JAMES 1:12-18 “Trials: In Perspective” 

Two weeks ago we opened our series in the book of James looking at Chapter 1 verses 2-11, and discussed the Christians response to trials in 4 separate but inter-related teachings: Joy in Trials; Benefits result from Trials; Wisdom gives God’s perspective in Trials and lastly poverty and wealth in trials. We learnt…:

  • True Joy comes from no other source but God
  • That perseverance is crucial to our Christian walk
  • That we need God’s perspective and wisdom – a gift to be asked for – for navigating trials

 

I implied in some comments a couple of weeks ago, that there is much in James that we will be challenged by, even for the most mature Christ-followers among us, not least, the resolve to be willing to continue to grow in Christ, to allow him to change us, whatever stage of life we are in.

As we seek to build a strong prayer and spiritual foundation, to build community, to foster unity, as we engage and connect with the Mission of God for Fairfield community, these are not days for spiritual weakness, these are not days for the proverbial “I’ll get around at some point to getting serious about God”… rather these are days to be spiritually strong, doing what we need to do, today, to put the necessary steps in place…

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

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. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

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.

If we stand back and take a wider view of James’ proposition here, it is that God is good. Because God is good, he is not responsible for the lure of temptation and what happens on the other side of temptation, sin.

God is not responsible for the choices, the decisions we as individuals make when birthed out of evil desire or intention, that result in sin. We are in control of how we respond in trials; we bear the responsibility of our actions. Only what is good and what is perfect comes from God, because he is good

There are 3 key teachings in our passage today…the first, in verse 12 where James summarises the first 11 verses, James says “Blessed is the one who perseveres…”… and then he says there is an eternal reward attached for those that do…persevere….the crown of life,

…the 2nd key teaching is James addressing what must have been crooked teaching on temptation and sin, prefaced with his comment “when tempted no one can say God is tempting me”

…the 3rd teaching is that God is the only source of that which is good and perfect and holy: he is unchanging.

 

Let’s look at each of these in turn…

  1. Blessed are those who persevere in Trial

James is calling Christians who endure and persevere through trial and temptation, blessed. Blessed, is on the other side of getting through trial, with the right attitude and perspective, and right heart, intact. “Blessed” means happy: much more than the happy emotion. “Blessed” is the state of those Christians who ultimately find their purpose and fulfilment in God.

It is the same word used in the be-attitudes…as in “blessed are the poor in Spirit…”, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst…”Blessed as we know is a word associated with creation, with Abraham, Isaacs wife Rebekah when she left her family…2 other examples:

Job 5:17 “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”

Psalm 1:1-3 carries that theme further when it states, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

So because of who is readers were, and there familiarity with the OT, James is saying with his use of the word “blessed”, when you do what they did, when you’re able to have their perspective and see that God uses these opportunities to build godly character, you are “blessed”… “that person will receive the crown of life”

  1. The Crown of Life

The Christian life is a journey isn’t it. Journey in the sense that we continually go from who we are, or where we were, to where Christ wants us to be, like Him! Daily we are faced with the opportunity to grow a little or a lot, some change at a different pace to others

But, that we are different is not sound rationale to go slow, or even reject change – particularly when we know very well where we need to. Bible says “when we know the good we ought to do and we don’t do it, we sin”

Karyn and I have worked with numerous couples over the years, hopefully given them beneficial tools for enriching their marriages. But one thing that’s often a stumbling block is one of the partners will be resistant to changing who they are for the benefit of the relationship. The refrain is “if God wants me to change he’ll change me”. Newsflash he does, and it’s your responsibility!

In the end change – being transformed – comes down to our willingness to be like Christ. When we are Christian, it is the same spirit at work in each of us that raised Christ from the dead. So we all have equal and ample opportunity to grow, to put the old behind and the new before, and God makes available all the resource we need, not least the Holy Spirit.

James teaches that there is a crown of life for those that love him. The crown of life is the reward for being faithful to God, for those who willingly submit their lives, submit to change, and who are faithful to his work in us, faithful to becoming more like him….even through the testing and the trials.

Let me make mention of two other places in scripture that speak about the “crown”…

…1 Cor. 9:24-27 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

…our ambition is not for something perishable; our vision is for something eternal, the crown.

The prospect and the promise of the reward of the crown is what motivated Paul to serve faithfully and in so doing continually push back on sin. The picture is him battling rigorously to ensure he would not be excluded from receiving the crown.

…Phil. 4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! Paul’s statement is that in the same way a victorious athlete of the time was given a crown of leaves, the people were his crown, as in Christians who pursued the way of Christ over the way of the enemy

So summary of all that is, according to James, wisdom is needed for a godly perspective and resolve in trials in order to gain the “crown of life” that is both eternal life, and a life lived today in the will of God as his faithful and loyal servant[1]

  1. Temptation in Trials

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. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 

At this point, it’s pretty important we give some clarification. We’re talking about trials and temptation, but the bible also refers to testing. All similar? Maybe? I would suggest we can tend to blur the lines of what the bible makes clear.

Firstly trials are to be expected and are something to be endured; we’re to persevere in trials. 2ndly, scripture teaches that God “tests” (cf. Gen. 22:1). Temptation on the other hand is something to be avoided.

God allows trials…he tests….but the assertion in James is God never tempts his people (1:13). God never entices Christians to sin or desires that we might fail in the trials he may bring.[2] On this theme you’ll be mindful of the text in 1 Cor. 10:13. Paul says “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”

There are plenty of examples in scripture of those who inquire of God in the face of trial and difficulty, the issue then, and what James is speaking to, is when that inquiry turns into doubt, doubting God, doubting his place, presence and purpose in it. Doubt leads to unbelief and unbelief is…sin. Job is an example of James ideal: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). Job exemplifies what it is to be human, but always from a place of trust and assurance.

