Wisdom in Trials
James 1:1 – 12
Wisdom in Trials
Reading James today ...
Back in 2010, a letter was dropped into a Royal Mail postbox, 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.”
I don’t know what you think the chances are of that being delivered, but, believe it or not, Royal Mail worked out who it was intended for, and delivered it!
It’s all the more remarkable, when we learn this landmark “golf course” was closed down in the 1970s!
Well, I read recently that if James, who wrote this letter we’re looking at this evening, were to post this today, it would get returned, marked “Insufficient address.”
Did you notice who he says he’s writing to? To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.
It’s not very specific, is it?
It’s not “all in Rome who are loved by God”,
Or, the “church of God in Corinth”
It sounds like the recipients could be anywhere in the world!
But actually, I thought, not only would it get labelled, “insufficient address”, the return address 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 postman 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 in my family, though I’m pretty sure that my 10 year old, named James, who’s a servant of Jesus, didn’t write it.
But there are at least 4 men named James who appear in the New Testament. And you’ll see there’s a link where you can see a bit more about who they are, and why the scholars think it’s James, the half-brother of Jesus, the son-of Mary and Joseph.
So, a bit more detail available there if that interests you.
But what’s interesting about Jesus’ brother, is that he didn’t believe in Jesus, during Jesus’ lifetime.
When James is mentioned in the gospels, it’s mostly to point out that he doesn’t believe. The gospel authors tell us that Jesus’ family thought he was crazy.
It wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead that James believed.
Now, 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 of Jesus 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,
You work 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.
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 that makes him look like a hypocrite.
The perfect witness.
And still James didn’t believe.
So can I say, “keep at it”?
Now, of course, Jesus wasn’t just another Christian, like you or I,
But persevere in your witness.
Don’t be discouraged if your evangelism to those close to you seems to be taking a long time.
But also, If I was James, writing this letter, I’m pretty sure I’d have started with something like, “James, brother of Jesus Christ, the one who shared a room with the Messiah!”, something like that.
But he doesn’t, does he? He speaks of himself as a servant.
See, James knows that his biological connection to Jesus is not important.
James had to come into relationship with Jesus, the same way as everyone else;,
Through hearing Jesus’ words,
There is no biological connection to Jesus,
You don’t have a relationship with Jesus because of the country you’re born in,
Or because of the family you’re born into.
Someone in our family might tell us about Jesus, but the only way into a relationship with Jesus, is for you to hear Jesus call, and to believe.
Let me say one more thing, and then move on, because we’re not even out of verse one yet!
This James had nickname.
He 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, is it?!
And maybe that can be an encouragement to us, to spur us on to pray for God’s church.
Remember at the weekend away, earlier this year, which seems like a lifetime ago now, we saw from Ephesians how we can pray for Christ’s church.
Well, Old Camel Knees might encourage us some more!
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, but now James uses this language to refer to Christians, reminding us that Christian people are far from home.
We live in the world, among the nations, but our true citizenship is in heaven.
And just as the 12 tribes were the sum total of the nation of Israel, to speak of 12 tribes of God’s people now, is to say this is a letter for all of God’s people;, no matter where, no matter when.
And so this letter encourages us, to live our lives as those saved by Jesus, in whatever context we find ourselves, and to guard against being double-minded, which is to forget, or not live out, our heavenly citizenship.
Of course, when we’re thinking about instructions for how we live as Christians, it’s important to remember, that’s not the same thing as “how does someone become a Christian?”
No, James is all about how people who have put their trust in Jesus for forgiveness and relationship, can live single-mindedly for him in the world.
Persevering in trials can lead to maturity (v 2 – 5)
And because James knows what the real world is like, he first directs our attention to the difficulties of life, and the new perspective that the gospel of Jesus brings us. See verse 2, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,.
No, maybe you’re not a Christian, and you’ve always suspected Christians kind of live in fairy land, and perhaps this looks like evidence that you’ve been right all along!
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, no doubt means that he has in mind, both the kind of suffering that comes because someone’s 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;,
Whatever struggle we’re facing that gets magnified by lockdown.
