Responding To Trials With A Christian Mind - Part One
Scripture: James 1:9–18
Responding To Trials With A Christian Mind-Part OneJames 1:9-18
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
I have been enjoying my new membership at the health club because it is providing for me great sermon illustrations. Here comes another one!
You know any gym has its own community. Eventually people settle in and display some maturity, but you can always spot the new guys by the way they act. Here are some dead giveaways:
- Hog the Machine Henry - Henry is the fellow who is working on a machine, but rests an eternity between sets. It wouldn't be bad if he got up and let others work in, but instead he grows roots and takes over the equipment.
- Rock Star Ricky - Ricky blasts his iPod so loud it begins to overtake the music coming in over the house speakers. Ricky is often found off in a corner getting his primary workout playing his air guitar. He pretends he is oblivious to others, but the more attention he receives the better.
- Muscles In Your Mind Mike - Mike just started working out. He making some nice gains, but there is a Grand Canyon of a difference between his perception and reality. Striking a quick pose with the tight tank top every time he passes a mirror blows his cover.
- Invent Your Workout Ivan - Ivan simply has no clue what he is doing. And instead of asking for help he simply grabs some weights and does his own thing. Last week I saw a guy next to us doing something with dumbbells. I'm not sure what it was, but it definitely looked like a good way to hurt yourself. I just looked at Telly and his response was, "That exercise has never been attempted on the Jersey Shore!"
Life in the church community is no different. We have immature believers and mature ones. There is nothing wrong with being immature when you are new to the faith. Everybody has to start somewhere, but there is a problem when many Christians simply refuse to grow up! They embarrass themselves, offer a poor example to others and exasperate their leaders. The apostle Paul dealt with folks of this nature in Corinth: "I…could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?" (1 Cor. 3:1-3). In other words, "Grow up!"
Well, pastor, you talked about the gym, but how do I spot mature believers in the church? Is it the way they dress? No. Is it the way they use big theological words? No. Is it the size of the Bible they carry to church? No. I believe one of the clearest dividing points between mature and immature believers is the way they respond to trials. There is the Christian way described in the Bible, and there is the fleshly way defined by the world.
Which side are you on? Today we'll find out as we continue our series on trials from James 1. We have already learned that trials will come, and since we have God's promise that He in His love, wisdom and sovereignty is using them to mature us into Christlikeness (Jas. 1:3-4), we can, verse 2, "consider [them] all joy." Let's now get more specific with the remaining verses and learn over the next two weeks four ways a mature believer responds to trials.
1. MONEY AS GOD SEES IT (verses 9-11)
Point number one, "Money As God Sees It."
Back in verse 2 James stated that we all encounter "various" trials. They come in all shapes and forms. Some are very intense, but often they are the little things in life that can really get under our skin.
- You fill up the waterbed only to realize an hour later you used the sprinkler hose.
- Your twin sister forgets your birthday.
- Your birthday cake collapses from the weight of the candles.
- The boss tells you not to bother taking off your coat.
- The car horn malfunctions as you are trailing behind a scary group on motorcycles.
- You jump in a lake and forget to remove your wallet.
- After the routine check-up the dentist says we need to schedule a few appointments.
- You put both contact lenses in the same eye.
All of us have trails every day, but some of our greatest trials are often in the area of finances. In verse 3 James said a trial is for "the testing of [our] faith." I believe few things test our faith more than money. Therefore I am not surprised that James immediately deals with this matter of money as he gets specific in his discussion on trials.
He divides his readership into two categories. In verse 9 he mentions the poor fellow, "the brother of humble circumstances" and in verse 10 "the rich man." I warn you, his comments may shock you because his reasoning is diametrically opposite of the world.
It is common for those financially challenged to feel unnecessary, insignificant and ashamed. Yet James says in verse 9, "[He] is to glory in his high position." How can that be?
