A sermon on James 1:2-4


JAMES 1:2-4 HANDLING TRIALS

Sermon by Geoff Thomas, 14 June 1998 evening. – Edited by standrewscumberland

English: Pagans kill Christians in Pliska.

English: Pagans kill Christians in Pliska. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James is both blunt and realistic in this statement.  Facing trials of many kinds is what happens if we are normal Christians. Nobody in the 1st century thought that becoming a Christian meant health, wealth, and prosperity.

James says two things in these verses: one is a command and the other a reason for the command.

First the command, “Consider every trial pure joy.”

This is a command not a suggestion.  It’s our duty and we are sinning if we disobey.

You consider with your mind, not your feelings.  You do it with your thought processes.  James is not saying, “feel joyful,” but learn to think joyfully in your trials.

Let’s look at some examples:

1] Paul tells us he learned to be content in whatever state he was in.  He understood that being discontented was going against the belief that there is a loving Father God in charge of everything in his life. So he learned, as his Christian life progressed, to be contented. Each day he might have said to God, “Thy will be done” and when Paul knew that something was God’s will he could stop his self-pitying or sulking.

2] In the early church, the apostles were preaching the gospel in opposition to the Jewish leadership. The Sanhedrin had them arrested, and decided to have them flogged. Some died under a flogging.  How did apostles respond? We are told [5:41], “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”  They considered their sufferings in the light of the sufferings of Christ for them. Christ had considered these men worthy to bear shame for his sake. This was an honor! So they weren’t depressed and angry about this turn of events. They considered it pure joy.

3] Paul and Silas in the prison in Philippi had been roughed up, given an unjust trial, lashed, put in the stocks in the dungeon.  But they considered it as a cause for praise. They had been faithful servants to the great Servant. He suffered innocently and triumphed over his enemies. They were given the same confidence. Europe was going to hear the gospel.  At midnight they were not sulking.  They were singing psalms of rejoicing.

So one day these scattered Christians of the 12 tribes were sitting in their seats on the Lord’s Day gathering and this letter from James was read to them. The very first thing he told them was that they were to use their minds, and consider it pure joy whenever they were in the middle of any and every trial. “First of all learn this great lesson” they were told.

Then they were told that the trials were “of many kinds?”

James mentions some of these in his letter: sudden death (v.11), being an orphan or a widow (end of chap 1), exploitation and also illness (in chap.5: vs.4 & 14).  Trials are common to us all, but the way they settle on one church or another and go from one believer to another varies. We may be slandered, our human ambitions might be crushed, we may be ostracized, there might be some thorn in the flesh, some personality problem, or unrequited love, intellectual problems, domestic heartache.Suffering is so diverse. We’ve got to face the reality as Christians that our faith is likely to be tested by God in such ways. There is no immunity for us as disciples from the Valley of the Shadow, whatever form that valley takes. We may be working under the most unpleasant management – men who make our lives a misery. We may face constant articulate opposition to our Christian convictions. The whole operating style of our place of work may be aimed at the embarrassment of Christian believers. We meet people who contradict our beliefs and mock our faith and we have to stand absolutely alone. There is not one class of trials to which God is limited. so that in them alone we can rejoice. These trials are “of many kinds”.

A Christian can’t say about anything, “That will never happen to me.”   Check it out: did it happened to Job, to Simon Peter, to Noah, to Abraham, to the apostle Paul ? One thing God knows about each one of us – what load we are able to bear. It is God who puts the load on us and he knows our breaking point. God won’t allow us to carry more than we can bear. That is the great limitation, and the ONLY limitation. No Christian is exempt from trials of many kinds. The one guarantee is that our faith will not fail.

