James 1 – Faith That Works, Part 1 Jim Erwin
January 7, 2017
Is everyone surviving the cold? What a way to start 2018! On New Year’s Day morning I went out to start the car and it said -17 degrees. That’s cold! It’s at times like this when I have a hard time imagining those humid summer days and what it feels like to be hot. I have a hard time deciding whether I’d take a week of subzero temps or a week of 100+ temps. What would you go with? Freezing cold or sweltering hot? If I had to answer right now I think I’d take the hot. Something about warm sun and shorts and a t-shirt sound rather appealing right now-although jump ahead to August when it is really hot out and I’ll wish it was freezing cold. As humans we operate in a very narrow range of temperatures. Not too hot, not too cold, it has to be just right. I was talking with some friends last week who said that the furnace in their apartment wasn’t working properly. Bad time of the year for that to happen. So the repairman came over, looked at it, and said that it was working it just wasn’t heating the apartment. And they thought that was a rather interesting response because isn’t the purpose of the furnace to heat the apartment, isn’t that why it exists? Great that it can work and run and do its thing, but if it’s not actually heating up the place and increasing the temperature than what is it accomplishing, what is it good for?
And here this morning, at the start of the new year, that’s what we want to be talking about. Not necessarily furnaces that are working, but faith that is working. We want to discuss the idea about a faith that is actually accomplishing something. I don’t know about you but it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking along the same lines as that repairman-that our faith is working it’s just not changing us or making much of an impact. To say-I have faith but I’m just living my life, doing my thing, not trying to go overboard or be too spiritual things. But just like the purpose of a furnace is to heat up a room so that it’s no longer cold, the purpose of faith is to transform us so that we’re no longer the same. Faith isn’t an unmoving, static thing in our lives, it’s dynamic and active and brings about radical change. So we’re going to start a new series that’s centered around that idea. It’s a series that will challenge us to examine our faith and determine if it’s actually working in our lives; to see that real faith is anything but theoretical or detached from daily life, but that it’s something very practical, very applicable. And there’s no better book of Scripture for examining that than the book of James. Beyond being just one of the best named books of the Bible, James is about having a faith that works. James is about putting what we believe into action. It’s about doing what we hear and read in God’s Word. It’s about what we claim to stand for being vividly displayed in how we live. This little book doesn’t want us to think about our faith as some sort of detached, irrelevant, separate thing that just takes place on Sunday, instead James wants us to view our faith as something working all day, every day. And that’s what we’ve entitled this series-Faith That Works, All Day, Every Day. It sounds like the ad for a Chevy truck-but in order to assist us in this, we’re going to have a weekly memory verse from the passage we’ve studied in James. The goal is for all of us as a church to memorize it and say it ourselves every day, throughout the day, all day when you need to hear it. You’ll see in your bulletin that this week we’re going to be memorizing verse 12. That verse is a great encouragement because I’m sure that every single one of us enters 2018 with some sort of trial in our lives. It may be big, it may be small, but chances are there’s something you’re dealing with, some sort of trial, some sort of challenge or difficulty you’re facing. I doubt there are very many of us starting the new year saying-I’ve got nothing, there’s nothing hard or challenging in my life at all, I’m just sitting around and life is super easy. I doubt that any of us are saying that. Challenges and trials are unfortunately all too common. They’re something we face on a frequent basis. So what do we do with them, how do we deal with them and get through them? Open your Bibles to James 1 because this is where he starts off with the topic of trials.
Now as you’re turning to the book of James, you might be wondering who James is. There are several people named James in the New Testament, Most famously was James, the brother of John, and all with Peter they were the closest group of disciples to Jesus-there with Him on the mount of transfiguration, but most Bible scholars believe this is James the half-brother of Jesus. Now James has an interesting biography in Scripture-and that’s largely due to the fact that he has the unique opportunity of growing up with the Son of God as his brother. There’s nothing siblings like more than being a tattle-tale and telling on each other to get them in trouble. But can you imagine James’ predicament in trying to tell on Jesus? Mom, did you see what Jesus did? No, what did he do, honey? Okay, fine he did nothing-it was all me-but that’s the part that’s driving me crazy-He never does anything wrong! James has Jesus as a brother and this gets brought up later in life-Matthew 13:53-56. As if someone with the wisdom and teaching skills like Jesus couldn’t possibly come from this family, that James and his other brothers aren’t showing good aptitude in their studies at school. Clearly Jesus is different from his family-and later in John’s gospel it reveals that Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in who He was-John 7:5. And that would certainly include James. But by the time we come to Jesus’ resurrection look at what it says-1 Corinthians 15:4-7. And most Bible scholars believe that James was converted when he became an eyewitness to the resurrection because the next time we read about James he’s become the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Look at what Paul says about him in Galatians 1:19; 2:9. So James is in good company with Peter and John, being considered a pillar in the church. James is someone Paul is looking to for instruction and leadership. And here we see James giving that instruction and leadership to many of the Jewish believers who had become scattered because of persecution. This is who James is writing to in this letter-verse 1. James isn’t writing to a group of people whose life is easy and smooth sailing hanging out in suburbia.
