This morning we continue our study of trials in James, chapter 1.
Last time, we said that a trial can be defined as “trouble, or something that breaks the pattern of peace, comfort, joy and happiness in someone’s life.”
James calls us to a radical view of trials – “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”
For some of us waking up and having to step outside into a windchill of -16 to go to church is a trial.
You meet a trial when your beloved newborn comes home and reveals to us that he has colic and is going to shriek like a rabbit in the grip of a hawk night after night. You meet a trial when you are a week into marriage and realize that you both are far more selfish and that marriage is far more difficult than you had ever dreamed.
For the readers of James, the trials they experienced included being shunned by their religious families for their commitment to Christ. Or being mocked and persecuted by the Romans for their commitment to worshipping God alone. Their trials included fleeing their homes as refugees to escape persecution and starting from scratch in a new city.
James sought to strengthen those early believers and motivate them to keep moving forward through their trials. The first reason he gives for the good to be found in trials is the maturity they produce.
He gives us the formula: ME + TRIALS + ENDURANCE = MATURITY. The key ingredient in that formula is endurance. Maturity only comes through endurance.
“Afflictions make the heart more deep, more experimental, more knowing and profound, and so, more able to hold, to contain, and beat more.”
– John Bunyan
If we value maturity and growth, if we desire to be more like Christ, we can meet trials with joy.
“I am afraid that all the grace that I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable. . . In shunning a trial we are seeking to avoid a blessing.”
– Charles Spurgeon
Today we will find another reason to endure with joy in the midst of trials. Let’s read James 1:12-18.
The thesis of this passage is that we should remain faithful under trials. We should not quit, but should keep going and keep doing the right thing. Three reasons are given to motivate our faithfulness:
- Remain faithful under trial because trials come with temptations.
- Remain faithful under trial because faithfulness will be rewarded.
- Remain faithful under trial because God is good even when we are not.
First, we should remain faithful under trial because trials come with temptations.
The couple who is experiencing conflict in marriage may experience the temptation of a flirtatious co-worker.
The person experiencing the trial of financial hardship may experience the temptation of fudging numbers on a tax return for a bigger refund.
The person experiencing anxiety and stress may find temptation in images on a screen which promise escape.
The first century Christian threatened by a hostile government experienced the temptation of renouncing Christ for the sake of peace and security.
We all experience the temptation to abandon our faith in moments of deep pain and suffering.
Trials bring temptations and we need to be reminded to do stay alert and focus on the next right thing under trial.
The burden of trials creates an environment ripe for temptation – when we are
We should be on the alert for the allure of temptation. Blessed is the one who is steadfast under trial. To be steadfast under trial is to do the right thing, even when it is hard. It is do the loving thing even when it is costly. It is to make the right choice, even when it hurts.
How do we find the motivation to do that? It’s much easier said than done, isn’t it.
James tells us that the one who remains steadfast under trial is blessed, because they will receive a reward.
Second, remain faithful under trial because faithfulness will be rewarded.
The one who has stood the test will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. What is the crown of life?
There are two words for crown in the NT – diadem and stephanos. Diadem is a royal crown. Stephanos is a victor’s crown. The crown of life is a victor’s crown – the laurel wreath given to the champions in the ancient Olympic games. The one who is faithful through trials will receive a crown of victory.
What does that look like? Is it a trophy, like the Lombardi, given to the one who overcomes the others in a contest?
The crown of life isn’t a trophy given to the one who beats out others, it is a finisher’s medal. It is like the medal handed out to those who cross the finish line of a Tough Mudder or a marathon. It is a symbol of victory over hardship and obstacles. It’s a victory won over the self and the grueling demands of the course.
What makes a person want to run 26.2 miles? What makes someone want to crawl through muddy fields soaked in cow manure? It’s the finish line. It is the satisfaction of achievement. The Tough Mudder’s medal is a symbol of strength and sacrifice, of courage and companionship. It’s a reminder of a hard course conquered through endurance. It’s the realization of fulfilled potential.
James is calling us to a finish line and the promise of the finisher’s crown.
The Bible invites us to strive for the honor of a crown, to imitate the discipline and the fight of the athlete. The only difference is that our crown is better.
“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.”
