Category: Conflict


. . . in Him you have been made complete . . . (Col. 2:10)

This statement comes in the context of Paul’s encouragement to the Colossians regarding Christ’s triumph on the cross. In the role of our Savior, Jesus was crucified and, in that act, the justice of God was satisfied and the demands of the Law were met. Our sins were paid for, our souls were redeemed, and we no longer live under the condemnation of God.

The fact that Christ represented us, the apostle explains, means that we gain the benefits that He secured. Every charge pending against us was nullified and every need was met in Christ. His atonement was perfect; consequently, there is nothing lacking, nothing to be added, and nothing to be modified. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the definitive declaration from God that the Son’s sacrifice was accepted and all those on whose behalf the sacrifice was made were eternally secure.

This is our position before God today—no guilt, no fear, no debt, no judgment. We are free in the purest and most magnificent sense of the word. We are free to live in peace, we are free to enjoy what we have been given, we are free to rejoice in God and express our gladness to Him. We are free to sing and praise and pray. We are free to set aside every concern we once had about winning God’s favor. We are free to be who we are in Christ and pay no attention to what others may want us to be. We are free to follow the Word and ignore man-made rules and regulations, and we are free to live in hope of that coming day when we will join our wonderful Savior in heaven.

All of this is what Christ has provided. This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “in Him you have been made complete.” We pay Christ a great honor when we live out our days as a free, sanctified, and confident people. If there is any area in your life in which you are in bondage to the dictates of man, you may cast off those shackles at this very moment in the name of your Savior. If there is any aspect of your life in which fear of condemnation is present, you may reclaim it right now in the name of your Deliverer.

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May God richly bless the hurting in Charleston. May His peace be upon you in abundance. May His strength be your stay and His shadow your refuge. May His Word be your hope and His Spirit your Comforter.

As I have come to understand the nature of the gospel more completely over the years, one of the aspects that inspires, excites, humbles, and encourages me most is found in the depiction of the Body of Christ given in the Book of the Revelation. In the fifth chapter, there is a description of the Church of the Savior that is breathtaking and comforting, especially during these days of unrest. I often remind myself that this is what the people of God look like from heaven’s perspective. This is what I preach for, pray for, and long for. This is what should be in our hearts and this is what we should strive for in our personal lives and ministries.

All travelers, one final destination. All people, one supernatural Kingdom. All races, one shed blood. All sinners, one glorious Savior.

Rev. 5:6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Churches may, indeed, soon face more vicious forms of government sanctioned persecution in this country. This is not something new, nor should it surprise us. (Matt. 5:10-12; John 15:20-23) Let us be sure of one thing, however: the Church of Jesus Christ, over which He is Head (Eph. 1:18-23), will never cease to exist on the earth. (1 Cor. 15:22-28) The people of God do not have to have buildings and public meetings to carry on the work of the gospel, which is the one unique and glorious thing about this message– it does not deal only with external behavior, but is the power of God to penetrate to the very soul and no opposition, seen or unseen, will ever succeed in stopping it. (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12, 13) You can forbid people to meet and you can destroy our buildings and you can threaten us all you want, but the gospel will continue to be applied to the human race according to the sovereign decree of God and then it will be over–and not a millisecond before God has done whatsoever He pleases with this world. (2 Pet. 3:3-10) Rave on God-haters. He who sits in the heavens is laughing at you. (Psa. 2:1-4) You are only storing up wrath for that great Day. (Rom. 2:5-8)

No topic in the book of Proverbs more clearly illustrates the way of God and the way of fallen man, or the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness, better than the subject of the tongue. The Proverbs address the incredibly diverse effects that can be accomplished with our speech. The tongue can bring life or it can bring death. It can cheer or it can cause despair. It can guide or it can mislead. It can bless or it can curse. It can honor God or it can be the instrument of blasphemy. Due to the tongue’s potential for both good and evil, it receives some of Solomon’s most precise analysis.

You don’t have to live too many years before you learn first-hand about the potential for good and the potential for harm that resides in our tongues. Generally speaking, we are so very careless with our words. Some of our most bitter memories are not of being struck by another person, but of being spoken to or spoken of harshly by another person. Most of us can recall episodes when we felt crushed by the words of another, or when we felt the keenest sense of betrayal due to words spoken by another. Set against these experiences are those times when someone has spoken kindly to us or about us and that has brought us satisfaction. And we all have known the comfort that comes from words of encouragement and support during a time of trial.

Our words are the most effective weapon we possess for destruction and the most effective means we possess for building up. The difference between these two extremes is the words we choose to utter and the manner in which we choose to utter them.

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise. (Pro. 10:19)

This is a verse that serves as one of the foundational principles when it comes to understanding the Biblical doctrine of language, in general, and the use of the tongue, in particular. Solomon doesn’t say what we might expect him to say. He doesn’t say “when there are many bad or hurtful or hasty or negative words, transgression is unavoidable, he simply writes that when there are “many words,” transgression is unavoidable. This should tell us something about communication immediately; it should tell us that much talk tends to result in a negative outcome. Our words, when they are prolonged, tend to degenerate in character and that means that transgression is always a potential product.

Because of our fallen natures, if we speak a lot, we are going to sin. This is a simple formula that Solomon sets before us. Consequently, the second half of this verse makes complete sense: “but he who restrains his lips is wise.” If, because of our sin natures, much talk is likely to produce transgression, then the person who wants to please the LORD and not cause offense with words will be the person who governs the tongue. Much talk leads to sin, so less talk eliminates the opportunity for sin.

