Today I’m excited about starting a new message series called Life Lessons. This is going to be a very practical series that will speak to us about the things we are all dealing with at the present time. In this series, we’ll be going through the book of James in the New Testament.
The book of James was written by James, the half-brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem. Many of the letters in the New Testament, were written to specific local churches. However, the book of James was a general letter written to a wide audience of many believer in many different churches. The book of James was written to encourage believers facing opposition or persecution because of their faith in Jesus.
James is a very practical book showing us what putting our faith into action looks like. It is a book that will teach us some very relevant life lessons that apply to everyone of us. I believe that our study of James is very timely. We all are facing unprecedented times right now in America. None of us has experienced a trial like that of this ongoing pandemic in our lifetime. Never before has there been such an unprecedented assault on law and order in our country. The current election is certainly the most divisive we have seen in the past century at least. And we are seeing powerful attacks on freedom of speech and freedom of religion that we have never seen before.
Today our message is entitled “Dealing with Trials.” Let’s not sugarcoat what we are facing. These are serious trials that we are dealing with. The outcome of these trials will affect our lives, our country and the lives of our children and grandchildren. Some are tempted to simply deny the serious of what’s going on and assume it’s all simply going to magically vanish. Others respond to these trials by worrying and becoming fearful about the future. Yet others get angry at other people or even God and lash out.
Today, we’re going to learn what God has to say about how we should face trials. And let me warn you, that the way God instructs us to face trials does not come naturally. So it will be a challenge for each one of us. We’re also going to learn today that knowing what we should do and doing it are two different things. Knowing and believing God’s Word is essential. But the blessing comes only when we put God’s instructions into action in our lives. So let’s get started with James chapter 1.
James 1:2 (ESV) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
James starts off his letter with a strong instruction or command as to what we are to do. The book of James is filled with imperatives or commands. This first verse tells us that it is not a question of whether we are going to meet trials in our lives. The Holy Spirit is telling us that we are all going to meet trials of many different kinds as we go through life.
When we meet this trials, we are to “count it all joy.” Now, I can tell you from personal experience that my first impulse when facing a trial is not to shout Hallelujah. What does it mean to count it all joy? The NLT translates this as “consider it an opportunity for great joy.” When we meet a trial, we ought to rejoice because God is going to use this trial in our lives to do something great. So, what are trials good for?
James 1:3-4 (ESV) for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Now we learn more about trials. A trial I something that tests our faith. What happens when you are tested? We can all remember from school that there are two basic results from a test, you can either pass the test or fail. God wants us to pass the test that comes with the trial. He doesn’t want us to fail the test. When one fails the test of a trial, your faith fails, you stop believing in God. Tragically, there are increased numbers of people who once believed who no longer believe because of some trial they went through. They have failed the test.
But when we past the test, it produces steadfastness in our lives. The word in the Greek for steadfastness has been translated as patience, endurance or perseverance. As we learn to persevere in trials, we grow stronger, more mature and more full of faith. Now, how are we going to pass the test of trials and preserver? We need God’s help.
James 1:5-6 (ESV) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
When we face trials, we are going to lack wisdom as to what to do. Trials force us to make decisions as to what to do and how to respond. We need the wisdom of God when we face trials. These verses tell us to ask God for the wisdom that we need and promises that we will receive the wisdom we need. Remember we need God’s wisdom to pass the test of these trials. But there is a condition on the promise of God giving us wisdom. When we ask God for wisdom, we must ask in faith. That means, that when we ask for wisdom, we must believe that God has and will give us the wisdom that we ask for. If we doubt and don’t have the faith to believe in God’s help, then we won’t receive any wisdom. Without God’s wisdom, we will fail the test. When we fail the test, the trial then defeats us, rather than us gaining the victory.
James 1:12 (ESV) Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Those who persevere in trials will be blessed. In this verse, I believe that James is talking about life itself as a trial and a test. Those who persevere throughout the trials of life with God’s wisdom have passed the test. Their reward is to receive the crown of life, eternal life. God promises eternal life to those who love Him and who demonstrate that love by persevering in their faith. Persevere in trials.
Let’s think for a minute about the trials that we face in life. A trial is something that is bigger or stronger than us and we don’t know how to face it. Oftentimes, trials are things that we’ve never faced before. Trials can be physical things like illnesses, injuries or simply growing older. Trials can be unexpected things that may happen to our jobs, finances or possessions. Trials can be difficult times in our relationships with other people. And we could go on, but I think we all can think of trials that we have faced or are facing right now.
We’ve already mentioned some of the unprecedented trials that we are all facing right now in August 2020. Enough about the trials and the problems. What are supposed to do? First thing is to rejoice. God is still in control. God wants to work good in our lives through these trials. Not only is God in control, God has the wisdom we need to make decisions in the midst of these trials. Ask Him for that wisdom, believe that He’s going to give it to you and He will. Then follow His instructions and you’ll grow stronger in your faith as you persevere in your trial.