Think about it! What does the absence of financial prosperity bring? Humility! Now is that good or bad? According to Jesus, the blessed ones are those "poor in spirit" (Mt. 5:3). Later in 4:6 James will say, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." When is the last time you considered a low financial portfolio a potential road to a "high position" in God's estimation? Is your mind conditioned by the world or Scripture?
The world (and many churches today) says prosperity is always a sign of God's blessing. It could be, but according to Scripture it could also be a curse. Money can easily become our true god. Money can easily produce self-sufficiency instead of God-dependence and self-congratulation instead of God-gratefulness. It is not easy to be godly and wealthy. And don't expect your rich friends to applaud your desire to put Christ over your material pursuits. Maybe that is what James meant when he said in verse 10, "The rich man is to glory in his humiliation."
No doubt God has used wealthy people, and many wealthy people I know are godly individuals, but there is also no doubt that the church has wrongly esteemed people with big wallets over people with big hearts. It did not start with our generation. If you look at the beginning of James chapter 2, it was a problem in the early church as well.
To put things in perspective James draws an illustration from his experiences of living in an arid climate. While people were envious of the rich folks, James said these people are no different than the flowering grass. They are here now and look great, but one day they will "pass away" (verse 10). Verse 11, "For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away" (cf. Isa. 40:6-7; 1 Pet. 1:24).
Could you imagine one of those little wildflowers on the plain of a sandy desert boasting of its beauty? Little does it know that within a few weeks it will be scorched, its beauty will be gone and it will wilt away. "So too the rich man" (Jas. 1:11).This world is a vapor (Jas. 4:14). Everything in it is temporary.
Mature believers always keep an eye on eternity. We do not live for the day, but for what will bring us the greatest gains in the life to come - hence James' comments about money. Why else would Jesus encourage us to "store up for [ourselves] treasures in heaven" (Mt. 6:20)? So you have a lot of money now, great, how much will that matter 100 years from now? It's not going with you! The question is whether you want to bloom for the duration of this life or for all of eternity?
If every trial is a test of God, how are we doing in this area of money? According to the world's standards I believe all of us are in the category of the wealthy. There is nothing wrong with money, but do we view our money like the world? The world wants more money; Christians want greater Christlikeness and allow their money or lack of money to be used as a tool of God to get them there. Contrary to the world's thought, the absence of wealth will not keep us from God, and the excess of riches will not bring God any closer. If anything, the Scriptures declare just the opposite (consider the rich young ruler from Matthew 19:16-24). Having money or the lack of it will bring significant spiritual trials. How are you doing?
2. REMAIN UNDER THE WEIGHT (verse 12)
A second point to consider is how people respond to trials. When things happen contrary to their desires, unbelievers are guaranteed to respond in three ways. They either worry, express fear or complain. These responses are predictable because they have no hope in God or knowledge of the Word to guide them. What is sad is when you see believers act like this in the church, and like those guys in the gym they have no clue as to how much they are displaying their immaturity.
The Christian perspective is mentioned in verse 12: "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."
It comes down to faith. If we believe that God is in control over everything that enters our life and that everything He permits in our life is a result of His goodness and love, and if we believe He is wise in all His dealings with us and that His ultimate goal is to conform us to Christ, then we will have no problems with the inconveniences because we know that through the pain God has a purpose and plan. We will, verse 2, "consider [trials] all joy." Insane to the world; clearly biblical for the believer.
Just a few miles from here is historic Allaire Village. I am sure most of you have been there and on a summer afternoon had the opportunity to visit the little shops and watch the employee dressed in their traditional garb recreate the activities of the 1800's. My favorite is the blacksmith shop. It is amazing what they could do with a rough bar of iron.
In today's money it has been said that a bar of iron is worth $2.50. When that same amount of iron is wrought into horseshoes, it is worth $5. If it is made into needles, it is worth $175. If made into penknife blades, it is worth $1,625. If made into springs for watches, it is worth $125,000. Consider the "trial by fire" that that bar must undergo to be worth this! But the more it is manipulated, and the more it is hammered and passed through the heat, beaten, pounded, and polished, the greater its value (F. B. Meyer, Our Daily Bread, February 23).
