Preached at TRINITY Church 8am/10am/11.15am 10/9/17
(And a lot of it is cribbed from the legend that is Tom Wright!)
James 1: 1-18 – Trials and temptations
Intro to series
So this morning we start a new series looking at the book of James. A book of just 5 chapters it is often overlooked and it has divided people. Martin Luther for example described it as the ‘epistle of straw’! because there is no reference to Christ’s death and resurrection, and later on he thinks that it contradicts Paul’s doctrine of justification.
Others feel like it is a breath of fresh air coming as it does after Paul’s somewhat weighty theology!
So before we really get into the passage today let me give you a bit of an intro.
First off we read that this is written by James, but who was James? Well we can’t actually be sure but the most likely author is James, brother of Jesus, whose name actually wasn’t James at all, but Jacob. James was a European variation that came via Italian and other languages. He was sometimes referred to in later writings as James the Just, and to add to the confusion he is referred to one more than one occasion in scripture as the Son of Alpheus. Clear as mud right? But, there is a reasonable amount of evidence for the writer of this letter being Jesus’ brother.
feel free to do some study at your own leisure!
James became a leader in the early church and Paul refers to him in Galatians along with Peter and John as a pillar of the church. (Gal 2:9)
We read in v1 that this letter is written to:
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
And whilst Peter and Paul and other leaders in the early church headed off, James stayed in Jerusalem as the key leader in the Jerusalem church over the first thirty years of Christianity.
So, with a reference to Jewish heritage, which would have been important in that context, basically this letter is written to encourage Christians across the world – whom he seems to be seeing as as the new version of those ‘twelve tribes’ of Israel, now further dispersed – to encourage the, to face up to the challenge of faith.
Quite a challenge it was then, as it is now too.
For today //
In that sense it makes good reading for us today, some good solid advice for worldly situations.
It addresses common human needs, temptations and situations and gives instruction or advice.
It is a challenge to take seriously a Godly and radical lifestyle.
But given in a way that is encouraging and encompassing – for example in this chapter alone he calls the readers ‘brothers and sisters’ 3 times… so he is really embracing the nature of Christians on a journey together
Here in chapter 1 as we are looking at today, the focus is on trials and temptations and the tools to deal with that – perseverance and trust.
James seems to give the expectation that trials are part of being a believer. He doesn’t say ‘if’ trials come, but ‘when’. Being a Christian doesn’t mean, as I’m sure most of us know, that the second we make that choice, everything becomes fantastic. No, not at all. I mean we all live in a broken world don’t we? The result of sin means that we don’t live in the beautiful perfect world God created.
God dosent send this stuff…
But I do want to say, I do not come from the school of theology that says that God sends us trials and tribulations, sends illness upon us to toughen us up or increase our faith. Nor that God is the one who tempts us to try and trick us off course.
And neither does James it seems. He doesn’t say that our trials or temptations are sent by God, in fact the opposite.
In verse 5 for example he talks of God who ‘gives generously without finding fault’ – even though we all carry faults! And later in v 13 on temptation he says:
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed…
God does not tempt us !
In fact who is it that tempts Jesus in the wilderness? Not God but the devil. And here with a note perhaps to our own brokenness or sinful nature, James warns us that testing comes from within.
Last week at the 630 we began a series looking at transformation. And I kicked off with spiritual transformation. I talked about the fact that we live in a spiritual world. There are forces at work that we can’t see but we can certainly see the evidence of – so of course we have the HS, at work within us, guiding us, we can feel that for ourselves and we are the evidence of the HS at work. But more than that, we see it in answers to prayer, or in the work of others.
But the same goes for the work of evil. We can’t see it but we can see the results of it. When really terrible things happen people often ask why God would do such a thing. But I don’t think it’s God, do you?
So when I became a Christian literally a week later I was struck down with a virus that meant I became ill with chronic fatigue and ended up with a year off work.
