In this lesson we are kicking off our summer study series on the book of James. Before we begin, I want to give each of you a warning. James is a dangerous book. The reason it is a dangerous book is because it will change your life if you let the Word into your heart. This book called James is immensely practical. This is not a theoretical book. The teachings of James will help you construct a godly life. James’ points are succinct, to the point, and powerful. James is going to teach us about how to deal with trials, deal with our tongues, deal with riches, have a godly faith, fight worldliness, seek wisdom, and offer prayers. It is such a practical book. It is a study that will change your life to godliness if you will allow God’s words to sink into your hearts.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. (James 1:1 ESV)
The book begins like a normal letter, having an author, recipient, and salutation. However, the book does not end as a typical letter with a personal closing and greetings. The author is not James the apostle. We read of his execution in Acts 12. We are reasonably sure that the author of this book is James, the brother of Jesus. We read of his importance in God’s work in Acts 15. It is worthy to observe that James does not prop himself up as a figure to be listened to by claiming to be the brother of Jesus. Rather, James simply calls himself a servant of God and a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. The book was written to “the twelve tribes of the Dispersion.” We noticed in our study of 1 Peter last year that Peter wrote to “the elect exiles of the dispersion.” This appears to be the same audience, that is, Jewish Christians who had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire, particular after the persecution from the Jews occurred in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-4). This audience suggests James’ intention for this letter to be circulated and copied by Christians and churches throughout the Empire. This feature explains why the book does not conclude with a typical personal greeting or closing. The book abruptly stops since the letter was written with the intention to be universal in nature.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds… (James 1:2 ESV)
What a beginning to the book! I have to think that every Christian who heard these words immediately did a double take, just as we do today. “Did he say to count it all joy when we encounter trials?” I believe these words have often thrown us for a loop and have sometimes been misunderstood. James does not say that the Christian should have a joyful emotion when trials come our way. We are not being asked to have a party when things get very difficult in life. Neither is James calling for us to enjoy trials. James does not say to find the joy in the trial or that trials bring joy. We must not misunderstand what James is teaching so that we are not discouraged. James is talking about our mindset. View trials as opportunities for rejoicing. Think of trials as an occasion for joy. James is not calling for us to change our emotions. Trials are painful. Spouses cheat, family members fall with illnesses, and children have diseases. There is nothing joyful about those dark days. There is nothing happy about those times. The day that our daughter Grace received the diagnosis of Prader-Willi syndrome was the most painful day I have experienced so far. Sitting at the genetist’s office at Miami Children’s and hearing the words that she had this syndrome. The doctor let us sit there for more than an hour and our tears could not stop. I remember being numb as we drove home as the tears would not stop. We got home and I sat on the couch, simply staring at the television. There was no feelings of joy. James is not saying that this would bring joy and that we are going to enjoy this.
James is teaching us to keep something in our minds when we face trials. There is an opportunity for joy. Look at your trial from another perspective. This is an opportunity to glorify God through our suffering. This is a moment to test our faith and reliance upon God. This trial is an occasion to show our resolve for the Lord and to use our suffering an encouragement to others. This is exactly what the apostles did.
I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. (2 Corinthians 7:4 TNIV)
After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the name. (Acts 5:40–41 HCSB)
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:25 HCSB)
The Christian must think about this trial in a particular light. When we learned about Grace’s condition, neither April or myself quoted James 1:2. But in that very day we talked about how somehow we would try to use this to glorify God. Whether she is able to mystify doctors by doing well or simply a statement of faith in getting through suffering by the help of God, we decided that we were not going to crawl into bed and turn out the lights. God was going to be glorified through her and through us.
To put this point in another way, why do women choose to have more than one child? Before you have the first child, you know it is going to be painful, but you really do not know how bad until you actually experience it for yourself. So why do when choose to have a second and a third and more when you know that it is going to be painful and expensive? You are going to experience nausea, discomfort, mood swings, and sleepless nights. We are excited to have children because we look past the adversities of the process and see the end result: having a child. So it also is with a Christian. It is not that trials are not extremely painful. Christians set their minds to look past the pain now to see the end result. This is where James is going in his teaching for he tells us that we do this because trials produce steadfastness.
