James: Practicing Faith – 01(“Testing Your Faith”)]
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 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. 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. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also, will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. 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. 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. 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. 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. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
The letter by the Apostle James is sometimes called “the Proverbs of the New Testament,”and it is also considered one of the General Epistles, like the epistles of Peter, John, and Jude. The book of James practically and faithfully reminds Christians how to live, from perseverance, to true faith, to controlling one’s tongue, submitting to God’s will and having patience (therefore the title for this series: “James, Practicing Faith”). This book aids readers in living authentically and wisely for Christ.
Many have claimed that James and the apostle Paul differed on the question of faith versus works, but in reality, the spiritual fruit that James talks about simply demonstrates the true faithof which Paul wrote. Their writings are complementary rather than contradictory.
Possibly one of the earliest of the New Testament writings (A.D. 40–50), the book is believed to have been written by Jesus’ brother James – Gal.1:19 ~ “But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.”
This letter is addressed to “the 12 tribes scattered among the nations”(James 1:1). It is likely Peter wrote to the Jewish Christians scattered to the West (1 Pet.1:1), whilst James addressed the Jewish Christians scattered to the East, in Babylon and Mesopotamia.
This letter has a marked Jewish flavour. Someone once said that, this book has the substance and authority of the Prophets and the style and beauty of the Psalms. The book of James is as much a lecture as it is a letter. Though it opens with the customary salutation of an epistle, it lacks personal references common in a letter and it has no concluding benediction.
In “The Bible Knowledge Commentary,”Stylesays:“ In addition to his unique and innovative style, James furnishes an unusual number of references or parallels to other writings. He makes reference to Abraham, Rahab, Job, Elijah, to the Law and the Ten Commandments, and includes allusions to passages in 21 Old Testament books (Genesis through Deuteronomy, Joshua, 1 Kings, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and 7 of the 12 Minor Prophets).
James’ teaching strongly resembles that of John the Baptist (e.g., James 1:22, 27 with Matt. 3:8; James 2:15-16 with Luke 3:11; James 2:19-20 with Matt. 3:9; James 5:1-6 with Matt. 3:10-12). Probably James, like Peter, John, and Andrew, had heard John the Baptist preach. Amazing parallelisms exist between James’ letter and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. James did not actually quote the Lord’s words, but he obviously had internalised His teachings and reproduced them with spiritual depth.”
3. GREETING (1:1):
James just introduces himself as “James a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He did not indicate his “status” in the church or that he was the Lord’s brother, nor that he was an Apostle. The lack of title suggests that he was well known and had the authority to send a letter of this kind.
We also see in 1:1 that he addresses this letter to the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion.”Who are therecipients of this letter?:
12 Tribes: The letter was written not for Jews (the “twelve tribes” in a literal sense) but rather for Christians (2:1 ~ “My brothers…”). Paul would definitely not call all members of the twelve tribes of Israel his brothers, thus we can be certain this letter was sent to his Christian brothers. Still, it may have been written for Jewish Christians (i.e., Christians who belong to the literal twelve tribes), or at least for Christians who have a strong appreciation of their Jewish heritage.
Furthermore, although the 12 tribal divisions ceased to function as geopolitical units in 722 BC, biblical writers continued to use this designation for Israel. The prophets used this term to refer to the future restored people of God. We read in Ezek.47:1 ~ “Thus says the Lord God: “This is the boundary by which you shall divide the land for inheritance among the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph shall have two portions. Isaiah penned this fact, when the Lord spoke to him and said in Isa.49:6 (ASV) ~ “It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” Here of course, the Lord referred to the end of the 12 Tribe System and pointing forward to the coming of Christ Jesus who will save His people from ~ “…every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev.7:9). In short then, this specific reference to the 12 tribes therefore, does not refer to a literal 12 tribes (the descendants of Abraham), but to a metaphorical 12 tribes which are all the believers (true Christians) who are the new Israel.
4. TESTING YOUR FAITH (1:2-3):
In 1:2-3, James tells the believers that when they meet trials of various kinds, they must count it all withjoy.
He furthermore says by implication that, when they experience trials and they rejoice in it, they can be assured of spiritual growth (steadfastness). Note, that he does not say IFyou experience trials. No, he says WHENyou experience trials. In other words, every Christian WILLexperience trials of various kinds.
The word “trials” and the expression “various kinds” show us that we as believers WILL experience several occasions of trials – trials will come and go or in many cases, some believers might even experience trials on a permanent- or semi-permanent basis (think of poverty, constant pain, discrimination in the workplace, etc.).
“Trials of various kinds”may also be severe afflictions (Is.48:10) and attacks from Satan (Job 2:7). Whatever the source of the testing, it is to our benefit to undergo the trials that God allows, because, when we experience trials, we are in actual fact experiencing a testing of our faith. How will we act upon trials? How will we handle it? What does “a testing of our faith mean?”
- When God tests His children, He does a valuable thing. David sought God’s testing, he asked Him to examine his heart and mind and see that they were true to Him (Ps.26:2; 139:23). When Abram was tested by God in the matter of sacrificing Isaac, Abram obeyed (Heb.11:17–19)and showed to all the world that he was the father of faith (Rom.4:16).
- In both the Old and New Testaments, the word “test”means “to prove by trial.” Therefore, when God tests His children, His purpose isto prove that our faith is real. Not that God needs to prove it to Himself since He knows all things, but He is proving to us that our faith is real, that we are truly His children, and that no trial will overcome our faith.
