Welcome to Day 2120 of Wisdom-Trek, and thank you for joining me.
This is Guthrie Chamberlain, Your Guide to Wisdom
James – Wisdom is Faith in Action 2 – Trials of Life – Daily Wisdom
Putnam Church Message – 09/12/2021
James: Wisdom is Faith In Action – Trials of Life
We are continuing our series today on the Proverbs of the New Testament, better known as the book of James. Last week we were introduced to James, the half-brother of Jesus, and learned a lot about his life and leadership within the first church of Jerusalem. This week we start mining the rich wisdom that makes this letter a treasure trove of practical advice we can use daily. Join me on page 1880 in the pew bibles as I read the Scripture for today. I would recommend keeping this passage open as we go throughout the message today:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wildflower. 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 will fade away even while they go about their business.
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.
You don’t have to live long or experience much life, especially as an adult, before realizing that life is complicated and unfair. Instead, there seems to be a mountain of hurts, heartaches, pain, problems, disappointments, discouragements, sicknesses, suffering, disease, and death that sometimes overshadow life's sweet songs. As a result, we could become discouraged unless we understand the purpose. This letter from James helps us to gain that understanding.
Let’s focus on verses 1-4
As we discovered last week in the introduction to James, the recipients of this letter were people enduring adversity. Having been “scattered abroad,” they were disoriented, disillusioned, and probably downright depressed. In addition, they were bearing the brunt of the criticism, brutality, and unjust treatment.
James greets these beleaguered believers with a single word in verse 1: “Greetings.” Though this was a common form of official greeting at that time, it meant “to rejoice,” as in Romans 12:15—“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” This contrast between his readers’ harried situation and James’s exhortation to “consider it pure joy” in the following line sets the tone for his letter.
So, without hesitating, James leaps headfirst into his most pressing issue, trials, which appears a second time in verse 12. The word can refer to tests that challenge the integrity of one’s faith. It can also refer to “temptations” that appeal to our sinful tendencies and challenge our moral integrity. In 1:2-12, James deals with the first meaning—tests challenging a believer’s faith. Next week, in 1:13-18, he treats the second meaning—temptations to sin.
Before we address the testing aspect of these trials, let’s look at two things James tells us about these tests of faith in this verse.
First, he tells us that trials are inevitable. James doesn’t say, “Consider it pure joy if you face trials of many kinds,” Instead, he uses the word “whenever.” Like death itself, trials are inescapable, unavoidable, and often repeated. Nothing is certain in this world, but like death and taxes, troubles, hardship, and challenges to faith will come.
Second, James says that the trials are “of many kinds.” It may seem like a waste of time to dwell on such a seemingly unimportant word, but think about it. While we can expect trials to come, we have no idea what form they’ll take.
The Greek word for many kinds can mean diverse, variegated, or multicolored. (show variegated cloth) In other words, trials occur in all shapes and sizes. Like unwelcome guests, they burst into our lives unannounced and stay too long! Trials may be frequent and frustrating or epic and life-changing. We can never predict.
But James also pulls back the veil (use cloth) and lets his readers see the inner workings of trials, revealing their purpose. As he traces the pathway of the Christian journey through life, James reveals that the presence of trials produces both immediate and ultimate results.
First, the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (1:3). That’s the immediate result. The term “testing” refers to a means of authenticating something. Like a prospector biting into a gold nugget to test its quality, God applies specific things to each of His children, testing their faith to reveal their true character.
Note that the object of God’s testing is “your faith.” Our heavenly Father is no mad scientist trying to torture his subjects to the breaking point. He’s more like an expert trainer who knows which muscles to develop, what diet to follow, and what schedule to keep to bring the best results. The goal is not to snap our faith muscles, but to stretch and strengthen them, producing endurance/perseverance — the strength to “hang in there.”
Endurance is just the initial result. Endurance itself has an even greater purpose: to be mature and complete. God says, in effect, “In My sovereign plan, I’ve lined up a chain of events that will take place, and My finger of testing pushes the first one—endurance.” Thus, when endurance takes place, it bumps into maturity, which ultimately leads to a fully developed character. (Dominos)
The people I would regard as having great Christian character are invariably people who have learned how to handle life during the hard times. It’s the mother who’s lost a child and is able to say to God, “You gave, and You took away. Blessed be Your name.” It’s the father who, having given his best at the firm for 25 years, loses his job and says to his family, “Let’s get together tonight and thank God for this opportunity to trust Him.” The teenager says, “I won’t surrender my principles. I’ll maintain my standards of morality even though I am shunned and treated as an outsider by my peers.” That’s the extraordinary quality of maturity. Completeness and wholeness emerge when we patiently “hang in there.”
