Trials and Temptations
James 1:1 – 18
Trials and Temptations
Encouragement from James
Back in 2010, a letter was posted from one town in England to another, and it was addressed: “Mr and Mrs T Burlingham? A road somewhere near the golf course, in Thetford, Norfolk.”
And then scrawled on the bottom of the envelope “Trevor is a photographer (weddings), this might help.”
And would you believe it, Royal Mail correctly identified the intended recipient, and delivered the letter!
Mr Burlingham said, “I think Royal Mail did a fantastic job in delivering this. It’s amazing, really.
My business is even under a different name, and the golf course is actually out of town, but they still found me.”
Well, one of the commentators who’s written about this letter says that if James were to post his letter today, it would get returned, marked “Insufficient address.”
See who he’s writing to? To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.
It’s not “all in Rome who are loved by God”,
Or, the “church of God in Corinth” is it?
But actually, I thought, not only would it end up returned “insufficient address”, the return address, the identification of the sender is pretty vague also!
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
If this was all he had to go on, the postie would have a pretty hard time working out who to send it back to!
I personally know several people to whom this description applies. In fact there’s one who lives in my house with me. But I’m pretty sure that my 7 year-old didn’t write this letter.
And you’ll see on the front page of the leaflet some info about why we think this letter was written by James the half-brother of Jesus. And some scholars think we can’t be 100 percent sure, but I checked 21 commentaries on James this week, and they all think that Jesus’ brother was the author of this letter.
But what’s interesting about Jesus’ brother, is that he didn’t believe in Jesus, during his life, during Jesus’ life.
When James is mentioned in the gospels, it’s mostly to point out that he doesn’t believe. In fact, the gospel authors tell us that Jesus’ family thought he was crazy, they thought he was out of his mind!
Now, I have a sister, If it turned out that she was God’s special, appointed saviour, I reckon I’d be one of the last to believe that! But James only believed that Jesus was the centrepiece of God’s plan for his creation after Jesus’ resurrection.
And so I think this question of who wrote this letter gives us both a positive encouragement, and , shall we say a challenging encouragement.
See, first of all, all of us live with family,
Or work with colleagues,
mix with friends, who like James in the early part of his life, don’t believe in Jesus.
And I know that some of you work really hard, to commend the gospel in those situations,
You’re distressed at your sin, because you fear it undermines your witness,
You try hard to keep your temper,
To say no to temptation,
To put others first,
To speak the good news of Jesus into their life.
And sometimes you’re disheartened when it seems to have no effect. Years down the track, they don’t seem any more ready to put their trust in Jesus than at the beginning.
So will you, take some encouragement from James?!
Jesus, had the perfect ministry to his family! He would have, wouldn’t he?
No sin to discredit his testimony,
No selfishness to make him look like a hypocrite,
The perfect witness.
And still James didn’t believe. That only came after the resurrection.
And now, 2000 years later, 21 leading Bible scholars think that James, who didn’t believe, is the man who wrote this letter, that has been such a challenge and encouragement to hundreds of millions of Christian people.
So can I say, “keep at it”?
Persevere in your witness.
Don’t be discouraged if your Christian witness to those close to you seems to be taking a long time.
And then there’s the gentle prodding encouragement;!
If I was James, writing this letter, I think I’d have started it something like, “James, brother of Jesus Christ, the one who sat at the dining table with the Messiah”! something like that.
But he doesn’t, does he? He speaks of himself as a servant.
See James’ biological connection to Jesus is not important. It’s actually immaterial. James had to come to relationship with Jesus, the same way as everyone else;,
By looking at the evidence, evaluating Jesus’ claims, and being convinced that they stack up, that Jesus really is who he says he is, that he really does offer us, forgiveness and reconciliation with God, through his death in our place.
And that’s why, even if all those scholars are wrong, and this is a different James writing to us, it makes no difference.
There is no biological connection to Jesus,
You’re not a Christian because of the country you’re born in,
Or because of the family you’re born into.
The only way into a relationship with Jesus, is for you to decide, for you to believe.
It has nothing to do, with anyone else in your family.
James doesn’t make that family connection claim here, because he understands exactly how a relationship with Jesus works.
Let me say one more thing, and then move on, because we’re not even out of verse one yet!