When we 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 us, this is not our natural response, is it?!
Now, let me be very clear. James is not telling us simply to get over the hardships and struggles we face.
Clearly someone who spent so much time on his knees praying, that he got a nickname out of it, isn’t someone who thinks people can just, snap out of hardships, get over their struggles.
He’s not going down the Buddhist line that says suffering is an illusion;, therefore all you need to do is disconnect from people and things emotionally and you won’t feel it when they’re taken away.
James is saying, even when, you face the terrible trials of life, there is an opportunity for joy, because those trials can lead to you maturing in Christ.
Do you see it in 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 by wishing we were rid of them, is because we tend to focus on the here and now, and not on the future.
We look at current hurt, and present suffering, instead of future maturity.
Now again, and I really can’t say this enough, this is in no way to minimise the hurt and suffering.
And COVID-19, and the shutting down of the economy is causing hurt and suffering in any number of new ways, isn’t it?
Hurt and suffering, trials, are real, it’s just that hurt and suffering are not the whole picture.
These very real, painful trials, test our faith, James says, and produce perseverance.
Now, when I was a student, I used to think that the purpose of a test was to catch me out, to show what I didn’t know.
But this kind of test, is a test with a view to proving something genuine.
Think of the show “Fake or Fortune” on BBC One. You know, some dusty painting’s discovered up in Granny’s attic, and it’s rumoured to be a lost work of one of the Old Masters or something
So they do all these tests;, microscopes, x-ray, metallurgy, all in the hope of proving it genuine.
That’s this kind of testing.
Hardships that test our faith;, sufferings that make us think about what matters to us and what we’re depending on,
The sadness that makes us ask, “does God really care?”,
“Is my faith in Jesus real?”
“In fact, is faith in Jesus even credible?”, that testing, is like gold being put refined in a furnace, 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, that they’re temporary.
They may be great gifts of God, don’t get me wrong, but they are no substitute for faith in Jesus,
Whatever value we try and draw out of those things for ourselves is not going to last.
And actually, hasn’t the last couple of months shown us, this?
And so James says to us, consider it pure joy,
When trials show me that I can’t take my health for granted,
When working from home, or getting to work on the public transport petrie dish remind me 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, yes, actually, when I see my trials like that, 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.
I think that James is still perfectly 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. And 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.
Just don’t stop with asking that.
James is trying to lift our gaze, from hardship now, to where our hardships can lead, 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 do we desire and value?
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, 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 so we can go back to being comfortable.
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.
Now that might seem like a bit of a random jump, a complete change of subject, but if we understand how the Bible authors speak about wisdom, we’ll see it’s not quite such a jump after all.
A friend of mine once told me that knowledge is being aware that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put tomato in a fruit salad!
It’s not a bad definition!
But in the Bible, wisdom is about knowing, understanding, and obeying God’s will.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, verse 5, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
Now, while we were looking at verses 2 to 4, we might have been thinking, if that’s what God’s will is, to consider it pure joy when I suffer
I don’t understand it,
I don’t particularly like it,
And I don’t know how to do it!
Which means if we are to do it, we’re going to need God’s wisdom.
See, it’s not a random jump at all, is it?
Sometimes it can be hard to make sense of why we’re suffering in a particular way,
Often it’s hard to work out why God put something in our path, and I’m sure lots of us can think of a particular hardship that we can’t see why God wants us to go through it, or how we ought to respond to it.
So hear the promise:,
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault,
See, this is perhaps not so much a blanket promise that you’ll know to never put tomato in a fruit salad, that kind of wisdom, but James here is zoomed in on the absolute assurance that God will give you wisdom to know, how to live as his person in the face of trials and hardships.
God is promising us, the wisdom that doesn’t just look for that horrible thing to be taken away, but also looks for the lesson,
Looks for the opportunity to grow in maturity.
Can you see that’s kind of wisdom being promised?
And notice how God gives. Not reluctantly, but generously. James’ word also has the sense of single-mindedness.