James states that inevitable trials take various forms to accomplish specific purposes—building endurance and leading His children toward maturity. In these verses, he also answers the “how” question. How can Christians, neck-deep in troubles, rise above their situations without dropping out, giving in, or falling short? What can they do to handle the various trials that come their way? In 1:2-4, James gives three specific imperatives (commands) he wanted his readers to follow: “consider” (1:2), “know” (1:3), and “let” (1:4). Each is worth a closer look.
The background of the Greek word translated as “consider” is interesting. The word comes from a term that means to lead or guide, from which we get our word “authority,” the leading influence or direction of something. So the Greek term could be used for a person leading a procession at the front of a line. In this case, it is the attitude of joy behind which all our other attitudes and actions should fall in line! It is like the drum major leading a marching band.
James uses a present participle for the word “knowing,” which tells his readers how they can stay joyful, positive, and even calm during trials. Knowing that God has a greater purpose in the testing, the believer can “consider it pure joy.”
Finally, James encourages his readers to “Let perseverance finish its work” (1:4). In the NLT, it says, For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow. The language communicates the idea of cooperation with God’s work. We find a similar idea of passive cooperation with God’s plan in 1 Peter 5:6—“So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.” Just as a potter’s fingers mold a work of art, God’s fingers are working through various circumstances to bring about His perfect result of maturity and completeness in the lives of His people. (playdough)
So, how do believers rise above troubles in everyday life? First, they face them with a deliberate attitude of joy, calling to mind the process God is working out in their lives, and cooperating with the entire process.
Now let’s move on to verses 5-8
After giving a behind-the-scenes look at the ultimate purpose of trials and practical advice on how to endure them positively, James continues the theme by answering another lingering question, “Why do trials overwhelm us?” Why do we sometimes cave in? What things block the joy of enduring life in the frying pan? The answer? Our lack of wisdom.
Therefore, when we feel ill-equipped to handle a trial, we have one option: Ask God for wisdom. In this context, wisdom can be defined as the ability to view life from God’s perspective. James says this kind of wisdom comes by prayer (1:5). It might be as simple as, “Lord, amid this loss or heartache or failure, I ask You for wisdom. Help me, first, to see what I’m going through from Your viewpoint, and then please give me faith not to give up.”
Of course, when we’re overwhelmed, faith can be hard to come by. Just as a lack of wisdom can cause us to become overwhelmed, a lack of faith can result in our caving in. James isn’t referring to saving faith in 1:6. He has in mind sustaining faith—the kind of faith that allows us to endure trials, to align our will and our attitude with a divine perspective, abandoning ourselves to God and His mighty hand.
The opposite of faith is doubt or unbelief. James compares a person who doubts to the “wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. The word “wave” is used in the Gospel of Luke when the disciples thought they would perish in the storm on the Sea of Galilee. They woke Jesus up, and He immediately “he rebuked the wind and the raging waves.” (Luke 8:24). Interestingly, after calming the storm, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25).
James describes this kind of deep-seated doubt as being “double-minded” (1:8). The word means “two-souled.” It appears here in the book of James for the first time in Greek literature, and James may have even invented the term himself. By the way, if you invent a word, you get to define it, so let’s have James define it for us. James uses the term again in 4:8, which we will see in a future message, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded.” It indicates an impurity of our inner person. We find two competing thoughts where there should be one thought, goal, attitude, or devotion. So, a double-minded person wants their will and, at the same time, God’s will. As a result, that kind of person is unstable in everything they do. Pause and imagine what happens when the double-minded person faces a double-barrel trial in life!
