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Worship Message - "Responding to Trials, Part I"

Responding to Trials, Part I
James Message #1


I am doing my Bible reading this year online through the Our Daily Bread app on my iPad. The Bible reading guide is found at the bottom of each day’s devotional on the app.

The guide and the devotional can be found in the printed version, too, but the app has one other feature, which is a section of some helpful study points based on the devotional for the day.

So it was that one day, when the devotional was from the Book of James, the study point was that the book is sometimes referred to as the Proverbs of the New Testament - saying and teachings that can guide Christians how to live in five categories of life. The categories are how to respond to trials, how to live out the Christian faith, the importance of taming the tongue, how to handle interpersonal conflict, and the call to wait on the Lord.

That study point caused me to make a careful consideration of the Book of James. The result is a journey we will take through the book, beginning with today’s message and extending through much of the summer.

I might mention the journey will take a few detours. For instance, the Sunday before Independence Day, the message will have more of a Fourth of July feel to it. The Sunday before and the Sunday after this year’s Vacation Bible School, the messages will be related to the VBS theme of Jesus at Work Through Us.

We will take a few detours, but today, then into August, many of the messages will be based on the Book of James. That will include the topic for today and next week, which is how to respond to trials. That will begin right after a consideration of who wrote the book. His name and how he described himself.

James 1:1. The author of the book - the letter that became a book in the Bible - is James. A question. Who was James?

To begin my study for this message, I thought it important to remind myself of the answer to that question. I thought the answer would take just a moment. That is when I was reminded how many men named James there were in early Christian times, many of them possibilities as the author of the Book of James. However, it appears there are only two possibilities that are most likely.

One of them the apostle James, though it was probably not him because he was, early on, martyred for the cause of Christ. He was the first disciple of Jesus to be killed, perhaps before the Book of James was written.
    
More likely, the one who wrote James was James, one of Jesus’ brothers. A brother who at one time of Jesus’ ministry tried to silence him. A brother who apparently at that time did not believe in Jesus in a spiritual way, but who apparently changed his mind and later accepted Jesus as his Savior. So much did he change that, shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to Heaven, James became a leader in the Christian church in Jerusalem.

James, probably a brother of Jesus, wrote the Book of James. He began by identifying himself. But it was not just by name he identified himself. He described himself in another way. He described himself as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The word “servant” is important. Another word found in some translations is “slave.” That is significant because of what servant or slave represents. The attitudes those words represent.
 
Attitudes like absolute obedience, the only goal being to obey the master’s word. For James, that meant he was totally committed to doing whatever God and Jesus told him to do. It was not his will, but God’s word he was dedicated to doing.

Attitudes like absolute humility. A slave does not think of his rights, but of his duties. A servant is committed to lose himself in service for the master. Again meaning James was not interested in his will, but in doing what God and Jesus wanted him to do.

And consider this concerning humility. The apostle Paul sometimes referred to himself as a slave, but then added the word “apostle.” James did not do that. He began and ended with the word “servant.” He apparently did not feel worthy to be identified as highly as Paul.

Another attitude of slaves or servants? Absolute loyalty. Yet again, James’ goal was to serve God and Jesus. His goal - his one and only goal - was the the good of God.

I am intrigued by the one-letter word before servant. A word that again speaks of humility. The word “a.” James did not call himself “the” servant. He did not wish to claim any special position. He called himself “a” servant. He was dedicated, but so were others. James called himself just one of those who were slaves of God and Jesus.

Which, by the way, was not a put down. With our nation’s history and with so many human trafficking problems around the world today, the word slave has a very negative feel. But in association with God, being a slave is a positive description. It must be since a whole lot of Old Testament heroes were identified that way. Heroes such as Abraham, Joshua and Caleb, Moses, Job, Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Amos, Zechariah, Jeremiah.

By using the word “servant,” James put himself on the list of those who were absolutely obedient, absolutely humble, absolutely loyal to God. Those who were happy to be God’s slaves. Happy because in God - in submission to God’s will - they found freedom and peace and glory.

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, wrote the Book of James. He wrote to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.

As it was with who the author was, I thought it would be a pretty quick study of to whom James wrote. Wrong again. There are a few ideas about who the audience was expected to be. However, there seem to be two ideas that are most credible.

The twelve tribes could refer to any Jews outside the Promised Land of Palestine. Dispersions of Jews had happened a number of times in Old Testament history. It may have been that Jews - Jews scattered to places away from the Jewish homeland - were who James wanted to contact concerning Jesus.

