By Pastor Glenn Pease
In modern educational psychology we read such statements as, "Learning takes place only when the act that is performed is reinforced or rewarded." And, "Without reward, people fail to learn." Educators are more and more realizing that rewards play a major part in teaching that is effective. God was well aware of this truth long before man. In Heb. 11:6 we read, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarded of those who diligently seek Him." In Matt. 5:11-12 we read, "Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad for great is your reward in heaven."
To want rewards is perfectly normal. Intelligent beings take a course of action that results in the best reward by nature. We are made that way by God. James is only following the teaching of his divine brother when he tells us to count it all joy when we fall into trials, knowing there is great reward in endurance. James is trying to teach us the secret of receiving a royal reward. He breaks this practical lesson into two sections. One is positive and the other is negative.
I. HE DECLARES A FINAL OBJECTIVE. v. 12.
James says we are not suffering for sufferings sake just as the football players are not on the field taking those spills just for the sake of putting their body to a test. They are enduring those trials because they have a goal to reach. The Christian who endures trials also has a goal to reach, and it is the final objective for which he was created. It is to receive the royal reward of the crown of life.
When Jesus spoke to the church of Smyrna thought the Apostle John in Rev. 2:10 he said, "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for 10 days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." One of the early church martyrs was Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna. He refused to sacrifice to Caesar. At his trial the Proconsul said, "Curse Christ and I will release you." Polycarp spoke those words for which he has become famous. "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"
He was put to the stake and the fire was kindled, but wing blew the flame around him, and so the executioner killed him with a sword. He was faithful unto death, and, therefore, he received the reward that both Jesus and James speak of-the crown of life.
What is this crown of life that is worth dying for? It is the ultimate goal, and final objective of our existence. It is that quality of life which is in perfect harmony with God. To live without fellowship with God is to have only the rags of life. To live in perfect fellowship with God is to have the crown of life. The crown of life goes only to those who endure all things for the sake of Christ. It is that quality of life that enables a person to reign with Christ because they are in perfect harmony with the Lord of life. It is the life of love, praise, and service which we see displayed by the saints in heaven as they are pictured in Revelation.
How do we receive this royal reward? James says the road to this reward is the road of endurance. Kings only want tried men in their army, and so how much more does the King of Kings want tried men and women to serve with Him? The trials of life are training us for the day of our coronation when we receive the crown of life. The requirement is that we endure. It is not just suffering trials that is important, for that is as easy as falling off a log. It is the enduring of the trials that is vital. It is not blessed are they who escape, but blessed are they who endure. Endurance is the key, and this means that we must be convinced that suffering can be successful, and that it prepares us for attaining our final objective of being Christlike. Only as we are convinced that trials can be of worth can we endure. Robert Service wrote,
And so in the strife of the battle of life,
Its easy to fight when you're winning;
Its easy to slave, and starve and be brave,
When the dawn of success is beginning.
But the man who can meet despair and defeat
With a cheer, there's the man of God's choosing;
The man who can fight to heaven's own height
Is the man who can fight when he's losing.
Endurance is being positive when circumstances are negative. It is not just passive suffering, for many can do this. Some pagan people's even let great injuries be inflicted on their bodies without a murmur. This is not Christian endurance. Christian endurance is like that of Christ when He endured the cross, and ask God to forgive those who crucified Him. It is like Madam Chiang Kai Shek saying, after all the Japanese did to China, "There must be no bitterness. No matter what we have undergone and suffered, we must try to forgive those who injured us, and remember only the lesson gained thereby."
Christian endurance is not only to go all the way, but to go all the way in the right spirit, and without self-pity, discontent, and giving up. Some endure great trials to the end, but allow themselves to become bitter, and this is not being prepared for receiving the crown of life. One fails the test who is not more Christlike for having taken it. Both of the thieves endured the same suffering on the cross, but the suffering of one cause him to look to Christ and receive the crown of life. The other bore it also, but he never looked to Christ, and so he was tried and failed. No one suffers successfully and receives the reward who is not made more Christlike in their trials. The secret of receiving the reward is endurance, and the secret of endurance is in looking to Christ.
