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Consider These Trials Joy Brothers! James 1:1-4

Last week we began our study of the book of James. We mainly considered the words, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”.

We considered that James was an unbeliever for many years despite the goodness of God’s providential blessings in his life. For example, James was the son of Joseph and Mary who are described in scripture as righteous, just, devout and God-fearing people. Then there is the fact that James grew up in the same house as Jesus his half-brother.

However, a miracle happened to James after Jesus’ resurrection when the effectual call of God overcame his unbelief, his pride, his doubts and his spiritual deadness and James was born-again. Instead of continuing to resist Jesus James became a bond-slave of God and Jesus Christ.

It is not an insignificant or trivial thing to be ‘a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ’. These words are significant and should not be overlooked. James could have started this letter by saying,

  • James, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

  • James, a pillar in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

  • James, an elder and pastor in the church at Jerusalem.”

All of those statements were true and they would carry a great deal of significance; however, James describes himself as ‘a servant of God and the LORD Jesus Christ’. This is one of the most significant descriptions a Christian can have because a servant of the Lord has a lofty and noble calling.

We may think of a ‘slave’ or a ‘bond servant’, and think it to be a lowly and undesirable calling. We may think of the term ‘slave’ and we may want to free ourselves from this if given the opportunity. Especially if conditions in our life get to difficult or if we are are asked to obey the LORD under difficult conditions. But a servant of God is to receive God’s grace and remain steadfast during times of testings and trials because we know that God is perfecting, completing and maturing His servant through these things (1:2-4). Therefore this can even be done with joy!

A servant of God will not seek to break free from the bonds that tie them to the LORD. On the contrary, a servant is very bold and determined to accomplish their Masters will. James is a good example of this. James is determined to obey his Master and this might be because he was an elder, a pastor, an apostle, and a ‘pillar in the church’; but the foundation of this determination in James can be traced back to the fact that he was a faithful servant of the LORD.

Application: Are you lacking this whole-heart dedication in your Christian life? If this is the case, perhaps you should ask yourself if you are living as a servant of the LORD and striving to obey the LORD. If we are double-minded we are unstable. If we are trying to serve two masters we will love one and hate the other. But if we are single-minded in our devotion to the LORD we will be dedicated and faithful stewards for the LORD.

Now let us continue to consider James 1:1-4 which states, James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

For just a moment let us consider the words, “To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.” Most commentators believe that the original recipients of this letter were Jewish Christians because throughout this letter there are references to things that Jewish believers would understand but Gentile Christians might not. For example, the recipients of this letter met in the synagogue (2:2), these assemblies had elders (5:14), They understood the attributes of God and that He is immutably holy (1:13-15), He is One (2:19), and He is the Lawgiver and Judge (4:4). Because of these things most commentators interpret James 1:1 literally and believe that this letter was written to Jewish Christians who were scattered among the nations where they were exposed to many trials and tribulations.

If this is the case, I have often thought about how Jews had always expected that when the Messiah came He would defeat their enemies and usher in a new peaceful and prosperous rule in Israel. Even after Jesus’ resurrection one of the things that His disciples asked was, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) The disciples longed for the day when Israel would experience unparalleled peace and prosperity.

The Messiah had come and instead of experiencing unparalleled peace and prosperity we see that His disciples would soon have to endure suffering through trials, tribulations and temptations. Christopher Morgan points this out in his commentary on James, “James led the Jerusalem Church at a time when the city was tense with rising Jewish nationalism, political unrest, and Roman occupation. Jewish Christians were likely taking flack from the Romans on one side and Jewish loyalists on the other...they were caught in the middle, trying to relate to and evangelize Jews and yet support and defend the Gentile mission.” Because of these things James writes this letter to instruct these Christians about how they are to endure suffering which now is used by God to produce our sanctification.

Therefore, when James says in our text, “...for you know that the testing of your faith produces ssteadfastness”, he is speaking to these Jews about a uniquely Christian theology that they are to know, accept, and continually remember when they face trials. When someone is saved everything changes and they desperately need of know God’s Word, His will, His ways, His workings, and His wisdom. That is the summary of James 1 (1:5-8, 17, 21) Steadfastness and joy in trials is only possible when we believe the right truths, theology, doctrines, godly wisdom.