In the NIV, James says about these trials, “you face them”.  It would be better to say that you fall into them. The word is used in the story of the Good Samaritan about the poor man who fell among thieves.  So trials come upon us, as unexpectedly as the ringing of a phone. You don’t need to go out of your way to look for sufferings or to create difficulties. It is inevitable that we are going to bump into these testing times. There have been Christians who have deliberately provoked the world’s hostility. Others have actively sought martyrdom. That’s foolish. We are going to face it. “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Walk along the narrow way, keep in step with the Holy Spirit and you will meet enough to test your faith.

If you think, “I can’t be a Christian to have to go through this,” then think of Job and how at first he himself was spared but he lost family and property. Then God allowed his health to be touched, though his life were spared. God is in control of the degree of hardship at every stage. With Job it stops at the taking of his life, but with Stephen he even forfeits his life.

Don’t think that Christians are always suffering although it is a possibility.  It’s just that it is common for Christians to meet trials.  The Christian life is “the fellowship of his suffering.” Every single Christian is tested.

Then, James says, that whenever it happens, “consider it pure joy.” Consider it 100% joy – all of it, nothing but joy, not a mixture. You can’t cut out 90% of a trial and count that part as joy. Everyone of us can look back with thankfulness to some aspect of every difficulty we have experienced. We can think of the wonderful support we had from our family and friends, and count those memories as joyful. We can say, “it could have been worse, and you can always see someone in a worse condition.” That is not what James is saying here. He says, “Face up to the whole thing.” Don’t leave any of it out. All of it is to be accounted as joy.”

That sounds crazy!  You have lost a sense of the love of God. Your body is racked with pain. You have just lost a loved one. You are being persecuted. The lives of your family are in danger. There is no earthly hope at all.

Imagine all that, and then this great word comes to us, “Consider it pure joy.” Regard this trial as a reason to rejoice. Account it as being “pure joy.” Because it does not seem to be joy. It seems terrible. But account it as joy that you are facing a trial. Your heart is breaking, and it is difficult to keep going, but you account it as joy that you are being faced with this trial.

How can we do this?  Only by leading your mind toward the right biblical considerations. By thinking about trials from God’s perspective. You can in this way reach the point when you rejoice in them. You consider the God of providence, your Saviour the Lord of love, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the promises of his Word. Consider all that – as you face trials of many kinds. Pure joy does not just happen. It takes a deliberate act of will. It may mean getting back under Biblical preaching again. It may mean being more diligent in personal devotions. It may mean getting wise counsel from godly people. It means everything that a true consideration of these most important events that have come into your life requires. You pay that trial that measure of respect. Bring it into the presence of Almighty God and reflect on it there.

It doesn’t mean you rejoice in cruelty, suffering, shame, injustice, destruction, or waste. It does not mean saying, “Well, Hallelujah anyway.” It does not mean no tears or sense of loss. “Consider !” means setting the trial in the whole mighty picture of a reigning loving God.

So we have looked at the command with which James begins this letter, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Now we come to the second part, the reason for the pure joy.

2. THE TESTING OF YOUR FAITH DEVELOPS CERTAIN ESSENTIAL GRACES

James says, Consider it pure joy … because This is not an irrational statement. It is not a “Cheer up old man.”  How can they be prevented from being hopelessly idealistic ? “Consider it pure joy when my worse fears are realized” ? “Consider it pure joy when my heart is breaking ? It’s nonsense without a “because” and there has to be some pretty massive explanation for considering it joy.

1] The first reason James gives is this, that the trial is testing our faith.

This word ‘testing’ is found in just one other place in the NT in Peter’s first letter and it’s found there in the context of the refiner, who tests and tries gold with fire. It is a great verse for casting light on this verse. “you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (I Peter 1:7) The fires of trials are there to prove that your faith is genuine faith and prove the reality of our beliefs.

All sorts of things are tested to prove that they are genuine.  Do you want your drugs tested?  Do you want to know that they are genuine and will do what it says ? Yes.  If you love antiques and you collect brass, then when you go to an antique shop you take a magnet with you and test the brass. If the magnet sticks to the brass then you know that it is simply gilded iron. You wont buy it because it is not the real thing. Currency. The cashier runs a special pen on that note or holds it to a special light. You are glad she does because you don’t want a forged note given to you in change. Household appliances. They have a seal to show that they have been tested and they are safe and effective. Cars. They are tested for their safety. Rivers and beaches and air and food and water – all are tested.

