The Testing of Our Faith
Topic: Faith Passage: James 1:1–1:9
The Testing of Our Faith
This morning we begin a journey through the book of James. If you have your Bibles please turn with me to James chapter 1. When I was 16 years old, I got a call one day from a leader in the I Found It Campaign, and I don’t know how he got my name but he asked if I’d be interested in being a regional coordinator for the I Found It Youth Campaign. I was flattered that he asked and accepted the responsibility. Then I went on to do absolutely nothing. Every week he’d call and ask if I could attend a strategy meeting that would help me to know ways I could advance the campaign in our area and I would tell him I couldn’t attend (in my defense I wasn’t driving yet and my folks weren’t going to drive me into NYC to go to a meeting). I took the title regional coordinator but I never “coordinated” anything.
The book of James is concerned with those who accept the title “Christian” but never do anything that would mark their lives as a Christian. Christian faith can’t be something on the inside that never manifests itself on the outside. I’ve titled this series “Faith Works” because I think James’ message is faith that is genuine will lead to action in our lives. Paul declares that we are saved by faith, not works. James says, “yes, but that faith, if it’s genuine, will inevitably produce works. Faith that has no works (no effect on and in our lives) is dead.” Genuine faith will lead to action. And this is a letter full of action: there are 54 commands to do something - imperatives – that challenge us not to settle for being a Christian in name only. Let’s start by reading the first 4 verses.
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Vv. 2-4
The James who wrote this letter is almost certainly Jesus’ half brother and he’s writing to Jewish believers who were scattered to different regions by the persecution recorded in Acts 8. After greeting them, he jumps right into the first of those 54 imperatives: count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds…This letter is written to believers who have experienced suffering and sadness and separation from their homes and loved ones. James says when you fall into trials of many kinds, do this: count it all joy – that’s what living faith looks like.
Trials come into our lives in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some trials are big, some are small. Some trials go on for a long time, others are over quickly. Trials come in degrees from mildly annoying to devastating. Having 5000 runners blocking you from getting to church – that’s a trial. Mild trial, but a trial. When your car breaks down, that’s a trial. When you lose your job, that’s a trial. When you get sick, or someone slanders you, or you lose a loved one, your plumbing springs a leak in the middle of the night, these are all various trials. And various trials aren’t limited to the things that happen to us – they also include the things that happen inside us. The Greek word for trial is peira and it can also be translated “temptation”. So trials are those hard things that come at us from the outside and trials are those temptations that come at us from the inside. James uses it here in both senses. In vv. 2-4 he’s talking about the outer trials that hit our lives from the outside, and in verses 13-15 he will talk about the temptations that hit our lives from the inside. This morning we’re going to focus on the outer trials that enter our lives and next week look at the inner trials – called temptations – that we fight with. But James wants us to understand trials as something we face pretty much every day on some level.
James says, “when you face trials – and you will - count it all joy…” That seems like crazy because by definition trials aren’t things we typically enjoy, much less find joy in. It’s important that we are careful with how we understand this verse or we can do a lot of damage to ourselves or others. James isn’t saying we’re supposed to enjoy the trial or that the trial itself is a good thing. Many trials aren’t good, they’re very bad. He’s not saying that trials won’t break our hearts sometimes because they can. When someone we know is going through a heart-wrenching trial, we don’t want to misuse this verse by telling them to just count it all joy.
When Jesus arrived at Bethany after Lazarus died, he didn’t flippantly tell them, “count it all joy Martha and Mary. God is about to do something great here so rejoice!” God was about to do something great there. Jesus was going to raise Lazarus in just a few minutes. But when Jesus saw the pain and grief they were experiencing over the loss of their brother and his good friend, he wept. Sometimes we need to weep with friends when they’re going through a trial. Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to weep over the trial going on in our life. James isn’t denying there can be honest pain and grief in the trial.
The joy doesn’t come from the trial. The joy comes from knowing that God uses trials to accomplish something good in us. The trial may not be good, but God’s sovereign purpose for allowing the trial into our lives is good. Paraphrasing John Maxwell, some people see trials as a tunnel and others see trials as a bridge. The difference is whether we’re going through something or going to something. Do we see that trial as a tunnel (going through) or a bridge (going to)? James says that the trials God allows in our lives are bridges to something good and because of that we should count it all joy.
- The testing of our faith is a bridge to steadfastness
…for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (vs. 3)
A lot of times we want God to work on our circumstances, when God wants to work on our character. The testing of our faith builds a ruggedness, a toughness into our character. Our faith roots grow deep, we don’t wither at the first sign of heat. We become steadfast, we gain endurance, we have staying power. There’s no easy way to get there – no bridge called “easy” that takes us to toughness.
If you want to be a Navy Seal, you have to first go through what they call “Hell Week”. For five days they live on four hours of sleep a day, crawl for hours through the mud, swim dozens of miles in rough surf in full gear, tie complicated knots underwater, run, paddle boats, it never stops. 70% of the recruits drop out before the end of the week. If you don’t have what it takes, you ring a brass bell that says, “I quit”. Why do they push these guys to the very limits of endurance? Because we grow stronger by enduring hard things. No one ever grew strong by sleeping late, eating ice cream Sundaes, and watching TV.
And yes, God does want us to be tough. God doesn’t want His children to be emotionally fragile, easily broken, quick to give up, quick to throw in the towel. Steadfastness keeps us going when things get rough. Endurance keeps us moving ahead when everything inside of us wants to ring the bell and quit. Going through trials (of all shapes and sizes) teaches us to trust in God’s sovereignty, to depend on God’s faithfulness, to lean on God’s love in ways that nothing else can do.
