You open the fridge and there is a terrible smell…you sniff around looking for the source…there it is, “old spoiled lunchmeat”
What do you do next…make yourself a nice sandwich, right?
The bad smell is a bio-protective feature that can alert us to danger…don’t eat that, it can make you sick.
People who live long-term in unsanitary conditions can adapt to the bad smells and this is not healthy…you don’t want to get used to the “stink” if it alerts you to danger.
I was at a meeting this past week with a company that remodels homes…some of the “before” pictures were disgusting…animal waste, rotting food, mold, insects
It you walked in one of those homes, your sense of smell would alert you to the danger.
But the sense of smell of the people living there had adapted and allowed them to live in unhealthy conditions.
What if we lost our ability to “smell” stinking thinking.
There are patterns of thought that can make us “sick” spiritually, relationally, even physically…and yet we can fail to recognize them as unhealthy…because we live with them all the time.
What if we have become accustomed to them…and we fail to see their unhealthy impact on our lives?
Scripture, over and over, pinpoints stinking thinking…and then alerts us to its potential for harm…and then points us towards healthy thinking…life giving thinking.
Today we begin the letter we call James.
It is often seen as a sort of NT book of Proverbs.
It is similar in some ways to Proverbs but it is different in that it is not a compilation of wisdom sayings but it is in fact a personal letter from an individual…named James…to individual churches.
The author, James, is almost certainly the brother of Jesus.
His audience or recipients are Jewish converts to Christ experiencing diaspora…or scattering because of persecution.
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
In James’ letter, like so many we have studied the past two years…we know the answers to the questions, we don’t always know the questions or exact circumstances.
So, if you had a friend who was going through difficult times…and you were writing to encourage that friend, or to give them specific helpful information…you would not first, tell them about their hard times.
Of course, they know their own circumstances. The same is true of Jame’s letter.
We can, however, extrapolate from James’ answers…what they were going through.
We can especially hone in on what was likely happening because James skips the customary thanksgivings and greetings and goes straight to the point:
Which is: Endure trials with grit (perseverance) and faith
So, we can rightly assume from reading the letter: That suffering is the dominant reality in his readers circumstances
He tells them that the outcome of gritty faith is maturity (they will not be left lacking anything of ultimate importance)
The opposite of gritty faith is to be double-minded…instability in life and faith…they will be left lacking.
The Central Theme of James is this: Live out a consistent and undivided commitment to Christ….this is to be your personal…WIG
“Wildly important Goal” It doesn’t come from James, but from the book “The four disciplines of execution.”
It describes how important it is to know what our highest goals are…the WIGs that drive or should drive our behavior.
For James, our WIG is “A consistent and undivided commitment to Christ.”
And especially in the face of trials.
Here in this opening paragraph he givea a weighty challenge…live a life of consistent and undivided commitment to Christ…in the face of trials.
This gets at one of the biggest questions of all time…”Why does God allow the righteous to suffer?
He doesn’t give the full answer, but he does give a key part of it….
Trials of many kinds…can lead to a mature faith.
When he writes of trials of many kinds…he means just that:
-Not just persecution for your faith
-Not just death and disease
-But any and all kinds of trials…trials, big and small, can help mature us.
*Be careful that you don’t rank or weight your trials as compared to what you think others are going through and under estimate their impact on you.
I spoke recently with a friend who was trying to tell himself “Others have it worse” and not fully recognizing the impact his own trials were having on his life and relationships.
*It’s good to get perspective…some of our minor troubles…don’t compare well to the suffering of others.
*However, we cannot try to “suck it up” and not pay attention to the weight of our own trials on our lives.
It is important to recognitze that it is not trials in themselves that lead to maturity and the accomplishment of God’s purposes for us…it is our response to them.
Suffering, difficulty, challenges…can, as they say, “Make us or break us”
James is writing to a suffering church encouraging them to respond to trials in faith revealing and faith building fashion.
BECAUSE their choices make a difference in their own maturity…if they had no choice, why right?
God is ready and willing to mature us…it only remains for us to be ready and willing as well.
A big part of choosing maturity…is in how we respond to trials.
So right from the get-go he is tuning our thinking to truth
Let’s walk back through this important passage together.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4
My biggest question as I read this, was:
“Does this mean I must learn to like trials?”
*I sure hope not…because I tend to hate them.
Let’s ask Jesus, that question…but first, look at an event in his life.
Luke 22 “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
“Jesus, why did you ask for another way, other than the cross?”
“Because, I took on human form, I understand pain and loss much like you do…It is normal, appropriate to ask for a way around suffering…but it is essential to have a heart that wants what God the Father wants.”
“Okay, Jesus, then how are we to make sense out of James? Are we supposed to learn to love pain, that seems weird and wrong, but he says we are to count it joy?”
“Of course, you won’t love pain, why would you?” Do you remember what you read about me just a couple of weeks ago in your study of Hebrews?”
“Let me refresh your memory…”
Heb 12:2-3 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
“I endured the pain, the shame, of the cross, for the joy set before.”
“My joy was obeying my Father, my joy was your freedom, your salvation.”
“My brother James wrote…consider it pure joy when you face trials…because…of what that attitude and response can bring to your life.”
The joy set before us…is not the trials, but what God intends to do through them.
So James writes “Consider it pure joy when you face all kinds of trials “
And we respond…”Why in the world would I do that?”
JAMES ANSWERS…BECAUSE…the testing of your faith develops or grows perseverance.
This “BECAUSE” is seeing with the eyes of faith…the potential gain from the pain
-The potential gain here is perseverance…the ability to endure….to keep trusting and following God.
-I say “potential” gain because pain doesn’t automatically bring faithful endurance.
Our response to God in times of trouble determines the outcome for us personally.
-Because notice what is being “tested” by the trials?
-It is our faith.
“Will I trust God in this trouble?”
If I do…I grow in faith endurance.
If I do not, trust God in trials…of course, naturally, my faith doesn’t grow.
Faith is confidence…to respond to trouble with confidence in God is how our confidence in God grows even more.
1 Peter 1:7, the only other place in the NT that this word used here, translated “testing” is used.
He writes there that trials come so that the “genuineness of your faith will be revealed”
So the testing spoken of by James is not to determine IF a person has faith, but to purify the faith that they already have…to grow it.
Again, what does this testing produce in us?
The word pictures a person “remaining under” a load for a long time.
Staying power. Gritty faithfulness.
This is not weak and passive resignation to trouble (its not giving up)…but a passionate response to God, even in, especially in trial.
Consider it pure joy…is not resignation…it is a faith decision we are to make over and over.
Not learning to enjoy trials…it is learning, over time, to trust and enjoy God and to love his final purposes for our lives.
We don’t count trials as pure joy because suffering is good…its not…but because God is good, and he has not forsaken us, even in suffering…in fact, it is a key tool in his hands to perfect us.
This is asking a lot…To Consider it pure joy.
James, who is no stranger to trial…is not just making stuff up…he actually knows that this is possible, and it is necessary path for us to travel.
When we are not responding well in our minds to trials…not as in “I love this”…but as in “God, I love and trust you”
Then we must learn to recognize stinking thinking….and try to move our minds in the direction of Joy.
So, the next big question I have…Since testing is so important to our growth in faith…
“Why is it that so many experience the opposite of “faith growth” as a result of trials?”
Why do so many seem to go backwards not forward in faith because of testing?
Look at the next verse.
Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
As I have said…Perseverance will only reach its end goal if we let it finish it’s work.
The wording James used is literally… “Let perseverance have its full effect.”
We are to allow perseverance to finish its work in us…we can, by our own wills…allow it or not allow it to finish.
We can say “I’m out…I don’t trust you God.”
“This trial shows that you are not good, or that you are not there…either way, I’m out.”
Of course we don’t get to say, “I’m out” in regards to the trials themselves…but we can opt out of their maturing impact on our lives.
**IMPORTANT POINT: When you go through terrible trials, or even lots of more minor ones that stack up…don’t measure your faith response in the immediate ups and downs of your emotions.
The assumption, implied in the word itself (endurance): This life of faith and the fruit of perseverance unfolds over time.
In the Bible you see men and women of faith responding with doubt in the heat of trials.
You see in the Bible and the history of the church…people whose emotions go up and down…but the long trajectory of their lives is gritty faith.
So, it is the longer-term trajectory of our response to God that matters the most…not how I feel or act in this single moment in time.
However, a long journey is made of single steps…so in the ups and downs of human emotions…we must be nurturing those small steps forward into joy and faith.
Even as we struggle…we take small steps forward…we let perserverence do it’s good work.
The ultimate goal of trials and our meeting them with gritty faith and confidence in God is nothing less than perfection.
Of course this goal won’t be met in this life…but it is our “already/not yet” goal.
We are to push towards “pure joy” knowing we won’t get there fully in this life.
So, we don’t get to choose our trials…we do get to choose our response to them.
We can make the decision to respond with a persevering faith…a determination to trust God and glorify him (rather than accuse or malign him).
Okay, that’s hard James…got anything else for us…you done here?
No…he goes on…
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
Some believe this is an altogether different line of thought that the preceding three verses.
They think he is jumping from gritty faith and enduring trials…to asking God for wisdom generally speaking.
Others believe his line of thought continues here…I agree, I believe that it does.
I think he is offering important instruction on how we can “count it pure joy when you face all kinds of trials”
“We ask God for wisdom and believe that he will in fact give it to us.”
Some would respond, understandably… “I’ve asked God ‘why’ many times and he hasn’t told me.”
I want to tread carefully here…because we are talking about real human pain not just theories.
Let me say, as gently as I can… “Why” is often asking for information or explanation but it not always asking for wisdom.”
In Scripture wisdom is a heart/life response to God…it is the ability to know and do the will of God.
Information is getting facts into your brain.
Important data maybe, but just data.
