You Want Me To Do What?
Scripture: James 1:1–4
You Want Me To Do What?James 1:1-4
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
After living 24 years without God I knew that things in my life needed to change. I'll never forget the first time I walked into church. It was a culture that I believed I needed, but at the same time it was one in which I felt very uncomfortable.
Why is this pastor teaching so long from the Bible and where is his robe? I mean all legitimate men of God should be wearing robes! And why do these people find so much pleasure just hanging out after church? What are those little kids talking about - a man in a lion's den and another with a multi-colored coat? I don't know where Ezekiel is in my Bible and I'm too embarrassed to turn to the Table of Contents and thereby inform everyone else I don't know where Ezekiel is! How much money do I put in the collection plate? Why do they even need money? Why is everything in this sermon going over my head? I'll never learn all this stuff! What's a justification?
Society has drifted so far away from God that new believers can often feel like aliens on a distant planet until they become adjusted to church life. It takes time and patience. We've all been there!
It also takes time and patience to understand how to live the Christian life in general. We never fully master it this side of heaven, but God has given us a desire to live for His glory. We are, and should be, filled with questions as to how He wants us to live. He has expectations and fortunately all of those expectations can be found in the Bible.
And I believe no other book in the Bible presents those specific expectations better than the letter of James. It has been said that James has 54 imperatives crammed into five short chapters. One author said that James is "just a handful of pearls, dropped one by one into the believer's mind (E.J. Goodspeed). I believe there is no better choice than James if we wish to explore practical Christian living in a fallen world.
Let's dive right in.
In verse 1 the author identifies himself and calls himself a "bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." James had quite an impressive resume. He could have said, "James, the half brother of Jesus" (Gal. 1:19) or "James, from the sacred womb of Mary" (Mt. 13:55) or "James the leader of the Jerusalem church" (Ac. 12:17) or "James, one of the privileged who saw the resurrected Jesus" (1 Cor. 15:7). All of which would have been true, but in humility he puts himself on par with the believers to whom he is writing (who were Jewish Christians - "the twelve tribe…dispersed") and simply calls himself a "bond-servant" of God or literally (doulos) a "slave of God."
His letter is about following God. We will never follow God wholeheartedly until we accept the fact that He is Lord (Jas. 1:1) of our lives, and we are His servants (Jas. 1:1). Therefore it is our responsibility to submit to His commands for His glory and our ultimate good. As Christians we are all leveled at the foot of the cross. We are all following God together and eager to go as He in His love and wisdom directs us.
So James how and where do we go from here?
1. AN UNEXPECTED RESPONSE
I begin the first of two points, which I am calling an unexpected response. James wastes no time launching directly into his first concern. His opening topic no doubt catches us by surprise. Verse 2, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials." I don't know too many people who associate the two words "joy" and "trials."
I do not find any reasons to celebrate when the car breaks down. When sickness impacts the family, not too many people in our household are doing back-flips. When I am misunderstood, maligned, falsely judged, ridiculed or harassed, the first response is not one of happiness. I have not seen too many people leaping for joy at a funeral over the death of a loved one!
I believe we would all agree that finding joy in trials (especially when we consider some of the trials many of you in this church are experiencing) infringes upon inconsideration, masochism and lunacy! So, either we toss our Bibles at this point or dive a little deeper into the verse.
We should have no problem with the back half of verse 2 "when you encounter various trials." Is there anyone here who does not "encounter" trials? Are not all of our trials "various?" They come from every direction, right? Once you get the conflict fixed with the neighbors, you spill coffee all over your laptop. Then on your way home from Best Buy you get a headache especially when you notice that gas is over $4.00 a gallon. As soon as your son's math grades start improving, you learn he is picked-on by the playground bully. The dishwasher just broke. My tooth is killing me. The boss chewed me out. The traffic isn't moving. The grandchildren no longer write. It's allergy season!
So we agree with verse 2 that trials are "various." We agree that trials are an inevitable part of life. Notice in verse 2 that James uses the word "when" and not "if." We agree that we all "encounter" these trials. No confusion here. But where we get tripped up is the beginning of verse 2. We are to receive these trials and "consider it all joy." Here is the confusion.
Let me back up a little more. Where do these trials come from? Is it bad luck, random chance or fate? If we take the Bible seriously, we have to agree that God is sovereign over everything. In other words, He permits everything that happens. I could not imagine worshipping God this morning if He were not in control of the universe. If that were the case the universe would be God! Our security comes in the fact that He controls every molecule. All that touches us must first pass through His hands. But how do I know God is allowing the right things into my life? Because He is wise! How do I know these events will work for my good? Because He is loving!
I remember some painful events when I grew up as a child. One of them was the way my father treated me. While all the other kids were out on Saturday morning running around the neighborhood, he had me doing chores around the house. While I heard basketballs bouncing off the pavement, I was trimming bushes and raking leaves. It was a painful trial that lasted for years. I despised my father. But in his love and wisdom he knew what he was doing despite my resistance. He developed in me a work ethic for which I am forever grateful.
I am sure it only happens in my home. Why do I have to eat the broccoli? There's nothing wrong with me hanging out with that girl. Everybody else is watching this TV show! I already studied enough for the test. I need to be home by 9? Why are you allowing the doctor to torture me with these shots? I have the meanest parents in the world!
We laugh at the naivety and immaturity of a child. We tell them that one day they will understand and hope their kids treat them better than they treated us. We get frustrated when they think they know better. We get hurt when they question our love.
Then in the midst of the pity party, we do the same thing to our heavenly Father. We complain. We pout. We threaten. "Because, God, I know what is best, and You are not complying!" As J.C. Ryle said, "There is nothing which shows our ignorance so much as our impatience under trouble." Please show me one verse where God has ever promised you a trouble-free life? Who's in control of your life? Can't God do what He deems best for you even if it requires pain and comes without an explanation? It is a simple question. Do we trust God or not?
