Today's Verse

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Trial by Faith: James 1:1-4

James is a book that is primarily about the evidences of faith in our Christian lives. It tells us how our faith is to be evidenced to others around us. The first evidence James speaks about is the evidence of trials.

There is not a one of us who has not experienced trials in some form or another. There are issues of health, finances, death of loved ones, abuse, expectations that are not met, and the list could go on and on. The Hebrews that James is writing to are no strangers to hardship. James is writing to the "twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" (1:1). The people reading this letter have been driven out of their homes. They have left behind friends, maybe family, and probably many possessions. They have left to live with a strange people in Gentile cities that don't understand their customs. Some may have experienced scorn and ridicule and abuse at the hands of those with whom they have come to live. The devout Jews certainly ridiculed them and persecuted them as blasphemers for trusting in Christ as their Messiah. They also have been directly affected in some way by the abuses thrown upon them by the Roman government and their insane emperor, Nero -- at the very least by having to move.

Trials, by their very nature, reveal our faith. All the circumstances that come into our lives affect us externally and internally. They affect our environment, and they most certainly affect the way we are now viewing our circumstances. Trials affect our spirit and mind. At that time we have a choice. Do I really mean it when I say I trust God? Do I really believe His Word is true and that He will keep all of his promises? How I respond to these testings reveals whether I have true faith that turns to and leans on God, or whether I have just a lip service faith that will blow away when I don't like what is happening. I liked what John MacArthur said about this aspect in his sermon 'From Trouble to Triumph (Part 1)': “Trial then for an imitation of faith burns it up. Trial for true faith causes it pain, the pain of inadequacy and weakness, causes it to turn from self‑righteousness and cast itself upon the strength of God.”

So, James begins his letter by addressing these hardships. What does he tell the reader? "Stick your chin up and endure. It will get better some day." No. He tells them to "count it all joy" (1:2). Count what all joy? "When you fall into divers temptations" (1:2). Divers temptations -- various trials. The word "various" means basically "multi-colored." This does not talk so much about the quantity of our trials but that we will experience all kinds of trials. We won't just be tried in one area of our life but in all sorts of areas of our lives. Yet, James tells these people to count it a joy to be tested and tried, no matter where these trials are coming from. We can be joyful even in trying circumstances? Why?

James tells us why. "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience" (1:3). Patience -- endurance. The illustration has been used before, and I will use it again. An athletic runner does not run until she starts to feel bad. As soon as her side begins to cramp, she doesn't sit down and put her feet up. She continues to push. She continues to try her body and push it past its limits, knowing that by doing this she is building endurance into her body. That next week it will take longer before her body begins to scream, and soon she will be able to run the race well. So it is with our Christian life. We are tested. At times we feel we are tested beyond our endurance. And yet, we can have joy in the pain knowing that the trying of our faith is working endurance. That next time I am tried, I will have a little more faith. I will have a little more strength, and maybe I will even be strong enough to help bear someone else's load for a time. To help them as they become strong in the faith.

After this trying we have the joy of a participant. When people around the world watched as Michael Phelps made history in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, they experienced joy. The spectators watched, cheered, and turned the TV off. This joy that the spectator had I'm sure cannot be compared to the joy that Michael Phelps had. Michael Phelps had sacrificed. He had worked hard and long and endured to see victory in the ultimate test. He had the joy of the participant. When we go through a trial we too can have the joy of a participant. The joy of one who has persevered and won the victory. Not in pride at our own strength and resilience, but with humility in realizing our own frailty and awe at realizing the power of God.

This process is not quick though. Just because I am going through a trial doesn't mean that I will automatically become stronger. In fact, James states, "But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (1:4). There is a responsibility on our part to let patience work effectively in our lives. I like what Matthew Henry states about this passage in his commentary: "Let us take care, in times of trial, that patience, and not passion, is set to work in us: whatever is said or done, let patience have the saying and doing of it. When the work of patience is complete, it will furnish all that is necessary for our Christian race and warfare." If trials come and our response is one of impatience and frustration, we aren't learning anything. If trials come and we realize more acutely our true source of strength (in Christ), we are learning. We are getting to a point where God wants us to be. We are learning that in our weakness, His strength is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The result of letting patience work in my life is that I will be "perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (1:4). I will be completely equipped to run the race (2 Timothy 4:7). Fully equipped to be able to endure hardness as a good soldier (2 Timothy 2:3). I love how this ties in with Romans 5:3-5: "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." As we go patiently through trials, we gain experience. We have seen Christ work. Then we have hope. When a trial comes again, we look back and see that Christ has worked, and we have the expectation that He will work again. And as long as we are depending on Christ we are not made ashamed. We have become complete. We have gained the ability to walk confidently in Christ through our lives and the trials we experience along the way. We are lacking nothing because Christ is our all in all.

In thinking on these verses think about:
~Do I have the joy of the Lord in my life, even in difficult circumstances?
~Do these trials reveal in me a trust in Christ or a disgruntled spirit that is trusting in myself?
~Am I being patient in this trial?
~How has God worked in my life in the past, equipping me and giving me hope as I look to the future?

I would love to hear from you if care to comment. Maybe you have insight into these verses that you would like to share. Maybe you would like to share how the Lord has been working in your life through trials. Whatever it may be, I would love to hear from you.

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