Having Healthy Faith: the Book of James
When you Face Trials & Temptations…
Today, we are going to embark on an 18 week journey through a little book in the back of your Bible – the book of James.
It is a book that is only five chapters long, but packs a huge punch as “the Proverbs of the New Testament”. It is a book about the Christian life and is full of wisdom.
In fact, this book is so much focused on living right that some scholars have a hard time with it. One of the great leaders of the Reformation, Martin Luther called this book the “epistle of straw.” He thought it wasn’t worth much because it focused on living a good life rather than grace. Luther and some scholars even today have a major problem that the name of Jesus appears only twice, and the cross or the resurrection is never mentioned in the book of James.
Grace is barely mentioned. In fact, there is one verse that mentions grace and it is actually a quote from Proverbs where you have to do something (be humble) to earn grace. The Old Testament is quoted five times and each time it is in relation to a law or doing something.
Another problem with the book is that there is debate with who actually wrote it. There were two Apostles named James, and one of the fathers of an Apostle is named James. Many scholars, however, believe that this book is written by Jesus’ half-brother (Acts 15:13-ff), also named James. This is a man who had had the nick-name “Ol’ Camel Knees” because he prayed so much!
I want you to understand these problems as we go through this book over the next 18 weeks. The bottom line is that no matter how you look at it – it is still the Word of God! James just assumes that you know doctrine and he concentrates on the importance of living the truth. If you really believe as you should, then you will not behave as you shouldn’t?
Turn with me to James 1:1 – here you find James introducing himself in the most peculiar way – He calls himself a “servant”, or more bluntly “a slave”. He says that he is a slave to God and to Jesus! James is saying, "I am a slave to the King and I ain't him!" This is a personal confession of absolute commitment to Jesus.
Now imagine this, this is the same guy who was born and raised in the same family as Jesus. James, being the half-brother of Jesus, saw Jesus grow up! The Bible tells us that at one point James joined his family in thinking his elder brother was a mental case. Even when Jesus went to the cross, James was still an unbeliever. Jesus even had to assign the care of his mother to a spiritual brother in stead of leaving her in James’ care.
Here he is saying, “I am a slave to my older brother! I am a slave to the one I saw grow up in my own household. I am second to Jesus!”
If anyone could name-drop it was James. “Oh, you come from the Tevis family? Big whoop – my brother is Jesus!” But James introduces himself in such a humble way because he saw Jesus rise from the dead. It utterly changed him and he wasn’t out for self-promotion.
He refused to indulge in name-dropping and by doing so he attacks phoniness with a vengeance. A fraudulent attitude won’t last long in a study of this book, because James essentially says, “be genuine, or be gone!”
You see, the book of James is real about the problems a church can face. This small book addresses the fitness of the community – it asks, “do you have healthy faith, or is there a sickness growing among you?”
James tackles major sicknesses that can infect a community of faith:
• Twisted Theology – saying God is the source of temptation
• Distorted Perspectives of who is important (the rich or the poor)
• Out of Control Tempers
• Clogged ears – not really listening to the Word
• Terrible memories
• Feverish tongues
• Dead and gangrene faith
• Demonic wisdom
• Swollen Heads filled with pride
• Crushing Sin that you Drown Under
So why should we study this small book so intensely? It is because James wants you to have Healthy Faith!
Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, James gets real – he wants you to have healthy face even when you face some might big trials in your life. James knows that there will be trials coming your way.
Job 5:7 (NIV) - Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.
Anyone who tries to create a fantasy world where everything is perfect is perfectly setting themselves up for profound sorrow. Reality will bite you and we each must face this fact. All of us, to some degree or another, are going to have to look right into the eyes of agony at some point in our lives. Jesus realized this and told us that if we follow in His footsteps, we can expect trials (John 15:18-16:4, 33). Maybe that's the reason that Scripture records Jesus weeping but never once laughing.
Imagine the worst trial you could possibly face:
• Financial Crisis accompanied with the loss of one's retirement
• Loss of Employment that has with it the loss of dignity
• The Announcement of a serious illness in your family, or a fatal car wreck
• The Manifestation of Evil in the form or rape, murder, or robbery
James right off the bat says, “we each are going to face trials, but I want you to have a real healthy faith when you do!” You are going to have problems that cause you to ask, “Why me? Why this? Why now?” James challenges us with the amazing admonition - read 1:2
How do you have joy when the world is full of trials, temptations, and sorrows? We have an imperative to stand up against what the world throws at us. Otherwise, we are defeated. AND who wants to be defeated?