Not at all. James is writing to a group of hurting, struggling people who have had to flee for their lives. That’s what the Dispersion is-they’ve had to leave Jerusalem.The threat of Roman persecution hangs over their heads for following Jesus. So what does James have to say to them-verse 2. He doesn’t say grin and bear it, he doesn’t say try to get through it as quickly as possible or figure out an easy fix to your trials, he says count it all joy, consider it a good thing when you face various trials. That word various is important because that includes all the different trials we face-from the small, little ones that constantly creep up to the huge, big trials that descend on us with a crushing weight like having to flee your home because of persecution.+
9 But James is telling us to count it as something joyful. Why?
It seems like two polar opposites-trials and joy. This isn’t peanut butter and jelly. Two things that don’t go together well; two ingredients that don’t mix. We might think James is crazy for saying such a thing-but the truth is that he’s encouraging us to embrace trials not because of what they are- no one likes pain-but for what God is sovereignly accomplishing through them. And that’s what he goes on to say-verses 3-4. That’s where the joy in our trials come from. We have to remember that God’s goal isn’t our happiness but our holiness. He doesn’t want us to just feel good in the moment, He wants to shape us for the long haul. He wants to develop our character and make us more like Christ. Point 1: Our Trials may seem to be negative but they actually toughen us towards maturity in Christ. That word steadfastness can be defined as staying power, fortitude or toughness. I particularly like that word toughness because it makes me think of sports. If there’s one thing an athlete is it’s tough. No athlete who’s going to have any success in their sport is weak. Weakness doesn’t get you anywhere, weakness doesn’t win. An athlete has to develop toughness or steadfastness if they want to succeed. When you watch the winter Olympics this year you won’t see a lot of weak athletes. If this verse was spoken in a sports context it might say-Count it all joy when your coach is putting you through the ringer. Count it all joy when the coach is making you run extra laps and sweat and work hard and become exhausted for you know that the testing of your body is preparing you for the big game that lies ahead. And it’s no different spiritually. The Lord is sovereignly using trials in our lives. He takes us through the ringer, He makes us sweat and work so that our faith won’t be something in word only, but something concrete and real, something tried and tested and proved true. The Lord wants our faith to be toughened up, He wants us to develop steadfastness for what lies ahead because He’s shaping us for eternity. Count it all joy that the Lord doesn’t take a short sighted perspective in your life. Count it all joy that the Lord is looking far ahead down the road in how He’s preparing you. But that can only happen as you trust Him in whatever trials He chooses to take you through to get there. He’s toughening you towards maturity in Christ.
Think about how you’re handling the trials of 2018 so far, how are dealing with the challenges you entered this year with? Are you allowing God to produce toughness in your faith? Are you trusting Him that this trial lovingly comes from Him and is being used by Him? That’s the other big part of this-we have to trust that God knows what He’s doing. Way too often we try to figure out the trial on our own. We conclude that somehow we’ve messed up or angered God or sinned too much and so He’s punishing us with this trial. He’s paying us back and giving our mistakes what they deserve-and that God likes to see us suffer-but that’s not what this is saying at all. It’s saying the trials have come because God is infinitely wise and He knows what He’s doing. Look at verse 5. Let’s face it-we don’t see everything from every angle. We might think we do-but we don’t. We don’t know all that God is doing-we aren’t able to discover the depths of His plans for us. James is telling us not to try and figure it all out on our own with our limited human brainpower, but to ask God for His wisdom-and He’ll give it to us if we’re good enough?-how? If we’re spiritual enough? No-God will generously give His wisdom to all who ask Him in faith-verses 6-8. And that doesn’t mean you won’t have questions-the doubting James is talking about is that inner conflict and distrust in God; that you’re doubting God’s goodness or doubting the ways He’s working in your life. You’re double-minded and unstable in the sense that part of you trusts God but a large part of you doesn’t. You’re on a roller coaster up and down-like a wave of the sea. And James is saying you’ve got to eliminate that thinking, not be continually up or down or steered by your emotions you need to be single-minded and simply come to God in faith wanting to hear from Him. Not trying to impose your will on Him, but to get on board with His. When was the last time you did that? Instead of fighting against the situation or trying to fix it all yourself, or collapse in a heap of ruin you simply drew near to God and said, Help me understand what you’re doing in my life, Lord. Show me why you’re taking me down this road and what you’re trying to teach me. Give me your wisdom to see this from your perspective; that this trial is bringing about something good in me that I need to develop.