James 1:13 (ESV) Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
In the Greek language, the word for a trial and a temptation is the same word. With every trial, there comes a temptation. A temptation to not trust God for wisdom and strength to pass the test. A temptation to get mad or bitter at God. God never tempts someone to sin. Satan is the tempter that seeks to use trials to turn us away from God.
James 1:14-15 (ESV) But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Temptations come from the whispers of Satan who appeals to our own desires. The temptation is not a sin. Temptation becomes sin when we give in to it. Those who continually give in to sin, who do not continue in faith when end up not with the crown of life, but with eternal death. James point here is that we can’t blame God or the devil for how we respond to trials. We are responsible for our actions.
James 1:16-17 (ESV) Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
These verses warn us against being deceived. The deception here would be to believe the lie of Satan that the trial or temptation we are facing came from God Himself. God doesn’t tempt us, nor does He send bad things into our lives. God sends only good and perfect gifts to us and He never changes. Every good thing that anyone has in their lives, whether a believer or not, comes from God.
The evil and wickedness that we see around does not come from Him, it comes from the evil one, Satan. Why does James talk extensively here about God’s goodness? Because the temptation is when facing a trial to blame God and stop believing in Him. God is good, all the time.
This leads us to a common question that many people struggle with. If God is in control and He is good, why is there evil and bad things in our world? The simple answer is that God has chosen to allow man and angels to have free will. He gave angels a choice at one point and Satan and a third of the angels chose to rebel. God gave human beings a choice to either obey or rebel in the garden of Eden and they chose to rebel. The end result of sin and Satan is the cause of all the evil and violence in our world. This sin and evil is the root cause of the trials in our lives.
But the amazing thing is that God has made a way for the trials in our lives to bring good. In fact, this good and strength that trials bring ought to bring us great joy. I believe that James chapter one is God’s Word for us in this season. Read it through multiple times this week and whenever you struggle with a trial. When you face trials, remember that God is good. Just follow His plan. Finally …
James 1:21 (ESV) Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
As human beings, we are all contaminated with filthiness and wickedness that comes from our sin. This verse commands us to do two things. First of all, we must put away that sin that tempts us, rather than giving in to it. Secondly, we are to humbly receive God’s Word, which brings us eternal life. A proud person doesn’t receive God’s Word, because they don’t think they need it, they can handle things on their own. They’re very wrong. Believing and receiving the Word is the only way to be saved. But that is not all we must do.
James 1:22 (ESV) But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
This verse gives us another warning about being deceived. In the last days, deception is increasing at an alarming rate. Deception comes from believing lies and not the truth of God. In this case, the deception is simple. The deception is that if I hear and understand God’s Word, I reap the benefit and am blessed. Not true. Hearing God’s Word is essential, but the blessing comes when we put it into practice and do it. That is the hard part. James goes on to illustrate this concept.
James 1:23-24 (ESV) For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
The word of God is like a mirror. You look into a mirror to see what you look like, to understand the true condition of your life. In the natural, we look into a mirror to fix our hair, to shave for men, to put on makeup for ladies. In other words, we look into a mirror to fix something about our appearance. If we look into the mirror and see that there is dirt on our face and walk away without doing anything about it, nothing has been accomplished. When we look at God’s Word, it shows us where there is sin in our lives, where we need to change. Either to stop doing something or to do something we aren’t doing.
James 1:25 (ESV) But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
We look into God’s Word to hear the Spirit speak to us about how we are to live in relationship with God. God’s Word always calls us to action. When we put that Word into practice, we are blessed. The blessing doesn’t come with the hearing or understanding, it comes with the obedience. James summarizes what God calls us to do in the last verse of chapter one.
James 1:27 (ESV) Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. To help those who need help that we can give. Orphans and widows are representative of people who are needy and have difficulty in helping themselves. But all of us from time to time need the help of others.
Not only are we to love our neighbors, but we are to love and stay in close relationship with our heavenly Father. How do we do that? By keeping ourselves unstained by the sin of the world. Sin hinders and damages our relationship with God. The world mentioned here is the sphere of Satan that seeks to tempt us away from God. Sin stains our lives and hearts and can only be cleansed through the blood of Jesus. We must hear and obey God’s Word.
This last point is really a huge point that I believe we all struggle with. Many people have difficulty in reading their Bible every day as God’s Word directs. But we’ve just learned that the blessing does not lie in reading the Word every day, although we should do that. The blessing comes when we find something in God’s Word to put into practice in our lives. The same is true if we go to a small group Bible study or come to church on Sunday morning. The blessing comes when God shows us something in His Word that we can apply to our lives. I believe that every time we read a chapter in the Bible, every time we hear a message, God has something for us to do, to put into action.
Today, we learned about persevering and rejoicing in our trials. We’ve been encouraged to always acknowledge that God is good, all the time. Finally, whether we’re in a trial or not, we must humbly hear God’s Word and then obey it, put it into practice. So, what are you going to put into action from this morning’s message?
At the end of the message notes, there’s a couple of lines to write down what you’re going to apply from the message. Maybe today, you just want to circle one of the points or Scriptures from the message. That’s how we grow in the midst of trials. Listening to God’s Word and then doing it. May God bless each one of us and our church as we grow in following Jesus.