I want to lift my head high and I want to have the same attitude found in Psalm 23.
Psalm 23:4 (NKJV) - Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
I am not talking about a pipe-dream of a perfect environment of comfort and tranquility. I am talking about learning to face the trials of life with a confident joy.
TRIALS are inevitable, but defeat is not. You are commanded to "count it as joy!"
But what is joy? Is it the same as happiness? At first glance, joy and happiness may seem similar but, really, they are quite different.
One way to understand the differences between joy and happiness is to think about their opposites. While the opposite of happiness is sorrow, the opposite of joy is fear.
Happiness depends on circumstance; joy, on our emotional well-being. We may be happy if we win the lottery, but we feel joy when we think about a beloved child or grandchild. Happiness may warm us, but it is joy that creates the fierce heat of emotion that takes our breath away. Happiness is an outward expression, and joy is an inward strength.
James does not say, "Don't worry, be happy!" He says that even in the midst of the hard stuff of life - have JOY!
BUT how is it possible? James not only gives the command, but also tells us how to do it.
Read verse 3 & 4
In order to live the command of joy , we need to:
1. Know the outcome – vs. 3-4
What is the outcome of going through hard times? James says that it is patience that leads to a perfect and complete life.
Trials have a purifying quality about your life, much like you don't know if a soldier is worth his salt until you have seen him in battle.
Imagine life like a Gladiator's arena. When you stand in the ring, will you be proven as a person who has genuine faith, or will your attitude during the testing show your true colors?
Because as you stand in that arena of life there will be three opponents that will attack you:
1. You will be attacked by another Gladiator that looks like your twin. James calls this our "evil impulse" (4:1-6) that lies inside of us. Other Bible writers call this our “flesh”. There lies a darkness inside of each of us that attacks our very soul. This attacker gets it power from sin.
Just when you thought you were done with that one, you will also be assaulted by a second assailant:
2. This one seems like an army – there are too many of them. This is the world. When you live for Jesus, you are living in direct opposition to what the world says is important. James points out in chapter 2 that the world wants us to pursue money and status. The world will try to get you to succumb to their way of thinking. That is why Jesus says this:
Luke 6:22 (The Message) - Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable.
3. Third, you will be attacked by a vicious lion, Satan himself (4:7). Satan comes and he accuses you, he incites you to sin, and ultimately leads you astray.
James asks, “how will you stand when these foes come?” Will you have the mettle to keep your joy or will you be beat down?
Why does God allow this anyway? What are the purpose of these attacks? Why does God have to put me through these trials? God knows everything right? God is the omniscient Creator of all, amen? Then why do we need to be tested or put through a trial?
There's a great illustration of a king named Hezekiah who went through a trail in 2 Chronicles. This book says:
2 Chronicles 32:31 (ESV) - God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.
God didn't need to know by testing what was in Hezekiah's heart - He already knew because He was all knowing. God tests us so that we can find out.
Hezekiah learned a great deal about himself that day. He thought he had everything together when it came to God. HE WAS THE MAN who put his kingdom back together and brought the people back to God. BUT, when he was tested, God showed him how weak his faith really was. Because of what happened that day, the Temple - the place of the very presence of God - would later be ransacked. Hezekiah was shown to have a weak faith.
God gives us trials so that we can take spiritual inventory on ourselves. He demonstrates to us the strength and weakness of our faith. If you go through a trail and you shake your fist at God and wonder why its happening, what is God revealing to you? If, on the other hand, you're at peace and rejoicing in the Lord because you placed the trial in His care, then you have strong faith.
In fact, this is what kept the Apostle Paul humble. Here was a man that was used by God to save thousands through his preaching. He started hundreds of churches in some of the worst cities in the known world. If anyone could boast, it was him. Yet it was a trial that kept him humble.
2 Corinthians 12:7 (NCV) - So that I would not become too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me, a painful physical problem was given to me.
This is how we can be thankful for our trials, because they assist us in examining our faith. We can know where all of this leads.
James tells us that the testing of your faith produces patience. Patience produces a person who is perfect and complete. This phrase “perfect and complete” is a powerful word picture that James uses for us. When we go through trials we will be made into two things: perfect and complete.
