The Testing of Our Faith Part Two

October 7, 2018 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Faith Works

Topic: Faith Passage: James 1:9–1:18

The Testing of Our Faith Part Two

We are continuing our study of James called Faith Works so let’s turn to James 1. James is writing to Jewish believers who are experiencing suffering and trials and he opens by telling them to count it all joy when trials enter their lives. The trials aren’t a joy, but what God does in our lives through the trials should bring us joy.

Here’s what we said: 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 that’s why we should count it all joy when trials enter our lives.

Last week we saw that:

  1. The testing of our faith is a bridge to steadfastness
  2. Steadfastness is a bridge to Christian maturity
  3. Christian maturity leads us to the bridge of wisdom from God

There is one more bridge I want us to cross this morning. Wisdom from God is a bridge to right perspective. Wisdom from God helps us see things clearly, helps us perceive what’s going on accurately so that we respond to the trial in the right way. This is particularly important because trials, by their nature, do a number on our perspective. Trials have a way of distorting and disorienting our perspective which can lead us to misread what’s going on and react in a way that only makes things worse. In aviation terms we lose situational awareness. 

Aviation Operator Philip Marshall writes of a time his squadron was flying an operation in the Persian Gulf. After six hours of flying, he noticed the plane had been banking about 30 degrees for several minutes. When he asked the pilot why they were turning, the pilot responded they weren’t, they were flying wing level. No bank. But everything inside of Marshall said they were banking. He could see it. He could feel it. Then it hit him: he had vertigo. He writes: I had lost situational awareness somewhere down the line, and trying to fit reality into the mold which my senses were insisting was the truth was only worsening matters. The more he tried to reconcile reality and his perception of reality the worse things got! It took him going up front and looking at the objective instruments for the strong feeling to abate.

For Marshall the most dangerous aspect of it was that he was perceiving air traffic that was below them as level with them which means he would sound alarms that didn’t need to be sounded. And worse, he was perceiving air traffic that was level with them as being above them, which means he would’ve seen their situation as safe when in fact a mid-air crash was imminent. 

Trials can give us a type of vertigo where we lose situational awareness. We think we’re flying straight when we’re really banking. Or we think we should bank when really flying straight is the right way to go. We think it’s best to continue doing what we’re doing when the reality is we’re heading for a collision with tragedy. When we lose perspective we navigate wrong. 

James identifies three major areas where wisdom helps us keep a right perspective:

  1. A right perspective about life
  2. A right perspective about temptation
  3. A right perspective about God

Let’s cross these perspective bridges one at a time as we read this passage. Let’s begin by reading vv. 9-12

  1. A right perspective about life

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass[c] he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

One of the effects of sin is that it has given us all a bad case of vertigo. What we think is up is really down, what we think is down is really up. Things that aren’t important seem to be very important, and things that are incredibly important seem trivial. Our priorities are all messed up, but we don’t know it. Our priorities feel right. Look right. Spiritual vertigo. Trials can make this vertigo even worse. 

We’ll never correct this through our feelings. We need to look at the instrument panel of God’s objective truth, His word, the Bible. James flips our feelings-oriented perspective on its head when he says the lowly are exalted and the exalted are humiliated. The poor should take pride in their high position, the rich should boast in their low position. What’s up is down, what’s down is up. It reminds us of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit, happy are those who mourn, blessed are those who hunger and thirst… 

This makes no sense to our feelings. Until we look at the incredible brevity of life and what awaits on the other side. The objective instrument panel of God’s word tells us that no matter how much of this world’s blessings we have, it’s only for a moment and then it’s gone. James says the rich man fades away in the midst of his pursuits. No one finishes their pursuit. They just fade away. While he or she is busy doing their important things, they just fade away. And so does the importance of what he/she is doing. 