I’m not sure what you talked about over conversation at Christmas dinner, but my brother-in-law Andy and I talked about the lifecycle of oysters-no doubt a common topic at Christmas. But he’s a civil engineer who works with water flow so this topic was on his mind and he was showing me the lifecycle of oysters on his phone-but what struck us as particularly interesting was what they do when a foreign object, like a grain of sand or particle of food or some sort of parasite accidentally floats between the shells and gets inside near it’s organs. It’s sort of like a splinter for an oyster. In order to deal with this unwanted irritant, they don’t eliminate it, instead
the oyster begins to coat it with a filmy substance known as nacre. Layer and layer of this substance covers it until that once irritating, unwanted piece of sand has become a iridescent pearl. Talk about long term good-what was once an irritation has now become something beautiful, something valuable and worth having. And it’s the same with us. We could learn from the oysters that when it comes to trials-they may be irritating, they may be hard and difficult and unwanted, a splinter in our lives, but they can produce something beautiful in us as we remain steadfast and trust God with them-verse 12. That crown of life is something far greater than a pearl, it’s something far greater than any jewels or riches or wealth this world could provide because what it’s talking about is eternal life and becoming someone fit to dwell in the kingdom of God. He doesn’t want weak, untested people in eternity, He wants those who’ve developed steadfastness-why? Back to verse 4. This is all a part of God’s training program for us and it begins with trials and how we deal with them. They can become a great season of preparation, or they can turn into something very negative.
If you look down at verse 13 the same Greek word translated for trials in v. 2 is now translated as temptations in verse 13. It’s the Greek word-peirasmos-and the reason for the difference in our English translation is that in every trial it can either be a time of strengthening and trusting God-or it can be a time of doubting and disobedience. Our English text is helping us see that every trial brings temptation with it-and look at who’s the cause of that-verse 13-15. What a downward spiral-from desire to death-but that’s where temptation leads us. So Point 2: Our Temptations may seem to offer so much but they actually destroy us from growing in Christ. Let’s be honest, in the midst of trials, we can be tempted in a whole lot of ways. If it’s financial difficulties we can be tempted to distrust God’s provision and wrongly go into debt; if it’s unjust suffering we might be tempted to think that God isn’t fair and turn away from Him; if something tragic happens to us we might be tempted to think God doesn’t love us; or if God takes something away from our lives we might be tempted to obtain that pleasure or satisfy that void in a sinful and wrong way. There’s all sorts of opportunities to be tempted-and they come from our own desires, not from God, as the text says. What does it say in 1 Corinthians 10:13. That’s what we have to remember-but it requires dealing with our own desires-verse 14. I want this, I want that, it would make me feel better, look I deserve it. Everyone acts this way, everyone thinks like this. I know what I want and God’s just being mean and keeping me from it. That’s the core problem. We treat our desires as more trustworthy than God. As if somehow our own desires have better insight into what we need than God does, as if our own desires know what will satisfy us more than what God will provide. But that is not the case. James is saying that our desires when fully grown ultimately bring forth death. It’s like longing for a glass of poison. Pour me a cup of antifreeze. The liquid might look colorful and nice but that doesn’t matter one bit because it’s poison and it’s going to kill you.
