Faith Tested True

A Study of the Epistle of James

 

James 1

James 1 (NKJV)

James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.

Who Was James? James was the half brother of Jesus (Matthew 4:21). It's interesting that James doesn't name drop that he and Jesus were family. If you or I grew up in the same household as Jesus we might introduce ourselves in association with Jesus in order to give authority to our writing or to impress others. But James introduces himself in connection with Jesus in the most humble way. Living in the same household as Jesus growing up and seeing firsthand the sinless holy life of his half brother must have been impressive as well as humbling. He may have at first resisted the reality of who Jesus was because of sibling rivalry. But when Jesus went to the cross and then rose from the dead it must have put all such rivalries to bed.

 

James was also one of the main leaders in the early church (Acts 12:17; 15:13-29; 21:17-18). He accepted Jesus as his Savior after Jesus rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:7). And having been born again through faith in Jesus he set out to serve His Lord Jesus. James didn't coast on the coattails of His half brother. It seems to have been quite the opposite. James fervently served Jesus by faith and eventually gave his life for His Savior.

 

James describes himself as a “bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” in 1:1. A "bondservant" (Greek doulos ) is a slave or servant. The "bond" part of this compound word is distinguished by the translators to express that this servant was a servant by choice. In the Old Testament captives of war were often forced into slavery by the dominant nation. But there was more prevalently a system of indentured servitude. A person could pay off a debt by putting themselves into a slave position to the one they owed their debt to. The "bond" part of servant came into play when one who had served a master, after a certain amount of time, was given a choice to be free but chose to remain a servant to their master. This would happen when a good relationship was developed between the servant and master. The servant would commit to remain a servant for life. The Master would commit to provide for and protect the servant for life. This decision was rooted in love (cf. Exodus 21:5-6). The two decided to permanently bond to one another. 

 

Here James is identifying himself as a "bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" by choice or by faith. No one had forced James to be a bondservant of his half brother Jesus. James chose to be a bondservant of Jesus. To be a servant is to be in subjection to a master. To be a servant also meant one would depend on the master for their needs. James is identifying himself as subservient to and in obedient subjection to God and Jesus. That James has taken this position to his half brother Jesus is an affirmation of Who Jesus is, "the Lord." That he mentions "God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" is a clear equating of Jesus an equal to God. James asserts the deity of his half brother Jesus.

 

"To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings." There were "twelve tribes" of Israel (see Genesis 49 and Revelation 7). The “Twelve Tribes” here likely refer to those who came from the Twelve Tribes of Israel and who had accepted Jesus as their Savior. Some of the Twelve Tribes (or Jewish people) were persecuted for their Jewish belief. The Twelve Tribe members written to by James in this letter were persecuted because they believed in Jesus and "are scattered" (Greek diaspora) or were forced to leave their homes. They were persecuted by other Jews who did not believe in Jesus (see Acts 4; 8:1-3) and by Romans who didn’t like the disruptions their preaching the gospel of Jesus caused. The Romans who had a polytheistic system of belief which included emperor worship viewed the monotheistic Christians as "atheists." For these reasons Christians were frequently the target of severe merciless persecution. It is to these persecuted people that James writes this letter.

And persecution is a very relevant issue for Christians today as the following article indicates:

            Christian Persecution Reaches Global Historic High, Thanks to Rise of Radical Islam

            by Donna Rachel Edmunds - 14 Jan 2016

            Christian persecution is at an historic high thanks to global rise of religious             fundamentalism, most notably by radical Islam, Christian charity Open Doors has found.   Persecution has seen the biggest rise in countries such as Pakistan and Eritrea where     radical Islam is on the rise, but North Korea still tops the list with its systematic             oppression of Christians.

            More than 100 million Christians are being persecuted globally, according to the 2016                   Open Doors World Watch List, and more than 80 percent of that persecution is down to             religious fundamentalism of some kind.

            At least 7,000 Christians have been killed for their faith in the last year alone, up from       4,000 in 2014, the report notes. But it admits that the figure is likely to be a significant            underestimate as it does not include murders in Iraq, Syria and North Korea, where         violent persecution of Christians has become the norm, as accurate records do not exist in          those countries.

            North Korea, where citizens are required to revere their leader, remains the most    dangerous place on earth to be a Christian. It is estimated that around 70,000 Christians         are currently imprisoned in labour camps, while others who worship in secret risk death if      they are discovered.

            An Open Doors partner working with twelve families in North Korea reported: “They       have only one Bible in the whole group, and each family must take turns to borrow it.       They hide the Bible in a secret place. Once a month, three families get together and           worship together; once a year all believers get together in a mountain valley to worship     and have secret fellowship.”

            However, it is in sub-Saharan Africa where the greatest numbers of Christians are killed    for their faith, thanks to the rapid rise of radical Islam. In Nigeria, where Boko Haram is   carrying out the systematic slaughter of Christians, more than 4,000 Christians have been      killed in the last year, and displaced a further 2.1 million people internally. At least 198            church buildings were also targeted.