I’ve never done this—and I probably should preface this by warning you not to try this without professional supervision—but I’ve heard it said that one of the cheapest and easiest ways to catch a monkey is to cut off the end of a hollow long-necked gourd, fill it with rice, and tie it to a tree. (Here is an example) The hungry monkey will push his scrawny little hand into the thin neck of the gourd to grab the rice. He’ll clutch it with his hand and try to pull it out—but the monkey’s fist is bigger than the gourd’s neck. So he’s trapped because that hungry, shortsighted monkey won’t release the rice to remove his fist. He lacks the wisdom to decide that freedom without the rice is better than captivity with it. That sounds like some government programs implemented today that entrap and enslave people.
That’s the double-minded Christian. Inside the gourd is my will. Yes, part of me wants to live in God’s will, but the other part wants it on my terms. So when a trial comes, I refuse to release my grip and trust that God’s purpose and plan will bring true freedom.
Now let’s move on to verses 9-12
Trials affect everybody—even the wealthy- who sometimes believe they have a shield of protection or a cushion to blunt the fall. But wisdom and faith are required for both the poor and rich. For the poor person, who continues to endure the challenges of lacking worldly wealth, God’s wisdom can remind him of his high position. What high position is this? James probably has in mind the position believers have in Christ.
For the wealthy, the worst trials come when they lose their worldly riches or troubles enter their lives that money can’t fix. He, too, is reminded of the fragility of life (1:10). If such a person fails to cooperate with the work of God, but instead, like a monkey grasping the rice, is determined to have his own will, they will pass away like a wildflower. (1:11).
But the one who stands up under trials will be blessed. The word “blessed” means “genuinely happy.” Jesus repeated the word nine times in the introduction to His Sermon on the Mount, which we recently studied (Matthew 5:1-11). Quite likely, the last couple of those beatitudes form the background of James’s own teaching:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
James describes that reward in heaven as “the crown of life” (1:12). Without denying the future reward for those who endure trials and tests, I think there’s a temporal crown, too. I believe the person who truly lives the Christian life is the one who perseveres under the trial. They are rewarded in this life with maturity, wisdom, and insight into God’s purposeful plan. That’s real life at its best!
APPLICATION: JAMES 1:1-12
It seems easy to whistle songs of praise when the sun shines on us, when a glorious dawn breaks, and life’s forecast looks bright and clear. But, unfortunately, it’s quite another thing to praise our heavenly Father when a dark sky frowns at us, thunder rolls in, and violent storms of trouble break over our lives. How can anyone sing when days are dark and nights are long? But this is precisely what James calls us to do: respond to life’s inevitable trials with joy, wisdom, and firm confidence in Him.
With an eye toward our personal response to God’s truth, let’s revisit two ways to handle adversity.
First, when troubles come, it’s essential that we respond with wisdom. Unfortunately, this insight into trials doesn’t come naturally. Wisdom for handling trials can come only from God, and His primary means to give us wisdom is His Word. Calling to mind specific Scripture statements that address this issue will help you respond appropriately in times of trouble.
Let me offer three to consider this week. Romans 8:28 tells us, God permits everything for our good. Hebrews 12:1-3 turns our attention on Jesus and other fellow sufferers who have gone before as endurance models. And 1 Peter 1:6-7 reminds us that endurance will ultimately result in praise, glory, and honor. Meditate on those passages to gain God’s wisdom on trials.
Second, when troubles come, we should respond in faith. In the context of trials, faith means having absolute confidence in God’s promises despite circumstances that appear to contradict those promises. In the middle of a trial, it may appear that God has allowed everything to crumble. To those who lack the insight and faith to see beyond their circumstances, it may appear that our lives are in a tailspin, heading for catastrophe. But single-minded, focused faith means making a conscious decision to choose our attitude with God’s help. It means surrendering fully to God because we trust Him, resisting the natural tendency to abandon hope. This faith is where we can help each other. God’s Spirit strengthens personal faith within the community of faith. Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians to “strengthen and encourage” their faith. And the author of Hebrews encourages his readers to hold fast to their confession of hope by meeting together frequently in Hebrews 10:24. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. Remember that God has not left us alone to endure these things. He has given us a whole body of believers to strengthen and encourage our faith. Accept the gift He has given.
My prayer for those of you who are wounded and hurting, undergoing seasons of deep sorrows and pain, is that you never forget the importance of endurance—of “steadfast fortitude.” May God grant you wisdom and faith by His Spirit and Word to reap the blessing of maturity; he is working in you.
For next week’s message, read James...