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James

Count It All Joy

James  1:1-18

James, in a particularly blunt way, deals with our common reaction to trials. We think them a terrible thing as they are happening. He tells us to take a longer view, and see them as joy:

(James 1:1-4 NIV) James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. {2} Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, {3} because 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.

The point James makes is one which is quite startling: the Christian must make joy the standard, habitual response to trials. This is Christian maturity indeed.

·         Consider this first: when you go to a party, you tell stories about yourself as a way of introducing yourself, so that others might get to know you. What kind of stories do you tell? Are they not the stories of the trials of your life?

·         If you consider yourself a Christian you must certainly recognize that your Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, suffered greatly. Did you expect to be greater than he is? So then, when you suffer, you are sharing in the experiences of Christ; you are counted worthy.[1]

·         If we suffer, then our brothers in Christ will too. In that time, we should come along side them and bring them such joy.

Testing

Such trials are said to be a “testing” of our faith. We need to consider just what “testing” means:

·         Some testing is morally neutral: we test drive a car. We want to know what it can and can’t do.

·         Some testing is self-imposed – have you stepped on a scale lately? We do this for our own good. We should also test ourselves in the matter of sin - by self-examination, not by bar hopping – especially before prayer. It is always good to know what you need to repent for.

·         There is also divine testing. Generally, God does not permit us to test him (for such would be a lack of faith, and blasphemy) but there are exceptions.[2] But he does test us, as He did Abraham. This is to prove to us what we really are.

·         God also permits Satan to test us – but never beyond the limits which we can endure.[3] This explains why cute blondes in short skirts and high heels seem to find me completely invisible.

The result of such testing is – well, untranslatable. The Greek word is hupomone, which is translated here as “perseverance.” The word comes out in different flavors:

·         It’s “patience” in the King James, the New King James, the 1901 American Standard, the Douay-Rheims (the older English Bible of the Roman Catholic faith), the Jerusalem Bible (the newer Catholic one), the Living Bible (which could find no better paraphrase), the Bible for the Deaf (interesting, that) and even Noah Webster translated it that way.

·         “Endurance” is the choice of the opinionated Mr. Darby. It’s also found in Young’s Literal Translation, the New American Standard, the New Revised Standard and Today’s English Version.

·         The Revised Standard has “steadfastness.”

·         The New English version calls is “fortitude.”

·         Barclay, in his personal translation for his Daily Study Bible, uses “unwavering constancy.”

·         The Basic English version (which has a deliberately limited vocabulary) uses the word “power.”

·         I call it “toughness.”

Toughness? Certainly. It is the experience of having had a lot of lemons thrown at you – and making a lot of lemonade. It produces three characteristics in Christians who have it:

·         Maturity. In a culture which worships youth we often view “maturity” as equivalent to “senility.” But old is not dead. Maturity also carries with it the connotation of being ready, of being capable – of having come to full growth.

·         Completeness. Satan attacks you (remember the whole armor of God) where you are weak. But this toughness makes you complete, giving Satan nowhere to bite.

·         Ready for service (“finished work.”) You are then no longer a work in process as much as you are a finished work, ready for service.

All this shows up as wisdom.

Wisdom

(James 1:5-8 NIV) If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. {6} But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. {7} That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; {8} he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

Wisdom is the practical art of righteousness. It is the result of the Christian maturity produced through such trials. James later defines wisdom this way:

(James 3:17 NIV) But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

Have you ever known a person like that? If you have, then you can see that wisdom is indeed practical righteousness. We often see righteousness as “self-righteousness” – meaning to be terribly judgmental. But it is not so.

·         The key to wisdom is purity – to be 100% genuine. We will see how this is so in a later portion of the lesson.

·         The result of such wisdom is a person whom everyone considers a pleasure to know and a great friend to have.

There is a lesson in here for us. Interestingly, it shows us wisdom as well, for it is the proper way of giving – giving like God gives. How does God give?

·         Generously. The word in the Greek means “with a singleness of purpose.” The idea in the original means that we give without ulterior motive, but out of love and the desire to help.

·         Without fault finding. The word literally means “without calling names.” Think about that.

·         Have you ever received a gift which had a lecture attached? How pleasant an experience!

·         Did you ever get a gift which came with a constant string of reminders from the giver? Equally delightful.

·         What about a gift with pre-conditions? Have you ever known someone whose gifts were only for the “worthy?” Suppose God waited until we were worthy of salvation!