Let’s consider some of the vocabulary Solomon uses in this verse. First, there is the word “transgression” (pesha). What exactly does Solomon mean when he says that when there are many words, transgression is unavoidable? This term is a basic Hebrew word meaning “trespass” or “sin.” There’s no mystery here. Solomon says that many words lead to sin—that is, the violation of some aspect of God’s Word. In fact, you’ll notice, he says that sin is unavoidable when we speak many words. The phrase Solomon uses refers to something that cannot be stopped, something that must occur given a set of circumstances. In this case, sin is that which cannot be stopped or that which must occur when this circumstance—many words—is present.

Solomon sets before us the opposite of speaking many words: “but he who restrains his lips is wise.” Here, the word translated “restrains” (chasak), of course, is significant. This term means “to spare, to keep back, to withhold, to hinder, to hold in check.” This notion is clear enough. This word describes an act of self-discipline or self-control by which the words that are spoken are few and do not, therefore, lead to transgression.

Solomon teaches that the preferred alternative to the use of many words is the use of controlled speech. If speech is controlled, and we’re talking about quantity as well as quality, we are less likely to commit a sin with our tongue. Therefore, since avoiding anything that violates God’s will is a chief mark of a wise man, Solomon pronounces that man who governs his mouth as “wise.”

This is, once again, a foundational verse because it deals with words, in general, not just “bad” words or inflammatory words. This text warns us that if we talk too much, we are going to sin—and I would point out that Solomon says nothing about our motives or our sense of justification for speaking many words. He flatly warns us that if we talk a lot, we are going to sin and he says that this outcome is unavoidable. Only a fool will hear what Solomon says in this verse and think he is immune or think he can still talk much about people or circumstances without falling into sin. If we take this verse seriously, we should be people of measured speech; we should be people who are known for their reserve when it comes to talking.

In terms of a practical response to this teaching, I would say be aware of the tremendous power of language. We need to give attention to this aspect of how God has made us. We are made in such a way that words have deep and lasting impacts on us. We cannot control how others use words, but we can control how we use them. And in recognizing the power of the tongue, determine that you will use it in a God-honoring manner. Discipline yourself to speak responsibly and in a controlled fashion. Make it your goal to build up others by your words—not through false flattery, but through words that edify.

“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” (Obama at this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast)

Sadly, I suspect that many Christians will see this and not realize what a distortion of truth it represents. Facts are essential so that we maintain an honest perspective on reality and, therefore, have the ability to analyze current events properly. Misrepresentation of the facts of history is a critical component in controlling contemporary opinion. Look for increasing examples illustrating deceptive rewrites of the history of the Crusades. This is only the beginning of efforts to remake Christianity in the image of radical Islam.

 

The issue of self-control is much more extensive than we might think initially. We normally think of self-control in conjunction with anger. Typically, we consider a person who is easily angered to be a person with a lack of self-control. But the topic of self-control takes us to the heart of one of the main themes in Scripture, which is our sanctification.

The process of sanctification is largely about self-control or about learning to think, speak, and act according to God’s principles rather than according to what comes “naturally,” which is some manifestation of our fallen natures. Self-control, then, has to do with subjecting our fallen natures—our sinful impulses—to the Word of God.

 

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city. (Pro. 16:32)

The importance of this issue is clearly established in this single verse in which we find Solomon’s opinion regarding self-control or self-rule. Note the extreme comparisons he draws. One who is “slow to anger” is compared to “the mighty” and one who “rules his spirit” is compared to “he who captures a city.”

Initially, we would assume there would be no beneficial comparison to be made between a man who is slow to anger and those labeled “mighty.” The word Solomon uses is gibbor, which refers to a man of great strength or a man of great courage. This word conveys the sense of the heroic, the kind of person legends are made of, the kind of person who accomplishes seemingly impossible feats and faces dangers and threats that would make most others tremble. But Solomon says that the man who is slow to anger is better than such a man. He does not simply say that a man who is slow to anger is like a mighty man or similar in constitution to the mighty man; he says that a man who is slow to anger is superior to the man of great strength or the man of great courage.

Who do we admire most—the person who controls his anger or the person who demonstrates unusual strength and bravery? Who should we admire most? The first question is answered by what we observe in this world and the second question is answered by the Word of God. A man who rules his spirit is considered of better character and is considered a better man than he who captures a city.

Implied here is insight regarding the nature of man. If control of our initial impulses is defined as a good thing, then that must mean that those initial impulses are bad things; and that tells us something, therefore, about ourselves. It tells us that we are, by nature, given to reactions and responses that are negative in character. So this verse reflects the Bible’s teaching concerning the nature of fallen man.

Additional Verses

A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated. (14:17 )

Solomon says that a man who is “quick-tempered acts foolishly.” Notice that this description is the opposite of the man in 16:32 who is described as “slow to anger.” There you’ll recall, Solomon uses a word that refers to having patience. Here, two words are used that are translated “quick-tempered” and one of them (qatser) refers to a lack of patience.

This is interesting. In just two verses, we’ve discovered that patience (or the lack thereof) is one of the core elements of self-control. This implies that one of the keys to self-discipline is learning to be patient with circumstances and people. And patience is one of the hallmarks of spiritual maturity in the Scriptures. This is true, I think, because patience implies trust in God and contentment with what He has ordained.

A man of great anger will bear the penalty, for if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again. (19:19)

Briefly, this verse speaks of habitual lack of self-control. There is a danger in failing to exercise self-discipline. The danger is that your impulsiveness, which is nothing more than an immediate expression of your fallen nature, becomes your pattern of conduct. You will rarely find a man who loses his temper in a significant way only once in a while. Normally, if a man is easily provoked by circumstances or words, you’ll find that he is frequently provoked by circumstances or words.

Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel. (20:3)

Solomon sets before us two kinds of behavior, two kinds of people, two descriptions of character. Self-control may manifest itself in avoiding a circumstance, not simply in reacting patiently to a circumstance. That’s the idea in this verse. If he can avoid it, a wise man will not put himself in a position where there is likely to be strife. This phrase takes us in yet another direction in our understanding of self-control. Here the notion of discernment comes into play.

When a man avoids strife, Solomon teaches, he has done an honorable thing. How different this is from the way we operate so often! We sometimes think that we must enter into strife in order to make our point and so that we make sure our opinion is heard. Our natural tendency is to create strife, not avoid it.

Practical Responses

I would offer three short suggestions:

One, make sure you understand how fundamentally important this issue is. As I tried to make clear, self-control deals with the very heart of who we are, how we think and behave; self-control is self-discipline and that is what we are concerned with when we think of our sanctification. This is not just a matter of controlling our tempers, it is a matter of determining that by which our lives will be characterized.

Two, understand that self-control, as fundamentally important as it is, begins with our temper or our handling of those natural impulses that rise up in us in response to circumstances. Yes, there is much to the topic of self-discipline because it is such an essential aspect of our existence, but it begins with simple, everyday situations in which we have opportunities to give way to expressions of our fallen natures or subdue them for God’s glory.

Three, every person, from children to adults, has room to improve in this matter of self-control. Don’t think that because you don’t lose your temper often that you have no problem with self-control. Self-discipline touches many aspects of our lives. There are obvious examples where self-control is needed, and then there are some not-so-obvious examples where self-control is needed. Some examples are seen by many people, and some examples are known only to you and God. Therefore, meditate on these proverbs, memorize them, pray that God will cause the characteristics commended in the proverbs to be true of you.

Understanding Our Trials

James 1:2-18 (part 2)

Introduction

I noted in the last sermon that this letter is addressed to Jewish believers who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire and who were, in some cases, facing severe trials. James is writing to Jews who had believed in Jesus as their Messiah. It appears that these people were formerly associated with the Church in Jerusalem but were forced to flee when persecution broke out following the death of Stephen.

REVIEW

The first section of this epistle has to do with gaining a Biblical perspective on our trials. We covered only the first point made by James, which is concerned with gaining a proper (or Biblical) understanding of our trials. I want to take a couple of minutes to review his teaching, which is found in vv. 2-4:

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Most of us understand from experience that trials interrupt the normal routine of life and can shatter our confidence and disturb our comfort. Trials cause anxiety, sleeplessness, distraction, and even prevent us from being productive. Knowing, as we do, how trials can affect us, we wondered how James could say what he does in v. 2. How could he expect these believers to maintain a joyful countenance when they were being persecuted and when they were seeing friends and loved ones abused, and when they knew that returning home was an impossibility?

The answer comes in the next verse: “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (v. 3) It is knowledge or understanding of the nature of trials that permits the believer to face them and remain joyful. Perspective is the key, as it is in so many areas of our Christian experience. James tells his readers to be joyful and he tells them how they can be joyful: “know that your trial—the testing of your faith—has a design and the design is your endurance or perseverance in the faith.”

Knowing that trials actually purify faith, James adds: “Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (v. 4) Trials come to us periodically to advance our maturity with the goal of a whole and fully developed faith at some point in the future. Trials, therefore, are beneficial. As God’s people, we should interpret our hardships as grounded in His love and purposes for us.

END OF REVIEW

  1. The Purpose of Our Trials (vv. 5-11)

5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

This second point is taught in vv. 5-8 with an illustration following in vv. 9-11. The key to understanding these verses is remembering the context. James is talking about trials and is addressing Christians presently facing displacement and persecution. Following this passage, the same general topic continues as he explains the difference between trials and temptations.

Verses 5-11, therefore, must be interpreted as having to do with this prevailing theme. When James writes “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God…,” he still is thinking in reference to the trials being experienced by these believers. Most interpret vv. 5 ff. apart from the context. But, if taken in context, the “wisdom” promised must have something to do with the trials we endure. It seems clear, then, that v. 5 is written as instruction regarding the particular trials that believers experience.

This passage, nevertheless, has frequently been wrongly interpreted and applied. We have to discern how these verses fit into the overall context of the topic of trials, which is being explained by James. He is saying that if you do not understand why a trial has come upon you, you should pray and ask God for the wisdom to respond honorably and perhaps even discern the purpose. God will give wisdom to the believer who is being tested so that he might better understand particular trials and, therefore, benefit from them more quickly and endure them more gladly.

I look at v. 5 as a marvelous promise from God. James instructs his readers to pray to God and ask for understanding of their trials so that they will be able to see the goal that is being accomplished by their suffering. And this exhortation is accompanied by the promise: “let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

God does not desire to hide from you His purpose in testing you. The purpose of a trial, remember, is the refinement of your faith. How can you be strengthened and caused to grow if you don’t even understand what God is doing or why He is doing it, at least in a general fashion?

Having discernment regarding our trials is a tremendously comforting gift from God. Having discernment helps us fight against despair and it helps us maintain hope since we know God is working in us and there will be an end to the hardship. When we can see the end for which a trial has come, when we can understand what it is about our faith that needs refinement, then we can be thankful for trials, as James taught in the previous section.

