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JAMES 1:1-8
Series:  Faith On Trial - Part One

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
August 13, 2006

Please turn with me to James chapter one.  This morning we’re beginning our look at the Letter of James.  James is a very practical letter - dealing with real life issues - living life with Jesus in the day-to-day stuff of our lives.  As we go through this letter together I believe that God is going to strengthen all of us in our faith and help us with the different struggles that we all have.

James 1 - verse 1:  James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad:  Greetings.

Let’s stop there and think about the significance of how James opens his letter.

There are a number of Jameses in Scripture.  According to the best scholarship this James is probably James the son of Joseph and Mary - James the half brother of Jesus.

Now - imagine if you had a half-brother who was perfect.  He always keeps His room clean.  Never talks back to mom.  Always obeys dad.  Most Jewish mothers think their son is divine.  In this case He was.  And Mary - as any parent tries not to show favoritism between their children - its not hard to imagine that Mary - as Jesus is growing up - that Mary probably had special feelings for Jesus.  So, how does that make James feel?  Not good.  Resentful?  Second string?

When Jesus is older Jesus did some pretty embarrassing things - running around the countryside with those 12 men.  At one point Jesus’ family thought He’d lost it mentally.  Jesus drew attention to Himself - not always in a favorable way.  Can you hear this?  “James, isn’t that your brother Jesus arguing with the Pharisees?”

How does that make James feel?  Angry?  Despising Jesus?

James’ opening is a powerful statement:  “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

At some point James comes to realize Who Jesus really is.  His relationship with Jesus through Mary takes a back seat to his supernatural relationship with Jesus as his Savior.

Notice that James describes Himself as a bond-servant.  It would be pretty ego building - wouldn’t it.  To introduce yourself as “James - brother of Jesus.”  Looks good on the business card.  “James - brother of God.”  He had the right to do that.  But here - he’s a bond-servant - an indebted servant by choice of the Lord Jesus Christ - James’ Lord and Messiah.

James at one point had the nick name “Camel-knees” because he had calluses on his knees from being in prayer.  He was martyred by being thrown off the highest point of the Temple.  His body was stoned beyond recognition.

Its important for us to grasp that the writer of this letter has a lot of first hand experience - a lot to say about learning to trust God - about faith and following God through all of what life throws at us.

Notice also that James writes this letter, “to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad.” 

These are Christian Jews spread throughout the world.

Jews who were tied ethnically to the homeland - the old country.  But, many of them had never been there.  They’ve been born someplace else.  For many - Hebrew was a second language - maybe even a third language - after Greek and Latin.  Culturally they were Jewish.  But they lived in a Gentile world.

To the Jews of Jerusalem - the Diasporan Jews were always second class - always looked down on.  Never really fully Jewish.  To the Gentiles that surrounded them they were less than second class.

Those who were Christian Jews were below the lowest class - despised by both the Jews and the Gentiles.  Persecuted by both.  Mocked.  Shunned.  Hated. 

Ever feel that way?  A misfit?  Trapped with no place to go?  Alone?  Resentful of your place in life?

To these brothers - these fellow misfitted bond-servants - James writes, “Greetings.”  In the Greek the word is “chairein”  It means “Rejoice!”  “Be Glad!”  Greet someone with that, “chairein.”  In the midst of all there is against us there is cause for rejoicing.  That’s where James begins.  Faith on trial - rejoicing.  

Verse 2:  Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials - notice - not “if” you encounter various trials - but “when.”  Trials in life are a certainty - many and varied.  Trials in marriage - with kids - with parents - at school - at work - emotional, physical, mental.  Anyone here never experience a trial?

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

Lets’ pause and look a what James writes.  Three words to keep in mind.

First:  Trials.  Say that with me:  “Trials.”

The word “trials” in the Greek “peirasmos” - here has the idea of being tested.  Those of you who are starting school tomorrow understand this very well.

A test requires choices - some kind of response.  Multiple guess - true false - flip a coin.  The question is - when we encounter a trial what choice will we make?  A good choice or a bad choice?

A test proves whether or not we know how to make good choices.  When a teacher hands out a test the basic idea is to find out if we know what they’ve been teaching us.  Right answers equal good choices.

Trials show us - in how we’re responding to them - trials show us if we’re making good choices - or bad choices.  If we’re learning what God is teaching us about life with Him.

