"How To Handle Your Trials"
Mililani Community ChurchPastor Rick Bartosik
December 28, 1997
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT: James was the earliest N.T. book, written sometime between the martydom of Stephen in 35 A.D. and the Jerusalem Council of 52 A.D. mentioned in Acts 15. The author was the half-brother of Jesus, born and raised in the same family. He didn't even become a believer until after the resurrection. Paul records in I Cor. 15 how Christ appeared personally to James. From that time on he was a different man. He became one of the greatest Christians in the early Church, and Bishop of the Church in Jerusalem. James wrote this letter to Jewish believers who had been scattered from Jerusalem, because of the great persecution that arose in Jerusalem following the martydom of Stephen (Acts 8). These believers were being scorned and slandered. They were hated by Gentiles because they were Jews; and hated by their fellow-Jews because they were Christians. They were suffering various other kinds of physical and emotional abuse. Many of them were buckling under the relentless pressure of this persecution. In this context James writes a powerful pastoral letter of encouragement and exhortation to these hurting saints.
THE PURPOSE OF THE LETTER: The purpose of this letter was not to defend the truth of the Christian faith, or even to establish the great doctrines of the faith. This letter is a message to believers concerning the importance of living out the truth they have believed.
THE THEME: The theme of the book is: "faith that works." Faith that is genuine will work practically in our lives. The main issue for James was: "If you say you really do believe, why are you acting like you don't."
RELEVANCE OF THE THEME: The theme of James is very relevant today. A well-traveled leader has described North American Protestant Christianity as 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep! A 1991 Gallup Poll found that while almost half the country attends church services, there is very little difference in the ethical views and the behaviour of those who attend church and those who don't. Many professing Christians today seem to be buckling under the relentless pressure of an increasingly secularized society. J. I. Packer has written in his classic book, Knowing God, that "unreality toward God is the wasting disease of much modern Christianity."
James is calling us back to reality in Christian living. He tells us that faith that is genuine can thrive, not merely survive, in the real world. He shows us how to have a living, visible, productive faith in a fallen world.
James begins his letter with the subject of trials. There are many ideas around today concerning trials: (1) Some say trials are a form of punishment from God. (2) Others say, if we can just reach a certain level of maturity, all our trials will disappear. (3) Others try to convince us that there is no such thing as adversity. Trials such as pain, sickness, suffering and death, are just figments of our imagination.
But James has something different to say about trials. Trials are inevitable in the life of every believer (not if, but when). They are right around the corner, and are often encountered suddenly and unexpectedly. We need to be prepared to handle them.
In verses 2-4 James explains....
I. THE PROPER ATTITUDE TOWARD TRIALS (2-4)
Dr. Viktor Frankl was a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps. In his book Man's Search For Meaning, Frankel said: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose an attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
There are three key elements in the attitude God desires us to choose when we face a trial.
In verse 2 james commands us: "Consider it all joy whenever you encounter trials of various kinds" That must be one of the strangest verses in the New Testament. Count it all joy, full joy, complete joy. What are you saying James? Smile and all your troubles will evaporate? Is he treating us like the man who was told: "Cheer up, things could get worse. He woke up the next morning, and sure enough, they were! NO, he is not saying that.
The tense of the verb "consider" speaks of decisiveness. It means a deliberate, careful, decision to experience joy even in times of trouble. Is that possible? Absolutely! Paul told the believers in Corinth: "In all our troubles my joy knows no bounds" (II Cor. 7:4).
How is it possible to experience joy even in times of trouble?
The experience of facing trials joyfully comes only as we know something. What is it that we must know in order to face problems joyfully?
Here is the second element: "Knowing this that the testing of your faith produces endurance." Testing produces endurance, stability, staying power. It produces toughness!
God has a training program for believers. He is trying to produce in you mature Christian character--Christ-like character. In order to accomplish His purpose, he knows that you need to be tempered with the heat of affliction so that you are toughened and strengthened.
EXPLANATION: The word "testing" (verse 3) comes from the Greek word dokimos, which means "approval." It is a word found on the bottom of many ancient pieces of pottery dug up by archaeologists in the Near East. This mark meant that the piece had gone through the furnace without cracking. It had been approved.
APPLICATION: God's desire is to help clay vessels created in His image to mature in the furnace of troubles, and then come out with God's stamp of approval.