Application: We often try to adopt theologies that eliminate suffering in this life. Our carnal mind is quick to believe these things but when we read the Word of God it becomes clear that Christians will suffer and yet they can still have joy by ‘knowing’ and believing the right things.

A couple weeks ago a member of our congregation confessed to me that early in his Christian life he disliked the book of James because of how it started. It made him ‘mad’ that James would tell him that he was to be joyful in the face of prolonged trials. I think that many of us understand exactly what this man was expressing.

My perspective was challenged about these things this week when I read the opening words of the book of Zephaniah. Zephaniah’s words, which were written to the Jews of his day, make James’ words seem tame, docile, meek and mild. Zephaniah says, “‘I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,’ declares the LORD. I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,’ declares the LORD. I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all its inhabitants of Jerusalem…”. (1:2-4a)

Zephaniah is writing this way because God’s people ‘have turned back from following the LORD, who do not seek the LORD or inquire of Him.’ (1:6) Therefore, Zephaniah writes so strongly so that the humble in the land would seek the LORD, obey His commandments, seek righteousness, and seek humility and be saved (2:4)

Similarly, James has reasons for beginning his letter this way. One of the reasons James starts his letter this way is to show that Christians can obey God even as they experience trials, troubles, temptations and tribulations. A Christian cannot say, “I will focus on my spiritual life when all these other things subtle down.” On the contrary, a Christian says, “I will seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be used to help make me perfect, complete and lacking in nothing.

Like the people in Zephaniah’s day we too need to seek the LORD and inquire of Him (James 1:5-8). We also need to humble ourselves, seek the Lord, obey His commands, seek righteousness, and humility as those who have been saved through Christ.

Let me give you two reasons why I think James begins this letter by addressing these things. First, consider the fact that James 1:1 ends with the word, ‘Greetings’. This word may seem insignificant but the Vines Expository Dictionary says that this word always carries with it the thought of joy and cheer. It is a word that speaks of rejoicing and gladdness. This word is contrasted to the weeping, gloom, melancholy and the sorrow that many of the recipients of this letter may have been experiencing because of the trials they were encountering. This ‘Greetings’ appears to set the tone for the coming exhortation in vv. 2-4.

I have been married for almost three decades and I have learned that when I get home from work the first few words I speak will set the tone for the rest of the evening. If I am joyful and happy my family will be more apt to follow my lead. If I am grumpy and negative my family may tend to reflect these things. Therefore, I like the fact that James sets the tone of this letter with this greeting of joy, gladness, and cheer.

Like every other Christian James had to endure trials, bear up under difficulties, and remain steadfast in the face of temptations. Therefore, James sets an example for all Christians, if even in such a subtle way, when he greets these believers with joy, cheer, and gladness. James can do this because he is walking by the Spirit and is experiencing the fruit of the Spirit which is available to every believer in any circumstance (Galatians 5:22-25, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”)

James probably knows that the recipients of this letter (both then and now) may not receive his joyful and cheerful greeting because of the trials that they are experiencing. They may discount his words as something that they cannot participate in because of the trials they are experiencing.

Let me ask you a question, “If they discount this greeting at the beginning of James 1:1 then how will they respond to the rest of this letter?

Let’s now consider the second reason why I think James begins with these words. When James speaks this way he is speaking in a uniquely Christian way. Before James was converted he would not have believed these things and written this way. To our natural, carnal and fleshly mind we may say that James’ exhortation here is minimizing the trial that we are going through. We may say, “Who does James think he is to make such a bold statement about being joyful during these things? If he knew my situation he would know that what he is saying does not apply to me!” We might say to James...

  • James, my spouse abandoned me!

  • James, my doctor gave me a terrible diagnosis!

  • James, I lost my job!

  • James, my family is not believers!

  • James, I am drowning in debt and I am poor and needy!

  • James, my life is falling apart in every way imaginable!

  • James, ______________________________________!

We must ask ourselves, “How can James say these things and what would make the statements that he makes true for me and my situation?

