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Worship Message - "Responding to Trials, Part II"

Responding to Trials, Part II
James Message #2

We are on a journey this summer through the New Testament Book of James. A book - a letter written by James to Christians and non-Christians alike - that is called by some the proverbs of the New Testament. Sayings - teachings - that can guide us how to live in five categories of life - the categories of the need to wait on the Lord, how to handle interpersonal conflict, the importance of taming the tongue, how to live out the Christian faith, and how to respond to trials.
It is the category of how to respond to trials that we considered last Sunday. It is the category we will think about today as we continue to consider what James wrote in chapter 1.

To refresh our memories from last week, James taught in chapter 1 that we are t0 count it all joy when we meet various trials.

As discussed, that is a whole lot easier to preach than it is to do, but when we meet any kind of problem, we are to have 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.
We are to see every test as an opportunity to grow in steadfastness so that eventually you and I will be spiritually perfect, spiritually complete, lacking in nothing - that we will be strong enough for any task God gives us to do, that we will shed old sins and gain new characteristics that are pleasing to God so we can, day by day, live more victoriously.
The result being the crown of life - the crown of spiritual joy, spiritual victory, spiritual royalty - being awarded to us.

That is what we discussed last Sunday about responding to trials. A discussion that will continue today, this time beginning with verses 19 through 21 of James 1, where some very practical bits of advice are found. Advice about how to accomplish part of what was just summarized. Specifically, how to respond properly when various trials come from other people.

Verse 19. “Know  this,  my  beloved  brethren…” James wrote this to those who, like him, believed in Jesus as Savior. “Know this. Let every man [this applies to women, too, and to boys and girls, so let everyone] be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

The slow to speak phrase is perhaps the easiest of the three for me because, especially in times of conflict, it is like my mind shuts down, making it impossible for me to think of much of anything to say. An hour later, or the next day or so, I can sometimes come up with responses. Quick, sharp ones that would be worthy of award, except by then they are too late to have much effect.

I will admit it is usually frustrating when I cannot match others in verbal sparring. However, I think my slow mind is actually, at least at times, a blessing from God. A blessing that sometimes keeps situations from getting out of control. A blessing that keeps me from saying things I would later regret.

But even if my mind did work quickly, the teaching would still be for me - for us - to be slow to speak.

The teaching is not to never speak, even in conflict. There are times when a quick correction or retort is the right thing to give. But be slow to speak. In other words, think through what is to be said. In the context of the chapter, think through what you say when going through various trials. Think it through before you speak to those who are causing the problems.

And do not just think. Be quick to hear. Listen when you are in various trials.

I was at a meeting a few weeks ago. One fact shared was this, which applies to this discussion of James 1. The fact - I do not recall the exact numbers, so I guess I was not quick enough in my listening, but the numbers are close. We can speak about 180 words per minute, but our minds can comprehend 480 words per minute.

Do you get the problem? Our brains can handle words faster than anyone can give them to us. The problem? I find I have this problem, too, from time to time. Do you, too, from time to time? Your mind is on something else when someone is talking to you. For me, I think I am usually still on topic, but I sometimes find myself thinking about how I am going to respond to what the other person is saying or what the next topic of conversation should be, doing that instead of listening as closely as I should.

Of course, that leads to another problem I sometimes have, which is forgetting what I was going to say when it comes my turn to speak. That, too, is frustrating.

But all that tells me that listening just might be an act of will. It is not easy to listen, but it can be done. We - I, anyway - need to work on that. I need to make it a goal to be quick to hear and slow to speak.
Have you heard the anatomical explanation of that? God gave us two ears, but only one mouth, so that we might listen more and speak less.
The result? Maybe being slow to anger.

By the way, the teaching to be slow to speak is found not only in the Book of James. It is found in the Old Testament Book Proverbs as well.

For instance, Proverbs 10:19. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
Proverbs 13:3. “He who guards his lips guards his life. He who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”
Proverbs 17:28. “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”
Proverbs 29:20. “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

“Know this, my beloved brethren. Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Why? Verse 20. “For the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.”

“Therefore” James continues in verse 21, “first of all, put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness.”

How can we be quick to hear and slow to speak and slow to anger” Put away - strip away - as in take off - get rid of anything and everything - that soils us spiritually.