Nevertheless, as I said before, I’m convinced that very few Christians avail themselves of this promise in God’s Word. We pray, but we pray incompletely; we pray for God to sustain us, which is proper, of course, but we sometimes don’t go beyond that and seek understanding. We tell ourselves that we must accept whatever comes and in this way, which is certainly true, but we have given a promise and should not hesitate to take advantage of God’s willingness to grant us insight.

We must remember, especially during our trials, that God is a Being with purposes. And He has revealed Himself to be a God of compassion and a God whose nature makes it impossible for Him to treat us in an unrighteous manner. We must keep in mind these facts about God’s nature when we are confronted by trials that He has appointed for us. We should readily seek to understand why He has appointed our times of testing.

Notice the important qualifier added by James: “But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” (v. 6) It does you no good, in other words, to ask God for wisdom regarding your trials if you don’t really believe He will give you that wisdom.

James says that you must ask “in faith,” that is, in the belief that God will do what is promised in v. 5. If you do not ask “in faith,” James warns, you are going to be tossed about like the surf of the sea. He means that you will be unsettled by your circumstances far more than is necessary. You will experience about and that will increase your anxiety and all of this is traceable to a lack of wisdom regarding how God leads us as His children.

James describes such a man. He should expect nothing from the Lord because he is “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (vv. 7, 8) The word translated “double-minded” means just that—“having two minds.” And the term rendered “unstable” means “restless” or “fickle.” Without faith in God’s willingness to give wisdom, as James describes in v. 5, the man who is passing through a trial is going to be most uneasy. His double-mindedness only ends up adding to the severity of his trial, which only makes matters worse for him and those around him.

Now I must pause for a moment and admit that I do not believe nor expect you to believe that our testings in this life are always easy and that all we have to do is praying everything will be just fine. And as I speak about how to respond to the trials that God ordains for us, I do not mean to discount the harsh aspects of what we must face. And this is not what James is teaching.

He is teaching that there is a measure of discernment that God can provide for His people when they suffer. He is not teaching that there’s a formula for you to implement that will illuminate all of the unpleasant elements of the severe trial to which I referred previously. What James promises is that there is spiritual strength and insight provided by God who ordained the trial. This does not mean that our trials will be free of anxiety and it does not mean that we will simply “breeze through” any situation we happen to face in this life.

It does mean that God is able and willing to shepherd you through whatever it is He has determined is for your good and His glory so that, during those dark times, we may know for certain that God is with us and that He is working out His perfect will for us and that He has not and will not abandon us, but will bring glory to Himself through our misery. And that is knowledge that can cause us to have a measure of peace in our hearts that would otherwise not be possible without this promise from God and His willingness to keep His word.

I am sure you will remember something that the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians as his letter was coming to a close. They, too, had experienced a measure of testing as they embraced the gospel and began to organize themselves and, in particular, provide ongoing support for Paul. As a matter of fact, Paul wrote these words while imprisoned for his labors on behalf of Christ and the gospel.

While he is in the middle of a severe trial himself, the apostle urges the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always, which is an admonition that carries much significance since it was written by this servant during one of his extended trials. After encouraging joy at all times, Paul adds:

4:6 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Is this statement really different from what James writes? What is Paul’s counsel when it comes to being able to rejoice in all things? His counsel is prayer, his counsel is to seek God’s help and reveal your heart to Him. And then there is that wonderful promise, which is so similar to what James says: “and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

If God supplies that which “surpasses all comprehension,” that means that we cannot attain it without His help. We cannot rejoice in the Lord always unless we are seeking God’s grace to persevere. We cannot count it all joy, regardless of what we face in life, as James exhorts, unless we turn to God and, again, seek his grace so that we had a measure of understanding. And that understanding, that discernment, as Paul declares and as James promises, keeps us grounded and hopeful.

As I stated, what follows in vv. 9-11 is an illustration of what James has just written.

9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

James picks two extremes in the social order to illustrate the manner in which trials should be viewed and the positive results that trials accomplish. First, James speaks of “the brother of humble circumstances.” (v. 9) The word used to describe this first subject (tapeinos) literally means “not rising far above the ground.” Used figuratively, it refers to a lowly condition, a position of humility or, in some cases, a circumstance involving intense grief. Obviously, James has in mind a believer who is not wealthy, a man who, in fact, lacks most of the comforts of life. He is not necessarily destitute, but he is not far from that state.

How does that brother respond to the trials of life? How does he react to the fact that God has ordained such trying circumstances? Remembering James’ earlier command, “Consider it all joy, my brethren,” we have to conclude that James expects a man in such needy circumstances to react in the same manner as any other believer. Here, James says that this man is to “glory in his high position.” Note that language: he is to glory in his high position. How can this be?

The word “glory” here means “to boast” or “to rejoice.” How can the poor brother “boast” in his poverty? How can the poor man “rejoice” in his low estate? How can he give thanks, which is implied by the words of James, for such a life when he is tested daily by his situation? And how can such a circumstance be called a “high position,” indicating that it is a place or condition of honor? The answer is found in the previous section. He is to rejoice and find cause for giving thanks, not in spite of his suffering, but because of his suffering.

This brother knows that his testing is designed by God for his good; he knows that his trials are going to produce in him a complete faith, one that cannot be shaken by adversity. This is a great advantage to the brother of humble circumstances. He is daily being taught that having or not having is not the primary concern that should occupy his thoughts; he is daily reminded that what matters is knowing God and serving Him with all of his heart and strength. The brother of humble circumstances truly is blessed because his life is a continuing testimony to the sufficiency of God, to the willingness of God to supply his needs, and to the fact that God takes care of His own.