What turns a trial or a test to a temptation, “is not that God has put us in such a position”[3], it is when we view our circumstances as Gods’ attempt to tempt us…and when we do, we sin, we sin when a trial or a test becomes unbelief that God could use such an event or events for his good, or our good and growth. God does not tempt.

There is therefore a difference between trials, temptation and testing. And I think James does a pretty good job at clearing up any confusion between the three.

With verses 13-15 we get a bit of a clue as to the difference in mindset and faith of the church he wrote to. James addresses those who will receive the crown – those spiritually on track – to Christians about to walk away…because of their misunderstandings and no attempt to understand the way God works.

In particular blaming God for matters God should never be blamed for, deflecting responsibility off of themselves, and onto God.

Like “God made me do it”!…I watched that movie I know I really shouldn’t have, the devil made me do it”

Situations are occurring everyday at home, in the world, that raise any number of questions, not least, where is God in all of this…they leave us full of faith, OR full of doubt, OR  just confused.

We can trace this “hard-wiring” back to the Garden of Eden…(READ Gen. 3)

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent, neither of them take any responsibility for their actions, protecting their own self-interest was more important than relationship with God. Today?

Take a look also at what Proverbs 19:3 says: “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the LORD.”

You see James knows where temptation is born, in the heart of man. That inclination is in all of us. He (James) knows what temptation leads to, desires that are not of God, usually. His teaching is we apportion blame and deflect responsibility. God does not tempt. Yes we war not against flesh and blood, etc, but…we are in control of ourselves…we are dragged away by our own evil desire, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death

Note in the text that’s it’s our evil desire that devolves into sin, and the road to Christian maturity is about constantly being aware of ourselves and pushing back on anything and everything that would hinder our movement toward Christ ….the key message here is we, not God, not anyone else, we are individually morally and ethically responsible for being tempted and where that might lead us… and conversely resisting temptation, the better option!

There is a point for all of us, who know Christ, when faced with trial and then temptation, it is like a gate, a window of opportunity to leave that thing latched or unhinge it. We all sin, we will all sin and fall short of the glory of God, no doubt, its acknowledging sin for what it is and how we respond that’s crucial. (see Ps. 51)

Spiritual maturity, keeping Christ in our focus, is by far the best mitigator of yielding to temptation.

  1. The Goodness of God in Trials

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.

The best summary of verses 16-18 is that God is absolutely trustworthy.  The “heavenly lights”, Gods handiwork shifts and changes but God himself does not change. His moral position and character does not shift or change, it is fixed.

God is good. To understate, he is what defines good.  I don’t want to stray unnecessarily from James intent here, however, the statement “God is good” raises for many all sorts of moral and spiritual questions. That there is evil in the world, people who commit heinous atrocities against other humans, loved one’s die as the result of drunk drivers, babies get cancer…does not change, or question, that God is good.

Though God has given free will to man to make their own decisions good or evil does not change that God is good. That God will choose to intervene and miraculously and instantaneously heal some and not others does not change that God is good. Now we’re not logically or scientifically expected to get our heads around that. If we were able to rationally explain and understand everything there is to know about God, prior to coming to know Christ, what is the role of faith?

Remember what Jesus said to Thomas… “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”

See James is addressing people in the church who have in mind that they’re getting a raw deal in life, from God, life is not going how they want it to, why is God being unfair to me…isn’t it my right as a Christian for life to go well all the time and why is God not allowing that, doesn’t God want only “good things” for me?

 

What, does God owe us?

James’ response neither invalidates pain nor dismisses the reality of pain. In faith one of the largest mind and heart perspective challenges we have is this: we are his children, he loves and cares for us, he hears and answers prayer…but what God does for us and in us will always be (NB) for his good, for his purposes, because he is good, and it’s his kingdom…. But because we define “good” different to God’s “good” it won’t always be the good we think it is.

Think of the story of Lazarus here during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus knowing that Lazarus had died, you’ll note never rushed off straight away…it would seem absurd to our logic, sooner you get there the better, the less time he’s dead the easier it is to raise him? Who is God?!

God doesn’t work on our timetable, we align ourselves with his. God doesn’t work to our purposes, we work to his. That he is good, means his timing and purposes are always, good.

So what James posits is this: that it is possible that as finite human beings we are able to move from a place of questioning God, to seeing my trial and pain in the context of God’s goodness…to allow God in his infinite wisdom to allow pain in our lives

Verse 18 provides the key to that change in mindset….the ultimate gift God has provided for us, is through the work of the cross, in the person of Jesus. Sin brings death, but verse 18 tells us God brings life, through the word of truth, the gospel. When we come to know Christ we are like “firstfruits”, fruit of God’s plan of reconciling humanity to himself. 

 

Summary

We have been created by God with the potential to be the kind of Christians that James is advocating here. People of truth and life and hope, and the grace of God is the agent, the means through which we are able to resist sin in the face of temptation and trial. The mature Christian owns the responsibility for their sin; they do not deflect onto God or anyone else. 

 

TAKEAWAYS

Serve God faithfully, to receive “the crown”

Willingly submit to change

Put to practice, trusting God in trials

Resist temptation and acknowledge sin

Allow the Grace of God to work in you             

 

[1] Nystrom, David P.

[2] Moo, D. (1995). James. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, p. 1154). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[3] Nystrom, D