As Christians we wonder about the trials through which we are passing. "How long, O Lord?" we frequently ask. But think of it this way, what do we want to become? Are you content being a rough bar of iron? The heat of the flame and the blows of the hammer will always be necessary if we wish to become uncommon more than an unpolished, rough bar of iron. God's all-wise plan, though it calls for the fire, produces the valuable watch spring of maturity. His very best for your life has behind it His perfect planning. And as I have said frequently, I have never been around more quality and complete and stable individuals than the ones we have here at the Grace Tabernacle. And you know it is trials and your proper response to them that gets you there.
Someone once said, "In adversity we usually want God to do a removing job when He wants to do an improving job" (Author Unknown).
Therefore as verse 12 indicates, when we are facing a trial we will not run or grumble or sulk, but will "persevere under the trial." Persevere, our favorite Greek word, "hupomeno" and our favorite illustration of the big Olympic weightlifter holding that bar over his head until the judge releases him from the weight. We already spent two weeks on how trials are God's primary way to mature us in Christ. Will we trust Him? Will we maintain our confident faith in Him? Will we "remain under the weight" until God completes His work in us?
And if the incentive of Christlikeness is not enough, James seasons the verse with added motivation. First he says the person who remains under the weight of trials is "blessed" (cf. 1 Pet. 1:6-7). As I have said so often, we will all experience trials, the only question is do you want to be happy in the midst of them? Do you want to feel that despite the pain, God has a wise purpose in what He is doing? The world's solutions have been tried and proven ineffective. We are surrounded by hurting and miserable people. Why do we turn everywhere in our desire to be blessed, but so often refuse to consider the One who made us?
Another incentive is in the fruit that we will bear. Many years ago a man from the church asked me if I wanted a pear tree. Almost as quick as I said "yes" he was in the backyard digging the hole. I have patiently waited for that tree to bear fruit, and after five years began wondering exactly what he planted! Yet this spring we have pears on the branches. I am now confident I have a pear tree in my backyard!
Jesus said we as Christians will be known by our fruit (Mt. 12:33). In other words, there will be something more than leaves hanging on our branches if we are truly saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We will bear Christian fruit, and one of those fruits is the way we respond to trials. When trials hit, the world does its thing and Christians do their thing. Therefore evidence that we truly belong to Christ is our ability to persevere under trials and desire to see them make us more like Jesus.
James makes this point in verse 12 when he says, "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (cf. 1 Cor. 9:25). Proper response in trials does not grant us eternal life. We are saved solely as a work of grace by believing in Christ's work on the cross to take away our sins. But the way we respond to trials gives evidence that the work of grace has really occurred in our lives.
Jesus spoke to the persecuted church in Smyrna in Revelation and said the same thing. "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10). The world quits. Christians are those who persevere!
There are a lot of preachers who give nothing more than worldly psychology to their churches peppered with a few verses from the Bible. Unfortunately this is what attracts many people. Our goal at this church has always been to do what attracts God's favor. And the greatest way we can glorify Him in His church is to develop genuine disciples sincere on following Christ. We may not give the culture what it wants, but we will give the culture what it needs. And what it needs is a greater understanding of God's character, a deeper desire to be like Christ and a maturity to function as a productive citizen in His kingdom. That is what God wants. Do you want it?
Maybe for some of us we still haven't suffered enough to realize the foolishness of trying to do it the world's way. God's way is perfect and the one that will produce the greatest joy and peace. We do not have all the answers as to why some suffer more than others and why some are blessed with different amounts of wealth and why some prayers are answered with a "no" and others with a "yes." But based on our recent lessons, we need to agree that God is with us every step of the way and that our unpolished human nature needs more problems than answers. Realize that the best way out of a trial is going through it, trusting God in the refining process. See all things from a loving God as a means to make you more beautiful, more useful, more Christlike, more mature.