Being needy is a blessing, James teaches, a blessing, not a curse. It is a place of honor because the needy man must learn to rely upon his heavenly Father. The needy man cannot rely on his riches, for he has none; the needy man cannot be led away from devotion to God because he is so dependent upon God.

Notice what James says, by way of contrast, concerning the rich man. If the poor brother is to boast in his high position, then the rich man is to “glory” in his humiliation. (v. 10) Here, James offers a perspective on the trials that the rich man encounters. The rich man needs to learn the lessons that the poor man knows because trials are his life. The rich man faces all the temptations that the poor man does not face. The rich man may very well come to count on his possessions or on his ability to provide abundantly for himself. Therefore, his trials are designed to humble him, while the needy man’s trials are designed to exalt him.

The rich man must remember, James writes, that “like flowering grass he will pass away.” The grass that is one day beautiful to behold, is the next destroyed by the hot sun and scorching wind. The rich man must keep in mind that his many things will not endure any longer than he endures in this life—“so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.” Therefore, the rich man’s boast or source of glory must be in something other than his wealth. James says he should boast in the humility that he learns from being tried by the Lord. The rich man who encounters trials has much to lose, while the poor man has nothing to lose.

By citing these two examples, James illustrates how wisdom is to be found in the midst of trials. The brother of humble circumstances prays and discerns that he is, in fact, being exalted by his trials. The brother of considerable means prays and discerns that he is, in fact, being humbled by his trials. In both cases, what is caused by the trials is exactly what each man would need. The poor brother needs to be lifted up so that he does not despair; the rich brother needs to be abased so that he is not overcome by pride and a sense of self-sufficiency.

James shows how trials come to all and are needed by all. It is not just the poor man who needs to learn to trust God more and it is not just the rich man who needs to learn to trust himself less. All Christians need to learn the lessons that trials teach and James shows how there is wisdom in every trial when he cites these two extreme cases. His message is that no matter who you are, your faith needs refinement and no matter what your lot in life, you need to endure testing. No one is an exception because trials refine the heart of man before God.

We have this marvelous promise from God. He tells us to “ask in faith” for wisdom when we are undergoing a trial; He promises to give us wisdom and discernment so that we might develop at least a measure of discernment regarding our trials. We need to understand that this brings great stability to our lives.

A number of years ago, I was in the middle of some trying situation. I don’t even remember exactly what the issue was, but I do remember that I was totally absorbed in it and the trial was causing me a great amount of anguish. It was at that time that I came upon this passage in James and read it in a manner that I had never done before. I saw v. 5 and for the first time in my life, the verse made sense in context. Therefore, I did exactly what James advises and I began to pray for discernment. I asked God to give me an understanding regarding my situation. I wanted to know what outcome was intended by my trial.

One night, while I was sleeping, I woke up suddenly with a clear illustration of my trial in my head. At that very moment—and, as I recall, it was in the middle of the night—the purpose of my present trial became crystal clear. I remember thinking, “Now I understand exactly what is going on and why.” What happened was not a direct revelation of any kind, it was only God answering my prayer and allowing my mind to discern His purposes and the knowledge happened to come to my consciousness at that particular moment—no doubt because, even while I slept, my soul was greatly troubled.

I can tell you that I was so relieved, not because the trial was over, but because I understood why it was happening and I understood what was being accomplished by it. That was a definite turning point in my understanding of how to react to trials. I now pray not just for the grace to endure, but for an understanding or discernment of why the Lord has ordained the circumstance.

Matters do not always become as clear as they did in my quick illustration, but I have found that God does provide comfort, guidance, and, as it pleases Him, some discernment regarding what is transpiring. And this helps me keep in mind that what has come upon me has been appointed by God; and then all of the wonderful things that I know about God’s nature and His magnificent benevolence toward us comes into play.

When you are tested, when your faith is being refined, pray and ask God for wisdom so that you might understand what is being accomplished and pray for the grace to endure. Imagine how much better that is than sitting around wondering and fretting, which only adds to your anxiety.

Trials come to all of God’s people from God. In the illustration which James uses in vv. 9-11, we learn that trials are the great “leveler” of all men. No one escapes trials because no believer is beyond the need of refinement. When you are enduring a trial, you want to ask “Why me?” or “Why now?” Instead, James teaches that we should “consider it all joy” because our trial is for our benefit and we are not alone. Trials convince us of God’s love and His good intentions for us. Trials train us to depend on Him, regardless of our position in life.

Let’s pray.

Understanding Our Trials

James 1:2-18 (part 1)

 

Introduction

When it comes to our salvation, the means by which a person comes to have sins forgiven and inherit eternal life is identical in all ages and for all believers. The living out of that experience, however, can vary widely from person to person, place to place, and even generation to generation. I am referring to that which is not necessarily standard for all Christians and that is the path that God has ordained for His people.

 

We are all born again in the same manner, yet as our lives progress, we have experiences that God has ordained particularly for us. I’m thinking of the trials that every believer must face in life. We all come to the gospel in the same way, as I mentioned, but we do not all have the same record when it comes to our ongoing sanctification.

 

James is not so much concerned about how a person is born again as he is with how they live the life that God provides in Christ. Among the many edifying topics in this book is that of trials, by which I mean the episodes that our Heavenly Father appoints for us for our own particular good as one of His children and for His ultimate glory as we persevere by grace. This is the first major topic addressed by James as this letter begins.