Including filthiness. Which, by the way - I read this interesting explanation - in a medical sense, refers to wax in the ears. Wax that, if not put away, can cause a loss of hearing. That means filthiness refers to anything that keeps a person from hearing the true word of God.

Put that away. Also put away - cut away - rank growth, which refers to tangled undergrowth that can trip a person.

In the context of James 1, put away anything that might keep us from listening. Anything that might cause us to trip up and speak too quickly. Anything that would cause anger to flare up.

Put away all that so you can “receive the implanted word.” The word of God He is ready and willing and able to implant in us. To insert into our hearts and our minds and our emotions and our actions so our eyes can be fixed on doing His will.

That happening so much that we will obey what James wrote in verse 22. The challenge that we be “doers of the word.” Not hearers only. Not only readers of God’s word. but doing that word. Living it out.

“For if anyone is a hearer of the word only and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror. He observes himself.” He sees himself, including his flaws, but he goes away and “at once forgets what he is like,” thereby choosing to forget his flaws, thereby choosing to not change.

Do not do that, James wrote. Instead - verse 25 - “look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not a hearer that forgets, but a doer that acts.”

Perfect law. That includes the Ten Commandments found in the Old Testament - the commandments about how to treat God and how to treat others. Perfect law also includes all the teachings of Jesus about how to treat God, others, and ourselves.

Why perfect? Because all that is God’s law. Because it cannot be made better. Because it is the way - the only way - to fulfilling our God-given purpose.

The perfect law is the law of liberty. It is based on the will of God. It gives the strength needed to live above sin. The liberty of being free to please God rather than self.

“Look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere.” Do that, for those who do “shall be blessed.”

*       *       *       *       *

Wow. What a list of challenges. Count it all joy when meeting various trials, meet every test as an opportunity to grow so that eventually you and I will lack in nothing, the result being the crown of life awarded to us. We talked about that last week concerning responding to trials.
Today, be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, put away what is bad and receive the word of God, and  not only hear the word of God, but do it.

Wow. What a list of challenges. Which might make us wonder if there is any hope at all of attaining even some of those things, let alone all of them.

The answer is “yes.” They can all be met. They can be met if we have wisdom. Which James wrote about in verses 5 through 8.

James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom…” We need to understand the meaning of wisdom.

I looked that word up in my Webster’s New World Dictionary. There I found this definition. Wisdom is the power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action, that action based on knowledge, experience, and understanding.    
I looked up the word in my Compact Bible Dictionary, too. There wisdom is defined as being characterized by virtues like honesty, sobriety, and purity, all those seen in a person’s behaviors and actions.

Putting those two definitions together, wisdom is knowing what is right to do, that knowledge coming from God’s word, and then putting that knowledge into action.

Which we just talked about. Verse 22. Be not hearers only of the word of God. Also be doers of the word.

Wisdom is important. Knowing what is right to do, then putting that knowledge into action, is critical in responding correctly to various trials. But do you - do I - lack wisdom? If so - verse 5 of James 1 - “let him [or her] who lacks wisdom ask God for it.”

However, verse 6 has a warning. “Ask in faith, with no doubting.” Otherwise, the one who asks “is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”

I came across two explanations of that.

He or she who doubts is like a cork on the sea, carried close to shore, then far away from it. Back and forth and back and forth.
He or she who doubts is like a drunk staggering from side to side, doing a lot of walking, but not getting anywhere.

Two other explanations are found in verses 7 and 8. Anyone who asks with doubting is a “double-minded person.” Someone divided between belief and disbelief, both those things at war with each other inside that person. Such a person is “unstable in all his ways.” James adds that such a person “should not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord.”

Now, as I worked on this part of today’s message, it popped into my mind that there is a passage earlier in the New Testament, during the ministry of Jesus, in which someone who doubted still had his prayer answered.

The passage is in Mark 9. The center of attention, other than Jesus, is a young man who was demon-possessed, the demon often seizing him, dashing him to the ground or into fires or into water. The young man often became rigid, ground his teeth, and foamed at the mouth. All that had been going on for a number of years.

The boy’s father had earlier asked Jesus’ disciples to cast the demon out of his son. The disciples had been unable to do that. When the father saw Jesus, he asked Him to heal his son. He asked with the words, “If You can do anything, have pity on us and help us.”