Back to Point 2: Our Temptations may seem to offer so much but they actually destroy us from growing in Christ. It’s like if James could shout from the rooftops to us, he’d say-Sin doesn’t have what you want. It looks nice and you might desire it-but it’s all rotten inside. Believe me. Sin doesn’t have what you want. He telling us to see our desires for what they are, to see through the lie that makes us think our desires know better than God-because look at how clearly he says this-verse 16. Do not be deceived by what you think your desires want, they will only mislead you and take you where you don’t want to go. Sin doesn’t have what you want-because where are the things you want, what is the source of true satisfaction? verse 17 And that’s telling us that God’s been at this a long time. He doesn’t change or get into a bad mood, He has been the same sovereign God forever and that means He knows what He’s doing in your life. Who wouldn’t want good and perfect gifts? There’s nothing finer than picking out and giving the perfect gift to someone. When you see it at the store you just know it-yes, this is it! And you’re so excited to see that person unwrap it. That’s what God does all the time. He’s the expert at good and perfect gifts for His children for you and me. He knows exactly what we need, He desires to bless us and provide for us, and He has eternity in mind when He does. God’s not just about the short-term, instant gratification gifts, He’s about the long-term, deeply satisfying treasure that we’ll find in Him. Remember Psalm 84:10-12? So the big question is who will you trust? Where will your heart turn-to your own desires that you believe will satisfy-or to the Father of lights who promises you His good and perfect gifts? I like what David Platt says-James, p 11:
In your trials or temptations, don’t believe the lies. Remember that God is good, so very good. And He wants that which is good for you. So trust Him in your trials, and turn to Him in your temptations. He is the source of everything.
What if you remembered that in the moment of temptation-that God is the source of everything good and that sin doesn’t have what you want? If that was in the forefront of your thinking the temptation would just dissolve away. If you saw through its lie you wouldn’t be interested at all-because over and over this chapter is reminding us of what we really want. It isn’t fame and fortune, it isn’t riches and worldly advancement. It’s not a good job or a nice house or early retirement or being popular at school. Those things can come and go, and often do. What God is after is something permanent that no trial can take away, in fact, the trials only prepare us all the more for it-and that’s to know Him and be conformed to His likeness; to let our faith mature as we trust in how He blesses us.
Back to verses 16-18. And that’s talking about grace. We didn’t save ourselves, we didn’t earn our way to God or do enough to convince Him of our worthiness. Remember that we were the people with the sinful desires leading to death. So God-of His own will-nothing of us, but all of Him and His grace and His love for us-brought us forth-Where? Into salvation, into the hope of eternal life and forgiveness of our sins by the word of truth-meaning the saving message of the gospel so that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. This is incredibly exciting because it means that God wants our lives to be an impact now-Point 3: Our Transformation allows the world to see the first glimpse of God’s new creation through us. That’s what firstfruits are. It’s the first taste, the first look at what God’s doing to make this world new. One day the world will be completely transformed. We talked about the new heavens and earth last week. That’s coming, that’s what Jesus is preparing-but what’s here now are believers, followers of Jesus scattered across the planet who are letting the trials of life transform them to bear His likeness more and more. We are what the world sees now. It reminds me of grilling. Whenever I’m standing by the grill with my father-in-law or he’s slicing up a chunk of meat he cooked on the smoker he always pulls off a bite, a tasty morsel and says try this. And it’s so warm and delicious because its the first fruit, the foretaste of the meal we’ll soon be eating. Or it’s like Thanksgiving when someone’s carving the turkey and you grab a little bite to nibble on because your mouth is watering and you can’t hardly wait until dinner’s ready. That foretaste is so good. That’s what believers ought to be like. James is saying that’s what you and I ought to be like. We are called to be the firstfruits, the foretaste, of the new creation that’s coming. People ought to see a glimpse of what God has in store for the new world when they look at us. Our character ought to reveal the steadfastness and toughness that comes through trials. We ought to be displaying a faith that is active and a love that’s authentic. What God has done to change our hearts ought to be a preview of the day when He will make all of creation new. So is your life a preview of that? Are you a glimpse of God is doing? Would people say that you’re a kind of firstfruits of His creation? The thing with firstfruits is that it makes you hungry for the meal to come. But a bad foretaste makes you say no way, forget it, the meat’s overdone, the turkey’s too dry! We need to live in a way that makes people hunger for what God is doing. The way we deal with trials should be vastly different from the world. Instead of being all stressed out and worried and falling apart in the tough times, we can remain steadfast and count it all joy. God calls us to hard stuff-trials are a part of life-but God promises to accomplish great things through the hard stuff-and nowhere is that more evident than in the life of Jesus. He faced the hardest trial ever-the cross-and through it He remained steadfast and counted it all joy as He obtained our salvation-Hebrews 12:2-3. Jesus displays the truth of James 1 perfectly!