            The report tracks the persecution of Christians in five different areas: private life, family   life, community life, national life and church life, as well as covering violence such as          rapes, killings and church burnings.

            Director of Research Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan explains: “It is possible for        persecution to be so intense in all areas of life that Christians fear to witness at all, and so          you may find very low levels of violence as a result since incidents of persecution often           result from acts of witness.”

            The countries that show where this squeeze was most intensive were Somalia, North          Korea, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Maldives, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria; in all    of these (excluding North Korea) radical Islam is on the rise.

            One church leader from Syria told the authors: “This morning my village was attacked      for the third time within a year.

            “Either we take up arms and fight, knowing we may die, or we flee, knowing we may       never return.”

            Another Syrian church leader told an international Christian conference “Don’t make it     easy for us to leave, because we want to show we are part of the silent majority in the      Middle East who wants peace.”

            The highest levels of violence directed against Christians were in Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq,   Syria, Myanmar, Central African Republic, Egypt, Mexico, Sudan and India, illustrating      the global nature of violent Christian persecution.

            Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors said: “The persecution of Christians is getting worse, in             every region in which we work – and it’s getting worse fast. The trend is stark, as are the            consequences for real people.”

            The scale of that rapid rise can be seen in the points system used to compile the report.      While the lowest ranking country in 2013 had 35 points, this year’s lowest ranking    country had 53 points – an increase of more than 50 per cent.

            The Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken of the need to protect vulnerable   Christians, saying:  “Standing up for religious freedom is a priority for my Government.          We are committed to promoting and protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief        as one of the foundations of   human rights. No matter what faith we follow, charity,            compassion, responsibility and forgiveness are values which speak to us all.”

            However, Pearce has called on the British government to do much more in taking a pro-    active stance in tackling Christian persecution. “We should not expect [a] change unless      we are part of changing the situation,” she said.

            “As a key voice within the international community and a generous provider of aid to a     number of the countries on the 2016 World Watch List, I urge our government to do        everything possible within their spheres of influence to affect what happens next. We will     not get these days back.”[1]

In the United States we see the beginnings of outright persecution as well. With every derogatory and defaming description of Christians in the news media as well as various programming on TV and the Internet Christians are painted in evermore ugly caricatures. A person's beliefs have been trumped for what kind of briefs a person feels like wearing. The world is getting more and more chaotic. Christians are being accused of being intolerant and the root cause of unrest. Christians are being seen more and more as scapegoats for the world's ills. This should give us all the more incentive to take the message of James' inspired letter to heart.

When was this letter written? This epistle is probably one of the earliest epistles estimated at being written around 45-50 A.D. That’s 12 to 17 years after Jesus walked the earth. Can you remember anything important that happened 12 –17 years ago or more? How well can you remember it? As we are writing this study we are almost sixteen years from the tragic events of September 11th. I assure you many of us can close our eyes and picture in great detail the events of that day. So too, James could remember vividly the events surrounding Jesus and His ministry.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,

Right away James identifies with those he is writing to. He writes to "My brethren." There is a union and family experienced by those who have a common bond in Jesus. In Christ our fellow men are bros. In Christ our fellow women are broettes. That is not said to make light of our relationships in Christ. It is to express the endearing quality we have or should have with fellow believers.

 

James approaches his brethren who may be hurting from persecution or some other difficulties in life and is going to speak to them about the attitude they should have and why they should have it when they encounter difficulties in life. He is going to dissect and explain how Christians are to live in light of trials. He doesn't deny or ignore that there are difficulties in life for the Christian. He addresses the problem of pain and difficulty head on.

 

James opens with an exhortation to a step of faith. "Count it" (Greek hegesasthe ­Aorist/Middle/Imperative of hegeomai) means lead, guide, think, esteem, or count. James is exhorting his brethren who are being persecuted to an absolute essential when they encounter trials. Implied in this exhortation is a faith action or decision taken by faith. This is not something we do based on feeling. Quite the contrary, we will likely feel pain and sorrow, disappointment and discouragement, loss and grief when we go through difficulties. James exhortation tells us there are alternatives to what he is exhorting us to. We can't follow our feelings. We need to step out in faith here. By faith count this, lead out believing what follows, take hold of.

 

What are we to count on or by faith lay hold of? We are to count it "all joy" (Greek pasan charan). "All" (Greek pasan ) means all, any, every, the whole. "Joy" (Greek charan from chara) means joy, delight and is closely associated with God's "grace" (Greek charis). So James is saying to by faith count the following situation with full whole joy. This might seem to be a bit of a masochistic call if we think of joy being equal to happiness. But joy is so much deeper and broader and substantial than mere happiness. Joy is the settled assurance and comfort that comes from trusting that God is in control in every situation. Happiness depends on happenings or circumstances. Joy depends on Jesus. James exhorts us to joy when facing trials because God has a plan, God has a purpose, even when you face trials. That is the way we can weather the storms and trials of life no matter how difficult or confusing. Be settled and assured that no matter what trial you encounter in life God is in control and God has a plan, God has a purpose for what you are experiencing.