Jesus answered, “If You can. Of course I can. In fact, all things are possible to [all things can be done to help] him who believes.”

Immediately the father cried out, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” Which to me indicates the father was trying to believe. He wanted to believe. However, he apparently did not have total confidence at that moment. Yet his prayer was answered. Jesus did rebuke the demon. The young man was healed.

Does that incident contradict what James wrote about the need to ask in faith, without doubting? No, it does not contradict James because the father, knowing his doubts - the father, trying to believe - asked Jesus for that belief, confident his doubts would be relieved, which they were.

My point is that there may be times for any of us when we do or will have trouble being confident in believing we will receive that for which we ask, including wisdom. I think, if nothing else, that is just part of human nature. But let’s continue to pray for belief in addition to whatever else we ask for.  

We want wisdom. We should want wisdom. We should want to be able to know and do God’s word.

To be able to have wisdom, all we need to do is ask God for it. To ask Him in faith, without doubting. To ask, being sure of God’s power. To ask, knowing of God's desire to give all good things to us. To ask, confident of His desire to give generously and without reproaching. Ask for wisdom in that way, and it will be given.

*       *       *       *       *

Count it all joy when meeting various trials. Meet every test as an opportunity to grow so that eventually you and I will lack in nothing, the result being the crown of life awarded to us.
Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Put away what is bad and receive the word of God. Not only hear the word of God - not only see the word of God - but do it.

Ask God for the wisdom needed for all this.

That is what James challenges us to do. What he challenges us to do all the time. To work on all the time. Which leads to two examples of people who did such work, one example from the Bible, the other not from the Bible.

The Biblical example is Paul in the New Testament. In Philippians 3, here is what he wrote. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul was willing to hear - to know - and then do the word of God, including on the topic of how to respond to trials, many of which he himself faced. He was willing to work on all of God’s word, doing so day in and day out, never taking time off from that task. Did that sometimes include him asking God for wisdom? Maybe. But he kept at it and kept at it, his only goal being to honor God by what he did.

We are to do the same. As Paul added, “Let those who are mature be thus minded.” May those of us who are Christians be like Paul in working to know and do the word of God. Let’s do that all the time, including on rainy days, which brings up the non-Biblical example, which is Tiger Woods.

Tiger is not the most popular golfer. That has always been the case. It is especially the case now. His career and his personal life have been going bad for some time. After having had the #1 world ranking in golf for a very long time, he is now 181st in the rankings. And last weekend on Saturday he shot an 85 - 13 over par for the day - which is the highest one-day score in his professional career. The eventual result was Tiger finishing the tournament in last place, the first time for that in his career.

Tiger has fallen on bad times the last few years, but for a while, he was on top of the world. I remember an ad that featured him back then. Actually, I don’t remember what was being advertised, so I guess it wasn’t a very effective ad, or maybe I was again not listening as carefully as I ought, but the ad said Tiger only practiced on good days. The ad then showed Tiger practicing in a horribly-heavy rain storm. The punch line was that all days are good days, meaning Tiger never stopped working at perfecting his game.

Neither are we to stop working spiritually. May we not be double-minded. May we not doubt. May we be confident when asking God for the wisdom needed to not only hear, but also do God’s word. Including what God had James write about how to respond to trials.

*       *       *       *       *

When looking for a closing song for today, none seemed better than the one we sang last Sunday, which is I’ll Follow With Rejoicing. So let’s sing it again today, again the first three verses. As we sing, let’s again concentrate on the call to be joyful, even in times of various trials. Let’s be willing to ask God for the wisdom needed to be joyful. To do that and everything else He teaches us, including to not only hear, but also do, His word.

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, the first of two messages from James 2 on the topic of how to live out our Christian faith.

For now, one more time let’s remember what James wrote about responding to trials. Count it all joy when meeting various trials. Meet every test as an opportunity to grow, so that eventually you and I will lack in nothing, the result being the crown of life awarded to us.
To help make all that possible, let’s be quick to hear and slow to speak, slow to anger. Let’s put away what is bad and receive the word of God. May we not only hear the word of God, but go beyond that to doing the word of God. As needed, let’s ask God for the wisdom required for all this.


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