1 Corinthians 9:25
Sometimes we have trouble with the concept of reward as Christians. Shouldn’t we be faithful out of obedience and reverence? Shouldn’t we do the right thing simply because it’s right?
Yes, but if we take the NT seriously, we will see more than that.
In the gospels, Jesus tells the persecuted to “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven . . .” (Matthew 4:12)
Peter promises elders that “when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:4)
John writes in Revelation the words of Jesus – “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” (Revelations 2:10)
It’s in the gospels. It’s in James, Peter, Paul and John. There is a reward waiting at the finish line for those who will remain faithful. This is a right, good and necessary motivation for those who want to cross that line in the end.
But what if we fail? What if we have already failed?
Finally, James tells us
Third, remain faithful under trial because God is good even when we are not.
Verses 12 and 13 are simple, they are not easy, but the message is straightforward. The language starting in the next verse is not as straightforward.
James is anticipating a challenge that we have in trials and temptations, the challenge of the character of God. When we meet a profound trial that causes great pain we are tempted to doubt the character of God. And when we lose trust in the character of God, it is impossible to remain faithful.
So James teaches us about the nature of temptation.
First he tells us where it does not come from. No should say “I am being tempted by God” because God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one.
God cannot be tempted with evil. He is holy and he is perfectly happy in his fulness. God needs no good thing, He is the source of all good things.
In his holiness and happiness, God has no desire to bring sin into the world. He has no desire to bring any sin or evil into your life. It’s not his character, it’s not who he is.
So where does temptation come from?
The answer is in verse 14 – “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” The source of evil in this world is the human heart.
We are capable of tremendous good and beauty as human beings. At the same time we are capable of horrendous evil and corruption. Pascal referred to humanity as the scum and glory of the universe. James Baldwin saw doom and glory mingled together in the human soul.
God has no desire to tempt you or to bring corruption into his good creation. But in each of our hearts is the presence of desire which is ripe for temptation.
James uses two pictures to explain the process of temptation. First he describes a fishing analogy: temptation happens when we are lured and dragged away (the literal sense in the Greek) by our own desire.
Temptation comes to a man like it did to my friend, who saw a link to a pornographic website and bit on the bait, the promise of pleasure. What he did not see was the hook underneath the surface. The moment he bit, he yielded himself to a power greater than his own. In a matter of hours, he was brought to his supervisor’s office and fired from his job. He endured an agonizing drive home to tell his wife why there wouldn’t be a paycheck next month.
The second picture, in verse 15, is that of conception and birth. When the will bites on the lure of desire, desire conceives and gives birth to sin and sin grows up to bring death. My friend’s own heart became a bringer of death to his life.
Some of us are one bite away from death. Some of us have already taken a bite.
What do we do then?
There is great hope in verse 18. “Of his own will, God brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.”
Why is a Christian a Christian? Is our faith or our faithfulness that makes us a Christian? If we stumble in our faith and faithfulness, does that mean we are not Christian?
The answer to that questions is in the key phrase – “of his own will.” Why is a Christian a Christian? Because it was God’s will.
he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
He has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
2 Timothy 1:9
The source of your salvation is not in you. It is in the will of God. The gracious, generous, merciful will of God.
Do you remember the story of Peter, the one Jesus called to follow him? Do you remember how he fared in his trial? He was unfaithful. He denied Christ three times. It was a low, low moment.
But Jesus wasn’t surprised by Peter’s unfaithfulness. In fact, he had already warned Peter that he was going to fail. “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me.” And what did Jesus say next, “I have prayed for you.” And when you return from your failure, strengthen your brothers.
Jesus knew exactly who he was calling when he choose Peter. He knew exactly who he was calling when he knew you.
It isn’t your faith or faithfulness, it’s the will of God that is the foundation of your life.
When you fail to remain faithful under trial, what should you do?
You should remember the gracious will of God that chose you, knowing all of your faults and failures. You should turn back to him once again in repentance and faith. And you should get up and do the next right thing.
That’s what my friend did. He told his wife everything. He confessed it all to trusted brothers. He repented and turned once again to His Savior. He did the next right thing. His marriage is intact, his kids love and respect him and he is a faithful leader in his church.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown