Text – James 1:2-12
This is the first part in a five part series on the Epistle of James, that small book that is packed with practical advice for Christian living and some challenging words that were relevant to the first century church, but they are very relevant to us today in the 21st century.
James is the half-brother of Jesus and the oldest son of Mary and Joseph. James was one of the brothers of Jesus who did not recognize that he was the son of God, but we read in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared specifically to James after his resurrection and then everything changed for James. He had an encounter with the risen Lord and he knew that Jesus was God in the flesh. James becomes one of the premier leaders of the early church.
The people James was writing to had fled persecution, probably in a foreign land having left everything behind. If you want a picture of what they experienced, just turn on the evening news and see the refugees flooding into Europe. Those are trials, losing loved ones, losing all property, losing a sense of justice.
For us today, this is not a question of whether or not we will have trials, no, it is when we have trials. Trials are a promise of scripture (see John 16:33). The reality is that God brings trials our way, to mature us, to strengthen us, to make us more like Jesus. Jesus knew trials, rejection, abuse, discouragement, and physical pain – if this was the way of our Lord, why should we expect any different.
James tells us that when we experience this pain, we should not shy away from it, rather we should rejoice! The Word of God commands us to rejoice in the dark times, but how is this possible?
You may be in the midst of a dark trial, you have almost given up hope, you see no end to the pain and the cares of the world are crushing the life out of you. You do not feel the slightest hint of joy. I want to encourage you with two reasons why you can have hope and how you can have joy in the midst of trials;
Firstly; for those who have committed their lives to Jesus Christ, trials are a pathway to maturity. Look at v4: “4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” We all know that life is full of painful mistakes, it often starts with how we learn to walk, we do this by falling down many times until we get it right. The reality is that life is full of painful experiences, and if we try to avoid them, we simply avoid growing and maturing.
I invite you to read this excellent essay by A.W. Tozer called; Miracles follow the Plow; http://www.theprayerlife.com/tozerfallow.html
God loves you too much to leave you as a fallow field that never experiences the miracle of new life that follows the plow. Today you may be experiencing the plow in your life, it is painful and you are feeling like everything is being turned upside down and broken. The fact that you are going through pain and suffering is reason to rejoice because the creator of the universe is so interested in you, so invested in you, that He is refining you. He is working away those self-dependencies, those parts of your life that are not totally committed to Him. He is refining your life so that it will bring Glory to His name, people will look at your life and it will be a testimony of the faithfulness of God.
This is still very difficult to grasp, especially when the dark clouds are blocking out the sun in your life. The key to this understanding is the next point and we find it in verse 5, ““5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
Secondly; this verse seems out of place in this letter. Looking at the previous verses, we see James writing about pain, suffering, trials, perseverance and maturity. And then in verse 5 he seems to lose that track and start writing like Solomon in the book of Proverbs, why is this?
What is wisdom? The Webster Dictionary defines wisdom as; “the ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand”. Knowledge is gained by learning, wisdom is knowing how to apply that knowledge.
How does that apply to the previous 3 verses of this opening chapter in James? It actually fits perfectly, James is saying in effect, if you don’t understand why you are going through trials, if you are unable to “consider it pure Joy”. If you are wrestling with the goodness of God, then you should ask God for wisdom. Wisdom to see things from God’s perspective, to be able to see things from an eternal perspective. When we view trials in the light of eternity, they shrink rapidly. Wisdom to understand that whatever I am going through is ultimately going to be used by God for my good and for His glory.
As Christians we are not promised lives that never go through any pain or difficulties. No, we are in fact promised to experience difficulties, but in the midst of these we are commanded to consider it Pure Joy. These trials are not sent to break us, but rather they are a given to us by the grace of God, to get our attention, to mature us, to strengthen us and to grow our faith in our Heavenly Father.
Jesus knows about pain. Jesus gave up his position in heaven, and became nothing, he became homeless, and rejected, abused, betrayed, disowned, beaten, crucified and murdered. The creator of the universe went through the ultimate pain of having God the Father turn his back on him and forsake him. This would have been pain unimaginable. Nothing we can ever experience will come close. Why did he do that? He did it so that you and I might have life, and have life in abundance, real life now and eternal life with him when he comes again. In the midst of your pain, you can lift up your head and rejoice, because as we see in verse 12 we will receive the crown of Life! This is the abundant life, joy in spite of circumstances, Joy in spite of pain. Joy now, not some distant hope in the future when everything gets better.
The crown of life is truly knowing the blessing and smile of God on your life in the midst of the maturing process. And then also the crown of life is eternal life, eternity with God starts when you commit your life to Jesus as your personal lord and savior.