 

Sometimes people assume that because they encounter a trial God is against them. Sin brings consequences. But the trials we are speaking of here are not due to sin but due to being a saint. Why then does God allow them? The Christian author J. Sidlow Baxter explained:

 

            God's call may lead us to a season of difficulty and opposition from the enemy (Matthew             4:1). Trials do not indicate that we missed God or somehow lost our way. The very thing        that God most desires to accomplish in us and through us is the very thing that the     kingdom of darkness wants to oppose. We should not allow difficulties and discouragements to prevent us from obeying the call of God. If we obey and trust God's   call, the Lord will be glorified by our obedience and our faith will grow exponentially.[2]

 

Job was persecuted by the devil at no blame to himself and in the end God restored him as well as gave us a book of the Bible with rich wisdom about the issue of spiritual warfare, suffering and trials. Job was greatly used by God at a time in his life when he greatly questioned what God was allowing in his life. That insight is good reason to rejoice that God might use us in some way similarly.

 

When are we to be joyful? When we "fall into various trials." "Fall" (Greek peripipto ) means to fall into something that is all around, to be surrounded with something, to fall into something and be engulfed by it. "Fall" here points to situations that come upon us that are not of our own making. These believers were being persecuted because of their association with Jesus. They were doing the right thing and being persecuted for it.  

 

There are trials that we bring upon ourselves because of sinful choices we make. There is a consequence that comes with every sinful choice (e.g. Jeremiah 2:17-19; Galatians 6:7-9). James is not so much speaking about trials due to sinful choices as he is speaking about trials that the world and the devil throw at us. Indeed, the apostle Paul say those who sought to live godly lives would be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). You can be persecuted and go through trials for doing the right thing! This is true. And when we fall into a trying situation, especially those we don't understand, then we should take to heart the truth found in these first verses of James' epistle.

 

The word "various" (Greek poikilos ) means motley, divers, manifold, of various sorts. The word "trials"(Greek peirasmos ) means a putting to proof, proving, an experiment, adversity, temptations, testing. The word "trial" can be equally translated "temptation." There are all kinds of situations in life that put us to the test. Whenever we encounter difficulty we are put in a position where we have to make a decision to either continue with the Lord or leave Him. A temptation is a challenge to choose holiness or sin. Such decisions are bound up in various ways and circumstances in life.

 

We should mention here that joy is a product of the Holy Spirit working in us (Romans 14:17). Joy is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit which is love (Galatians 5:22-24). We would be safe to assume that what James speaks about here is part and parcel of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

 

Why should we be joyful when we face trials? What is the basis for James call and exhortation? Verse two is an exhortation to a step of faith to look at trials in a joyful way. But this is not blind faith. What follows are substantiating reasons for us to step out in faith with joy to encounter trials.

knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

Various trials create learning situations. "Knowing" (Greek ginosko) means know, become aware of, perceive, understand, become conscious of. Trials are the doors to learning. Through trials we gain insight to life. It's easy to follow the Lord when everything is going right. But trials cause us to question ourselves, life and what the plans and purposes of God are. Trials drive us or draw us to God. Trials are God's operating room to teach us and sculpt us into His masterpiece. An anonymous author wrote the following poem that fits well here:

 

If you never . . .

If you never felt pain,
Then how would you know that I'm a Healer?

If you never went through difficulties,
How would you know that I'm a Deliverer?
If you never had a trial,
How would you call yourself an overcomer?

If you never felt sadness,
How would you know that I'm a Comforter?
If you never made a mistake,
How would you know that I'm forgiving?

If you knew all,
How would you know that I will answer your questions?
If you never were in trouble,
How would you know that I will come to your rescue?

If you never were broken,
Then how would you know that I can make you whole?
If you never had a problem,
How would you know that I can solve them?

If you never had any suffering,
Then how would you know what Jesus went through?
If you never went through fire,
Then how would you become pure?

If I gave you all things,
How would you appreciate them?
If I never corrected you,
How would you know that I love you?

If you had all power,
Then how would you learn to depend on me?
If your life was perfect,
Then what would you need Me for?

Various trials test us. "Testing" (Greek dokimion ) refers to a testing, a trial, trying something to reveal its trustworthiness. A faith untested cannot be trusted. You'll never know if your faith is trustworthy unless God allows it to be put to the test. You don't know if you can ride a bicycle until you actually try to ride one. And the more you ride the better you become at riding. You don't receive a driver's license until you prove you can drive safely. And the more you drive, hopefully, the better driver you become. You are given a pilot's license until you are tested to see if you can operate a plane. And the more you fly the better pilot you become. You don't get a diploma without having your knowledge tested in various ways. And once you receive your diploma the value of your education to yourself and others won't be known until you put it to use in life. Would you let your child ride their bike in the street before you test to see if they can ride safely? Would you be a passenger in a car driven by someone without a driver's license? Would you fly in a plane piloted by someone with no license or proof of ability to pilot? Would you hire someone with no proof of experience or knowledge about what you are hiring them for? Testing is important because it proves competence as well as builds mastery.