To answer this question we must go back to the beginning and consider how we were created and what the Fall did to all of us and what Christ has done to reverse the effects of the Fall in our lives.

Before the Fall Adam’s disposition was quite different than how it was after his sin.

  • Before the Fall Adam was spiritually alive and his conscience was always mindful of God and his desire was to obey Him.

  • Adam’s disposition was inclined to know the will of God and to be guided by the wisdom of God in every area of life.

  • Adam and Eve responded from the heart according to God’s wisdom and lived according to God’s Word, His commands, His promises, His truth.

  • By knowing God’s will and submitting to His wisdom Adam and Eve were happy, joyful, at peace and content.

All this continued until that fateful day when Satan came and tempted Adam and Eve with a lie. The LBC speaks of this with these sober words, “God created humanity upright and perfect. He gave them a righteous law that would have led to life if they had kept it but threatened death if they broke it. Yet they did not remain for long in this position of honor.”. (6.1)

Satan tempted Adam to turn away from the truth and wisdom of God by twisting God’s word and Adam failed to stop this from happening by believing all that God had said was true. When Adam did this everything that had been a reality before the Fall was reversed.

Prior to the Fall Adam was guided by God’s wisdom and his will was submitted to the wisdom of God and this brought him great joy. However, after the Fall everyone who would be born would be disposed to experience the opposite of this.

  • Since the Fall every person has been inclined to allow this world to dominate their thoughts and priorities and they are no longer conscious of the Kingdom of God.

  • Since the fall people are motivated by their fallen affections and desires which have displacing the wisdom of God.

  • Since the fall we no longer seek to know God’s wisdom, but instead we now conform our will to our sinful desires, sinful passions, and the sinful affections which have become our top priority. (Titus 3:3- For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.)

  • Since the fall man now lives according to worldly wisdom and he uses it to justify his sinful desires and actions. (James 1:14-14; 4:1-4) Instead of submitting to God’s wisdom he trusts in and defend worldly wisdom which James says is worldly, unspiritual, and demonic (James 3:15).

  • Therefore, we will see next week that a Christian will realize that we lack God’s wisdom and we will be compelled to ask God for it. (James 1:5)

Having given some background concerning these things isn’t it easier to understand why James is speaking the way that he is?

James is not speaking according to our fallen nature but he is speaking to Christians who have a new nature through Christ.

  • Believers are to no longer allow their affections and feelings to sit in the drivers seat. Instead Christians are living according to God’s wisdom.

  • Believers are to submit their wills to God’s wisdom and serving God by obeying Him in all things under any circumstances.

  • Then Christians can experience joy because they know God’s wisdom and submit to it in all things and they are being made perfect, complete and lacking in nothing.

  • Therefore James says, “Count (consider, calculate) it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James is speaking to ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ who are to no longer to live as the rest of this fallen world does. Believers are not to seek to gain this world as if the Kingdom of God does not exist. Instead a believer is to seek God’s kingdom and they are to live as exiles, pilgrims and sojourners. Believers are no longer to be primarily driven by their feelings and their sinful affections and desires. Rather, they are to know the wisdom of God, to do His will according to the wisdom of God, and this will produce joy and bring them to maturity.

Illustration: Growing up I had many youth pastors but I only remember the name of one of them and his name was Dave Norris. I remember Dave because he talked to me like an adult when none of the others did. When I knew Dave I was still very immature but he talked to me like the man he wanted me to become.

James is doing the same thing in this letter that Dave Norris did with me. James speaks to believers according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. He speaks to us with biblical wisdom. In wisdom James tells us to count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds because we through Christ we now live according to wisdom and what we know to be true. This can bring us joy despite our circumstances because as we remain steadfast in the faith God uses this process to perfect, complete and see to it that we lack nothing.

My friends, let us spend no more time listening to worldly wisdom that speaks to our flesh of earthly, unspiritual and demonic things (3:15); instead, let us gladly receive the wisdom of which James speaks who speaks to spiritual people concerning spiritual things that brings us great joy. James’ words may seem so strange to us now but by the time we get to the end of this letter this will be the wisdom we have come to know as true and the wisdom we live by.


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