 

This letter is addressed to Jewish believers who, due to persecution, were scattered throughout the Roman Empire and who were, in some cases, facing severe trials. James’ use of the phrase “to the twelve tribes” indicates his audience. He is writing to Jews who had believed in Jesus as their Messiah.

 

In vv. 2-18 of the first chapter, James talks about trials. He explains the design of our trials and writes about the purpose behind them. James also distinguishes between trials that God ordains for us and the temptations to sin that arise from within us.

 

  1. The Design of Our Trials (vv. 2-4)

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

 

How many times have you heard someone question God, even God’s existence, when passing through some difficult circumstance? People who know very little of Scripture often jump to the conclusion that they are being treated unfairly and that must be evidence that there is no benevolent God. For reasons that are grounded in our twisted and sin-corrupted fallen natures, we assume, when we are ignorant of the Bible, that, if there is a God, He would not allow such things to happen to “good” people.

 

It is true that the majority of these kinds of reactions come from people who know nothing about the gospel and, therefore, nothing about the nature of God, His purposes, or His ways. But then there is another category of people who sometimes face extremely challenging circumstances. I am referring to those who are born again, who love God and are attempting to live in an honorable fashion. How should those who are assured that they are God’s children react when they face persecution or hardship?

 

This is not a sermon on God’s sovereign rule over His creation, but we need to be reminded once in a while just what sovereignty means. If God is sovereign over all things, then He is, of course, sovereign over the little things. James is not speaking of how God raises up or puts down world leaders and entire nations; James is concerned with something much smaller in scope—and that is the course of your life.

 

Let me provide you with a simple formula: According to the teaching of Scripture, God oversees everything, including the events of our daily lives. And if God oversees all things, then all things must be serving His perfect purposes. And if all things are serving His perfect purposes, then trials must also be interpreted in that light.

 

Many Christians, nevertheless, when preparing to write about the trials of this life, would not begin by saying: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials”! By definition, trials are not pleasant experiences. Trials are times when we are pressed, times when we are strained and forced to endure extraordinary circumstances, times when we have no direct control, times when the thought of facing the next few hours or days frightens us.

 

Trials can cause us to fear, doubt, cry, worry, and lose sleep. Trials interrupt the normal routine of life and disrupt families; trials can shatter our confidence and disturb our comfort. Trials hurt; they can be emotionally costly. They can cause everything else in life to come to a grinding halt. Yet this man declares: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials!

 

James, of course, was well acquainted with trials. As a leader in the early Church, he faced much opposition and was eventually executed, perhaps by stoning, according to various sources. Therefore, whatever we conclude about James, we cannot assume he was out of touch with reality. We must conclude, I believe, that James had a different perspective on trials, not a denial of the reality of trials and difficulties, but a viewpoint informed by a source other than his own heart.

 

Remember that James is writing to people who are presently dispersed in strange places, presently suffering far from their homes. How do you tell them to rejoice even though you know they are in miserable, dangerous, and frightening circumstances? Was it realistic for James to expect these particular Christians to maintain a joyful countenance when they were being persecuted and when they were seeing friends and loved ones abused, and when they knew that returning home was an impossibility?

 

What is joyful about that? What, in that description, is cause for gladness? How can such counsel be given to people whose entire existence has been turned upside down and the cause is directly traceable to their relationship with Jesus Christ? When I think of some contemporary Christian leaders who preach a gospel of prosperity and freedom from worry, I must assume that they have either never read what the Bible says about the course of life to be expected by a Christian or they simply choose to teach something else in order to gain some personal advantage.

 

You cannot stand before people and declare to them that God only wants them to be content and happy and free from burdens and still maintain that you are a preacher of the Word. This kind of heretical instruction brings untold misery into the lives of people who, after trying diligently to follow the preacher’s instructions regarding how to gain happiness in this life, still face trials and still get sick and still lose people they love and still suffer in various ways. They are left to conclude that they simply do not have a faith that is strong enough to believe in what God really wants for them.

 

James had an understanding of the nature of trials. He knew the purpose of trials, for example. Notice what follows that first exhortation: “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (v. 3) Here is one of the keys to understanding our trials. When we know the design of our trials, we can also begin to comprehend why James speaks as he does.

 

The word translated “endurance” (hupomone) refers to a basic attitude or frame of mind, one which could be described as “patience” or “steadfastness.” In this case, James means having patience through or during a trial; the translation “endurance,” therefore, is good. Remember that James is writing to people in seriously threatening situations; yet, he tells them to be joyful and he tells them how they can be joyful: “know that your trial—the testing of your faith—has a design and the design is your endurance or perseverance in the faith.”

 

Let’s think about what James has just said for a moment. When you find yourself in the midst of some trial and it is causing you anxiety or some uneasiness, knowing that the circumstances have been designed to bring about your growth in holiness does establish a perspective for you from which to analyze, not only what you are experiencing, but also your reaction to it.

 

And, if I may, I want to emphasize that this issue of our reaction to trials is of paramount importance. If God sends trials to further our maturity in Christ, then that truth makes our attitude and our conduct during trials most significant. The perspective James gives is essential to our reaction to trials. What James provides helps us have peace of mind during our testing.

 

James teaches us that trials are not designed to destroy us, but to strengthen us. Trials are not given by God to see if He can make us fall, but are sent by God to train us to stand strong. The trials God appoints for us are training so that we become more like our Savior and leave more and more behind of our old self. Knowing that trials actually purify faith, James adds: “Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (v. 4) Trials will, in time, James assures us, make us “perfect and complete” so that we are “lacking in nothing.”