 

Various trials test our faith. God's target for allowing testing trials into our life is our faith. "Faith" (Greek pistis ) is defined as trust, belief, assurance, faith, fidelity, credence, a moral conviction of religious truth or the truthfulness of God. Trails are the proving grounds for faith.  Trials are the work shop of God to build faith in us. Faith is like a muscle built strong through exercise. God allows our faith muscle to be tested against the weights of life in order to make it strong. Lifting heavy weights makes lighter weights easier to lift. Going through big trials in life prepares us for strength to lift through lesser ones.

 

The human capacity for faith is a product of God's human beings being created in God's image (Genesis 1:26-28) as well as a product of His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is a product of a spiritual diet that consumes God's graciously provided word (Hebrews 10:17). Faith is not a work of self-effort. But as we will see in this epistle and especially in James 2, the faith that saves works; it plays out practically in the life of the Christian.

 

Various trials are used by God to produce in us. "Produces" (Greek katergazomai ) means to work fully, accomplish, to finish, to fashion, to perform, to work out. Trails are the gym in which God works us out and gets our faith into shape. If you never go to the gym of trials your faith will atrophy and become fat and flabby and weak. Trials keep us in spiritual shape. Trials exercise our faith and keep it strong. Trials are essential to producing spiritual growth in us.

 

Various trails test our faith and produce patience. "Patience" (Greek hypomone ) is defined as steadfastness, perseverance, hopefulness, endurance, constancy, continuance, patience. Patience is important to keep us going. In verse five we will see that James instructs us to seek wisdom to the Lord to make sense of our trying circumstances. God promises to give us wisdom and understanding. But here's the thing, that wisdom may take some time to come. God will give us wisdom but sometimes we aren't ready to receive it. Sometimes we will have to ask and then wait patiently for wisdom to come. Sometimes we are only freshmen in the school of life and need to graduate to upper classmen before we are ready to understand. This takes patience. God is faithful to deliver on all His promises, including His promise to provide wisdom to understand trials, but some of that wisdom requires we grow spiritually in order to be ready to receive God's answer. For some wisdom we need to be seniors. For other wisdom we need to wait until we are face to face with our Savior for a personal explanation. True faith presses on even when the answers and wisdom isn't immediately coming.

 

Patience is a sign of healthy faith; a faith that has been tested.  When you've been tested in life and seen the Lord's trustworthiness and faithfulness, it increases your certainty that God who has been faithful and true before will again be faithful and true. Patience is the confident staying power of a faith tested by trials. Patient faith keeps us going through and beyond the trials of life.  

 

Just as joy is a fruit of the Spirit's work in the believer, so too is the patience mentioned here (Galatians 5:22-24). James focuses on a lot of to do types of things. It would be a mistake to attempt to do what he instructs us to do without the help and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We need to remember that.

But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Trustworthy faith is tested faith. For our faith to be all that God purposes it to be it must be tested. Trustworthy faith is exercised faith. Faith will atrophy like an unused muscle. But faith will grow and be healthy if we exercise it regularly like a muscle. Trustworthy faith is active. Trustworthy faith is moving forward. Trustworthy faith is faith in God that looks to Him to use us. Trustworthy faith looks for ways to bring glory to God. Trustworthy faith is alert to God, surrendered and submissive to His instructions and ready to step out as He directs.

 

Trials can be scary. They surprise us. They have a way of coming at the worst possible times. Trials upset and interrupt our plans. Trials push us to our limits. They put a strain on us. Trails can include pain and suffering. Trials can threaten to keep us from our hopes and dreams. Trails can serve as roadblocks that keep us from our desired destination. Trials can cause us to put life on hold. That is the nature of trials. We don't like the things that scare us. We don't like our plans to be interrupted. We don't like pain and suffering. We don't want to miss out on our hopes and dreams. We don't like to be stopped from reaching our desired destinations. We don't want to have our life put on hold. We want to get on with life. And because of this when we encounter trials we may flee in fear or force our way through or push trials and God's purposes in them aside. James tells us that rather than avoiding trials or impatiently dealing with them, we should "But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." Why should we allow patience to work in us?

 

The patience produced by tested faith leads to God's "perfect work" in us. "Perfect" (Greek teleios ) means perfect, complete, completeness, of full age, mature. "Work" (Greek ergo ) refers to work, toil, effort in an occupation, deed, doing, labor, work. Work implies some sweat and effort. There is an objective and purpose bound up in being patient in faith and trusting in God during trials. It will lead to spiritual maturity.

