Sermon Text: James 1:2-12
Date: May 28 & 29, 2016
The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
James 1:2–12 (EHV)
2 Consider it complete joy, my brothers, whenever you fall into various kinds of trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces patient endurance. 4 And let patient endurance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
5 If any one of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives it to all without reservation and without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, without doubting, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 In fact, that person should not expect that he will receive anything from the Lord. 8 He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
9 Let the brother of humble circumstances boast in his high position, 10 and the rich one in his humble position, because he will pass away like a flower of the grass. 11 Indeed, the sun rises with burning heat and dries up the grass. Its blossom falls off, and its beauty perishes. In the same way also, the rich person will wither away in his busy pursuits.
12 Blessed is the man who endures a trial patiently, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God promised to those who love him.
The Results of Trial Are Blessing
1. Trust in what God has promised
2. Prioritization of what is important
“Why is this happening?” Have you ever wondered that as you embark on some trouble or as the walls of your otherwise safe and comfortable world start to crumble around you? Each of us has had different experiences. We’ve had ups; we’ve had downs. Our struggles and trials might look very different. For one it might be very public; for another, internal. But one thing remains true: because of sin in this world, we all face problems. Sometimes those problems are utterly exhausting and feel completely meaningless.
The apostle James has words of encouragement and direction for those darker, more troubling times in our lives, whether they are a bad afternoon at work, or months of hardship: no matter what it may seem like at the time, the results of trial are actually blessing. Why? Because those trials allow us our trust in God’s promises to grow and allows us to reprioritize what is truly important in our lives.
James is writing to Christians who were facing a lot of problems. His letter is written perhaps the earliest of all the letters in the New Testament, and it’s written to Christians in and around the city of Jerusalem. Christianity, from the start, was unpopular with its Jewish contemporaries. The vitriol and fear that the Jewish leaders showed to Jesus was immediately and forcefully heaped up on his followers following his resurrection and ascension.
That should not have come as a surprise. Jesus himself warned his disciples before he died, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me first” (John 15:18). But if you know that someone is going to punch you in the stomach at 3 in the afternoon, it doesn’t make that hurt any less. So, too, as the very early Christians faced isolation after being cut off from the families, friends, and broader communities, as they faced persecution and even potential arrest and death for their faith in Jesus, as they face what seems to be severe poverty, perhaps having many means of income cut off from them, they undoubtedly wondered, “Why?” And James wastes no time in getting to the point. Our lesson for this morning starts just one verse into his letter: Consider it complete joy, my brothers, whenever you fall into various kinds of trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces patient endurance. 4 And let patient endurance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
We would say that, under normal circumstances, trials and hardships are anything but “complete joy,” yet James gives us the reason why we can rejoice in hardships: because they produce resilience and reliance on God, patient endurance. I had a member say often in South Dakota to never, ever pray for patience because you’re not going to like how God gives it to you. And there’s some truth in that, isn’t there? Think back to the times that produced patience. What were they? The child begins to learn patience as she watches the calendar just waiting for a birthday or Christmas to show up where there might be presents. The engaged couple anxiously waits for the wedding date that seems like it will never come. The one who is sick has sleepless nights waiting for the test results to come in. While some are certainly easier than others, none of them are fun in the moment.
In the midst of trial, we often think God has forgotten about us, is punishing us, or even hates us. We think that he’s not able or willing to help us. We think that this will end in our disaster. We think that we have to solve this on our own because he’s not going to do anything for us. And, interestingly enough, the more we think like that, the bigger the problems seem to become. Why? Because God uses these hardships to teach and train us.
But you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will, in fact, work good from that hardship. It may be difficult to trust that in the midst of disaster, but it remains his firm and true promise. How can you know that? Because he’s promised it. And just like Jesus had the power to keep his promise to the centurion that his servant would be healed, even without Jesus ever coming into the house, God can make good from disaster, or better from good. He demonstrates that most clearly when we look at the state we were in when we were born. We were born sinful, vengeful, rebellious creatures, warring against God. And what did God do? He sent his Son to pay for our sins—just like he promised. And now, God has taken a situation that meant hell and changed it to mean eternal life in the perfection of heaven. If God is able to do that with our eternal problems, is he not also able to do that with our temporary problems?
But what about our temporary good times? What about the times where things are going great and we’re on top of the world? What about the times when there are no pressing worries or concerns? What are we tempted to do then? What do we do then? So often, we let God slip out of our minds. We ride the good times for all they’re worth. We start to depend on the good things—be it money, family, success in school or work, or whatever the situation may be—and we forget about God, who is really bringing the good things into our lives. At those times, James has the opposite warning for us. Just like we should not doubt in bad times that God is able to and will work good from it, so too in the good times, we need to not lose focus on what is truly good. He says, “Let the brother of humble circumstances boast in his high position, 10 and the rich one in his humble position, because he will pass away like a flower of the grass. 11 Indeed, the sun rises with burning heat and dries up the grass. Its blossom falls off, and its beauty perishes. In the same way also, the rich person will wither away in his busy pursuits.”
Everything good in this life will come to an end, and if we make those things our priorities, our good times will come to an abrupt end as well. If money, as is implied here with the rich man, becomes our focus, our god, it will prove a fickle and powerless deity. If entertainment—movies, sports, or anything else—becomes our god, we will grow disappointed and restless. If we let the good times in this life overshadow the life that Jesus has won for us, we put our souls in jeopardy.
Instead of valuing those things too greatly, put them in their proper place. Instead of losing confidence when things are bad, hold God to his promises. James says, “Blessed is the man who endures a trial patiently, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God promised to those who love him.”
We might be tested with a flood of terrible things. We might be tested with a flood of wonderful things. But that testing only serves to bring blessing and remind us of what our Savior has done for us. When things are bad with temporary things, you have eternal life; when things are good with temporary things, you still have eternal life. That is a promise and a gift that does not change, that no one can take away from you, and that will remain our focus and priority no matter whether this temporary life is up or down.
Hold fast to the promises of God. Trust that your sins are forgiven and heaven belongs to you. Know that no matter what happens in this life, God is working it all for your eternal good. Rejoice that his love works all that good, forever! Amen.