 

The idea behind those two words, “perfect and complete,” is that of a process coming to an end after it has accomplished what it was designed to accomplish. Trials come to us periodically to advance our maturity with the goal of a whole and fully developed faith at some point in the future. Considered in this light, trials are more than helpful, they are necessary. It is only through trials that this maturing process can take place.

 

The most severe trials that I have faced as a Christian have consistently left me with a greater apprehension of the faith, a greater understanding of and appreciation for God, and an improved ability to live before Him honorably. Think of one of those severe times of testing you’ve endured. Would you not say that, in the end, it was a positive influence in your faith? Would you not say that, as a result of that trial, you are more mature in Christ and better able to discern God’s leading? Some of you, I know, can look back and now realize that the tears and the anxiety and the uncertainty that you experienced in a trial actually served to produce growth in you that otherwise may never have occurred.

 

If we put together all the information that James supplies, then we can return to that first statement and understand how and why he says: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” The testing of our faith is necessary, beneficial, and completely desirable—if we truly want to advance in Christ. We are imperfect people living in this world. If we are to grow, then we must face that which causes maturity and, knowing the outcome, we can experience a sense of security and purpose even as we pass through a challenging episode.

 

I’ll close by pointing out that James refers to “various trials,” by which he means whatever kind of trial we happen to face. They can be met with joy if we keep in mind what James has declared. And, to be clear, the “joy” spoken of in this passage is not a superficial happiness that we try to manufacture from our own resources, but is a holy contentment, a divine peace that accompanies us through the valley. And that joy is grounded in the gospel and God’s intention to shape you into the image of His dear Son, the one who gave himself for us on the cross. Trials, as explained by James, therefore, are natural components of the gospel experience.

 

END OF PART 1

In Scripture, the work of redemption is described in various ways. The primary theme associated with the ministry of Christ, however, is peace. The fall of man disrupted the peace of the Garden and immediately set the human race on a course of conflict—conflict with God, of course, but also conflict with one another.

This latter issue is described by God when He confronts our first parents and the serpent. The LORD says that two lines will come forth from the woman—the line of the Deliverer and the line of the serpent. They will engage in continuing battle until the serpent’s head is crushed by the One who will be sent into the world from heaven.

From that point forward, the lack of peace is the dominant concept when man’s nature and relationship with God is discussed. Fallen man has no peace with God; fallen man has no peace with himself. The coming of the Savior, therefore, is frequently described as the arrival of peace, the cessation of conflicts, and the end of hostility throughout God’s creation. The Lord’s appearance is seen as a restoration of that harmony that once characterized God’s creation. In the Savior, fallen man is reconciled to God and enjoys peace once more.

At this time of year, we are commemorating the coming of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. Traditionally, Advent is a time for reflection upon the state of the world prior to the arrival of the Savior. This reflection is for the purpose of emphasizing the wonderful gift God supplied to us when He sent His Son to redeem us by giving Himself for us.

Please read Isaiah 11:1-10.

The Character of the One to Come

The prophet paints an incredible picture of a future time when One will appear who will have nothing less than a cosmic impact on creation. All aspects of creation are going to be influenced by His coming. Whenever this event occurs, given Isaiah’s description, things will never be the same in this world.

Isaiah speaks about the character of One to come. In the previous chapter, the prophet described this Figure with several titles. Already, therefore, we know this Deliverer will be unlike any other before Him. Isaiah, for example, refers to Him as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. These designations alone fill the mind with amazement and incredible curiosity. No one has ever walked the earth to whom these titles could be attributed. Now, in our present passage, the prophet adds even more.

A King is coming, one of the house of David—a rightful Ruler who will reign in perfection. If the source of much of the world’s turmoil is injustice and the mistreatment of one against another, then this prediction would be encouraging news, to be sure. Isaiah promises that One will arrive who will reign without fault.

God’s Spirit, he adds, will be upon this Individual. He will excel in wisdom and understanding—because He will have the wisdom of God! He also will be equipped with power and all knowledge; He will fear the LORD, meaning that He will relate to God in a proper manner.

Everything said about this Figure is encouraging and adds to the joy associated with this prediction. Regardless of how bleak things looked in Isaiah’s day, and the situation was most distressing for anyone who truly loved the LORD, this prophecy would revive the hope that righteousness would one day cover the earth, just as Isaiah declared at the beginning of this book.

The Distinctiveness of His Ministry

Note also that Isaiah speaks of the distinctiveness of the Savior’s ministry. Stating again that previous idea, the prophet says the delight of this coming Servant, that is, the thing that will bring Him the most encouragement, is “the fear of the LORD.” He will live to please God and God’s pleasure will be His greatest satisfaction. His work on this earth, therefore, will be marked first and foremost by concern for the will of God. His chief aim will be the accomplishment of God’s desire.

This dedication to the will of God means, of course, that the labor of this Servant will conform to God’s nature and God’s laws. Therefore, Isaiah declares that He will “not judge by what He sees, or decide disputes by what His ears hear.” (v. 3) Here is one of the fundamental issues in the human experience—justice. We are involved with some aspect of justice frequently. We may be the target of a wrongful act or we may be accused of a wrongful act. We may witness evil carried out against the innocent or we may be aware of a scheme to defraud.

Whatever the case, we desire justice—not the kind perverted by our fallen natures, but true justice, the kind that faithfully reflects the character of God. This Deliverer will be distinguished by His dedication to true justice. He will not be influenced by anything other than the pure Word of God. He will not be swayed by what He sees or hears. Instead, as the prophet says, “righteousness” will be the standard of His reign.