 

The patience produced by tested faith requires a decision on our part. James says "that you may be perfect." "You may be" (Greek ete subjunctive of eimi - to be) implies possibility. If you want to become spiritually mature you will need to make a faith decision to let patience have its perfect work in you. You have to hang in there by faith when you're going through a trial. And if you do there is s wonderful promise from God awaiting you.

 

The patience produced by tested faith will lead to spiritual maturity and satisfaction. James says, "that you may be perfect and complete lacking nothing." "Perfect" we have said refers to spiritual maturity. The word "complete" (Greek holokleros ) means complete, sound, perfect, entire, nothing missing. "Lacking nothing" means "nothing" (Greek medeni) nobody, no one, nothing, none  "lacking" (Greek leipomenoi ) means be in need of, lacking, leaving. In other words when you decide by faith to patiently endure it will lead to a spiritual maturity characterized by a sense of having all you need in life; satisfaction. You won't be disappointed if you patiently endure through trials by trusting in God no matter what.

 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

You may not understand the plan and purpose of God in your trials. You may be wondering How can that be? How can God satisfy me when I go through trials and difficulty in life? James says what we need is "wisdom." "Wisdom" (Greek sophia ) means generally, broad full intelligence, applying knowledge practically. For the Christian wisdom is the ability to apply scripture in a way to give understanding to life. Wisdom is the ability to put together the puzzle of life that includes trials.

 

Pray and ask God for wisdom. If we lack understanding and wisdom in our given circumstances James says we should ask God for it. He says God "gives to all liberally." "Liberally" (Greek haplos ) means  bountifully, liberally, openly, sincerely. God gives "without reproach." "Reproach" (Greek oneidizo ) means to defame, to chide or taunt, to cast the teeth at, reproach, revile, upbraid. If we ask for wisdom God isn't going to growl at us or put us down. No, if we ask God for wisdom to understand our circumstances James promises "it will be given to him."

 

Pray and ask God for wisdom in faith. James tells us that when we ask God for this wisdom for life we should do so "in faith, with no doubting." In other words to ask in faith means to be willing to obey and act on the wisdom God gives us about our circumstances. If we are on the fence about receiving and implementing obediently what God reveals to us in wisdom then we will not profit anything. Instead we will be like a someone reeling back and forth on the deck of a stormed tossed ship. If you ask God for wisdom in a "double-minded" (Greek dipsychos ) or two-spirited, vacillating, wavering, uncertain, doubting, double minded way, then you can be sure you will continue to be "unstable" (Greek akatastatos ) or inconsistent, restless, unstable in life. If you want the peace that comes from understanding you have to pray in faith for God to give you the peace that surpasses understanding (e.g. Philippians 4:6-7).

 

The story is told of a pastor on a flight that encounters a severe storm. The turbulence tossed the plane up and down like a cork in the waves of the sea. Thunder claps were loud and frightening. The pastor and his fellow passengers were shaken and scared. But over in the corner of the plane, a little girl, small enough to pull her legs up on the seat and comfortably play with her toys, played quietly with little evidence of being disturbed by the storm. How could this be?

 

Eventually the plane made it through the storm and landed safely to the applause of all. But the pastor just had to know the little girl's secret of peace in the storm. So once in the terminal he sought out the little girl and asked her, "Why weren't you upset by that storm we went through? Why were you so calm?" The little girl looked up at the pastor and said simply, "My Daddy is the pilot and he was flying me home."

 

" My Daddy is the pilot and he was flying me home." That's the kind of faith God wants to build in us for Him. When we're being tossed to and fro by the storms of life, just remember, "Our Dad, God the Father, is flying the plane and He is taking us home." [3]

 

If you want a strong faith and you ask God for it, don't be surprised if He allows some trials to come your way. Trials are a necessary and potentially blessed part of life. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a man greatly used by God but he was not without his difficulties in life. He was prone to bouts of depression so severe that they immobilized him. And yet Spurgeon was wisely able to say:

 

            "God never gives strong faith without fiery trial; He will not build a strong ship without    subjecting it to very mighty storms; He will not make you a mighty warrior if He does        not intend to try your skill in battle. The sword of the Lord must be used; the blades of          heaven must be smitten against the armour of the evil one, and yet they shall not break,          for they are of true Jerusalem metal which shall never snap. We shall conquer, if we             begin the battle in the right way. If we have sharpened our swords on the Cross, we have nothing whatever to fear; for though we may be sometimes cast down and discomfited,         we shall assuredly at last put to flight all our adversaries, for we are the sons of God even       now. Why, then, should we fear? Who shall bid us "stay" if God bid us advance?" [4]

 

Count it all joy when you are faced with trials. It is through trials that our faith is tested true.

 

What follows in the letter of James are some very practical examples of what a faith that is tested true or what trustworthy faith will look like. What we find in the rest of the letter is a picture of what God's wisdom in trials might look like for the person who seeks to have a tested true faith.

Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.