In Hiawatha, Kansas, there is an unusual memorial that draws thousands of tourists every year. In 1930 John Davis lost his wife of 30 years, Sarah and in his grief he commissioned a life size marble statue of Sarah to be erected. He was so pleased with the results that over the next 8 years he had 11 life size statues erected – of he and his wife sitting together when they were younger, of he and his wife sitting together when they are older, of an angelic Sarah kneeling at his gravesite, and of him sitting alone with a chair next to him that is engraved, “the vacant chair”. It’s a fascinating memorial. If I ever get to visit Kansas I’d really love to visit it. But a big part of its draw is its silent testimony to the brevity of life. John Davis was trying to hold onto something – his wife and the life they once shared together – that can’t be held onto. To me, these statues don’t represent a lasting tribute to their lives, they represent the futility of trying to make life last longer than the brief years we are given on this earth. 

Why should the poor boast in their high position and the rich boast in their humiliation? Because in a heartbeat, while they are in the middle of their pursuits, they will fade and their lives on this earth will be over and they will leave a vacant chair. That’s true for all of us. 

But when we cross the bridge of right perspective we see that for the person – rich or poor, lowly or exalted - who remains steadfast in trial, they receive an unfading crown of life. This vapor of a life transitions into a glorious eternal life in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you’re poor and living under the humiliation of constant hardship and trial, rejoice! And remain steadfast! This life will soon be past and you will be rewarded with glory and life. And if you’re rich and life is easy, don’t boast in that – it will be over in a heartbeat. No, humble yourself and acknowledge the futility of your riches. Don’t brag about your money or power – because your chair will soon be vacant. Brag about how empty and powerless your riches are to give you hope and life. Rejoice in your humiliation and put your hope in Christ, not your riches. 

James’ message is clear: remain steadfast in your faith in Christ and you will be crowned with everlasting life. 

  1. A right perspective about temptation

 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

The root word for “trial” can also be translated “temptation”. In verses 3-4 James talks about the trials that hit us from the outside, but now he talks about the trials that hit us from the inside – temptations. Outside trials often leads to inside temptations. Probably some of James’ readers were tempted to blame God for the bad choices they were making. “God tempted me – I couldn’t help myself.” “God allowed that trial into my life knowing that I wouldn’t have the strength and I’d give into temptation…” “God made me the way I am – it’s His fault I gave in to temptation.” James says, don’t blame God – it’s all on you. God never sets up sting operations to try to tempt us to sin so He can catch us in that sin. Never happens. God can’t be tempted by sin, and He will not tempt anyone. So where does temptation originate from? Verse 14 tells us: 

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

Temptations come from our own desires. The Greek word for “desire” carries no moral quality to it. Desires in themselves aren’t good or bad. God gave us desires for things like peace, happiness, love, security, food, water, sexual fulfillment in the commitment of marriage. These desires aren’t bad, but temptation uses these God-given desires to get us to follow those desires over lines God never meant for us to cross. 

When James uses the phrase “lured and enticed” he’s using the language of a fisherman. The goal of an angler is to hook the fish, but he knows no fish is going to bite a metal hook so he baits the hook with something the fish wants. The fisherman isn’t motivated by a desire to feed the fish, but to eat the fish. The food (or lure) is just there to hook the fish’s desires so they bite – to their own destruction!

Temptation is never about giving us what we want or need – it’s always about dangling what we want or need so that we bite – to our own destruction. That’s temptation. The hook is baited with something we desire, something that promises will make our lives better or more enjoyable or will dull the pain or make the trial easier to bear. The desire hooks our heart and drags us in a destructive direction. Verse 15 lays out that direction:

15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

When the desire for something illicit is conceived in our hearts, if we allow it to gestate, it gives birth to sin. And sin, once born, then matures into death. Temptation is a maternity ward in reverse. Instead of life being born, death is being born. Temptation uses our desires to kill us.

Eskimos have devised a cunning way to kill wolves. The Eskimo covers his knife with blood and allows it 

to freeze. Then he covers it with another layer of blood and lets that freeze. He covers it with layer after layer of frozen blood. Then he affixes the knife into the ground with the blade up.