This Servant will apply the standard of God and only that standard in His ministry. As a King, indicated as this passage begins, He will instruct and decide and correct according to that which corresponds to the nature of God. It is this standard by which He will judge the poor (cf. v. 4). In true fairness, He will oversee the meek of the earth, Isaiah adds. What more can a poor man with no influence and no means to protect himself from injustice desire other than an impartial judge? What more can he hope for than a judge who is dedicated to truth and who cannot be swayed by bribes or lies or promises of reward?

This Servant of God will be the perfect Ruler! He will dispense justice that is untainted, justice that is pure. For that reason, the poor need have no fear of oppression in His day. All the meek of the earth will have in this Deliverer a source of defense; His reign will be so different from that to which they are accustomed. Now, justice is perverted and bought and manipulated. But the day is coming when these things will no longer be possible.

How will this coming King enforce His will? Will He come with a superior army? Will He subdue through sheer brute force? The prophet explains in a simple fashion how this coming One will assure true justice in His realm: “He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked.” (v. 4) With His words this King will establish His rule; with His words He will judge the people; with His words He will ensure that the poor and meek are treated fairly.

By God’s holy standard, the poor will be protected and justice will be guaranteed. For this reason, the wicked should fear, as I noted. In the day of this King, bribery and intimidation will be of no use whatsoever. One will sit in judgment who cannot be influenced except by God’s perfect law. That is the dread of all evil men. If they face an immovable standard of truth and justice, they are doomed.

The Legacy of the Servant

Naturally, such a King is going to create a legacy. He will affect the domain over which He presides. Isaiah gives us some insight regarding what will happen to the world when this Servant comes. He describes a fundamental change in the nature of what we know as those who are born here, live here, and die here. The influence of this Champion of Righteousness will not be limited to talk, but will bear fruit in the lives of those who follow Him; this, in turn, will affect the surroundings where those who follow Him dwell.

The prophet uses some striking images in his description: “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together . . .” (v. 6) In this sin-corrupted world, wolves eat lambs, leopards eat goats, and lions feast on fattened calves. These descriptions, therefore, are meant to indicate a change at the most fundamental level.

These phrases speak of the removal of hostility between God’s creatures. A reversal of the nature of this world will be affected by the coming of the Savior. This is a typical way in which the Bible instructs us concerning the coming of Christ. His presence marks the end of sin’s reign over God’s creation and the beginning of the reestablishment of harmony.

Moreover, Isaiah says that “a little child shall lead them.” Again, I think he is referring to a fundamental change so that innocence prevails while evil subsides. Isaiah adds additional descriptions in vv. 7 and 8 that are in line with this picture of peace on the earth and the turning back of the aggression that came as a result of the fall of man.

This portion of the prophecy concludes with a wonderful, all-encompassing declaration regarding the result of the Savior’s coming. In v. 9, after another statement describing the harmony that will be realized in that day, the text states that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Here you get the impression of a world-wide phenomenon. We saw before that the “weapon” this coming Savior will use is the Word of God. Now we are told that this Word will eventually cover the earth.

Isaiah’s prophecy is being fulfilled as the gospel is preached and God calls His people from every time and every land. Jesus Christ, as Isaiah adds in v. 10, stands now as a signal to the nations. And as the resurrected Jesus taught His disciples in the Great Commission, He is gradually covering the earth with that glorious gospel.

Imperishable

From Pastor Bordwine

 

“I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish;

and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”

(John 10:28)

Recently, a woman relayed to me the sad story of how her marriage had ended. She had been with her husband for 30 years when, without warning, he announced that he wanted a divorce. This woman was astonished, of course, because, as she said, she had assumed that this relationship would continue until death. She admitted, therefore, that she had taken her marriage for granted because it had endured for so long.

I would not find fault with this woman for the assumption she made regarding her marriage. From her perspective, she had every reason to feel secure. The woman had no way of predicting what her husband was going to do. This story illustrates a miserable truth regarding this life: Even our most cherished relationships are vulnerable.

There is one wonderful exception, however, and that is our relationship with Christ. Our union with Christ is forever. This fallen environment cannot weaken or destroy our salvation. This makes our relationship with the Savior all the more precious and a source of tremendous confidence and peace.

There one basic element in our relationship with Christ that makes it indestructible. The truth is that God chose us, we did not choose Him. He established our relationship with His Son. We were incapable of establishing such a relationship. This means that the attributes of God are responsible for safeguarding our union. God’s unequaled power, for example, protects us from all assaults. Unless there is a power somewhere in creation that is greater, we can rest assured that we are eternally secure.

The nature of our salvation, therefore, should be of great encouragement as we live out our days on the earth. We need never doubt our everlasting redemption. We have no reason to question the end of our spiritual journey. We will arrive in heaven just as surely as if we were already there. We should also be fully convinced of our safety as we seek to live as servants of Christ. We do not have to worry about being overcome by the adversary regardless of how ferocious he may sound.

Living in the context of our relationship with Christ offers all of these advantages and more. When we face obstacles or encounter hostility as we learn and do the will of God, we should remember that all obstacles, all hostility, and all threats have already been met by our Savior and they have been defeated.

The next time you find yourself struggling with some aspect of your Christian life or the next time you face hostility due to your Christian convictions, return to the truth of your safety in Christ. There you will find courage to face what may be a frightening situation. There you will find strength to rise up and try again. And there you will find God’s wisdom that will enlighten you and guide you so that you might glorify the Father and the Son.

And by all means, hide these words of the Savior in your heart and believe them and rejoice in them:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:29-30)

Our union with Jesus Christ is imperishable. Glory to God!