James had nickname.
This is to encourage you. James was known as “camel knees.” Old camel knees, how’s that for a nickname?!
It’s said that his knees were so worn and calloused, they looked like camel’s knees, because he was on his knees, praying for the church , constantly.
Not a bad nickname, hey?!
And maybe that can be an encouragement to us, to spur us on to pray for God’s church.
And so this James, who loves God’s church so much that his knees are paying the price, writes to Christian people, who he describes as the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.
It’s a particularly Jewish way of way of referring to the church, quite a natural expression, for the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
This was language that the Jews had used to describe in the centuries before James. If they were far from Jerusalem, they saw themselves as scattered far from home.
By James’ day, those 12 tribes no longer existed, but this language reminds us that Christian people are far from home.
We live in the world, among the nations, but our true citizenship is in heaven.
And throughout the letter, we’ll see that kind of thinking reflected in the way James calls us to live out our Christian identity, in the world, and to guard against being double-minded, which is to forget, or not live out, our heavenly citizenship.
And so James gives 54 specific commands, in only 108 verses.
This is a letter about how your heavenly identity, should shape your life now;
In your relationships,
In your work,
And amidst the circumstances of life.
Persevering in trials can lead to maturity (v 2 – 5)
And so James firstly directs our attention to the difficulties of life. Verse 2, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,.
Maybe if you’re not a Christian, but you’ve thought Christians have a fairly tenuous grip on reality, maybe this looks like evidence that you’re right.
Why on earth should we consider it pure joy, when we face trials and hardships?
The fact that James says these trials come in many kinds, do doubt means that he has in mind, both the kind of suffering that comes because you’re a follower of Jesus, whether mild opposition or violent persecution, but also the times when life is just hard;
The trials we face because we live in a world that’s broken by sin;,
The temptation to sin,
The death of people we love,
And I’m sure you could add to that list.
When you face those trials, James says, consider it pure joy,
Now, I don’t know about you, but this is not my natural approach, when I face trials of many kinds! Actually I think I do know, for most of you, this is not our natural response, is it?!
Now, James isn’t calling on us to ignore our circumstances.
Clearly someone who spent so much time on his knees praying, that the got a nickname out of it, isn’t going to think that circumstances don’t matter.
He’s not going down the Buddhist line that says suffering is an illusion, and all you need to do is disconnect from people and things emotionally and you won’t feel it when they’re taken away.
No, he’s not saying ignore the hardships of your life, but he says, if you’re a Christian person, you can rejoice when you face the trials of life, because those trials can lead to you maturing in Christ.
Why can we rejoice? Verse 3, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
The reason that we , probably respond to our trials primarily by wishing we were rid of them, is because we tend to focus on there and now, and not on the future.
We look at current hurt, and present suffering, instead of future maturity.
Trials, the very real , painful trials we face, test our faith, James says, and produce perseverance.
James’ word for testing here carries the sense of testing in order to prove something genuine.
My daughter Heidi and I have been watching a show on SBS called Fake or Fortune. And each episode focuses on a painting, and you know the type, it was discovered up in the attic at Granny’s place, that kind of thing, but somebody suspects it’s a lost work of one of the Old Masters, or one of the leading impressionists.
And so they sub-ject the painting to all manner of testing;, microscopes, x-ray, metallurgy, all in the hope of proving it genuine.
That’s this kind of testing.
When I was a student, I used to think that the purpose of a test was to catch me out, to show what you didn’t know.
But this kind of test, is a test, with a view to proving genuine.
Think of some metal being refined in a fire.
You put the gold in the fire, so that other things, impurities, things of little value, are burnt away, leaving you with gold more pure and more valuable than you had at the beginning.
James says, if we persevere in our trials, our faith is refined, and the impurities, the things of less value, are taken away, leaving our faith is strengthened and purified.
See there are things that we can depend on, put our trust in, that are actually impurities in our faith, they work against our faith.
Maybe it’s the financial security we’ve established for ourselves,
Maybe it’s our status, the influence we have with others,
Maybe it’s our family,
Suffering and trials demonstrate to us, that these things ultimately cannot be depended upon. They may be great gifts of God, don’t get me wrong, but they are no substitute for faith in Jesus.