Before we get to that point, we need to observe two more things in verse 2. James says to consider all joy when you meet trials. That little word “when” is a painful word. James does not leave in doubt if we might meet trials. We will meet trials. There is one sure thing about living in this world and that is we will face suffering and difficulties. Trials will happen. Not only will trials happen, but there will be various kinds that we will face. This consideration of joy is not for only small trials or certain kinds of trials. Consider it joy when you face all kinds of trials. No type of suffering or difficulty is excluded from James’ instructions. We cannot think that what we are going through is not part of what James is talking about. All trials test our spirituality and our faith. God knows what he is asking of us. Jesus came to the earth and was tested and tempted just like us. He knows what it is like to be human and he knows what it is like to go through suffering. God knows what he is asking of us to consider it all joy when we face various trials.
The Wrong Response To Trials
Unfortunately, we have the tendency to not react as James calls us to react. Too often we respond with, “Why me?,” “Why is this happening to me?,” “What did I do wrong?,” or “There is not a God since I am suffering!” Rather than looking for how I can glorify God in my difficulty, encourage others through my suffering, and realize that my faith is being put to the test, we engage in self-pity and shut down. God made us the promise in 1 Corinthians 10:6-13 that he will not give us anything that we cannot handle.
For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:3 ESV)
This is what we are to know: that the trial we are facing is going to produce steadfastness. The idea behind this word is “staying power, toughness.” We know that this suffering is going to make us stronger in the Lord. We even have a saying today, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This is a biblical idea, except that it supposed to make us stronger in the Lord. Perhaps we could adapt that saying just slightly to, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger in the Lord.” This is what James means by steadfastness and endurance. This staying power and steadfastness comes by being tested and prevailing. The more tests we pass, the stronger and more steadfast we become in the Lord. Unfortunately, the reverse also appears to be true. When we do not remain in the Lord through our trials, then we are not stronger for the Lord. Israel is a great example of this truth in the Old Testament. When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, their faith was not strengthened because they repeatedly failed the tests. They thought the Egyptians were going to kill them at the Red Sea. They thought they were going to starve to death. They thought they were going to die of thirst. By not staying strong with God but failing each test, they were not strengthened in the Lord and lacked the staying power needed for the journey to enter the promised land. Therefore, they fell in the wilderness and did not obtain the goal. The same is true for us today. If we do not stay the course with the Lord in the face of opposition, then Satan has us right where he wants us. We will not have enough perseverance and staying power to endure this life and reach the goal of eternal life with the Father. This is why we used the childbirth illustration. We must have our eyes on the result, knowing that the testing of our faith is producing perseverance and steadfastness so that we can finish the race.
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:4 ESV)
We must let steadfastness have its complete work in our lives. We must let the trial have its full effect in making us stronger in the Lord and giving us staying power in the faith. It is important to notice that James does not say that the trial makes us stronger. Rather, it is the perseverance and steadfastness that makes us stronger. Staying power produces maturity. The reason is that these things will make us the complete, mature Christian that we must be to be God’s children. Peter pictured this as a refining process (1 Peter 1:7). Notice how emphatic James is in trying to get us to understand that these trials will refine us to be what God needs out of us. James says it three different ways: perfect, complete, and lacking nothing. Our steadfastness through trials will causes us to no longer be significantly spiritually deficient. Those who have experienced this will attest to this truth: If you remain steadfast and full faithful through trials, not giving up or throwing in the towel early, you will be a changed person. You will be a complete and mature Christian. But too often we do not let it have its perfect work or its full effect in our lives.
- View trials as opportunities for joy. It is an opportunity to glorify God through suffering, show our complete faith and dependence on God, and to show our resolve with Christ that will encourage others to also have resolve.
- Our character will not be changed apart from trials. We need difficulties to force to look at our lives and make changes where necessary. We will not make these changes when things are going well. We often adopt the slogan, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” However, when our life breaks, then we are ready to fix ourselves.
- Trials teach us about ourselves. Typically, trials teach us that we want a low maintenance, hassle-free life. We want the easy road, and do not want life’s difficulties that force to mold our characters toward God or give up on God. Let steadfastness have its perfect work. Stay with God through thick and thin and you will grow stronger in the Lord.