect, as He is perfect. (24)
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
I find it interesting that James follows verse 4, where he reminds us that one of God’s primary purposes for the trials He sends is to conform us to the perfect image of His Son, lacking nothing—he follows that with specifically targeting a lack of wisdom. It makes sense on a shallower level. Many of the trials we experience require us to make the right decisions. If we’re facing health challenges, we need to know how to adjust our lifestyle, know which doctors to see, which medications to take and so on. If it’s a financial trial we need to know how to handle money wisely and where/how to get more to provide for our life needs.
But is James really abruptly moving from talking about matters of the heart to matters of the head? Isn’t that often our first reaction to a trial—to map the lay of the land, assess the problems and fix things externally. So we pray, “God, I don’t know what to fix here. I don’t know how to get my wife to stop nagging or my kids to stop misbehaving. Please show me what to fix.” That’s the wisdom we pray for. “God, help me adjust/manage things outside of myself…people and situations just aren’t responding the way I want them to.”
James, in reality, is only secondarily concerned with what’s going on outside of us because he knows the real issue is what’s lacking on the inside of us. Turn with me to James 3:13-17 and let’s see how James unpacks wisdom :
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
(James 3:13-17 ESV)
So James asks us again: Does any of you lack wisdom? That is, are you pure, peacable, gentle, open to reason (willing to yield), full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere? If you’re honest, the answer is a humble and emphatic “Yes, I lack wisdom!” But it’s painful to be exposed to our sin like this. We confuse the conviction of Holy Spirit with the condemnation of Satan because we don’t trust in the gospel.
Question: for those of you who are in Christ, the Triune God is looking at you and me right now, Father Son and Sprit. What’s the look on their faces? If you’re like me, a lot of days you feel like He has a frown or a scowl and is shaking his head in disappointment. “I died for you, and this is how you repay me!?”
That’s not the gospel! The very Person we need the most when the bottom of life drops out and reveals our deep lack of Christlikeness is the Person we’re least apt to turn to because we think that God is angry with us and this is HIs punishment. We’re finally getting what we deserve. If that’s you, hear Romans 8 spoken over you that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” James says he gives without reproach so ask him to supply the gospel wisdom you lack.
And God isn’t miserly in His giving when it comes conforming us into His Son’s likeness—He gives GENEROUSLY,!
Rom 8:32He who didn’t spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with His Son, graciously give us ALL things?–
So as you come to the table today and take communion, know that He has appointed the trials in your life because he is jealous for you and wants to work steadfastness and gospel wisdom into your heart. And know that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”(Hebrews 4:15-16 ESV)
Hebrews 12:2-6 ESV
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.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”