Why should I fear the darkest hour,
Or tremble at the tempter's power?
Jesus vouchsafes to be my tower.
Though hot the fight, why quite the field?
Why must I either flee or yield,
Since Jesus is my mighty shield?
Against me earth and hell combined,
But on my side is power Divine;
Jesus is all, and He is mine. Author Unknown
In declaring our final objective, James not only tells of the reward, and the road by which we reach it, but also the result in the present because of following that road to the ultimate reward. The result is present happiness. The man who by faith in the promise of God is enduring trials, and counting them joy, has found the secret of the happy life. The world think happiness is found in having, but the Bible says it is found, not in what we have, but in whom we hope. Happiness is that attitude of life that knows there is meaning and purpose no matter how rough the road gets. Without this hope and expectation there can be no lasting happiness.
Solomon in Ecclesiastes says that he had everything. He had wisdom, wealth, wine, and women, and yet he concluded that all was vanity, and he found no happiness in all that the world could offer. Apart from hope in God there is no such thing as happiness, but with this hope, though we lose all else, we are yet blessed. Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch. He was ordained by either Peter or Paul. He was the first prominent Christian to be martyred after the Apostles. When he was being taken by the Romans to be thrown to the wild beasts in the Coliseum, he wrote a letter to the Christians in Rome, and he said, "I bid all men know that of my own free will I die for God. Let me be given to the wild beasts for through them I attain unto God. I am God's wheat. I am ground by the wild beasts that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Come fire and cross and grappling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, racking of limps, crushing of my whole body; only be it mine to attain unto Jesus Christ."
He counted it joy, and he endured to the end with a happiness that only Christ can give. The truth that James teaches here has been proved over and over again in the lives of those who have had to endure persecution. If you follow the road of endurance, it will lead you to the royal reward of the crown of life. Endurance is based on the hope of reward, and the knowing that things will not always be as they now are. Change may come through death that leads you into the eternal kingdom, or it may come in time, and you get to see reward in this life for holding on. Every negative circumstance is only temporary, and every trial will one day be just a memory.
Once in Persia reigned a king
Who upon his signet ring
Graved a maxim true and wise
Which, if held before his eyes,
Gave him wisdom at a glance;
Fit for any change or chance.
Helpful words, and these are they;
Even this shall pass away. Author Unknown
Recognition of this enables people to endure failure, knowing that success can still be ahead. Most successful people have to endure many trials of failure before they get to the reward of success. Abraham Lincoln marched off to the Black Hawk War as a Captain, and he returned demoted to a private. If he would have let failure defeat him, he never would have been heard of again. But he endured that trial, and now everyone has heard of him. Even the rewards of this life go to those who endure. Edgar Guest put in 4 lines the philosophy that has led to the heroes of history, and the kind of people James says every Christian should be.
One broken dream is not the end of dreaming.
One shattered hope is not the end of hoping;
Beyond the storm and tempest stars are gleaming,
Still plan your castles though your castles fall.
This is the basic theme of James, but he has a negative side he has to deal with.
II. HE DENOUNCES A FALSE OBJECTION. vv. 13-15.
Someone might conclude after hearing all this about the worth and value of trials if they are endured, that if one fails to overcome temptation that it is God's fault. If a man is tempted and falls, he might be further tempted to say, "Why should I lose the reward because I fell, It was God who put me to the test? If He hadn't tested me I would not have fallen." James says is response to this false conclusion, "Now wait, lets not get confused about what I am saying. I have not been talking about falling into sin. I have been talking about the troubles and trials of life that come because you are seeking to live for Christ. If you are going to talk about enticement to sin, it is a different story. God has nothing to do with this at all. If you fall into sin, and suffer trials because of it, and you endure those trials, that has nothing to do with receiving the crown of life."
