************ Sermon on James 1:2-4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 6, 2006
"Joy When You Face Trials"
I am starting a series of sermons on James. I have no idea how long it will take or how many sermons I will be doing. But let's start off with some introductory comments on the book of James itself.
Most scholars agree that the book of James is the very first New Testament book to be written, sometime before A.D. 49. It was written by James, the brother of Jesus. This James was not a disciple of Christ before the crucifixion (Mk 3:20-21); however, when Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection, he firmly believed the Gospel (1 Cor 15:3-9). James went on to become the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15). He was martyred for his faith around A.D. 62 by an angry mob of scribes and Pharisees outside the Temple. James was known and revered for his godliness and devotion to prayer.
The letter is addressed especially to Jewish Christians – "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations" (1:1). But Gentile Christians were included as well because all those who confess Jesus as Savior are members of God's people (Rom 11; Gal 6:16). The audience was dispersed, probably because of persecution. But, then, we too are exiles wandering on the earth waiting for Jesus to return and bring His kingdom in all its fullness.
The book of James is sometimes called "the Proverbs of the New Testament." Like Proverbs, the book of James deals with life and wisdom and the practice of our faith. I pray that our study of James will help us to be doers of the Word and that we will pay close attention to James' instruction on how true faith is to be lived out.
In living out our faith we need to follow the approach of James. James describes himself as "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." It is his duty, his calling, to be a servant. A servant, of course, obeys his master. So, if we – like James – are servants of God and Jesus, then we must be obedient to God's ways. A follower of Jesus must follow the way Jesus went. In his letter, James tells us how to be like Jesus, how to be a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In our text for this evening, James' overriding concern is to show us how to deal with various trials and afflictions as servants of God and the Lord Jesus Christ whose faith is displayed in word and deed. If we have real faith, we will show it by how we respond to trials.
I When You Face Trials
A What is the worst, most annoying sound you have ever heard? The screech of finger nails on a blackboard is at the top of my list. A screaming baby on an airplane is not pleasant. At two o'clock in the morning it is surprising how irritating the dripping of a faucet or the barking of a dog can be.
A very annoying sound is that of whining children or complaining adults. No matter how many hints you give, these people just don't seem to catch on that a never-ending, self-pitying, nasal-toned, rising-pitched whining is not the best way to respond to difficulties and trials and afflictions.
Other people, when they face trials, choose to quit. They give up. They throw in the towel. They sink into depression.
Still other people respond to tribulations with anger. They blow their temper. They get mad. They lash out at people. They swear and curse and yell and scream.
And, still others pretend nothing is ever wrong. Everything is always good and you will never hear otherwise. These optimists are unrealistic in their approach.
A servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ has a different response to difficulties and trials and afflictions. They respond with joy.
(James 1:2) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds ...Now, of course, you all realize that when James says "brothers," he actually means "brothers and sisters."
"Consider it pure joy." The word for "consider" can also mean "greet." James, then, is instructing believers that when hard times come "visiting" they should be greeted with joy.
B What are the trials that James is talking about? James is talking, first, about persecution – since it was common in that day for Christians to be persecuted. Because Christians claimed Jesus as Savior and Lord the authorities entered their homes and businesses and destroyed and ransacked everything they owned, dragged them off to prison, and put a sword to their throat. Trials like these can test your faith to the maximum. But James has other trials in mind too – notice, he calls them "trials of many kinds."
Thank God that we generally do not face persecution. But we do have trials of many kinds, don't we? I think of family fights and quarrels, cancer, heart-attack, a mental disease, a family member with AIDS, a pregnant teen, bankruptcy, a prison term, addiction, divorce, flunking out of college, breaking up with your girlfriend or boyfriend, a loved one dying without knowing the Lord, a disabled child or parent. I won't pretend this list is exhaustive. I am more than sure most of you can add some other trial(s) to this list. When I look over the congregation I see every family or extended family has some kind of trial.
C "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." James is not saying Christians should always be smiling and acting as if nothing is wrong. We have two English expressions that tell us to act this way: "Keep a Stiff Upper Lip" and "Keep Your Chin Up."
Keeping a stiff upper lip can be hard to do and that's why it became an expression. When someone gets upset, his or her lips might tremble. If you keep a stiff upper lip, you are trying not to show you are upset. "Keep your chin up" has a similar meaning. When someone is sad or depressed, the person might drop his or her head, bringing the chin down toward the chest. A chin held high shows confidence and optimism.
But James is not telling us to keep a stiff upper lip or to keep our chin up. He is not telling us to pretend nothing is wrong when we face "trials of many kinds."
James calls for a broader, deeper perspective that involves neither denial nor whining nor quitting nor anger.
II Joy in Trials
A "Consider it pure joy" when you have your share of trials, says James. Doesn't this sound crazy? Doesn't this sound the opposite of how sane people should respond to trials? On the face of it, this statement of the Bible does not sound true or realistic.
You know, we have no problems accepting most of the Bible. We agree when the Bible tells us God made the heavens and the earth and that the heavens tell the glory of God – for who among us has not been struck by the grandeur and beauty of creation. We agree that the wages of sin is death – because we see that time and again. We know that sin brings misery – because we have felt its destructive power in our own lives. We have no problem accepting the virgin birth and the resurrection. But we do have problems accepting the words of our text for this evening.
"Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." Really? You got to be kidding, God! You know, some things are just meant to go together – like peanut butter and jam, like milk and cookies, like potatoes and gravy, like virgin and Mary. But when we look at trials and we look at joy, it just doesn't seem like those two things belong together. Our world thinks joy comes by avoiding trials, not by encountering trials. And, we Christians often buy into this.
Joy doesn't really come when you encounter a trial, does it? If the goal of our lives is ease, then trials are bad. If we are living to be comfortable and healthy and wealthy, then trials are bad. But, if the goal of our lives is something else, then trials are good. If we have the right kinds of goals, then trials bring joy.
B "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." We need to backtrack for a moment and take a look at the exact wording of our text. We are not told to rejoice "because of" our trials. We are told to rejoice "whenever" we face trials. We are to rejoice "in" trials or "during" trials.
Paul says something similar to the church at Thessalonica. He says, "Give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess 5:18). We give thanks "in" and not "for" all circumstances. In other words, there is something we can give thanks for in every situation of life.
A number of years ago there was a heresy that became fairly popular in the church. And, it came from a misunderstanding of how we should react to trials in our lives. This heresy basically taught that whenever we experienced something painful, the first thing we should do, if we wanted to be obedient to God, was to get on our knees and thank God "for" that trial. For example, "God, I thank You that my husband is divorcing me." "I thank You that I have cancer." "I thank You that my son is on drugs." "I thank You that my daughter has run away from home."
One Thanksgiving Day, in the early 80s, I was sitting in church and we actually sang a song that contained nonsense like this. My brother-in-law, who has a really quick wit, talked to me about this and we composed our own song of thanks for nuclear war, world hunger, World War, Communism, serial killers, rapists, and so on.Nothing could be further from the Bible's teaching! God does not want us to thank Him for the evidence or effects of sin in our lives or in the lives of others. God does not want us to rejoice that the devil afflicts us with evil.
C "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." We know that the early Christians offer us an example to follow. Hard as it is to imagine, they did rejoice in their times of beating and persecution. The first time the apostles were beaten, we read,
(Acts 5:41) The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.And, Paul and Silas sang songs while they were in jail in Philippi (Acts 16:25). Later, Paul could actually say about himself, "Now I rejoice in what [I] suffered for you" (Col 1:24). The apostles were thankful not because of their split-open backs and the pain of their beatings but because they had been counted worthy of suffering for the Lord.
"Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." The apostles and early Christians, of course, were following the example of Jesus. Listen to what Hebrews says:
(Heb 12:2) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.For Jesus, cross and joy went together, shame and joy went together, trials and joy went together. And, they should go together for us too!
God expects us to find something to be thankful for in the midst of our difficult situations. He expects us to rejoice in our trials. I have always loved the story of Matthew Henry who was robbed one night while he was walking home along a dark street. He did not rejoice because of that horrible event, but he still did find something to rejoice about. Listen to what he wrote:
Subtopic: Examples of
Let me be thankful...
* first because I was never robbed before.
* second, because although they took my wallet they did not take my life.
* third, because although they took my all, it was not much.
* fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.
D "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." I said earlier that if we have the right kinds of goals, then trials bring joy. What is the right kind of goals? When is it that trials bring joy?
Trials bring joy when they deepen our trust in God and Christ. Trials bring joy when they build character. Trials bring joy when they bring change to our life. Trials bring joy when God uses them to make us more like Christ. Trials bring joy when they teach us discipline. James has this in mind when he says:
(James 1:3-4) ... you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (4) Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Are you going through a hard time? Maybe these words from a song sung by Kristine Wyrtzen will help you. The song is called "The Fire."
Topic: AfflictionsWow. That says it like it is for the Christian, for the servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I've been through a fire that has deepened my desire, to know the living God more and more.
It hasn't been much fun, but the work that it has done in my life has been worth the hurt.
You see sometimes we need the hard times to bring us to our knees, otherwise we do as we please and never heed him.
For he always knows what's best and it's when we are distressed that we really come to know God as he is.
E "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." God wants to change you and He wants to change me. God wants to sanctify you and me. This kind of change is never easy. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes trials. But ultimately it makes us perfect and complete – as it ultimately did with Job and Joseph.
"Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." Don't let your response to trials be determined by how they first feel. Don't let your response to trials be determined by how awful the situation seems to be.
Through trials God is at work in us, changing us, improving us. God is working in us to His glory and praise.
Topic: AfflictionsLong before there was football, the Christian's playbook declared the purpose of hardship. It builds Christlike character.
Subtopic: Refining Influence of
Title: Hardships Help
Only one time has a professional football team that plays its home games in a domed stadium with artificial turf ever won the Super Bowl.
A climate-controlled stadium protects players and fans from the misery of sleet, snow, mud, heat, and wind. Everyone is comfortable. But athletes who brave the elements are disciplined to handle hardship. Apparently such rigors have something to do with the ability to win the Super Bowl.
-- Greg Asimakoupoulos, Naperville, Illinois. Leadership, Vol. 19, no. 3
"Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." This is true for you, for me, for this church – for everyone who is a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
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