Finding Good from Bad Times
I hope that you are as excited as I am about studying God’s word this morning. And while I know that this may take most of you by surprise, we are actually going to take a hiatus from the book of Hebrews. As you know, Hebrews is one of my favorite books in the New Testament. And one thing I love about the book of Hebrews is that it has a few major themes, and the author really hammers home those themes. One of those themes is the difference between the Old and the New Covenant. And even though we haven’t studied chapters nine through thirteen as a church body, we have already talked several times about the major themes that those chapters talk about. So instead of spending several more weeks talking about the effects of the New Covenant, I felt led to take a break from Hebrews and move elsewhere. And as I was looking and praying, I felt as if the Holy Spirit were leading me to the book of James.
Raise your hand this morning if you’ve ever read through the book of James. Okay, it looks like quite a few of you have. The book of James is cram-packed with helpful advice for living a Christian life 24/7. Many books of the New Testament are full of beautiful doctrines. And frankly, I love studying the deep doctrines of the Bible. But the book of James isn’t like that. The book of James is all about how to take the doctrines of the Bible, and how to make them your own. In fact, the book of James is so well-known for its practicality that its popular nickname is “The Proverbs of the New Testament.” And because it is so practical, I thought it fitting to name this sermon series “Practical Christianity.” Over the course of the next two to three months, we will be looking at how the truths of the Bible can move from our head to our hearts, and from our hearts to our hands. So in case you’re not already there, I invite you to turn to the book of James, and we’re going to be reading chapter one, verses one through fifteen.
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him. Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted of God:’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”
All right, because this is the first week we’re looking at the book of James, I want to start off with a little bit of housekeeping. When studying any book of the Bible, one helpful thing we need to know is who wrote the book. The writer of the book of James is actually the Apostle Paul. Just seeing who’s awake out there! No, of course it was James, but there are different James’s in the Bible. Almost every theologian agrees that the writer of the book of James is James, the half-brother of Jesus. In other words, James was born to Joseph and Mary, while Jesus was born from Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. So when we read his words, we’re reading the words of someone who grew up in the same house with Jesus. I can’t imagine how interesting that would have been. Can you imagine passing the potatoes to God the Son? Must have been amazing.
And another interesting fact about the book of James is that it was most likely the first book of the New Testament that was written. It was probably written about fifteen years after Jesus ascended to Heaven. So up until this point, the early church only had the Old Testament, and they had the eyewitness stories from people that knew Jesus. But James was most likely the first man to put down the effects of the gospel on pen and paper.
One of the biggest problems that the early Christians faced was persecution. Notice that in verse one of this chapter, James says that he’s writing to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad. He’s writing to Jews that have become Christians. And the reason they’re scattered abroad is that men like Saul were persecuting them so badly that most of the Christians fled Jerusalem. Ironically, that’s actually how the gospel spread to most of the Roman Empire. The gospel spread because Christians were running for their lives! So when James sat down to write this letter, the first topic he handles is trials and temptations, and that’s the topic we’re going to be looking at this morning.
So the title of this morning’s sermon is, “Finding Good from Bad Times.” In the course of these fifteen verses, James gives us four reasons why we can praise God for the trials in our lives. And then after that, he gives us one final piece of information about trials and temptations. Sound pretty interesting? Well let’s see what God’s word has to say.
Reason #1: Trials lead to patience
To see what I’m talking about, let’s read verses two through four again. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” There are a couple of things I want to point out to you about these verses. The first is the difference between the word “trial” and “temptation.” I imagine that some of your translations say “temptations,” and some of your versions use the word “trials.” The reason for this difference is that in the Greek language, the same word means both! Because of this, the difference is purely one of context. In modern English, a trial is when God brings something your way, and He wants you to succeed. A temptation is when our sinful flesh or the devil bring something our way, and he wants you to fail. So because these first verses talk about problems can lead to our benefit, I think that trials is the idea here.