Or the twelve tribes could refer to Christians who had been Jews who had also been scattered, that coming from persecution against followers of Christ in Jerusalem. That is probably closer to being correct because the first chapter of the book gives instructions about how to respond to trials. Early Christians certainly faced many trials, including persecution. And because of the word “brethren” in verse 2. That seems to be a Christian word.

But listen to this. In many of the apostle Paul’s letters, he includes in his introductions the words “grace and peace.” That was a common Christian greeting. James simply used the word “greeting.” So maybe he wanted those who were already Christians and those who were not to read this book. This letter. Using a simple greeting might have had the widest appeal. An appeal to Jews and Christians alike, which James wanted to have as a servant or a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As mentioned, this book - this letter - has several topics James addressed to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion. They are wait on the Lord, handle conflict, tame the tongue, live out the Christian faith, and - the topic for this message and the one next week - how to respond to trials.

That begins in verse 2 of James 1. “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials.”

Various trials. Isn’t that an interesting concept? As I have shared before, I used to think, early in my Christian life, that accepting Jesus as Savior should result in a care-free life. A trouble-free life. But that is not the way it is, is it? In fact, accepting Jesus is apt to create more problems than a person had before that decision.

For instance, following Jesus and His teachings often requires going against human nature. That can be difficult.

Following Jesus and His teachings will, in many ways, put us at odds with other people. In some cases, including friends. In some cases, family.
    
Concerning friends, I remember a discussion one evening in which one of the participants shared that when he became a Christian, many of his friends deserted him. Someone else suggested those people must not have been real friends. The response? “Maybe not, but it still hurt.”

There are a lot of anti-Christian groups around the world. Maybe no more than at any other time in history, but we hear about them so easily. That can be a scary thought.
    
And all of that does not include the normal problems of life. Relationship troubles. Health, financial, and housing concerns. Sorrows and disappointments.

Various trials. They come the way of everyone, including Christians. They will be met, even by those of us who believe in Jesus.

In a recent personal prayer time I was reminded Jesus never promised easy times in the world. Peace with God, yes, but not necessarily peace with others. That is the thought here. There will be various trials in life, including for those of us who are spiritual brothers of James.

How are we to respond when we face trials? We are to count them as joy.

Really? Joy? That does not seem to make a bit of sense, especially for people like me who are not big fans of suffering. But perhaps we should consider the meaning of joy, which is not being happy. I mean, except for those with some psychological problems, no one is happy when troubled times come.

Happiness is dependent on things like good health and friendly company and pleasant surroundings. But joy - Christian joy - is defined this way as having a constant delight in God, knowing His love, His peace, His compassion, His grace, His mercy are evident in every part of life, no matter what we face.

Often in my prayers I thank God for celebrating with us when things go well. I thank Him for His strength when things go wrong. I think that is a description of joy. I may not be happy when things seem to be going wrong - when I meet trials. But I can have joy, even in bad or difficult times, knowing - being confident - that God still loves me and is willing to help me.

Which should be easier to know when the meaning of trials is understood. Trials. Another word can be tests. When given by God…

Actually, it is not God who does anything bad. That is stated in verse 13 of James 1 with the words, “God Himself tempts no one.” The point is that we are not to blame God when bad things happen to us.

Referring to the Old Testament, remember how Adam - in the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit - answered God? He blamed God by saying, “Hey, don’t get after me for doing wrong. I only did what the woman wanted me to do. The woman You gave me.”

Remember what the woman - what Eve - said to God? She said, “Don’t blame me. It was the serpent’s fault. He beguiled me. He tricked me.” Eve at least implied that since God had created the serpent, God was to blame for what had happened.

But do not blame God, wrote James. He taught that God Himself tempts no one. However, when trials - when tests - come, God can use them for His purpose, which is to strengthen the ones tested. A strengthening that will increase more and more as more and more trials are endured.

I read this about that, which I think is a cute description of such growth. A baby bird has to be prodded and pushed to leave its nest. The first flight? What a scary trial for the baby. The second flight? Still a horrible test. But what happens? Each time the baby tests its wings, he or she gets stronger. Flight becomes easier flight by flight.

That is what is to happen with us. So, as James wrote, do not moan, but rejoice as various trials are met. That is because the more we are tested, the stronger we can become.

How does that work? Verse 3. “The testing of faith produces steadfastness.” Unswerving constancy. Which is needed to bear all things, turning them into greatness and glory.

Steadfastness that will, in its full effect - verse 4 - allow us to be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Perfect. Strong enough for any task God gives us to do.
    
Complete. That refers to shedding old sins and spiritual blemishes. It refers to gaining new virtues - characteristics that are pleasing to the Lord.
    
Lacking in nothing so we can then, day by day, live more victoriously.