ILLUSTRATION: In 1904 a man named Henry Royce started the Rolls-Royce company. He was a manufacturer of cranes and his hobby was automobiles. He decided to develop his hobby. One day he met a dare-devil sports car racer named Charles Rolls who tested cars. Royce determined to make a car that would last the life of the owner. He decided the only way to do it was to begin with some adversity. He constructed what he called a tumbling machine. It consisted of two big cogs set 6 feet apart flush with the floor. He and Rolls chained the rear wheels of the car to those cogs. Then the car engine was accelerated to the equivalent of 60 miles per hour. The cogs turning at this speed produced the effect of a car being driven at high speed over railroad tracks. This grueling test really took the car apart. They refused to be discouraged. They invested all their funds, and exercised great persistence, developing new and stronger alloys and giving close attention to each part that had broken down. Finally the day came when for 95 hours continuously the car was tumbled on those cogs without any part breaking. It was figured that the car was driven the equivalent of 250,000 miles on this rigorous test basis. This great car would never have been produced without what we might call "manufactured adversity."
APPLICATION: God tests each believer on cogs that bump and buffet us. But that is God's way of creating in us stability, staying power, toughness.
So James says, receive your trials with joy, because you know that you are in a training program.
ILLUSTRATION: Sydney Mitchell, a power plant builder around the turn of the century said: "Blessed is he to whom adversity comes early in life, because it toughens, it strengthens, like heat is used to temper the steel."
This brings us to the third element in the attitude God wants us to choose when we face a trial: "Let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." The word "let" means "cooperate." Give in to the testing. Allow it to do its job in your life. Participate in the lessons the trial brings to teach you. Don't fight and resist and rebel and get bitter against the trials.
That is the alternative to developing staying power and toughness.
Instead of receiving the trials with joy we can receive them with despair; we can receive them with bitterness, anger, despondency and depression.
James says allow these trials to have their perfect result in your life, so that you may be mature and complete. That is the ultimate goal.
EXPLANATION: "Perfect," or "Mature" refers to a personality which has reached its full development. "Complete" means rounded out with everything in its proper place. As we endure trials of many kinds: disappointments, criticisms, stress, domestic pressure, illness, persecution, the various facets of our being are being touched with God's grace and we are becoming mature and complete. Trials in themselves do not produce spiritual maturity. Endurance in times of testing produces maturity.
ILLUSTRATION: Dick Seume, former pastor and chaplain at Dallas Theological Seminary during my years there, wrote beautifully about this: "Life on earth would not be worth much if every source of irritation were removed. Yet most of us rebel against the things that irritate us, and count as heavy loss what ought to be rich gain. We are told that the oyster is wiser; that when an irritating object, like a bit of sand, gets under the "mantle" of his shell, he simply covers it with the most precious part of his being and makes of it a pearl. The irritation that it was causing is stopped by encrusting it with the pearly formation. A true pearl is therefore simply a victory over irritation. Every irritation that gets into our lives today is an opportunity for pearl culture. The more irritations the devil flings at us, the more pearls we may have. We need only to welcome them and cover them completely with love, that most precious part of us, and the irritation will be smothered out as the pearl comes into being. What a store of pearls we may have, if we will."
We see that trials are intended by God to bring us through a two-fold process:
1. Testing is designed to produce endurance, stablity, toughness.
2. Endurance, when it finishes its work, produces a man or woman mature and complete.
The key to a store of pearls is endurance in times of trial. "Spiritual toughness is the key to saintliness." (K. Hughes)
When God wants to drill a man
And thrill a man
And skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses
And with every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out---
God knows what He's about!
TRANSITION: Yes, God knows what He is about. Yet all of us know what it is like to flunk a trial. Our gut reaction to trials is not joy, not cooperation. It is frustration, bitterness, resentment, anger, despair.
II. WHY WE FLUNK OUT IN TIMES OF TRIAL (5-8)
Why don't we hang in there, rejoicing, and cooperating with God as he seeks to accomplish his purpose in our lives to bring us to full maturity in Christ?
There are two reasons why our trials overwhelm us:
(1) We lack wisdom. In verse 5 James says that when tests come, we may not be prepared to handle them, but we should not feel doomed to failure. We should pray for wisdom. We need his wisdom as we work through our trials.
The wisdom James is referring to here is the ability to view a test from God's perspective.
We need God's wisdom to know how to cope with the loss of a job, with serious illness, with bereavement. It takes God's wisdom to endure and to grow through these trials.