Now, I’m going to read verse two again, and I want you to see if you can tell the word that I change. “My brethren, count it all joy if ye fall into divers temptations.” Did you catch it? James doesn’t say count it all joy if you fall into trials. He says that we should count it all joy when trials come our way. So if you’re here this morning, and you can honestly say that you haven’t had any trials lately, I’ve got two words for you. Just wait. According to the Bible, suffering always happens in the lives of Christians. But the first reason James gives us for praising God in our trials is that trials leads to patience. Anybody ever found that to be true? Something we talked about in the book of Jonah is that one of the hardest parts about trials is the waiting game, just wondering when God is going to step in and save us. And then James says that our patience will lead to us being perfect and entire. The idea of the word “perfect” in this verse is not that we would completely conquer our sin, because we won’t do that until Heaven. Here, the word perfect means “complete” or “mature.” I would argue that as a Christian, you cannot be truly mature in the faith unless you have been through trials in your life. It’s hard to learn patience when everything is going our way, isn’t it? And yet, when God is putting us through a trial, we can’t help but learn patience. And church, that’s one of the reasons He does it. Let’s move on.
Reason #2: Trials lead to faith
Let’s look at verses five through eight again. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” You know, it really seems like James switches topics on us here, doesn’t it? First, he was talking about trials, and now he’s talking about wisdom and faith. But really, he’s still dealing with people who are suffering. You know, probably the most common question a suffering Christians asks is “Why?” Why is this happening to me, Lord? And here in these verses we have our answer. If any man lacks wisdom, if you don’t know why things happen the way they happen, ask the Lord. But then, James gives a caveat. You can’t just ask God to give you wisdom, you have to ask Him, and then believe He will answer. Verses six through eight are some of the most famous verses in the entire Bible, and they tell us that someone who asks God for something, but then doesn’t believe God will answer is an unstable and double-minded person. It’s like a ship at sea that is trying to go one way, but the wind and the waves have a different plan.
In other words, if you are going to ask God why you’re suffering, you better prepare yourself for an answer, because one is coming to you. Who knows, maybe this sermon is God’s answer to you. The idea is not for suffering to lead you to desperation, the idea is for suffering to lead you to faith. Don’t be like that ship tossed by the winds and waves, be like a ship that is fully trusting in God, with its anchor firmly rooted in Jesus Christ.
And let me quickly say that many people take these verses completely out of context. Many people read verses six through eight and say, “Well, I can pray anything to God, and if I truly believe Him, then I’ll get it.” But that’s simply not the case. In verse five, James doesn’t say, “If any of you lack a Lamborghini, let him ask in faith. He doesn’t say, “If any of you lack a promotion, let him ask in faith.” And he doesn’t even say, “If any of you are in a trial, ask in faith and it will go away.” No, he says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask in faith.” So if I prayed tonight and asked for a new car, there’s not going to be one sitting in the driveway tomorrow morning. But, if I asked God for wisdom and for faith, I promise you He would give it to me. But you know what church? God might give me faith through a trial. And for that, we can truly praise God.
Reason #3: Trials lead to satisfaction
James gives us this reason in verses nine through eleven. Let’s read those verses again. “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.” Once again, it seems as if James has switched topics. And yet, he’s still talking about how to handle trials. Earlier, I said that probably the biggest question someone in a trial has is, “Why me?” But you know, another common question we ask is, “Why not him?” That’s one of the biggest questions in the psalms. As the Old Testament says it, “Why do the wicked prosper?”
And just so you know, James is not saying here that being rich automatically makes you evil. Jesus said it best when He said that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter Heaven, but He didn’t say that it was impossible. It’s true that most rich people feel as if they don’t need God, but there are some good rich people. John Cash Penney was a very wealthy man, and he was also a very godly man. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chik-fil-a, is a very wealthy man, and yet he is also a very godly man. Job was one of the richest men in his time, and yet he was a very godly man. So just realize that when James is talking about rich people, he’s talking about the non-Christian variety.
And to make his point about wealth, James uses the illustration of a flower. Flowers are beautiful. And yet, as beautiful as a flower is, it’s such a fragile thing. As soon as the sun burns hot, the flower starts to wither. In the same way, a wicked man’s wealth can seem very beautiful. But just like a flower, the wealth will fade. It’s all temporary. As the old saying goes, “You can’t take it with you when you die.” How true is that?
So what’s the lesson for us? Suffering can often give us a case of the “Why me?”s. But what suffering should do is give us a new perspective. A perspective on the eternal, and not on the temporary. Don’t envy that celebrity that is rotten to the core, and yet they have lots of money. They can’t take that with them! Be satisfied with what God gives you, because what you have in Christ is eternal, and what they have is nothing but a temporary fix to an eternal problem. And if trials can teach us to be satisfied, then that is something we can truly praise God about.
