James 1A – Facing Trials

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on July 22, 2012. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – James 1A.

James 1:1-4  James, slave of our God and our master Jesus the anointed one, to the 12 tribes, the ones sown abroad – Joyful Greetings.   Consider it every joy my brothers whenever you should be falling into various trials.  3  Since you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.   Let the endurance have her perfect (mature) work, that you may be finished and unimpaired, lacking nothing.

Context:    James the brother of Jesus was a  pastor of the church in Jerusalem.  This letter, written to those Jewish believers who fled Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Steven, is perhaps the earliest NT book written.

James writes to believers who have fled persecution only to find themselves facing the hardships of having to start over again and live out their Christian faith away from the Christian community in Jerusalem.  This is no easy thing because…

  • They are Jewish:  Gentiles see them as stuck up, arrogant people who think everyone who is not Jewish is unclean.
  • They are an Illegal Sect:  Jews see them as adherents to a dangerous sect that is threatening Jewish faith, while Roman citizens see them as outlaws and trouble makers.
  • They are living in fear:  Since being a Christian is illegal, they are always in danger of being arrested by people like Saul.
  • They are facing loss:  Some have lost their homes in the persecution – some have had friends or family arrested or put to death.
  • They have been uprooted:  The life they had known – the support they had known is lost – and these are people starting over.

The lives of these believers have been turned upside down.  Now James writes to them from Jerusalem (he is their former pastor, still living in the place where persecution is intense).  James wants to tell them how to live under these pressures.

 TRIALS FEEL LIKE ABANDONMENT BY GOD.

We tend to interpret our suffering as meaningless abandonment by God.  Suffering feels like a loss – like we are losing what is most valuable to us in life.  Consequently, our reactions tend to be fearful or angry or sorrowful…

Fear:  Fear is driven by the belief that something in my life is going to be changed in a way that will cause me harm or distress.   That I will be faced with something unpleasant, that I won’t be able to handle or live with.   We tend to respond to suffering with fear that our life is changing for the worse.  We tend to be overwhelmed by what is unknown.

Anger:  Anger is actually a response to fear.  Anger is the sense that an injustice has been done.  We become angry when we think our lives or situations are being threatened – when we think that what we love or deserve is being taken from us or harmed.

Sorrow/Depression:  Sorrow comes out of the belief that our lives have been altered in a harmful way so that we have lost something of value.  Depression is anger that persists because we believe that something valuable was taken from us, so that…

  • We are no longer able to make sense of life.
  • We are afraid of the future.
  • We view the way we interpreted the past, as a lie – and we feel betrayed.
  • We are being oppressed and harmed with no relief in sight.

The difficult circumstances of life can make us feel like we have been abandoned by God.

RE-CONSIDER THE MEANING OF TRIALS.

God is at Work in Your Trials:  “Consider it every joy my brothers whenever you should be falling into various trials”   Because Jesus suffered for you, and because he overcame death and suffering, our suffering is interpreted through a new grid – our suffering becomes redemptive.

How?  Not Automatically!  If James just means that good things come out of suffering, that everything is going to work out – he would hardly need to be concerned or to write to these believers.  So why does James write to them?  James is asking these suffering people to do something intentional with their suffering and stress and pressure.   He is asking them to reconsider – to change their thinking about these things – and to think of their sufferings as joyful prospects.

How can James possibly ask this of them – or us?   Is James just telling these people to put on a happy face?  No!.  Rather, the joyful prospect of suffering is that it tests our faith.  Suffering reveals, or shows us, what we believe.  Your response and my response to suffering – what we think about it – how we react to it – reveals for us where our faith is.

Testing Your Faith:  We need to be very careful with this word, “test”, because it means something very specific in our culture and can cause confusion.  To us, a test is something you pass or fail.  Christians use this word this way all the time.  However, that is not what James has in mind here.  James is not saying that you need to make sure you pass the test of faith when trials come – as though you could fail the test (and then what? – would you flunk out of Christianity?).

Rather, James is saying that trials are like a mirror to show you what you believe.  And the great thing about this is that our trials become mirrors that we can look back to the rest of our lives – on things that happened years ago – to see, with increasing clarity as the years go by, what we believed and how it affected us.  As we do that, we come to a clearer understanding of God’s grace and kindness to us at the time, and a better sense of how to live wisely and honor and love God.

LET TRIALS COMPLETE THEIR MATURING WORK IN YOU.

“Let the endurance have her perfect (mature) work, that you may be finished and unimpaired, lacking nothing.” The image here is the image of the training field or of ripening fruit.  I want to use the image of maturing peaches to talk about the work of trials in us…

Something is Growing/ Maturing to Completion:  Fruit gets bigger as it matures.  As we mature, our understanding of who God is and our ability to trust and obey him grow together.  This morning we are learning that when trials come – God is the one who does not abandon us.  Our picture of God is being re-written by Scripture – filled in – made more accurate.  As that happens, God becomes a more real person to us – and less of just an idea.  The knowledge of God is maturing in us .  The more we know the real person – the more we will trust him – the more we will be willing to believe and respond to what he says.

Something is Being Taken Out of the Way:  As peaches reach maturity they begin to break down and soften – and as they soften they become sweet.  I like this picture because it is not a picture of me being stronger – but rather of me being broken down.  Trials break us down from self-sufficient people who do things for God – to people who need grace and learn to trust God. This is maturity.  As it happens, our worship and our prayers become more about God’s grace and our need – sweeter.

Be Intentional As You Go Through and Reflect on Suffering:  So how can we become intentional about our suffering?  Here are at least two ways…

~ Don’t Allow Your Emotions to Define You:  Anger, fear, sorrow, are fed by what we believe.  The things we feel in trials are like electrical appliances that are plugged into (created, sustained, defined) the things we believe.  You can’t just make emotions go away – but you can make an intentional choice to recognize the beliefs that are feeding them.  You can take those beliefs to God in prayer.

~ Do Not Allow Trials to Isolate You:  Isolation is the last thing we need when we are going through trials – but it is the first thing we seek.  We prefer to be alone in our suffering – when one of the things we need most is the comfort and counsel of the Christian community.   God speaks through people (trusted and wise people) and through their understanding of life and Scripture in a way that we don’t get when we go to Scripture on our own – or when we try to sort things out on our own.  Don’t stew in your own sorrows and fears and anger.  And to the community – be available!

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