Why should we want all that? Verse 12. “Blessed is the man [or woman or boy or girl] who endures trial. For when he [or she] has stood the test, he [or she] will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.”
 
At the time of James, there were three types of crowns that were common, any of which might have been on James’ mind in verse 12. There were crowns of flowers, worn at times of joy such as weddings and feasts. There were crowns made of laurel leaves, awarded to victors in games. There were crowns that were marks of royalty worn by kings.

Crowns were marks of joy. They were signs of victory. They were announcements of royalty. As a matter of fact, maybe James had all three kinds of crowns in mind when he wrote verse 12. Grow in steadfastness. Have so much steadfastness you endure. The reward will be spiritual joy, spiritual victory, spiritual royalty. What a wonderful reward for obeying the teaching to meet various trials - all your trials - with joy.

Two examples of people who endured trials, one a Biblical example, the other one not from the Bible.

A Biblical example is Job in the Old Testament. He was referred to earlier in this message as a servant of God. He is certainly known for meeting various trials.
 
At the beginning of the Book of Job, he seemed to have a very easy and successful life. He had seven sons and three daughters. He had 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and many servants. With all that, he was the greatest man in his part of the world at that time.
    
But remember? In a very short amount of time, his servants were slain, his animals were stolen, all his children were killed when a great wind collapsed the house they were in, and Job himself was afflicted with sores over his entire body.

According to the Bible - it is mentioned in the Book of Job, just as it is in the Book of James - it was not God, but Satan, who caused all those bad things to happen to Job.

But listen. God allowed them to happen. God allowed Job to be tested by various trials, including sorrow and health issues and loss of property, which had to have resulted in financial hardship, and relationship problems as his wife suggested he just curse God and die and as three friends spent a lot of time criticizing and accusing Job.

Job met various trials. No, he was not happy about  it. He  complained  a  lot  about  what  had  happened  and  what  was  happening  to him. But the Book of Job ends with joy. As Job finally understood God was in charge, as he accepted God’s power, he received a return of blessings, including Job being blessed with seven more sons, three more daughters, twice as many animals, and fellowship - comforting fellowship - with his brothers, sisters, and different friends, all of whom brought gifts to him.

The non-Biblical example? Former Dallas Cowboy star Emmitt Smith. What I especially remember about him was something he said the evening he and his team won a Super Bowl.

In a post-game interview, Emmitt Smith was asked what he planned to do the next day. Smith answered he was going to sleep in a bit. Then he was going to have nice, big, leisurely breakfast before hanging out with some friends, all that leading up to the big victory parade that was already scheduled for downtown Dallas the next afternoon. It was going to be a great day.

The interviewer said that was good, but what was the plan for the day after that? “The next day?” Emmitt responded. “That day I will be back in the weight room and training room, getting ready for next season.”

To be the great player he was, Emmitt Smith needed to concentrate. He needed to work and work and work on conditioning and knowledge of plays. He needed to do that, even though that work was trial after trial. Test after test.

While staying in shape, both physically and mentally, there must have been times of temptation to ease up. All his work could not have brought happiness some days. But Smith was willing to meet his trials and tests to be a star and for the joy of having a crown of victory.

We need to do the same spiritually. Count it all joy when you meet various trials. Meet every test as an opportunity to grow in steadfastness so that eventually you and I will lack in nothing, the result being the crown of life - the crown of spiritual joy, spiritual victory, spiritual royalty - awarded to us.

Today’s closing song zeroes in on the call to be joyful. Not happy, but joyful, even in times of various trials. I is the hymn I’ll Follow With Rejoicing. We will sing the first  three  verses.

The future lies unseen ahead,
It holds I know not what;
But still I know I need not dread,
For Jesus fails me not.
I’ll follow Him with rejoicing,
With rejoicing, rejoicing;
I know He safely will lead me
To my eternal home.

Does He not know what I shall meet
Upon life’s rugged way?
Will He not guide my halting feet,
Lest from the path I stray.
I’ll follow Him with rejoicing,
with rejoicing, rejoicing;
I know He safely will lead me
To my eternal home.

No matter how things look to me,
Nor if they threaten sore,
I know my way prepared shall be,
For Christ leads on before.
I’ll follow Him with rejoicing,
with rejoicing, rejoicing;
I know He safely will lead me
To my eternal home.

Next Sunday, another message from James 1. More of what James wrote about how to respond to trials.

For now, let’s count it all joy when meeting various trials. That is a whole lot easier said than done, but let’s work on that. Let’s allow God to help us work on it, knowing the wonderful rewards, which are steadfastness and receiving the crown of life - the crown of joy, victory, and royalty. All those wonderful spiritual gifts. Amen.

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