James began his letter with urging his readers to count their trials as joy, for their endurance was producing their spiritual maturity. Genuine, authentic faith is costly.
Suffering, Prayer, and Faith
There is an important lesson here, about suffering, prayer, and faith. When you and I ask God to take the pain away, or to relieve the situation, or in any way to remove or undo the crisis, and God does not, it is not a question of lacking enough faith. Often it is simply asking for what God does not have in mind, while at the same time not hearing what the Lord is saying.
A lack of understanding is often what prevents you and me from recognizing wisdom.
James used an illustration to show what he was talking about. In the Jewish mind, wealth was the measure of one’s holiness. The good, holy people were expected to prosper, the wicked people were expected to suffer. But in truth, there are both rich Christians and poor Christians, and both need to respond to their circumstances with godliness.
And let the lowly brother be boasting in his height, and the rich one in his lowliness, because he will pass-away like a flower of grass. For the sun rose with the burning-heat and dried-up the grass, and its flower fell-off and the beauty of its appearance perished. In this manner also the rich one will fade-away in his pursuits.James 1:9-11 (DLNT)
The poor person remembers they have been exalted with Christ and have every possible spiritual blessing. God will supply all they need. The rich person remembers they are the servant of Christ, and their wealth belongs to the Lord alone. Whatever that person has is for the glory of God, in service to God’s people.
Blessed is the man who endures the trial, because having become approved, he will receive the crown of life which He promised to the ones loving Him.James 1:12 (DLNT)
A life of fulfillment and spiritual abundance is available to you and me right now in the measure that we are willing to exercise faith in our circumstances. Remember the last time you persevered in the power of God and you prevailed, you glorified God.
What Makes Faith Grow?
The first way is through one’s response to external testing in trials, outlined in James 1:2-8.
The second way faith will grow is through one’s response to the internal testing of temptation.
You and I deceive ourselves if we think that sin will not ultimately make a difference in our lives, using the rationale that we are already Christians and we are going to heaven anyway. The double‑minded person wavers between humble submission to God and self-centered indulgence of the old nature.
Temptation is not from the Lord
Let no one being tempted be saying that “I am being tempted by God”. For God is not-tempted by evils. And [God] tempts no one,James 1:13 (DLNT)
James followed the true progression of temptation.
1. It begins with the emotion of desire meeting an opportunity to be indulged
but each one is tempted by his own desire while being drawn-away and enticed.James 1:14 (DLNT)
2. It progresses to the intellect:
Then the desire, having conceived, gives-birth to sin.James 15 (DLNT)
You and I always have the option of asking God for wisdom. Will fulfilling the desire in these circumstances be for good, and God’s glory? If not, then for sure God has already prepared a way out, as Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth.
A temptation has not seized you except what is common-to-humanity. And God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but also with the temptation will make the way-out, that you may be able to endure.1 Corinthians 10:13 (DLNT)
3. And ends with the will.
And the sin, having been fully-formed, brings-forth death.James 1:15 (DLNT)
Sin and death are the result of a sequence of events that begin with choosing to indulge the desire in wrong circumstances instead of surrendering the desire to God. James was certainly meaning death as eternal, but there is a truth here for believers as well. Not a one of us can deny the painful consequences of doing wrong.
From James’ point of view, God is never to be blamed for our failures. God tests us, seeking to purify and strengthen us. When you and I fail, James and Paul would likely say it is not because God failed to provide a way of escape, it is because you and I did not choose to take it.
How do you stop the sequence of events? In my mind’s ear, I hear James saying do not play with temptation.
In what ways might you or I be setting ourselves up for failure? I hear James saying, by entertaining the desire, giving it space to grow, by telling ourselves we will not give in . . . this time.
How do we get out of this quicksand? If James and Paul are the voice of warning, then I hear John’s voice reminding us of God’s never-ending reboot button:
If we are confessing our sins, [God] is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9 (DLNT)
The sooner the better, restoring fellowship with our Lord Who longs always for us to know love and have life.
Every Good Thing
Every good gift-giving and every perfect gift-given is from-above, coming down from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Having willed it, He brought us forth by the word of truth so that we might be a kind-of firstfruit of His creatures.James 1:17-18 (DLNT)
Everything God gives is good.
All you and I receive from God is for good, and for God’s glory. It is all intentional, all part of the Lord’s plan to restore us to the glorious existence God always had in mind for us.
Not everything in life seems to fit this paradigm, and no one knew that better than first century believers. They faced a level of suffering few of us understand, injustice and persecution, abuse, even torture and death. They did not believe God’s existence was predicated upon whether they were given enjoyable life experiences. They saw the world as a dangerous place, often a cruel place, and they understood they would not often fare well as followers of Jesus. Instead, they considered it an honor to suffer for Christ’s name’s sake.
It actually was the prevailing thought that people only got what they deserved in God’s economy. Bad things only happened to bad people, or good people who had done something bad. But Jesus turned that teaching on its head.
And some were present at the very time, reporting to [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices. And having responded, He said to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were sinners more than all the Galileans, because they have suffered these things?
No, I say to you.
But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them—do you think that they were debtors more than all the people dwelling in Jerusalem?
No, I say to you.
But unless you repent, you will all similarly perish.”Jesus to the crowds, Luke 13:1-5 (DLNT)
The physical realm is not a determiner of truths in the spiritual realm. Because God has granted human agency, many bad things happen to undeserving people, and many good things happen to undeserving people. And many random things happen in a complex world.
But the suffering is never to be wasted in the lives of believers.
Trials and temptations are a testing of our faith. In order to obtain wisdom, you and I must ask God in faith, persevering in faith results in God making our faith complete, lacking in nothing
God’s wisdom enables us to persevere through trials, and to resist temptation, with joy.
To rejoice, to count it all joy, is to receive in faith God’s perfecting work in us.
Every trial, if we persevere in God’s wisdom, makes us more Christ-like. Every temptation, if we resist in God’s wisdom will make us more Christ-like.
[The Tower of Siloam | The Brooklyn Museum, James Tissot, Public Domain]