Trustworthy faith has a proper perspective on worldly wealth. Trials have a way of enlightening a faith to a maturity that realizes how transient and temporary "wealth" is. There are no U-Haul trailers hooked up to hearses. You can't take what you accumulate in this world with you to the next. James speaks of "the lowly brother glory in his exaltation."James is writing to those who have likely lost much of the earthly possessions due to persecution. They have been brought low by an enemy. James now argues that there is good even in such a development. When we are brought low in this world it forces us to look up. When we look up our priorities are put in proper order. The heavenly perspective of a trustworthy faith helps us do this.

 

 In some ways those who are poor in this world are more exalted than those who are rich. That is because they have chosen to spend themselves on eternal purposes. I'm the not talking about those who are lazy and parasitically live off of others in society. I'm talking about those who rather than use their God-given abilities to enrich themselves focus God's gifting toward accumulating those things of eternal worth; like human souls.

 

It must have been a great temptation to those being persecuted for their faith to lose out on job opportunities or to live under constant ridicule. It must have been an even greater temptation to see their children miss out because of the association with Jesus. It would have been easy to just remain quiet and private about their Christianity so that they could climb the ladder of wealth and prosperity and avoid any prejudices for themselves and family which came with being a Christian. They might have been tempted by seeing how others prospered while they did not. James addresses this by putting all material things in their proper place. It's all going to burn. Every temporal piece of wealth will wither and burn like the grass.

12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

Trustworthy faith endures temptation successfully. In heaven we will have crowns earned in this life. Our salvation is a free gift of God's grace but rewards represented by various crowns are earned in this life. And once in heaven we will cast our crowns before our Savior and Lord Jesus. Wouldn't you be blessed to take off your crown of life, the crown earned by resisting temptations in this life, and thankfully in love present it to Jesus at His feet? We should hope and pray for such a crown with which to bless our Savior (cf. Revelation 4). The greatest blessing will be hearing Jesus say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21).

 

As mentioned in verse two, the word translated "temptations" (Greek peirasmos) here can equally be translated "trials." Therefore, verse twelve holds a promise for those who endure trials and temptations. In both trials and temptations we are brought to a place of decision, to either continue on trusting in the Lord or choosing to walk away from the Lord. That decision is a way of proving or testing faith to expose its genuineness or artificiality. To those who endure trials or temptations God promises a "crown of life."

 

How can we resist temptation and earn the crown of life?

 

First, resist temptation by enduring. " Blessed is the man who endures temptation." The term "endure" (Greek hupomeno ) means abide, wait, endure, undergo, be patient, suffer, stay behind, stand ones ground. By faith we press on even though we face trials and temptations in life. We may even struggle and stumble, but by faith we need to endure onward. Sometimes our struggle against temptation or in a trial will be prolonged. When it is we need to endure by faith until victory comes.

 

Second, resist temptation by seeking God's approval. "; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised."  Temptations try to get us to settle in some way for less than God's best. Temptation tries to lure people into sex outside of marriage in some way. Temptation seeks to lure people away from holiness by getting them to cut corners and compromise with dishonest practices. Temptation seeks to lure Christians to a lower standard than God's holy standard, to venture outside the parameters of God's word.

Instead we should endure temptation and be "approved" (Greek dokimos ) or molded, tried, approved. The idea of the word "approved" as explained by Donald Barnhouse is connected with the acceptance of coins or money. He explains, "In the ancient world there was no banking system as we know it today, and no paper money. All money was made from metal, heated until liquid, poured into moulds and allowed to cool. When the coins were cooled, it was necessary to smooth off the uneven edges. The coins were comparatively soft and of course many people shaved them closely. In one century, more than eighty laws were passed in Athens, to stop the practice of shaving down the coins then in circulation. But some money changers were men of integrity, who would accept no counterfeit money. They were men of honor who put only genuine full weighted money into circulation. Such men were called "dokimos" or "approved."  Don't let trials or temptation lead you into compromise or less than what God calls for. Instead seek to give what is due to earthly authorities and to God all He deserves. (Mark 12:17)."[5]

 

Third, resist temptation by loving God. "to those who love Him." Jesus connected love with obedience (John 14:15 and 21). Paul was inspired to exhort believers to be compelled in life by the love of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:14-21). The love of the Spirit is a powerful force and helps us overcome temptations and trials (e.g. 1 Corinthians 13). When faced with temptation look with your eyes of faith at the cross of Jesus and see the love of God (Galatians 2:20). The love of God has a way of empowering us to resist temptation.

 

Fourth, resist temptation by not blaming God. "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone." Don't try to explain away, excuse or rationalize sin by saying, "Well God made me this way." Don't blame God for your short comings. Don't accuse God of not being fair or unjust. God is not the Author of evil as some theologies claim. Satan introduced evil and sin into God's creation (Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28). Humanity opted to listen to Satan instead of God and so opened the flood gates of sin (Genesis 3). God created humanity with free will so that love would be meaningful. Don't blame God for misusing the freedoms He blessed us with. That is our fault not God's and we need to own up to that.