We just spent 3 weeks looking at Samson, who trusted in God’s gift to him, instead of relying on God himself.
Trials are the circumstances of life, that take these things from us,
Or show to be temporary,
Or cause us to evaluate what we value, and where we have put our trust.
Trials cause us
When trials show me that I can’t take my health for granted,
When hardships at work confront me with the reality that I live in a fallen world, where work is toilsome, and that I’m not to seek my identity in what I do,
When the awful reality of death shouts to me that this world is not my home,
When the trial of watching a loved one die preaches to me of my need for a saviour who can defeat sin and death,
Well, then I can, consider it joy. Because in persevering through this trial, God is able to teach me something. God is able to test, to purify my faith, and to make me mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Now, that might not be my first response.
And actually, James doesn’t suggest that rejoicing in what our hardships can do for us, is our only response to suffering.
Pure joy doesn’t mean that this is all we’re allowed to feel.
I think, that James is still entirely happy for us to mourn, to grieve, to ask God to take hardships away.
In 2 Corinthians 12 the Apostle Paul speaks of a serious hardship. He calls it, a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan.
And he says he asked God 3 times, to take it away. I don’t think he means, “Dear God,
Please take it away,
Please take it away,
Please take it away. Amen.
But that he repeatedly, and probably quite desperately, implored God that he would be delivered from this trial.
It is OK to ask God to heal,
To ask God to provide,
To ask God to deliver you from your trials.
But don’t stop with asking that.
James is trying to lift our gaze, from hardship now, to where our hardships can lead, that is, Christian maturity.
We can rejoice when we face trials, because each trial is an opportunity to grow in our faith, and to become more like Jesus.
That was what Paul said, looking back on his thorn in the flesh. He learnt a lesson about resting in God’s grace, and displaying God’s power through weakness.
And so it comes down to a question;, What is that you desire?
Most of us, live very comfortable lives.
Certainly by world standards.
And there’s a great danger that we might come to value comfort, well, above anything.
And if we want comfort, that is, being surrounded by the things we like,
Not having to do too much of what we don’t find appealing,
Not being stretched too often or too far,
If we desire a comfortable life,
The danger is that when trials come, all we’ll want, is for them to be taken away.
But if there’s something that we value more than comfort, that is, if we value our character,
Our maturity in Christ,
Then we can consider it pure joy, when we face trials of many kinds because we know that God will use our perseverance through our trials, to grow us to maturity in Christ.
Wouldn’t you love a faith, that holds firm to God through thick and thin?
Well, that kind of faith comes through, holding firm to God through thick and thin.
So ask for wisdom (v 5 – 7)
So James says, ask for wisdom.
This can seem like a bit of a random jump, like he’s just changed subject completely, but if we understand how the Bible authors speak about wisdom, we’ll see it’s not quite such a jump after all.
Andy Buchan who used to work here, taught me that knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put tomato in a fruit salad!
Which is not a bad definition, but in the Bible, wisdom is about knowing, understanding, and obeying God’s will.
Wisdom allows us to know and understand God’s will, and put it into action in our lives.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
Now, we’ve probably all just finished thinking, as we looked at verses 2 to 4, if that’s what God’s will is, to consider it pure joy when I face trials of many kinds, if that’s God’s will for me,
I don’t understand it,
I don’t particularly like it,
And I don’t know how to put that into action in my life.
That is, we’ve all just said, If I’m to do this, then I need God’s wisdom.
So, it’s not a random jump, is it?
Sometimes it can be hard to make sense of why we’re suffering in a particular way,
Sometimes it can be hard to work out why God put something in our path, and even as I’m saying this, I’m sure just about all us have some hardship or trial in our mind, and we think, “Yeah, I don’t know why,
I don’t understand,
I’m not sure what God wants from me, in the middle of this trial.”
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault,
So this is perhaps not so much a free for all promise, “God will give you the wisdom to know not to put tomato in a fruit salad, but more likely James’ focus is on the absolute assurance of wisdom to know how to live as God’s person in the face of trials and hardships, Wisdom to know how to look , not just for their removal, but for your own growth to maturity.
And notice how God gives. Not reluctantly, but generously. James’ word also has the sense of single-mindedly.
God is totally committed to equipping you to face hardships in a way that enables you to grow to maturity.
God gives single-mindedly, and without finding fault.
God’s not like a parent giving out pocket money, who says, “You’re not getting any today, because you wasted yours last time.” He doesn’t drag up our past failures.
This wisdom;, knowledge, understanding, the ability to mature under trial,
God gives, generously, and without finding fault.
And live an undivided life (v 6 – 8)
But if God is single-minded in his giving, James warns us about being the opposite.
It’s possible to be double-minded, literally having 2 psyches. And we’ll see this is a major theme throughout the letter.
Someone who is double-minded, shouldn’t expect to receive anything from the Lord.
James probably still has the idea of asking for wisdom in mind, but what he says here about prayer is also true of prayer in general.
Believe, and not doubt, is the key James says, to whether or not your prayers are answered.
Now, immediately that gets me a bit worried.
Who of us, could say we’ve never doubted God’s goodness?
Who could say they’ve never doubted that God’s pattern for life is better than the path that we would choose.
When God speaks about the sort of relationships we ought to have, don’t we sometime doubt that he knows best for us?
When it comes to thinking about how we use our money, don’t we sometimes think that God has our best interests at heart?
Living in a fallen world where every part of us, including our will and our mind, area tainted by sin, we will on occasion have doubts.
So clearly James can’t mean, that if we have ever , wrestled with doubts about our faith, or even if our trials lead us to doubt God’s goodness, then we can’t expect to receive anything from the Lord. If that were the case, the Lord wouldn’t have anyone left to give anything to!
And as we find over and over again, the best thing to help us interpret the Bible, , is the Bible.
And just down in chapter 2 verse 4, James uses this same word that here is translated doubt, when he talks about the divisions that favouritism causes in the church.
There he means “divisions”, distinctions, separations, carving off this bit from that bit.
He’s talking about internal conflict.
And so back up in chapter one, if that’s how James uses this word, then he would seem to be talking about the person who separates off this part of their life away from God’s wisdom;, “I’m not going to wrestle with how God wants me to live,
How to please him,
How to do his will,
These parts of my life are off-limits to God.
But in these other areas of my life;,
What I look like on Sundays,
How I act when my Christian friends are around,
Oh yeah, I’m happy to do what God wants there.
James is saying the person who divides up their life like that,
who says that God doesn’t have access to this part of my life, That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do
There’s quite a sharp wake-up call, if our prayers are not being answered, isn’t it?
Maybe we’re the double-minded one, trying to keep some of our life out of God’s reach.
Of course, that’s not the only reason that our life might not be taking the track that we wish it would. James has just been talking about how God wants to use our trials for our good, but it would be foolish of us to ignore this reason.
Remember your true identity (v 9 – 11)
And maybe one of the areas of life that we like to section off from trusting in God, is what we do with our money. James leaps in verse 9 to talking about rich people and poor people, believers in humble circumstances and those who are rich.
And really he’s just making a very simple point; Remember your true identity.
If you’re poor, take pride in your high position.
high position, is the word used in Ephesians 4 to describe Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
Christian person you may be poor, James says,
You may have nothing,
You may be trampled on by people who consider you worthless, but you hold a high and lofty position.
You have been raised up with Christ.
You are seated with him in the heavenly realms.
And those of us who are rich, and in a global perspective, that’s all of us. If you’ve had more than one meal in the last 24 hours you’re rich, we are to take pride in our humiliation, that we are joined together with, and identified with, Christian brothers and sisters who have nothing,
Who are thought very little of, even despised.
We may have a house, a car or two, and more food than we need, but in God’s eyes, we are no better than our brothers and sisters who have none of that.
The person in our church who has the least, is perhaps the person who can remind us most clearly, that God doesn’t choose us because of what we can offer him,
God doesn’t save us based on our merits,
He welcomes us though we have nothing to offer,
And he raises us up into this gloriously high position, as Jesus shares is resurrected and ascended life with us.
Don’t blame God when you’re tempted to sin (v 13 – 15)
James then comes sort of full circle, doesn’t he in verse 12, Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, and here the outcome of trial and hardship is not pictured in terms of maturity, but a crown.
Obviously, kings wore crowns, but the word was mostly used to describe the laurel wreath given to winning athletes.