So what if God told you exactly why, in his grand plans…Some trial has come to your life.
You now have that factual information…does it guarantee you will then go love and trust him by living faithfully obedient to him?
Of course not…in fact you might be more angry…or more confused…or more hurt…live with less faith…that’s not wisdom.
It’s not wrong to ask for information “God, why did you take my loved one from me?” “Why am I sick?” “Why does my boss hate me.”
But we are not guaranteed to get an answer.
Wisdom, in Scripture is not just being smart…it is being godly…faithful.
God will likely not tell you “why” he has done or allowed something…but he will clearly and consistently tell you how to respond with wisdom.
Deut 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children that we may obey all the words of his commands.”
The secret things of God, include his specific purposes for what happens…the things revealed include his will for us as to how we are to respond to life as it comes.
“God, why is this happening?”
Is a normal and reasonable question…for which we will likely not get an answer.
“God, what does wisdom look like here? How am I to endure, to respond to this with faith and faithfulness”…is a request to which God has guaranteed an answer…he has committed himself to that.
That answer may not be, probably will not be easy…or quick relief…in Proverbs the search for the easy and quick is not the path of wisdom.
God will grant you wisdom in trials…through his Word, His People, and His Spirit…you can count on it.
But it will be actual wisdom…how to consider it pure joy, how to let perseverance finish its work, how to honor God with your life in this trial.
That is what wisdom looks like.
But wait…James has more to say about this.
6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does
James is not implying that any doubt at all means God will not hear and answer your prayers.
Paul wrote in Romans 4 “That Abraham did not waver in unbelief regarding the promise of God” though of course Paul knew that Abraham did in fact doubt God at least once.
Paul’s point is not that Abraham never entertained a single doubt but that his life trajectory was consistent over time.
James is not saying that you can never doubt or God will never respond…that is simply unattainable in our present status as fallen humans.
His point is, in line with the overall message of his letter, that God responds to us only when our lives reflect a basic consistentcy of purpose and intent: a spiritual integrity.
Moo, Douglas J.. The Letter of James (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (Kindle Locations 2420-2421). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.
Look at his description of this double-minded person…the picture is not of a wave growing then crashing…but the undulating nature of the sea surface, always changing shape, never the same.
We are going to struggle…but we must become people who are more and more consistently his in all areas of our lives.
This word translated “double-minded” shows up for the first time in Greek literature here in James.
James uses it again in 4:8, Douglas Moo believes James probably cointed the term.
It was a good mental hook for the believers to remember the importance of displaying a whole-hearted faith commitment to God.
The word he uses is literally “double-souled”…it is more than just having a fickle mind or a mental struggle, though that is surely a part of it.
It is a person who is living the “deciding” rather than the “decided” life.
They are asking themselves “if” they will follow God not “how” they will follow God in this trial.
Again…hold to the real world tension of this passage.
“Count it PURE joy”…is about a direction towards complete trust in God.
“Mature and complete”…is a direction that we will not reach in this life.
“Believe and not doubt”…is a direction towards heart integrity that we are to pursue
The parent doesn’t say “I want you to only fight with your brother 3 times today, that is a statistical improvement over last week.”
Of course the goal is always perfection in action, what else would it be?
But this isn’t to say when we fail all is lost…the direction is towards whole-heart devotion to Christ.
Endurance is God’s finishing work in us…we must, in our responses to trials, allow it to do it’s work.
It is by it’s very nature…an ongoing, life-long tool of God to perfect us.
If you are actually undergoing trials right now, what does James’ imperative to “count it pure joy” sound like to you?
You can be honest, it’s okay.
I can imagine whatever you think about it, his original readers thought the same way.
Now, I have another question for you?
What do you want for your life?
Do you want to become mature and complete in Christ?
“I want this trial to stop!”
I understand…but that may not be within the realm of your choice to make…or you would probably already have made it.
What God has placed in the realm of your ability to choose is this…you can, if you will, “let perseverance finish its work.”
By trusting God in the trial…by confessing his goodness, his providence…but expressing faith in faithfulness…keep showing up for God and others.
Of course this is not easy…otherwise it wouldn’t require this great endurance.
James wouldn’t have started his letter this way…it is hard, but it is possible and necessary.
You can ask God for wisdom…and then look to see what it would actually mean for you to know and do his revealed will in the midst of this trial.
James is easy to understand, people say…that’s why I like it.
I agree, I think I understand what he is saying here…I’m not quite sure I like it.
But I do want wisdom and I do believe God has promised to give it to me…if I ask.
But I know that I must not be a flake (my translation of “double-minded)…I can’t pretend to be asking for wisdom when I really just want quick relief, or easy answers.
“Hurry and teach me a lesson so I can get this over with and get on with my life!”
In Proverbs wisdom is portrayed as a path, and walking in wisdom is to stay on that path and not veer from it.
A prayer for wisdom is a prayer to know and walk the good path…walk with God.
It is a prayer for endurance to stay on that path for the duration.
Let me pray for wisdom to walk this good path.