Perfect has to do with the quality of life. Life is great!
Complete has to do with quantity of life. My life is finally “whole”!
James is saying that our trials produces a quality and quantity of life that is outstanding! This the promise that we can hold on to when we face these difficulties.
But there is another reason that we can have pure joy when we face trials. We also:
2. Know the Source of Wisdom – vs. 5-6
James says, “GO to GOD!” Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go to God! We know the source of all wisdom for this world!
James is not talking about the wisdom of the world. For example:
• Never take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.
• It is a mistake to allow any mechanical object to realize that you are in a hurry.
He is not talking about worldly wisdom, but about Godly wisdom.
We need to ask God for wisdom – why? Because when we go through trials pain is real! Our natural response is to ask “why God?” Instead our response should be “how God?” How do you want me to live when this is going on?
You see, WISDOM means “skill in living”. AND wisdom from God is the very skill that:
• Makes us humble before God (3:13)
• Serves as a counterpoint to the evil within us (3:15)
• Is the source of a variety of virtues that God desires to develop within us (3:17)
• Is linked to peace and health within the community (3:17)
• Is the sign (according to James) that the Holy Spirit is working in your life (see Isaiah 11:2).
We are called to ask for this wisdom in faith. Faith is a tricky word in James. 7 out of 10 times the word is used in this book in conjunction with action. In this letter, faith is one of action! We must have faith that demonstrates itself it in deeds.
When James says, “ask for wisdom in faith”, James is telling you that you had better act like God will answer with an understandable message. Don’t think that God doesn’t care. Don’t think that God will not be clear.
James tells us that if you don’t think that God is going to answer you, then you are just like a person tossed about at sea. Your life will be directionless and have no purpose. You will be driven by what the world says is important.
Worldly reason teaches us to value the world. Our senses and feelings urge us to value pleasure. The world tells us that life is just the here and now, so eat drink and be merry! Tomorrow you will die, so live it up today!
But faith teaches us to value God's Word, obey it, and receive His blessing. Trails teach us the blessings of obedience. When we obey God's will in the midst of a trial, we are blessed.
Jesus is the perfect example of this. He was blessed because of His obedience. He knew that He could stop what was going on at any time, and yet He obeyed.
Philippians 2:8-9 (MSG) - Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever!
Trials put us through suffering so that we might obey and then know what it is to be blessed. I want the full blessing of God, so I obey even in the midst of the pain. As you learn to obey God even in the trails of life, you will experience the exhilaration of the blessing. This leads to joy.
We can have joy, because we know the outcome, because we know the source of wisdom, and…
3. Know the Importance of Staying True – vs. 7-8
People who don’t have this joy when they go through the trials are in trouble! James calls them double-minded and unstable. It is like they have split personalities. They constantly change their mind and are restless, unsteady, and fickle. The worse thing is that a person like this is no use to God. A person can not be double-minded and stay true to God. They are too unruly to be of any good.
The worth of a solider is never known in times of peace. One of God's purposes is to give us greater strength. As you go through trials, your spiritual muscles are exercised and strengthened. That means that you can face greater foes and endure greater obstacles, thus becoming more useful to the Lord. And the more useful you are, the more you will accomplish His will in the power of the Holy Spirit and grace.
We have to believe that God is going to work it out:
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) - And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Malachi 3:3 says "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." This verse puzzled some women in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study.
That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities. The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot then she thought again about the verse that says: "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver."
She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.
The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?" He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's easy-- when I see my image in it."
When you go through the fire, will God see His image in you?
If today you are feeling the heat of the fire, remember that God has His eye on you and will keep watching you until He sees His image in you. You can let the flames drive your crazy, or they can drive you to God. Will His image be seen in your life?
James is clear - the greatest way to have the image of God in your life is to be a person of joy. How will you have joy when your trials come?
Trials are inevitable and they will cause growth in you:
1. Either you will have a joy that surges up out of your heart, OR
2. You will become more angry, frustrated, and bitter. The growth will be like a malignant tumor.
So let me ask you - do you know what determines which will happen?
What determines if bitterness or grow or joy will grow? It all comes down to your faith in Jesus Christ – Jesus Christ is:
• The one who determines your outcome – heaven
• The one who is your wisdom
• The one who keeps us true
Jesus said that this:
John 10:10 (MSG) - I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.
This is the key to joy!