So James says: If you lack wisdom, ask God for it. It is available.
TR>But we must ask in faith, without doubting.
The second reason why our trials overwhelm us is found in verses 6-8.
(2) We lack faith. This faith is not saving faith. It is not a general trust in God. The faith we lack is a sustaining faith that involves complete abandonment to God and His purposes in our trials.
The "double-minded" person James speaks of is the person who wants his or her own will and God's at the same time. Deep down inside they still have reservations about being completely yielded to God.
ILLUSTRATION: They are like the British Lady who said: "I want the Lord to be my Constitutional King; but I want to be the Prime Minister." She was aware that the Constitutional Monarch is only a figurehead. It is the Prime Minister who governs.
APPLICATION: Double-minded believers want the Lord to be only a figurehead. They want him there to bless them, to meet their needs, but they don't want him to be in absolute control of their lives. They want to continue as Prime Minister. They don't want to yield in absolute surrender to Him. They do not want to die to self and live in utter dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
Augustine was a prime example of a double-minded man when he once prayed: "Oh, God, make me pure.........but not now!"
In verses 9-11 James illustrates the need for wisdom in facing the tests of life.
Some people to whom James wrote were poor, and some were rich. Being poor is a test of faith; being rich is also a test of faith. To the poor he says: Remember and rejoice that you are a citizen of the heavenly city. In Christ you have incredible spiritual wealth. You have a very high position in the only kingdom that ultimately matters. To the rich he says: "Remember that in a passing moment you could fade away and lose everything.
ILLUSTRATION: There was a family in California whose home had been turned to rubble in a matter of minutes during an earthquake. The T.V. cameras were there filming the family in its grief. The woman said to the T.V. person: "All we have lived for for 27 years, was in that house. It is all gone!! To her that meant that her life was gone. And she wept bitterly.
APPLICATION: All of us would sorrow if our homes were suddenly leveled to the ground by some catastrophe. But let's hope none of us would say that all we lived for was in that house. What a tragedy!!.
The rich need to remember that in a passing moment they can fade away.
Notice finally a two-fold promise concerning the outcome of trials
III. THE PROMISE TO THOSE WHO HANDLE TRIALS GOD'S WAY (12)
The first promise is happiness. Blessed means "genuinely happy" The Greek word is makarios. It refers to a deep down joy that carries you through all of life and is not dependent upon circumstances. It is like the depths of the ocean. The surface of the ocean changes. Sometimes it is calm, sometimes it is tossed up and down by winds and storms. But below the surface there is rest and silence and peace, undisturbed by the storm.
This word "blessed" refers to that kind of deep happiness and joy that the storms of life cannot disturb.
The second promise is of "the crown of life." Not only will we have a deep down joy now, that the storms of life cannot disturb. We will receive the "crown of life" given to those in the presence of God who endured victoriously the testings of life.
In October 1992, Ray Stedman, one of the outstanding Christian leaders of our generation, entered into the presence of the Lord. He was the long-time pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. In a sermon he preached just a year before his death, he quoted Paul's statements about our "light affliction" working in us "an exceeding great and eternal weight of glory" and followed that with a call to break out of the limitations of this-world thinking. He said, "The world tells us, if your don't take it now, you're never going to get another chance. I have seen that misunderstanding drive people into forsaking their marriages after 30 or 40 years and running off with another, usually younger person, hoping they can still fulfill their dreams because they feel life is slipping away from them. Christians are not to thing that way. This life is a school, a training period where we are being prepared for something that is incredibly great but is yet to come. I don't understand all that is involved in that, but I believe it, and sometimes I can hardly wait until it happens
" (see Dec. 14, 1993 CT article, p. 11)
Do you have that hope? Are you thoughtfully and deliberately finding joy in the trials you are now enduring? This joy may seem irrational to the world. But it is not, because it is all part of God's training program, as he prepares us to live life to the fullest now and to get us ready for something tremendous.
Nietzche once said: "He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how."
James has given us the "why" about trials. Now we can do more that just bear them.
We can find joy in the midst of them and actually grow through them. Andrew Murray had a formula for trial:
Say, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place and in that fact I will rest.
He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child.
Then He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn.
In His good time He can bring me out again--how and when He knows. So let me say, I am: here by God's appointment; in His keeping; under His training; for His time.
"And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever." (I Peter 5:10-11).
Copyright © 1999-2006 Rick Bartosik
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James 1:1-12: "How To Handle Your Trials"
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