Let's look at verse 1, "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ". James was not always a servant of God. James was the half-brother of Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph. If your brother was the son of God, you would think James would have deep reverence for him and worship the ground he walked. However, John 7:5 says "For even his own brothers did not believe in him." James wanted Jesus to 'show himself' to the world. He encouraged him to be a public figure. He wanted to ride the coat tails of Jesus' popularity. Essentially, he wanted Jesus to be his servant. What makes us blind to see Jesus? 2 Corinthians 4:3-4,”…The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." Our pride, lust of the world blinds us from seeing Jesus. Jesus could be right in front of us waving; still we would not recognize or believe him. The Pharisees saw him yet, did not believe him. In fact, they hated him without reason (John 15:25). His disciples saw him, yet did not believe him. We can go to church or attend Bible study, yet not know who Jesus is.
After Jesus' resurrection, he visited his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7). This encounter completely transformed James. James became a new creation. Soon after, James became a leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 21:17-18). He was changed from a man who served himself to a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. James was known as 'Camel knees' because they were hard and callous due to lengthy and fervent prayers on his knees.
Who was the audience that James wanted to address through his letter? Look at verse 1a "To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings." James wrote his letter to Christians who were facing very tough and difficult times for they were persecuted and scattered among the nations after the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1; A.D. 34). They ran for their lives and and sought refuge throughout the Roman world. However, they face discrimination, lack of opportunities, housing simply because they were Christians. The Jews considered 'deplorables' because they viewed conversion to Christianity was an act of betrayal. So the entire letter of James focuses on the trials, hardships, difficulties and disappointments that they were encountering and experiencing. What could James say to them?
First, Joy in the midst of trials
Let's look at verse 2,"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds." Let's look at the second part of the verse "whenever you fact trials of many kinds…" What are trials? Simply put, trials are hardship. Trials shake your foundation, test your beliefs and hopes, it transforms you for better or for worse. The key here is to see that James says “whenever”. Not if, but when they face trials. Trials are normal. They are, sadly, part our human existence. Trials come in a multitude of ways, small and large and different degrees of pain and discomfort. Trials come because we live in a broken and dangerous place. Paul describes the creation as a mother's groan in the middle of childbirth-without an epidural (Romans 8:22) Our world is filled with natural disasters and wasting disease. All we hope in this world will eventually perish, spoil and fade away. One day, our strong bodies will sag and drag. We will go from the cradle to the grave. Trials comes from our carnal desires. Romans 1:28,29 "Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity..." In other words, we are all broken people. We make ourselves and other suffer. That’s suffering you bring on yourself from your own sin. If I spend more money than I make and now I’m in debt and going bankrupt, that’s not anyone’s fault but mine. That’s suffering because of my sin and bad decisions. Finally, God uses trials to mold you to be like Christ. Not all suffering is from sin. For some of you, singleness is like suffering. In your loneliness, you can find comfort in God. In marriage, we learn how to love and forgive. The Bible says sometimes suffering is according to the will of God. 1 Peter 1:6,7 "In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." This means God is more interested in your character than your comfort, and he's more concerned about your holiness than your happiness.
How do we normally respond during trials and adversities? We ask 'why me?' or 'What sin did I commit that this happened to me? We feel overwhelmed. For the most part, we have a very difficult time dealing with trials in our lives. We often view trials with a sense of punishment. We question, why did God allow this trial? We had a winter retreat a few years back. As we headed home, but van broke down. One of the belts within the engine snapped would not turn the engine. It was white out conditions. Another family pushed our van for about 1 hour until we reached a repair shop. During the trail, I only thought about what sin I committed that this happened.
How does James want us to respond to trials? "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters" If you suffered lost, injustice, conflict, sickness and grief or in the middle of a trial and if you heard someone say 'you are lucky you got cancer, consider it pure joy' you might be tempted to punch them in the face. James sounds insensitive. That is not what James is trying to teach. He deeply understood what they were going through.
Let’s think about the word ‘joy’. There is a big difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is “a state of well-being; a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” A definition of the word rejoices, related to the word joy, is “to feel great delight; to be glad.” 1) Happiness is a feeling and fleeting, but joy is everlasting. 2) Happiness depends on circumstances or other people, Christian fellowship. Joy is a gift from God and never dependent on the circumstances. 3) Happiness is worldly, but joy is divine. When we see God is in control and using trials for his glory, we can be joyful. Recently we had a few trials, we had a gas leak, then our pipe busted, we got audited by the IRS. I was not happy because each problem would be very costly. At the same time, I was joyful remembering Jesus who died on the cross for me. My small discomforts are no comparison to my salvation in Christ. Why should we be joyful in the midst of trials? This brings me to my second point.
Second, Consider God’s love in the midst of trials
James says ‘Consider’. He is saying, I understand how you are thinking, but how about consider another way. It is to get stuck in an adversity blaming on others, the system or yourself. There is a point of view we need to adopt; a particular way to consider what is going on. A good way to think about this is to consider a rose. Life's circumstances are like a rose. Abraham Lincoln once said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” You either see the beautiful, fragrant and silky pedals or you see the sharp thorns. It's up to you.
Jesus wants us to look at God instead of falling into bitterness and playing the blame game. We need to realize that trials are not joyful in and of themselves, but they are joyful when we realize they are under the authority of a sovereign God who is accomplishing His purposes through them. Romans 8:28 reads, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. “
Look at verses 3,4 “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” God is encouraging these believers to embrace trials not so much for what they are but for what God sovereignty accomplishes through them. Trials are ways he molds us to bear the image of his son.
According to verse 3, trials teach us to persevere. They put us in situations where it is not easy to keep going, and where we will only do so with a measure of determination. We love movies when people overcome insurmountable odds and trials to reach their goals. It becomes more inspirational when it is true. Tonight is the Oscars for the best picture. There is a story of a soldier who saves 75 men in the bloodiest battle of WWII. Another is a story of three women who became top notch NASA engineers overcoming racism, crossing gender lines and other barriers. There is another of an adopted boy who struggles to find his biological family in a remote part of India. After watching these movies, you are inspired to work hard and persevere. You say, If they can do it, I can do it too! They turned their trials into sweet victory. If we want to accomplish anything, we need through go through all kinds of trials. It is truly admirable for people to overcome their trials. However, the reward is often fleeting and temporal. Our goal as Christians is to be ‘mature and complete, not lacking anything.’
Third, Blessings in the midst of Trials
Last year, we studied the book Emotionally healthy spirituality. I learn many of us are emotionally unhealthy. The trials we faced in life define us. We suffer forms of PTSD. We are defined by the hurtful words from our parents, teachers and even other Christians. What is worse, we become slaves and affect every area of our life.
They are not for nothing, and they are never wasted experiences. One sign of being mature and complete, is God can use our trials to heal and bless others. Rick Warren said, "Don't waste your pain, let God heal it, recycle it, utilize it and use it to bless other people," he said. "Use your pain as a model for your message and a witness to the world. But to touch other people, you need to be honest – with God, yourself and others – and you need to be vulnerable." He said this a year after his son committed suicide.
Nick Vujicic was a broken person both physically and spiritually, but through the study of the blind man in John 9, he realized he was made for the glory of God (John 9:3). When the spirit opened his eyes and heart to this truth, he became a new creation. He had a new lease on life and God could use him has his hands and feet for the gospel-even though he had no hands and feet. His brokenness became a healing balm for those who suffered.