This was the gold medal, of the original Olympic games! So those images of Michael Phelps on the podium with those medals around his neck, it’s that kind of glory and honour that God gives to those who persevere under trial.
And notice that this reward is the crown of life.
To persevere in the trial we face, may in fact lead to death.
If our trial is illness or injury that could be the case,
It’s certainly the case for the hundreds of thousands around the world who suffer for their faith in Jesus.
Even if persevering in the face of trial means death, Jesus here promises us life. Eternal life with him.
See again, James trying to raise our eyes, from the hurts of now, even the most serious hurts now, to what our hardships accomplish, not just in this life, but also in the life to come.
And so lastly, for us, although he says a couple more things in this section, we’ll finish with the reminder, don’t blame God if you’re tempted to sin.
Look at verse 13 with me, When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;
God will put us in situations in order to strengthen our faith,
He will test us in the sense that he seeks to refine our faith. Like that gold that goes in impure, but comes out perfected, we’ve seen that God will use trials to remove our dependence on other things,
To teach us those things that we will only learn when we have no other choice.
But God does not tempt us to sin.
I reckon we’d probably all agree, that with trial, often comes temptation to sin.
The heartache of a broken relationship might give rise to the temptation to drown my sorrows in whatever possible relationship comes along, however inappropriate.
Financial loss presents the temptation to become greedy with what I still have, instead of being generous,
Being let down by others, might tempt me to think I can only depend on me, and no-one else, not even God.
A personal tragedy might mean I’m tempted to blame God.
The suffering of someone I love, might mean I’m tempted to doubt that God is good.
When we face trial or hardship, we are often tempted to sin, but God will never lead us into sin. Here’s an example of lacking wisdom in the face of trials, of not understanding God’s will;
We might think that God is tempting us.
The person who lacks wisdom can’t see any difference between the trial, and the temptation that might come in the midst of it.
Somebody once said “to err is human, to blame it on God is even more human!”
But God hates evil, he will not lead you into sin.
You sin because you want to sin (v 14 – 15)
And so James gives us this little snapshot of the life-cycle of sin.
And if God doesn’t lead us into sin, well someone might be tempted to blame the devil. No says James, you sin because you’re sinful.
You sin because you want to sin.
Each person, verse 4, is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.
15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin;,
and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
This is an image from hunting or fishing.
Think of the worm on the fisherman’s hook that entices the fish, which is then dragged away.
But in our case it’s not that some cosmic fisherman has put the bait in front of us, James says we ourselves have put the bait in front of us. Obviously that’s where the fishing illustration falls down! The fish doesn’t go round baiting his own hook!
But we do.
We sin because we want to.
Sin starts with us wanting things, that are less than what God wants for us.
We set our hearts on lesser things;,
On material wealth instead of treasures in heaven,
On the illusion of security now, rather than the promise of a crown of life,
We long to hear the praise of others, in the place of God’s “well done, good and faithful servant.”
We desire to get even, or get back, instead of following the example of Jesus.
We go round baiting our own hook, as we desire things that are less than what God longs for , for us.
And that desire gives birth to sin, which when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Notice that to desire something, doesn’t necessarily mean that we have sinned.
Some things, certainly, as a Christian person, we shouldn’t desire, but, for example, I desire, I want people to like me.
Nothing wrong with that! I think it’s probably better for the Kingdom, better all round if people like me rather than think I’m a total jerk!
At that point, in my desire for people to like me, I haven’t sinned, have I?
But after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin
My desire , “I want people to like me”, can produce off-spring, can’t it?
My desire, can change the way I talk to people, I’d never challenge people, I’d never ask someone to repent.
My desire conceives, and changes the way I lead our church, “never going to preach on anything that people might find confronting, ”
My desire conceives, and changes the way I parent my children, “I’ll give them everything they want, just so they’ll like me.”
after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
See, it comes back to the question we asked early on.
What do you desire?
Is your heart set on things, that are so much less than what God longs for you?
Or are your desires , God’s desires for you.
Friends, the more we pray and ask for God’s wisdom, the more we’re able to bring our desires in line with his,
And we will bait our own hook less and less,
And less and less, we will fall into the temptation to sin.