So God allows trials of all shapes and sizes to enter our lives – not break our faith, but to strengthen it. The testing of our faith is a bridge to steadfastness.
- Steadfastness is a bridge to Christian maturity
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
God’s work is about forming our character to be more like Jesus’. We won’t be perfectly like Jesus until we see him face to face, but we can perfect in the sense of perfect for where we are in life. A three year old can’t do the things an 18 year old can do, but he or she can be perfect for where a three year old should be at. Christian maturity is a product of steadfastness over a period of time.
When we first become Christians, we are baby Christians. Immature. I cringe when I look back on things I did and said. I remember an Easter Sunday when I led worship at Lamb’s Chapel and just one week earlier a couple in the church had tragically lost their two year old son. Instead of acknowledging the painful trial we had encountered, and leading us in songs that acknowledged Christ’s resurrection victory in a gentle, comforting way, I led that poor, emotionally battered congregation in one victory song after another. Thankfully, the couple who had lost their son weren’t there. I wasn’t trying to be insensitive, I just was insensitive. Maturity being worked into us takes time and experience and learning and making mistakes and falling and getting back up again.
Bible study and meditation teaches us about God, trials can massage those truths into who we are so that we become more like God. More like Christ. Steadfastness is a bridge to perfect maturity.
- Maturity leads us to the bridge of wisdom from God
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. Vv. 5-8
James talks about trials in vv. 2-4 and comes back to the subject of trials in vs. 13, but in between he encourages us to ask God for wisdom cause trials have a unique way of revealing our need for wisdom. Trials never happen in a vacuum. When trials enter our lives usually so do a lot of decisions and choices. You lose your job, you now have some serious choices to make. You find out your spouse cheated on you, and you have to agonize through your response. There’s a mass on your lung and your doctor gives you three options to consider. Someone is spreading lies about you at work, and it demands a response. But how would God have you respond?
Trials bring heat and pressure in the form of anger, fear, discouragement, confusion and these things
can drive us to make terrible decisions that just make things worse. We need wisdom. Various trials means wisdom will look different. Sometimes wisdom will call for:
Trials require responses but they also can produce a fog like state of confusion that makes it hard to know what the best thing – what the right thing – is to do. We need wisdom! James says, we should ask God for it. And I love how James dispels this idea that God is a stingy, fault-finding God who’s just looking for an excuse to say “no”. God is a generous and eager to answer God who doesn’t hold our faults against us. This is about the character of God. Asking in faith means we are confident in the goodness of God. God’s generosity and love has been so powerfully displayed that we should never, ever doubt it. He who did not spare His Son but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also with Him give us all good things? God is poised to give and give generously and eagerly. So come confidently to God and ask for wisdom.
But it’s important to God that we ask in faith. We don’t need to earn His answer. We don’t need to clean up our act or clean up our messes before we ask. God doesn’t reproach us or find fault with us. He is happy, eager, generous to give us what we ask for. But we need to ask with faith. Faith is being confident that God is good and generous.
When James tells us not to doubt, he’s not talking about the struggle we all have at times with doubt. Who of us hasn’t been like the father who said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” James is talking about a deep and settled doubt that we allow to become a part of our thinking about God. He compares the doubting soul to a ship being tossed to and fro by raging seas. Douglas Moo writes:
Like the surface of the sea, never having the same appearance from moment to moment, shifting and moving according to the direction and strength of the wind, the divided person has no fixed beliefs and direction. Having no ‘anchor for the soul’ (Heb. 6: 19), such people are a prey to every shifting wind of doctrine and contrary storm of opposition and persecution, and their loyalty to God is constantly threatened. They do not possess that unwavering confidence in God, uninfluenced by adversity and diverse opinions, that receives from the Lord what is asked.
It’s the opposite of steadfastness – it’s shifting, changing, sometimes up, sometimes down. We know James isn’t talking about a brief struggle with doubt because he uses a word that’s found nowhere else in Greek literature, a word he might have made up. The word we translate double minded literally means double-souled. It’s talking about a deep division in the very soul of a person. John Bunyon aptly calls him, “Mr. Facing-both-ways”.
- God may answer/but He may not
- I know God is good/but maybe He won’t be good to me
- God’s way is best/Maybe my way will be better
Doubt turns us into Mr. and Ms. Facing-both-ways. God didn’t design us to look in two directions at once.
The antidote to the double soul is to fix our gaze on Christ and convince our soul of his goodness, his faithfulness, generosity, love, mercy, patience, forgiveness, acceptance. Our faith isn’t built on whether we deserve answers from God. Don’t turn your faith on yourself (have I been good enough, faithful enough, wise enough to merit God’s answer to this prayer?). Faith isn’t about you or me, it’s about God. Doubt slanders God’s character. God isn’t finding fault and trying to find ways to deny being generous. He’s like a pitcher of grace leaning and ready to pour and pour and pour. God is so good! So generous! He gave us His Son, He laid His heart on the altar of His generous love for us – we need never doubt not even for a minute that He will give us all that we need. Don’t focus your faith on yourself, focus it on God, ask, and believe. (Call band up)
Faith isn’t us doing for Christ, it’s strong confidence in what Christ has done for us. Faith isn’t about how strong my grip on Christ is, but how strong his grip on me is. Maturity deepens our knowledge of God’s generous and loving nature and empowers us to pray and live boldly.
If there’s a trial you’re facing now, you don’t have to pretend it’s a good thing. But know that it’s a bridge God is using to take you to something good. Find joy in that knowledge. And find joy knowing that Jesus is with you every step of the way. He will never leave you or forsake you. Find joy in that assurance. He will hold you fast.