So God gives wisdom, and does so generously, with no strings attached. He does ask one thing: that you ask in faith.

The issue is one of commitment. Let me turn this around for you. Suppose you are running for a political office – let’s say, city council. It’s a thankless job; you are despised as a politician, but everyone wants your friendship. One way to secure access to the city councilman is to make a large contribution to his campaign fund (for all politicians need money to run a campaign). Two men contribute to you, in equal amounts. One, a man wise in the ways of the world, gives you and your opponent an equal amount of money. The other gives and also works in your campaign headquarters, tirelessly striving for your victory. Which of the two do you honor and respect after you are elected?

You cannot serve two masters. God will have you serve him; if you do, ask for wisdom and receive it generously. Try to deceive him and nothing is gained, everything is lost.

An example of wisdom: the rich and the poor

(James 1:9-11 NIV) The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. {10} But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. {11} For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

The poor man is to “take pride” (other translations have “boast” which is closer to the original) in his high position? Why”

·         First, there is the principal of the power of paradox: God’s strength is best displayed in man’s weakness. God will use the poor for his purposes just because the world will recognize it was not man’s wealth, but God’s power, that brought the result.

·         There is also the benefit of being poor. I know a man, a devout Catholic, who had seven children. His military salary was not enough to keep them while he was on duty in Hawaii, so he took a second job as a yacht salesman. The yacht brokerage provided him a yacht. Sound good? Guess what sucked up all his time, and his family’s time. It cured him of the desire to own a yacht.

The rich man, too, is to boast, but in his low position. He has fewer trials (and a lesser reward, of course). But he also has the rich man’s burden:

(1 Tim 6:17-19 NIV) Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. {18} Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. {19} In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

(In all matters of wealth, we must remember that we should seek the “right amount” of wealth.[4])

Every Good and Perfect Gift

James now lays out for us the principles by which temptation is done – and overcome.

(James 1:12-18 NIV) Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. {13} When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; {14} but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. {15} Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. {16} Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. {17} Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. {18} He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Note first the principles of temptation:

·         Everyone knows that we are tempted not in our areas of strength, but in our areas of weakness – as God permits.

·         But what we don’t see is that we tempt others in exactly those same areas – the areas of our weakness. That’s why we flock together with birds of the same sinful feathers.

You don’t think so? How do confidence games and swindles work? Is it not that the swindler finds someone who wants to get rich quick? How can you make this work if you do not understand it?

God has no weaknesses. He is not tempted. Therefore, he cannot tempt anyone. But he does set the standard by which temptation and our reaction to it are judged. The phrase, “stood the test,” used here was originally used of the testing of silver or gold coins for purity (I told you that we’d come back to that). It implies an absolute, not relative, standard. No one says that “this coin is much less of a counterfeit than that one.” It’s either genuine or it’s not. The same is true for Christians, and the working of this is in temptation and testing. If you “stand the test, “ God will bless you richly.

But the principle turns the other way as well. God cannot tempt anyone – but anything that comes from God is indeed a blessing. All good things come from him, ultimately. He is eternal, and does not change. The words translated “shifting shadows” really are an astronomical term involving the concept of parallax. It means that no matter the season of the year, God’s position is fixed.

Sometimes God’s blessings don’t appear as such. One recalls Mr. Churchill’s reaction to his wife’s “It’s a blessing in disguise.”

“Madam, at the moment it appears quite effectively disguised.”

James reminds us of God’s greatest gift to us: our new birth, salvation. This comes to us through the Word of Truth (which I think should be capitalized here), Jesus Christ. James compares it to firstfruits. The comparison is instructive to us:

·         Firstfruits were to be presented to God with a proclamation of gratitude for what he has done.[5]

·         They were required to be the best of what we had.[6]

·         They were to be used to bring honor to God.[7]

So it comes full circle. God, who gives us the gift of salvation, also allows us to be tested. This is so that we might become mature, gaining the wisdom from God. In that wisdom, we are to take our wealth (or lack of it) as cause to honor him, who is the giver of “every good and perfect gift.” We then become firstfruits, those who are presented to God with gratitude, chosen as the best, bringing honor to him.


[1] 2 Thessalonians 1:5

[2] For example, Malachi 3:10 is often quoted.

[3] 1 Corinthians 10:13

[4] Proverbs 30:8-9

[5] Deuteronomy 26:1-10

[6] Exodus 23:19

[7] Proverbs 3:9

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