The wolf smells the blood and begins to lick at the knife, warming the frozen blood, which causes the wolf to lick more vigorously, igniting such a craving for blood that the wolf doesn’t notice the sharp stinging in his tongue or the moment when he’s satisfying his thirst with his own warm blood. The wolf is killed by his craving. 

James reminds us that it’s not God who lays out that knife to tempt us. We know the one who sets the knife is the devil but James doesn’t mention him here. He will later, but here he focuses on our responsibility when we give in to temptation and sin. Satan has no power except to dangle our desires in front of us – we’re the one with the choice to bite or not. 

Is there an illicit desire trying to get its hooks in you? Or maybe it’s already got its hook in you. Recognize that it doesn’t want your good, it wants your destruction. Recognize the hook under that bait. The knife under the blood. Just as we need to be steadfast in the midst of outer trials happening to us, we need to be steadfast in the midst of inner trials happening in us. Remember verse 12:

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Call on God to give you power to say no to the temptation. Titus 2:12 reminds us:

[The grace of God] teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…

Right perspective about temptation is this: God doesn’t tempt us, He teaches us to say no to temptation. To stand steadfast. 

  1. A right perspective about God

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.[d] 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Vv. 16-18

This is a hinge verse linking what came before to what comes after so we’ll cover this some more, but James again calls us to have a right perspective (“do not be deceived”) about God. Everything that is good and perfect comes from God. The nature of God is love and light. God doesn’t lead us into darkness because there is no darkness in Him.

Here’s a mind boggling thought: God is infinite. Every aspect of God is infinite. There are no boundaries or edges to God. Think of an ocean that stretches on forever and forever – beyond the edge of the universe- forever. God’s attributes are infinite – we can’t imagine that, picture that, but we can accept it as true because Bible says it is. God’s thoughts and His wisdom and His justice are infinite. His creativity and intelligence are infinite. His emotions and power and love is infinite. Like an ocean that fills the universe and then goes an infinity beyond that. We can’t imagine, but try. In all this infinite ocean of who God is, there isn’t one drop of evil. Not one molecule. No shadow of evil, not the slightest passing thought or impulse of evil has ever fleeted across God’s thoughts or through His heart. There is no variation, no passing cloud, in the light of His infinite goodness and love. 

We can trust our Father – the Father of lights – to want the best and do the best for us. Oh, if we could but believe that! If we could but get that! The Tempter wants the opposite for us, even as he accuses God of having bad motives, all the while wanting to rob and kill and destroy our lives. But God our Father wants what’s best for us. It’s by His will that we have been saved and recreated as new creatures through the power of Jesus Christ. We are the firstfruits of all the redemptive good God is doing. David Platt unpacks this for us:

The picture of firstfruits carries the idea of a foretaste of that which is to come. What God has done in our lives to change our hearts by His goodness is only a preview of the day to come when He will make all things new in all creation. And the work He has done in our new birth will one day lead to a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more trials and no more temptations. In the meantime, take heart, Christian. He has saved us from our sin. And if He has saved us from our sin, then we can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that He will see us through our sorrow.

A right perspective in the midst of trials will help us know that trials are a bridge to ultimate and eternal good that God is working on our behalf. This brief life will be over and we will leave a vacant seat, but as we stand steadfast in our faith, there will be another seat waiting for us: a seat at the marriage feast of the Lamb, as we begin an eternity of joy. God is good.

Are you in a trial? In danger of losing situational awareness? Making decisions over and over again that make things worse? Remember, God’s purpose for trials is to take us to something better. Bridge to better.

  1. Remember the brevity of this life and the eternal life that awaits us as we remain steadfast in Christ
  2. Know that God isn’t tempting you to sin. Sin is a baited hook that wants your destruction, not your good.
  3. Your heavenly Father is 100% good and you can trust Him. Trust Him in that situation right now and ask Him, “what would You have me do? How would you have me respond?” 

Let’s ask God for His grace to help us have a right perspective in the trials that come our way. 

 

 

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