First word:  Trials.  Second word:  Perfection.  Say that with me, “Perfection.”

Have you heard this?  “Yesterday I struggled with pride.  But, today I’m perfect.”  That isn’t this.

Through trials God is in the process of changing us to be more like Jesus.  Drawing us closer to Him.  Purging sin from our lives.  That’s a process.  Each time we make good choices - choose to endure under trial - to keep trusting God - to hang in there with God - learning that God is “hang in there-able” with - we take a step forward in that process. 

The result of that process is that we will be lacking in only some things.  Hello?  Only a few things.  Lacking in what?  Nothing.  That’s pretty inclusive.

I read a definition of spiritual maturity that’s really good.  A description of what God is about doing in our lives through trials.  Here it is:  “Spiritual maturity is an ever-growing consistency in the display of the life of Christ in me.” (1) 

Perfection is spiritual maturity - completion - lacking in nothing.  That’s a God thing.  Not a “I can do this for myself thing.”  Its what God does in our lives as we choose to trust Him. 

We learn - whatever we need for trials - the crud that comes at us in life - God will supply.  We learn to faithfully - consistently - rely on Him for that provision - to go through trials with God - growing to become who He has created us to be in Jesus Christ.

Trials - perfection - the third word is:  Joy.  Say that with me, “Joy.”

I heard a story about a man who was riding on a subway.  It was really crowded and he had to face the door.  He was prone to motion sickness and he began to get really sick.  The train raced into the station - the door opened - and the man became violently ill.  The doors closed and the train sped on into the night.

There happened to be a man standing on the platform waiting to get on the train at this particular door - who took the full effect of the other man’s illness.  Who in utter dismay turned to the man behind him in line and said, “Why me?” (2)

Ever feel that way?  Too often.  Various trials happen.  That’s life.  For the Godly and the ungodly.  We can have joy in trials when we see that behind it all is purpose.  God’s work of perfecting us.  Trials are great opportunities for growth.

Imagine - the Awesome Almighty Sovereign God of creation is at work in your life to bring you to perfection - completion through whatever trials you face in life - growing to be who He has created you to be.  That’s joy inspiring.     

Three words:  Trials.  Perfection.  Joy.  Say those with me.  “Trials.  Perfection.  Joy.”

Verse 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.  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.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

To make good choices we need - what?  wisdom.

Every year about 20% of the world’s knowledge is new.  With computer science its about 80% per year.  We have immense knowledge today.  What we lack is wisdom to apply knowledge to our lives.  I did a Google search for wisdom - 178,000,000 sites.  That’s a lot of different opinions - couched as wisdom.

James writes, If you lack wisdom - ask God.”  He’s the source.  True wisdom only comes from Him.  Real wisdom is seeing life from God’s perspective - discerning what God is doing.  It is the skill of living life God’s way.

Hear this:  Wisdom is not God telling us why we’re going through the trial.  The man on the subway platform.  “Why me?”  The question isn’t “why?” its “what?”  “God what are you teaching me?  What do I need to do to follow You through this trial?  What attitudes?  What changes in my life?  What do You want to show me about Yourself?”

When we start asking “what” questions - our focus shifts from us - or what we’re going through - to God.  God’s perspective in the trial.  What He is about doing in our lives - in us and through us.

The one requirement in asking God for wisdom is this - verse 6:  “He must ask in faith without any doubting”

When I encounter a trial my first reaction generally is not to ask God for wisdom.  Usually its something less than that.  Are you with me?

Up here in our heads we know that God’s wisdom is what we need.  We’ve been through enough Sunday School classes - slept through enough sermons.  We’ve got that.  And we know that God offers to generously give us wisdom without looking down on us for our lack of wisdom.  He’ll never say to us, “You idiot.  Why didn’t you ask Me sooner.”  He wants us to ask.  But we hesitate.

We’re weak.  We struggle.  We don’t have the answers.  We can’t deal with this.  Way too often we’re in way over our heads.  But, our self-sufficiency and pride is really hard for us to get past.  Asking means honesty.  Admission. 

A number of years ago the New Yorker magazine published an account of a man in Long Island who had ordered an extremely sensitive barometer from Abercrombie and Fitch.  When the barometer arrived at his home he was disappointed to discover that the indicating needle appeared to be stuck pointing towards “Hurricane.”