God may test you, but He will never tempt you. To test is to bring out the best in you, but to tempt is to bring out the worst. God tests, but Satan tempts. They are both trials, but one has the goal of making you more than you now are, and the other has the goal of making you less than you are now are. God put Abraham to the test to try his faith, but when Abraham lied to Pharaoh about his wife being his sister, that was sin and God had nothing to do with tempting his to tell such a lie.
Man from the beginning has wanted to throw blame on someone else for his sin, and if possible blame it all on God. He made everything that is, and He is the Author of life, and so He should be held responsible, and not me. God made alcohol possible, and so all the consequences of drinking must be blamed on Him. He is the one who made the tobacco plant, and so He is the one to blame for cancer of the lungs. When Adam blamed Eve for his sin, he was really blaming God. He said in Gen. 3:12, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." You are the one who gave me this woman, and so who is really to blame for what has happened here? That is what Adam was saying, and implying that God was to blame. Ever since man has looked for ways to blame God for all the evil of life and history.
James makes the strongest statement possible, and he declares that God cannot be tempted to evil and He never tempts anyone else to evil. It is contrary to His very nature. Everything good in life comes from God, but He is not the author of any evil. He is the father of lights, and the giver of every good and perfect gift. He never changes either, and so He does not once in a while slip some evil into the world. He is consistently always good, and never the cause of what is bad. There is an ancient legend of a king who died, and ambassadors were sent to choose a successor between two infant twins. Both were sleeping, but they noticed that one had his tiny fist closed, and the other has his hand wide open. They chose the one with the open hand, and he became known as the generous King with the open hand. This describes the God of the Bible. He is the giver of all the good gifts that men receive.
James tells us about the character of God to show how foolish it is to try and blame Him for all the trials of life that come from the sins of people who yield to temptation. These do not qualify for the royal reward. Those who think that God is the author of these temptations are doubleminded in their thinking about God. He is not the author of both good and evil. Sweet and bitter water do not come from the same well. He does not tempt to do the very things that He forbids men to do. It is a shame that God's character has to be defended, but the fact is it is being called into question all the time. There are major theologies even that make God the author of evil by saying that He predestined the sins that people commit. We need to give heed to the strong statement of James and recognize that any theology that makes God the author of sin and evil is a false theology.
Do not blame God for that lust in you that makes sinful behavior look so attractive. When you do recognize that you have an enemy within that is enticing you to what God forbids, then you are facing a trial that can count for the reward, for you will be trying to endure not giving into temptation for the sake of obeying your Lord. This can be a legitimate trial that qualifies for the royal reward. It is Satan's testing and not God's, but if you endure and stay faithful to God, it will lead to reward because you are doing it for Him. Most of the trials that James is thinking of are the external trials of persecution, but the internal trials of temptation are even more universal, and these are the trials that most of us today will have to endure. We are seldom persecuted, but we are always tempted. We are not tempted by God, but our culture is tempting us every day.
The Christian does not escape the struggle with temptation. C. S. Lewis, one of the great Christian authors of the 20th century wrote of his struggle in a letter. "Pray for me; I am suffering incessant temptations to uncharitable thought at present; one of these black moods in which nearly all one's friends seem to be selfish or even false. And how terrible that there should be even kind of pleasure in thinking evil." Every Christian has the potential of evil thoughts of all kinds. They may not be the same as his, but they cover the whole world of evil. It is wise to be aware of just how evil your thoughts can be, for then you are not shocked at what can happen inside your head. You need to share these thoughts openly with God and denounce them as that which is not your will, just as you know they are not God's will. You are not evil to have such thoughts, but they can be a temptation to follow through and do evil.
It is your responsibility of know where your weakness is, and in what areas you need to pray for God's wisdom to overcome the temptation. Paul says in
I Cor. 10:13, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." That is what James is saying in verse 5. Ask God for wisdom, and if you ask believing, you will receive what is needed to endure and conquer temptation, and you will then stand the test and receive the royal reward of the crown of life.