Everything important is tested. Trivial things are not tested.  But shouldn’t a Christian’s faith in God be tested ? Isn’t that worthy of testing ? Think of all we say hangs on true faith in Jesus Christ. Eternity with God in heaven for all who believe. “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And it’s true ! Then, do I have that faith ? Have I got the real thing ? How terrible to go through my life assuming that I did, but at the end discovering that I didn’t !

In the Pilgrim’s Progress there is a character called Ignorance and in the very last paragraph of the book we are told that it is his turn to come to the river of death, and he has no difficulty crossing it – a ferryman called Vainhope rows him over. But the shining ones at the door of heaven ask him for his certificate, that is, they ask him for the proof of real faith. He fumbles for it but cant find it. Then they bind him hand and foot and take him away. And you know how Pilgrim’s Progress ends ? “Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction !”

Do we have genuine saving faith? Such faith is tested and tried by God Himself ! He puts our faith under all kinds of pressure. He places our faith in different circumstances. We have this faith that means that we believe in the over-ruling providence of Almighty God We believe that God works all things together for our good. We believe that God is in control. We believe that God loves us. We believe that God cares for us. We believe that if we cast all our cares upon the Lord that he will sustain us, that he will look after us, and provide for us in all our needs, in every conceivable peril. That is our faith. yet there are these times when God puts us to the test. He places us in situations where it is difficult to believe that that is God’s attitude, that that is the way God regards us, that he is really in control. We have these great Christian convictions We have the assurance of God’s providential care, We have the assurance of God’s love. We believe all that and we act upon it. We base and structure our whole life around this great conviction – God is in control. God cares for us. Yet, time and again, we find that what is happening to us speaks of something very difficult. We find ourselves in so many situations where it is almost impossible for us to believe that God is in control, and so difficult to believe that God cares for us.

That is what James is teaching here. We have the great convictions of our faith. God is going to test our faith. God is going to do it by placing us in situations where it is going to be hard for us to go on as Christians, where discipleship is going to be costly, and where God’s own sovereignty and God’s shepherding and his own love is obscured and almost contradicted by the circumstances of our day to day lives.

“Do you really believe that all things are working together for your good ?” We are not sure. So God tests us with a trial, and we did keep trusting him through it all ! We passed the test ! “Do you truly believe that you have a wonderful loving Shepherd who watches over and protects you in all that happens ?” We are not sure, but when the test comes we find we have looked to God for help and grace. We have passed the test and are stronger because of it. Such trials then become means of grace to strengthen us. It is that kind of testing James is concerned for here. Consider it pure joy because it is God himself who is so concerned that your faith is genuine that he is testing it in all kinds of circumstances.

2] The second reason James gives for considering our trials to be pure joy is that these tests develop perseverance, and maturity and fulfilment

The test is an exercise, and every exercise strengthens. Troops go out on military exercises and they become tougher men. A young athlete runs for longer and longer distances, and he prepares himself for the marathon race. His exercises produce constancy. A young couple in the early years of marriage are sustained by their feelings. Then their child gets sick, or the husband is made redundant, or his job takes him away from home for weeks at a time, or she meets someone else and is drawn to him. There is a test and they go through it biblically, that is, they deal with it as the Bible tells us to handle these trials, trusting God, seeking help from him, honoring their marriage vows under fire. They are grittily determined to save their marriage – and as a result they get stronger, because their love is now a tried and tested love. They appreciate their marriage vows as never before. A student has a ‘mock’ exam before the real thing. The ‘mock’ helps him, he’s gone through that test, so that he is not so ill-prepared when the big external exam comes.