 

Fifth, resist temptation by being honestly accountable. " But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death." The problem is with us not God. We are tempted when we allow "our own desires" to "enticed" or entice us. This speaks to us about our sinful nature. was not created originally with a sinful nature. But the fall of Adam into sin led to a sinful nature infecting the nature of all subsequent offspring of Adam and Eve. Even after salvation a person must deal with and be wary of their sinful nature.

 

The sinful nature is also called "the flesh." This is the part of us that sinfully works to feed the desires of our "me, myself, and I." The sinful nature is selfish. It doesn't want to submit to God or the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It can only be kept under control and conquered with the help of the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 7 and 8; Galatians 5). It is the enemy in the camp of the Christian and we have to be aware of its presence and sinful selfish inclinations. Thankfully in heaven the sinful nature will have been eradicated.

 

Make no mistake about it, whenever we give into temptation it leads to death. Every sin we do or think may not be discovered. But every sin we do or think leads to some kind of death, e.g. death of love, death of a relationship, death of time in the presence of the Lord, etc. When we give into sin it's as though a death producing sinful act is conceived and if we don't confess it to the Lord, repent of it and wash it out with His blood, it will grow and mature and end up being harder to manage. If we allow it to live on in our lives it will ultimately produce more and more death in and through us. James nails the process of sin producing death. Take notice and examine yourselves prayerfully and seek the cleansing and sanctifying grace of God in Christ.

 

We need to confess our sins to God honestly. Only then can we receive forgiveness from Him (1 John 1:9). Denying sin, trying to hide sin, or rationalize it away is futile. God sees and knows everything (Hebrews 4:13). We may deceive ourselves but God knows the heart and will judge justly (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

 

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

 

Trustworthy faith  knows every good and perfect gift comes from God. Everything and anything that is genuinely good, is a gift from God. We cannot take credit for anything good. Every doctor who performs healing surgery was gifted by God with the brain and dexterity to do so. Every act of bravery, every act of pure love, every accomplishment that is good, anything and everything that is good in this world - all good comes from God.

 

And God is not capricious. He has "no variation or shadow of turning." God is perfectly stable in holiness. God is not capricious like the host of pagan gods fallen sinful humanity has concocted. God is in nature faithful and true. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. When you go to God tomorrow He will not have changed. What He has said in the past is true for the present today as well as for the future of tomorrow. It's a source of great comfort and joy that God will always be there for us. It is a source of great assurance and stability to build our lives on the rock solid foundation of God's word and according to our King and Author of that word.

 

It was in this constancy that God according to His holy love and grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ - "Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures." Hallelujah Lord! The word of God is integral to our second birth to eternal life. We are born again as the Law of God's word convicts us of our sin and the gospel of God's word shows us how to be forgiven our sin through faith in Jesus. God's word is a true story of sinful humanity and how they can be reconciled to their Father Creator God in Christ. It is impossible to grow in your faith apart from the word of God. God's word is the spiritual food our faith needs to grow and mature. There are no shortcuts to spiritual growth. If you want to go deeper with the Lord and grow in your faith, go to the word. Read, study, memorize and meditate on God's word. Consume God's word in every way possible. Read it, listen to it, listen to Bible teachers expound its meaning. Saturate yourself in the word of God. Then you will experience the fruitfulness of being "a kind of firstfruits of His creatures."

19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Trustworthy faith is self-controlled. Listen up. Don't be proud. You were created with two ears and one mouth, let that be the proportion of your intake and output listen twice as much as you speak. Don't get angry with your circumstances. Your uncontrolled anger will "not produce the righteousness of God."

 

"Wrath" (Greek orge) refers to violent passion, a bubbling over anger into uncontrolled rage. Our rage doesn't achieve God's purposes. We need to "be angry but do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26). Not all anger is sinful. But it can become sinful if not controlled. If we are angry at sin and its death producing effects in the world, then we need to harness it to motivate and fuel holy actions. Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple (John 2). There is a time to overturning sinful activity. But we need to make sure that we are guided by the Holy Spirit as Jesus was. "Self control" is an aspect of the loving fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:26). When we act out in anger for selfish purposes it undermines what God desires to do. Be angry but don't sin. Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

 

When we follow the leading of the Spirit we will be "swift to hear." We will be good listeners and not jump to conclusions. We will be "slow to speak." We will think things through prayerfully without lashing out verbally. And if the Holy Spirit is guiding us we will be "slow to wrath." Our anger will be harnessed and kept under control. This is what trustworthy faith looks like.

 

To see fellow believers persecuted must have tempted other Christians to become enraged with injustices perpetrated on innocents. It would have been easy to strike out in rage. But to do so would have likely led to further persecution. It may have given oppressors a reason to further persecute. And it would have led to a very unchristian testimony to the world. The onslaught and perpetration of immorality and pervasive sin today can be enraging. But we can't allow such darkness to overwhelm our soul. Instead history records that the grace Christians demonstrated under the fires of persecution led to the spread of the gospel, the saving of souls and the making of disciples. That is the fruit of trustworthy faith. Remember that.