Reason #4: Trials lead us to reward
Look at what James says in verse twelve. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.” Isn’t this awesome? The Bible tells us that on the other side of trials is the crown of life. And frankly, the implication of this verse is that our entire lives are one big trial. Has anyone found that to be true? Our entire lives are a test of our faith. And when we endure that trial, and when we stay true to Christ until death, we will have a crown of life. And remember, for many of James’ original audience, death was often by the sword or by crucifixion. So their trial literally got them killed; but even death could not defeat them. Because in death, they found an imperishable crown of life.
Do you know that from the bottom of your heart this morning? Do you realize that as bad as your problems may get, there is victory on the other side? If you’re here this morning, and you’ve got a debilitating health problem, I don’t know if God is going to remove that from you. But you know what? On the other side of that health problem is a crown of life. If you’ve lost a loved one, I don’t know if that pain will go away in this life. But I know that in Heaven, you will be given a crown of life, and if your loved one knew Jesus Christ, you won’t have to ever say goodbye again. What I’m trying to say is this: I know it may seem like your life is one problem after another; but church, in the view of eternity, it’s nothing but a fleeting vapor. And so yes, trials are hard, but if trials pave our way to a home in Heaven, then that is something we can truly praise God for.
Point #5: Trials are from God, temptations are not
Let’s conclude this morning’s passage by reading verses thirteen through fifteen again. “Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted of God:’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”
In these final verses, James reminds us that there is a difference between being tested by God, and being tempted by our own sins. Here’s an example of what I mean: If you have a problem with getting drunk, God is not going to test you by telling you to walk into a bar and just see whether or not you drink. That’s temptation. If you struggle with looking at bad sites on the internet, God is not going to test you by having you punch in the web address, and seeing whether or not you press “Enter.” That’s temptation. So often, we think that the things we are going through are because of God. But church, the painful truth is that sometimes, it’s because of our own mistakes.
It would be like if a distraught husband coming to me and saying, “Preacher, God’s putting me through a trial. My wife just told me that she’s leaving me.” And when I ask him why she was leaving, he says, “Well, it’s probably because I’ve been seeing this other girl on the side.” Church, what James is saying is that that husband’s suffering is not from God, it’s from his own sin. And just as James says, lust leads to sin, and sin leads to death.
So if you’re here this morning, and you’re going through something difficult, the first thing you need to do is examine your life, and determine if it’s from God, or if your problem is your own sinful nature. If it’s from your own sinful nature, then you need to repent of that sin, and do everything in your power to fix the problem. God’s not trying to teach you patience or faith or satisfaction, He’s trying to tell you to stop your sin!
I hope that this passage from James has been beneficial to you. Whether or not you’re in the midst of a trial, I hope you are now better prepared for what to do when they come. And what do you do when they come? Praise God! Count it all joy! Why? Because trials are how God teaches us patience. Trials are how God teaches us faith. Trials are how God teaches us satisfaction. And trials are how God reminds us that we’ve got a better home waiting for us. And finally, I hope that I’ve reminded you that not all problems are from God. In fact, I would venture to say that most of our problems are because of our own mistakes. And we need to admit those mistakes, and fix those mistakes.
And as the pianist and song leader come forward, let me ask you: have you made Jesus Christ your Savior? If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, there is only one reason God sends trials your way. That message is like a bright, flashing neon sign. Trust in Christ! God is trying to get your attention, and I hope He’s done that this morning. If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, the Bible is abundantly clear that your life does not lead to Heaven. It leads to Hell. It leads to eternal separation from God in burning torment. But if you will only place your faith in Christ, if you will accept Him as the Lord and Savior of your life, you will be saved. For the first time, your life will gain meaning. And while you don’t have to come up here to trust in Christ, it’s a great place to do so. And this morning, I want to point out that the altars are not only for confessing sin and praying for help. These altars are also for praising God. So this morning, if you are going through a hard trial, I invite you to come forward and simply praise God for what He’s doing in your life. So whether you have never accepted Christ, whether you have a pressing need on your heart, or whether you just want to praise God for what He’s done for you, this is your chance.
But before we have an invitation, let’s pray.
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