So God tests us with a little test, and we pull through it. “Oh,” we say, “So I have that amount of faith.” We doubted whether we had that much faith. Then God brings a bigger test into our live, and we pull through that. So on and on. There comes a time when we bury our parents, our husband or wife – it comes to all of us, and we are not bitter because our faith is a proved faith. We say, “I don’t know how I could have coped without God.” We have been given perseverance and staying power and heroic endurance.

There are two graces very close to one another that we must have. One is patience, and that is what we must show towards other people. Then there is the word mentioned here, perseverance, and that is not a passive submission to circumstances, it is a strong active challenging response to the difficulties we have to face. We conquer this trial, we are more than conquerors, by perseverance, keeping going and keeping going, day after day. That isn’t passive is it ? Shakespeare says, “Though patience be a tired mare yet she will plod.” What do we need as Christians more than the grace to keep plodding on ?

The testing of our faith develops perseverance. How else can anyone learn staying power ? I don’t know. But it doesn’t end there. There is a chain reaction. v.4 “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” Now where does all this start ? It starts with trials of many kinds. No other door to someone being “mature and complete, not lacking anything” except the door marked ‘trials.’

What do we want to be in the future ? First priority, “mature and complete.” Who wants to be a kid for ever ? You hear of the behaviour of some of these TV presenters and football players – vast salaries, travelling the world, surrounded by admirers and yet behaving like spoiled kids. What do you want in the future ? “That I be mature and complete.” Of course. The door to that is the door marked “Trials.” And the road to that is Perseverance Road. Keep persevering and you become mature and complete. You have to finish each stretch of the road. to reach maturity.

So to Christians under trial – “Don’t interfere with God’s plan for your life.” Don’t give up on your marriage when the first trial occurs. Don’t run out on your wife when a handicapped child is born. Don’t give up on the course when there is only one year to go. Don’t resign from the church when your conscientious beliefs are rejected by others. Persevere! Finish the work ! So you may be mature and complete. There is a growing period for a fruit, maybe five months from the first small fruit appearing to the time when they are ready to be picked and sold to the shops. You have to go through the whole growing period – finish the work so that the fruit are complete.

When we are in a trial God says to us, My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Believe God! Don’t give up. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Aren’t there people in the Christian church whom once you had great hopes in ? That in the future they would be mature and complete, leaders in the work of the gospel ? Yet they have been a great disappointment. There was a testing time in relationships, or in their trust in the truth of the Bible, or in their understanding of the gospel, and they failed the test.  Think of Jonah failing the test, cutting it short by doing things his way, heading for Joppa, running away from God. Instead of going east to Nineveh he tried to sail across the sea west to Tarshish. he heaped misery on misery by doing things his way. But in the end he had to do God’s will in God’s way.

Every trial you pass through you must consider it joy because it can make you mature and complete. Are there any weak points in your life? Do you have an irritable spirit? Quick to retaliate? Not gentle enough? Then God will permit trials to come into your life to strengthen and exercise those graces. You don’t pray privately as you should. God will send some trials into your life to cause you to pray. When a trainer looks at an athlete he spots areas of weakness in his life. he does not say, “Your arms are weak. Wrap them in cotton wool and put them in two slings.” No he exercises that person at the point of his weakness. God does the same to us where we are weak. He strengthens our weakness by trials, by perseverance to make us mature and complete

How do we end up in this wonderful state of “not lacking anything” ? Not lacking in love or trust or concern for others or spiritual energy? It starts with trials, and facing them maturely, recognising that the Prime Mover of all that touches us is Almighty God, submitting to them with joy, and letting the testing of our faith produce maturity.

This is the only way. Paul says it in Romans 5:3 & 4, “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance’ perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

And Peter says it, “all kinds of trial have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise glory and power when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Peter 1:6 & &0.

The result of the trial is new hope that does not disappoint. You have become a stronger and more useful person, with a closer relationship with the Lord and more loving relationship with other Christians. All this only comes when trials come into our lives and we respond to them as we should.

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