Now I would never imply that we are to find trials in and of themselves joyful. Most often they are extremely painful. Even Jesus was known as a "man of sorrows" (Isa. 53:3). Our joy that James is speaking about comes when we believe by faith that God is in control, that He knows what He is doing and the result of this trial will be in our best possible interest. Paul put it like this in 2 Corinthians, "Sorrowful yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10). A chapter later he said, "I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction" (2 Cor 7:4).
Don Fortner remarked, "As a wise, skilled pharmacist mixes medicine, our heavenly Father wisely mixes exactly the right measure of bitter things and sweet, to do us good. Too much joy would intoxicate us. Too much misery would drive us to despair. Too much sorrow would crush us. Too much suffering would break our spirits. Too much pleasure would ruin us. Too much defeat would discourage us. Too much success would puff us up. Too much failure would keep us from doing anything. Too much criticism would harden us. Too much praise would exalt us. Our great God knows exactly what we need. His Providence is wisely designed and sovereignly sent for our good!"
Because of who God is and His intimate concern for His children, we can know that what He allows into our life is for our good (Rom. 8:28). Therefore we can have deep-seated joy even in the most difficult of circumstances. But specifically what kind of good results? James provides for us one of many reasons. Let's go to the second point in verses 3-4.
2. AN UNCOMMON REASON
First James says in verse 3, "[We know] that the testing of [our] faith produces endurance."
Every trial that enters our life is a test of our faith. Will we trust God that He is in control and that this trial is for our good or will we take matters into our own hands and believe that we are a victim of bad luck or of a cruel deity. Your attitude during the trial will reveal your answer. Trusting God will result in praise, joy, peace, contentment, thanksgiving, hope, etc. Resisting God will result in worry, fear, complaint, doubt, anger, unbelief, etc. Every trial will either draw us closer to God or pulls us further away from Him. Therefore as James said, trials test our faith. And as he said in verses 3, we should know this.
Why is our faith tested? The answer is in verse 3. It produces "endurance."
I remember growing up and having buddies in junior high that seemed to have a different girlfriend each week. And often they would bounce from girl to girl because of petty differences, misunderstandings and the slightest offense. No endurance. Yet as we mature we learn to overlook offenses, resolve disagreements, value another's needs above our own. It is the difference between a seven-day relationship and a fulfilling marriage that endures a lifetime. You will only get to this point if you learn throughout life to respond to trials God's way in His school of affliction to mature and develop endurance.
God wants you to persevere through your trials to produce endurance (Rom. 5:2-4). Yet what do we often do? Without justification we leave the church. We run from our spouse. We end precious friendships, quit our jobs, lose faith in God. In the meantime we often numb ourselves to the pain we are experiencing through chemicals, addictive hobbies, busyness or self-pity. How far has this gotten you? We know it all results in greater pain and no positive benefits from the trial. It has been said the only way out of a trial is through it. Endurance - something our society greatly lacks.
The Greek word for endurance here is "hupomone," which mean to remain under the weight. Like those Olympic weightlifters that would hold the heavy barbells over their heads until the judge tripped the green light, we are to remain under the trials in faith until it has accomplished the purpose for which God intended and endure until our Judge releases us from the weight.
The apostle Paul spoke of a painful trial when he wrote 2 Corinthians. He called it his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7) and begged God three times to remove it. Don't we all have one or two "thorns in our flesh" that we would give just about anything to remove? Yet God's response to Paul was interesting. Instead of removing the pain which God could have easily done, He said, "My grace is sufficient" (2 Cor. 12:9). God allowed the trial to remain but provided for Paul (and us) all the grace he needed to endure the trial. God goes on to say, "For power is perfected in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). Listen to Paul's response: "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:9-10). There is the attitude my friends!
The Greek word for testing is "dokimion." The word was used to denote the process of refining gold. The metal would be heated to high temperatures in a crucible (Pr. 27:21). The impurities would be separated until the gold was left in its purest form. Through the testing that comes from trials, God is in the process of burning off the impurities and refining our faith. I have been told that the smith knows the process is complete when he can see his reflection in the metal.
That is why, as verse 4 says, we need to "let endurance have its perfect result." We need to endure the heat of the trial and allow God to use the trials to teach us, humble us, drive us to Him in prayer, get us in our Bibles and burn off the worldly impurities so He can better see the blessed reflection of Christ in us (1 Pet. 1:5-7). Or we can put it as James does at the conclusion of verse 4, "So that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (cf. 1 Pet. 5:10).
We will never align with God until we understand and submit to His purposes for our lives. His primary goal for you is not wealth, a prestigious occupation, perfect health, attractive looks or popularity. He has never promised these, and therefore He should not be blamed when we expect Him to comply with our foolish fantasies. God wants something much more profound for you, Christian. He wants in you something that will reflect His infinite glory and deliver to you the fulfillment and purpose and satisfaction you have always desired. He wants to make you complete. He wants to conform you into the perfect and beautiful image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). The ideal Person! And I believe we all know that nothing gets us there as much as trials (Rom. 8:18). The question is, do you want this for yourself as much as God wants it for you? If so, you will submit to trials and consider those trials "all joy" because of the blessed fruit they will produce.
As Warren Wiersbe said in his commentary, "Our values determine our expectations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to "[consider] it all joy!" If we live only for the present and forget the future, the trials will make us bitter, not better" (The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2:338).
We are all going to experience trials. Why not get the most out of them and be able to find hope and joy even in our worst of times. Believe by faith that those dark clouds that God placed over your head are lovingly put there to produce showers of blessings.