Now look I’m not someone who sees a demon behind every lamp post as it were! Sometimes things happen as a result of our own choices and free will, sometimes they are the result of others choices, but we can also be aware that there might be something else going on too, spiritually. So when I became ill, I knew my over-working probably had something to do with but, but I was also aware that spiritually it was very interesting timing.
Whatever we face in life, I think is a mixture. Some of it is as a result of being in a fallen world, we get sick, people die, bad stuff happens – it’s not how it was supposed to be.
But also as Christians, we do put our head above the parapet in some sense, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if we become a target or face trials. Tom Wright, theologian says:
The moment you decide to follow Jesus is the moment to expect the trials
to begin. It’s a bit like opening the back door to set off on a walk and finding that the wind nearly pushes you back inside before you’ve even started.
(Tom, Wright. Early Christian Letters for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 4). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)
When a Christian is tested it shows something real is happening. There are many kinds of test: actual persecution, which many face today; fierce and nasty temptations, which can strike suddenly when we’re not expecting them; physical sickness or bereavement; family or financial troubles; and so on. But you wouldn’t be tested unless you were doing something serious.
We are supposed to count, to make a difference in the world, whether through our daily walk, reflecting who Jesus is or in a wider more reaching sense.
Of course nothing is wasted in God’s kingdom. In Romans 8 a passage that looks at suffering particularly, Paul notes in v 28:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose
God wastes nothing. In fact he uses things for our good and for his purposes. So when James says in v3:
you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance’, we can lay claim to that.
In v4 that we may become mature and complete,
He goes on: not lacking anything
he means, of course, in our journey towards becoming more like Christ, not lacking anything that would helps us be more like him, reflecting him. And it does not mean in a prosperity gospel kind of way! That we would be lacking nothing material
And he even stresses the very difficulties of being rich, in vs 9-11..
And on that can I just say – look God wants the best for us, he pours out his blessings on us, and some of us will have more than others, and with that comes the responsibility of using it wisely.
but one of the main themes of the bible is looking out for those worse off than ourselves, loving one another, sharing with those in need.
There are those who preach from texts like this that God wants us to be wealthy, materially rich, you know you see those Pastors (mostly in the US) with massive houses and 5 cars and uber wealthy ( and look this is the CofE so it’s not likely to happen to clergy!!) but really? Is that giving off the best example?
James warns against the temptations of hoarding wealth: he says the rich will:
pass away like a wild flower and will fade away even while they go about their business.
As we all will! But the thing is, what we do with what God gives us is a responsibility we have to face with Godly wisdom.
By contrast to some of those rich Pastors. some of the richest people in the world, Bill and Melinda Gates, have are living out their (or her) catholic faith and teaching in pledging to give away as much as they can. They along with others started the ‘giving pledge’ that the uber wealthy can sign up to, to pledge to give away their wealth to those in need. They run the bill and Melinda gates foundation that seeks to reach the worlds poorest, aiming to do amazing things like eradicate malaria.
MG says: For me, faith is about faith in action. With this deep-seated belief, Bill and I believe that all lives have equal value. We try to live that out in what we do as a foundation.
God doesn’t love any one of us more or less, we do all have equal value in his eyes but we don’t always see that do we?
Temptations can come in many forms, not just financial, but the root is usually about putting ourselves first or wanting something for ourselves… perhaps it comes from not being able to truly see our identity as children of God?
Dealing with our own trials and temptations it’s hard.
When we see others facing things, it’s very easy to stand on the outside and say:
God is with you, or ‘I’m praying for the resolution of a situation. But when we are in it, ourselves it’s really hard.
It’s hard not to listen to the voice of the enemy that tells us God is not here or that God has done this to us, or that this is some kind of punishment.
But V 16 says ‘don’t be deceived!’ That is what the devil is, a deceiver, one who wants to take us from the path that God has put us on.