21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

Trustworthy faith obediently applies the word of God in life. Put all the junk of this world aside, especially the filth and overflowing wickedness of this world. Meekly, humbly let God's word implant itself in your heart so that you will be spiritually edified. If all you do is listen to the word and never apply it in life your just spiritually constipated and self deceived. Bible teacher Jon Courson states here:

 

      Referring to the Word of God, “Let every man be swift to hear,” James instructed us in    verse nineteen. “But I can’t hear God’s Word to me,” we say. Perhaps you can’t hear the   Word of God for you because your ears are clogged up with “filthiness and superfluity of     naughtiness”—plain old sin. If I’m filling my ears with the             music and the scenes, gossip, and junk of the world, I can’t hear properly. I need to get rid of that stuff before I can     really be tuned in to God’s frequency. . . .

 

      Perhaps I can’t hear the Word of the Lord because my mind is made up. James tells us we            are to receive the Word with meekness, the implication being, “Lord, I’m in this trial or   temptation or difficulty, and I need direction from You. I need Your Word to direct me,   or I’m not going to do well. Therefore, I come to You not with my own agenda or plan,       but meekly. Whatever You say, that’s what I’ll do.”

 

      Many people don’t hear from the Lord when they read the Word of God because they      lack a spirit of meekness before Him.[6]

 

Don't be someone with a short spiritual memory who looks at the word of God, sees something for themselves from the Lord, but then allows themselves to be distracted in some way before they can apply the word to their life. If you look in a mirror and see a blemish that needs to be attended to, but allow yourself to be distracted before you attend to it, you're going to feel pretty embarrassed later when people see that unattended to blemish. One commentator states:

 

            James clearly warns us not to think that seeing our reflection properly means we’re doers   of the Word automatically. If the Lord shows you in the Word that you need to praise   Him, don’t say, “Good point”—but start praising Him right then! If the Lord shows you         in the Word that you need to get right with a brother, don’t say, “Someday”—do it right          then. Be a doer of the Word.[7]

 

If the Lord reveals something to you about yourself that needs to be corrected or implemented, make it a priority to apply what He reveals to you.

 

26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

 

Trustworthy faith has pure and undefiled religion. We will discuss more on the tongue later in James 3. But suffice it to say here, your words can undo a lot is not all of you do. We need to watch our words. We should only speak in ways that build people up spiritually (e.g. Ephesians 4:29). And as far as religion is concerned, this is the only place where the word "religion" is presented in a favorable light. Here "pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." Trustworthy faith is sensitive to discern who genuine orphans and widows are and to help such in their needs. There is a social aspect to trustworthy faith. Such faith is pure and undefiled by the world; it isn't worldly but is holy and birthed through the application of the word of God in life by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

"Pure" (Greek katharos) means clean, pure, clear. "Undefiled´(Greek amiantos) means unsoiled, free from that by which the nature of a thing id deformed and debased or impaired. Religion is more often than not mentioned in a negative light in the Bible. Religion is frequently seen as a fallen human attempt to strive toward heaven. Such striving and attempts to compensate for sin with good works are futile and even offensive to God because they are sinful in and of themselves as they try to circumvent the cross of Christ (cf. Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3). Here religion that is pure or as it should be and undefiled or unpolluted by sinful attitudes and actions is religion that loves others sacrificially; especially the weakest of those around us. Pure and undefiled religion helps the needy who have no capacity or resource to pay back or benefit those helping them. That is the product of trustworthy faith.

 

We can imagine that persecution produced many widows and orphans. a trustworthy faith endured such trials. But a trustworthy faith also acted as extended family to such widows and orphans. The church is the family of God and as such it needs to care for its own. Instead of shooting our wounded we need to adopt the mindset of leaving no one behind. This is the nature and true religion produced by trustworthy faith.

 

As we come to the close of our first chapter of study we have already learned the benefit of  trials in the proving of our faith. Isaac Newton (1642-1727) once said:

 

            Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes

            because we need them; and he proportions the frequency and weight of them to

            what the case requires.  Let us trust his skill and thank him for his

            prescription.

 

I pray we all take our medicine and grow into a healthy trustworthy faith.

 



[1] http://www.breitbart.com/london/2016/01/14/christian-persecution-reaches-global-historic-high-thanks-to-rise-of-radical-islam/

[2] http://www.canonglenn.com/category/j-sidlow-baxter/

[3] https://2jesus.org/inspstories/thestorm.html

[4] C.H. Spurgeon quoted in C.H. Spurgeon on Leadership by Steve Miller (Moody Press: Chicago Il) p. 49.

 

[5] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans: God's Glory, p. 18

[6] Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 1519). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[7] Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 1519). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.