God is totally committed to equipping us to face hardships in a way that enables us to grow to maturity.
And he does it without finding fault.
God doesn’t say “well, you wasted the opportunity last time, all you wanted was to be free from it, so I’m not going to give you the wisdom to learn this time.”
No, God gives generously, and without finding fault.
... to live an undivided life (v 6 – 8)
Ans as God is single-minded in his giving, James warns us about being the opposite.
God gives us wisdom to face trials rightly, so that we can live an undivided life, that is, not be double-minded as James says in verse 8.
And as we noted double-mindedness is a theme right through the letter. It’s very picturesque language;, it’s literally having 2 psyches.
And someone who is like this, double-minded, shouldn’t expect to receive anything from the Lord verse 7.
James is certainly still thinking about asking God for wisdom when we’re faced with trials, but what he says here about prayer is also true of prayer in general.
Believe, and not doubt, verse 6, is the key to whether or not your prayers are answered.
Now, immediately that gets me a bit worried. Could any of us say we’ve never doubted God?
Who could say they’ve never doubted God’s goodness?
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 money, don’t we sometimes doubt 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, no one would receive anything from the Lord.
So 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 come from favouritism in the church.
There he means “divisions”,
Keeping this bit separate from that bit.
So if that’s how James uses this word, then back up in chapter 1, 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 separate;, They’re 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, verse 7, That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
See it’s not that you’re never allowed to wonder if Jesus is real, and if he really wants what’s best for you,
But this is quite a sharp wake-up call, if our prayers are not being answered, isn’t it?
Maybe I am being double-minded one, trying to keep some of my life out of God’s reach.
Of course, that’s not the only reason that things don’t change, even though we long for them to.
James has just been talking about how God wants to use our trials for our good,
There may be more good that God wants our hardship to produce, so he allows it to continue for a time,
But it would be foolish of us never to consider this reason.
Let’s live an undivided life.
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 where we go looking for value and identity.
Verse 9, 9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation
Remember your true identity.
If you’re poor, take pride in your high position. Interestingly, high position, is the word used in Ephesians 4 to describe Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Can’t get much higher than that!
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 again, from 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 is, we are joined together with, we identify with, Christian brothers and sisters who have nothing,
Who are ignored and despised.
We may own a house,
We may have a job, but in God’s eyes, we are no better than our brothers and sisters who have none of that.
The person in the 6:30 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 his resurrected and ascended life with us.
If we’re going to live single-mindedly, we need to remember our true identity.
There’s a crown promised for those who persevere (v 12)
So with that reminder, James comes back to where he started;, persevering under trial.
I imagine that whether you’re someone who ordinarily thinks about the future much or not, at the moment probably all of us are thinking a lot about the future.
We’re looking past the end of COVID-19,
We’re thinking about life after lockdown.
Well, James, and the Spirit of God writing through him, want to raise our eyes to even further into the future.
Because there’s an outcome of trials and hardship that goes beyond even the growth in maturity that he’s already spoken of;,
There’s an eternal reward, a crown.
Verse 12, Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Obviously, when James was writing, 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!
If you can remember back to those images we saw in 2012, with Team GB on the podium, gold medals hanging around their necks, while the world watches on, 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.
For some of God’s people, to persevere in the trial they face, may lead to death.
And for many of us our trials won’t cause our death, but we may still be facing them as we die,
Even so, Jesus here promises us life. Eternal life with him.
So often, 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 perhaps long for comfort, rather than, yearning to become mature, and to learn the lessons God longs to teach us through hardship.
Are we at risk of being double-minded?
Are our hearts set on things that are so much less than what God longs for, for us?
Or are our desires, God’s desires for us.
Friends, let’s let James, raise our eyes, from the very real hardships now, even the most serious hardships now, to what our trials accomplish, not just in this life, but for eternity.
Let me pray.
Loving Father we thank you that in your sovereignty you use even our trials and hardships to teach us, and to grow us.
You know what different challenges each one of us face right now. Please give us your wisdom, that we might persevere, and become more and more the people you would have us be.
For your glory.