- In His Parable of the Sower, Jesus identifies the ones who fall away as those who receive the seed of God’s Word with joy, but, as soon as a time of testing comes along, they fall away. Perseverance in testing however, results in spiritual maturity and completeness.
- James says that the testing of our faith develops perseverance, which leads to maturity in our walk with God (James 1:3-4).
- James goes on to say that testing is a blessing, because, when the testing is over and we have “stood the test,” we will “receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him”(James 1:12). Testing comes from our heavenly Father who…~ “…works all things together for good for those who love Him and who are called to be the children of God”(Rom.8:28).
We must also be aware of the fact that we as Christians are not the only people who experience trials, tribulations and hardships, but the world experience all these things too, but with the difference that it is not a testing of their faith, because they don’t have faith in Christ Jesus. The most important difference is that they don’t have an answer on their tests, like we have and therefore, we as believers who have the answer, must reach out to these people and offer them the solution – the solution that lies in Christ Jesus ~ “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others”(Phil.2:3-4) and Matt.5:14-16 ~ “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
5. STEADFASTNESS (1:4-12, 17-18):
In 1:4-12 and 1:17-18, James gives us the results of perseverance through the testing of our faith. He says that if we persevere through our trials, the perseverance will produce steadfastness. The Greek word for “steadfastness,”is = ὑπομονή,ῆς (hypomenõ)and it literally means to have the capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances – to ‘endure,’ ‘being able to endure.’If we look at 1 Thes.1:3, we see that this endurance is inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ ~ “Remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our motivation; our drive through trials, must have a goal: our perfection and completeness in Christ Jesus, meaning that we will not lack anything. Our goal then, is to become perfect adults in Christ who is longing for solid spiritual food ~ “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil”(Hebr.5:14)…and to be complete in our entire being, spirit, soul, and body, without blame ~ “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”(1 Thes.5:23).
In 1:5 James says that people who lack wisdom must ask God for it, because He gives generously when His children ask Him for wisdom. At first this may sound strange, because the question is, what has wisdom to do with trials? This kind of wisdom that James refers to is the knowledge of God’s plans and purposes and the ability to live accordingly. In other words, wise people can identify the nature and purpose of their trials and understand how to overcome them and if you don’t have that kind of wisdom – ask for it.
There is however, a condition when asking and that condition is faith and with no doubt(1:6). When we doubt and have no faith, we are like a ship without a rudder and will surely run aground – we will not be able to withstand trials and reach our ultimate goal with the trials that we experience, namely to become perfect and complete in Christ.
James 1:9-11 is one of those “theme interrupters”that doesn’t seem to flow with the letter. In verses 1-8, James discusses our attitude in temptation. He picks up the theme again in verses 12-27, but right in the centre, we find verses 9-11. James discusses the whole issue of one of the trickiest temptations for Christians and that is to look at our outward circumstances as a sign of God’s approval. Michel Lankford explains this as follows: “Making unhealthy comparisons between brethren is a snare to both rich and poor alike. Those who are wealthier tend to fall into the trap of believing that they are approved by God and that their prosperity is the proof. It can lead to elitism and pride. For the poor, focusing on their circumstances and comparing themselves to their wealthier brethren can lead them to feel contempt for their brothers, or worse, rejected by God. This can be a dangerous trap because those circumstances are temporary. They will fade away. One of the keys to true spiritual health and happiness is not to judge your outward and temporary circumstances as an indicator of your relationship with God, (cf. Matthew 5:45; Philippians 4:12-13). Notice that James told both the rich and poor to ‘glory in their situation.’ In every life there are times of sorrow and tragedy. The grass always looks greener on the other side, but in every life, there are times of prosperity and rejoicing. The key to true happiness is to learn how to cooperate with God in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.”
James concludes this whole issue of steadfastness by saying in 1:17-18 that God gives only “good and perfect”gifts to believers and would not vary from that principle – He knows what is good for us ~ “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”(Rom.8:28).
6. TEMPTATION (1:13-16):
In 1:13-14 James warns all believers, that there is a huge difference between trials and temptation. As we’ve already seen, trials come from God and the goal is to help us grow spiritually, but James says that when believers experience temptation, that it is not God who tempts them, but their own fleshly desires – their inner enticement (Afrikaans: “verlei”) to sin. Believers must therefore, never excuse their sin by blaming God for the temptation. James’ point here is to lay responsibility for sin clearly at the door of each individual. It is our own “evil desire” that is the real source of temptation.
To reinforce his teaching that God does not tempt people, James reminds us of what God does do: He gives his people good and perfect gifts. God’s supreme gift to us is the new birth – salvation in and through Christ Jesus.
7. CONCLUSION & APPLICATION:
As we’ve already seen during the sermon, during times of trials, there are a couple of things to remember.
- Trials are valuable. We have to pray during times of trials for discernment, in order to understand that our trials are valuable.
- Proof of real faith:We must be thankful and we must praise the Lord for our faith. Trials show whether our faith is real or not.
- Maturity and completeness:To be able to endure in trials, we have to share our time of testing with brothers and sisters and not shy away from them. Our brothers and sisters will help us to get perspective and to grow in our faith.
- Perseverance:We must accept trials because it teaches us to persevere. Instead of trying to avoid trials, ask God to use it to accomplish good purposes in your life.
- Blessing: We will be blessed, if we withstand and endure through trials…
Keep in mind that God never allows hardships into your life simply to punish you, but only to correct and train you. Choose to repent of your sins and learn from your mistakes and pray for the strength to continue to follow Him, and know that He will reward you in heaven for your faithfulness.