And I don’t want to sound at all blasé about this. I’ve lived with illness, I’ve lived with chronic pain, and until you’ve been in a situation like it you can’t begin to imagine it. But even saying that I know that my pain and suffering was short lived. I know there are people here in our church who going through really tough times. There are some of us dealing with illness and pain for which there is no relief, with grief that seems never ending, with suffering that seems inconsolable, and I know that as I stand here my words are probably not even scratching the surface.
But thankfully we do know that there is one who can always be with us in it. I honesty don’t know how people go through trials without Jesus. When I take funerals I always want to tell people there about the hope we have in Jesus, whether they are Christians or not, because in the midst of despair, sometimes hope is all we have. Hope in Jesus.
And James says that we should turn to him, to seek God.
if any of you lacks wisdom (ie in the situation we are facing) you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault..
If only we had that Godly wisdom in our lives! If only we could see the wisdom of God in all that we face. Wouldn’t it make it so much easier to bear?
I had a friend who sadly died of breast cancer some years ago. And when she was ill she shared on many occasions of how Jesus was with her, she was an inspiration as she really did seek him in the midst of her trials. On one occasion she was waiting to go in for a scan, just a normal scan, no medical procedures to happen. And as she prayed while she waited, she looked down and saw that she was covered in blood. First she panicked and thought that her illness had progressed in some terrible way, but then realised it was a vision and she felt God telling her, no, I’m with you, you are covered in my blood. It was a very profound reminder to her there and then that he had been there before her, that she had nothing to fear. If death was to be her end, he had been there before, and it was a huge comfort to her. She sought God in her trial and it was his presence and wisdom that comforted her.
James goes on to say, v6, believe and don’t doubt. One who doubts is like a wave tossed and blown by the wind. That makes us unstable and double minded.
Again easy to say, hard to hear. but I don’t think it is said here to criticise, no it is supposed to be an encouragement, that if you focus on God, you won’t be blown around, you will be the boat that rides through the storm rather than being tossed around by it
You know, whilst waves seem to have energy of their own, when you see them crashing and moving about with such force, or just rolling in on a summers day, but no, they are actually the random product of other forces: wind and gravity.
It’s the same for us, when we feel like our faith is being bashed around, it is not God doing it. BUT if we focus on him, he gives us the wisdom, the rudder if you like, to steer through it.
I’ve spoken before about my back injury but that was definitely a trial. It was painful and frustrating and I could have spent that time being cross, wondering why God didn’t heal me, wondering what I had done to deserve this.
But I focussed on God. And he was so faithful within it. I was able to focus on him and not be steered off course. I sought him in the pain and he revealed himself to me. And you know I think that time was a blessing, I grew in my relationship with God in that time, I know that in persevering it was just part of my journey towards spiritual maturity…
We are all on that journey, everyone one of us, at different stages and places, perhaps even right at the start. And that journey will hold innumerable experiences and life encounters, both good and bad. and Learning who God really is and what he’s truly like – and reminding ourselves of it regularly – is really the key to it all.
How easy it is for us to imagine that God is stingy or mean? Or that he hasn’t heard us or isn’t there for us? We project on to him the things we see in real life – the fearful, petty or even spiteful character, or sometimes even the things we see in ourselves. But God is not like that, he’s a loving God he wants the best for us and we can trust in him.
Reminding ourselves of the truths of who he is can help to carry us through those trials and tribulations,
Reminding ourselves of the truths of how God sees us can help us through temptations
And seeking him in all things can help guide us through.
Remember those spiritual habits from last week – habits form 630
We need good spiritual habits to help us on our journey –
Get into God’s word, pray, seek the Holy spirit, and love one another. Those 4 things are so key to helping us stay focussed on God and who he is.
James says in vs 16-18 at the end of our passage:
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
Let us not be deceived, let us focus on the truth of who God is. He does not change even though we do, even though life situations come and go, he is the constant presence in our lives and he is the one that can help us through all things…