After shaking the barometer several times - not a good idea with a sensitive instrument - but still never getting the needle to move, the new owner wrote a scathing letter to the store, and, on the following morning, on his way to his office in New York City, he mailed it.

That evening he returned to Long Island to find not only the barometer missing but his house as well!  The needle was correct.  On that date in 1938 a hurricane swept through and almost leveled Long Island. (3)

Faith is believing that God’s perspective is the right one.  Doubt is hesitation.  Faith without doubting - is James’ warning not to second guess God

Maybe I’ll trust God.  Maybe I won’t.  It just depends on what seems to make sense to me at the time.  When all else fails, trust God.

He who hesitates is what?  lost.  James, “the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”   We are in serious trouble when we replace God’s wisdom with pride in our own wisdom.

James warns us, if we’re second guessing God, we better not expect that we’ll receive anything from the Lord.  Put slightly different:  God gives us wisdom based on our willingness to follow that wisdom.

If you’re struggling at work, or in your marriage, or with finances, or with kids, or with parents - or whatever the trial - if we’re willing to do anything God wants then He’ll give us His wisdom.  He’ll let us know what to do.

If we ask God, “What do you want me to do in this relationship?”  Or, “What am I suppose to do with this job situation?”  Unless we’re willing to do whatever - give up the relationship - give up the job - put up with the boss - unless we’re willing to do whatever God guides us to - then we’re not asking by faith.  We’re second guessing God.  So, don’t expect that God is going to give us His wisdom if we’re going to trash it with our own opinions and just do what we want anyway.  Are you with me on that?

If we want to grow through trials - find joy in the midst of the crud of life - we need to choose to get off our pedestals of pride and go to God - open handed - and ask for His wisdom.  It may be terrifying.  It may go against the grain of our pride and everything we lived by to this point.  But, it is the only way.

One thought of application - to help us move forward with this during the coming days.  Here it is:  Finding Wisdom.  Where do we find God’s wisdom?

Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of - what?  wisdom.”

Fear is understanding that God is greater - Almighty - sovereign - the source of wisdom - worthy our respect - our honor - the surrender of our will - the giving up of our lives to.  Paul put it this way, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  (Galatians 2:20) 

We begin to open ourselves to God’s wisdom - to fear Him - when we can say, “God I will follow you wherever, whenever, whatever you ask me to do.  My life is yours.  I will trust that your ways are right.”

For you today that it might mean to finally stop holding back parts of your life from His control.  For you today “the fear of the Lord” might mean making a choice to follow Jesus - to trust Him as your Savior. 

God gives wisdom to those who fear Him.

Another place wisdom comes from.  2 Timothy 3:16,17 says this:  “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for - what?  teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that - what? the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

Does that sound like verse 4?  “so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

God’s wisdom is found in His word - the Bible.  We can never really understand the mind and heart of God - God’s wisdom and perspective on life - unless His word fills us - saturates us - permeates us - changes us - so that when we encounter various trials what we’ve learned from His word will flow out of us in our response to those trials.

One other place God’s wisdom is found - in the counsel of Godly people - the Church.

Over the years as I’ve encounter trials God has used brothers and sisters at significant points in my life to keep me focused on God and what God is doing in my life.

God has blessed us with each other.  There’s a wealth of God given - God grown - wisdom in this congregation.  Let me encourage you to look around and see the people who are stable.  There are some.  People who seem to keep on an even keel as they go through things - who keep focused on God.  Start looking now - so that when you encounter trials - before you hit crisis mode - you’ll know who to go to for wise Godly counsel.

One last thought:  Elizabeth Elliot tells the story of Gladys Aylward who was unable to accept the looks God had given her.  Ms. Aylward told how when she was a child she had two great sorrows.  One, that while all her friends had beautiful golden hair, hers was black.  The other, that while her friends were still growing, she had stopped.  She was about four feet ten inches tall.

When at last she reached the country to which God had called her to be a missionary, she stood on the wharf in Shanghai and looked around at the people to whom He had called her. “Every single one of them” she said, “had black hair.  And every one of them had stopped growing when I did.”  She was able to look to God and exclaim, “Lord God, You know what You’re doing!” (4)

God knows the trials we’re in.  We need to take joy in His purposes - known or unknown to us - and learn to seek Him for His wisdom that we - even through trial - will be made perfect - becoming who He has created us to be.

1. Danny Hall,
How Do I Look?
2. David H. Roper,
Suffering Successfully
3. Adapted from
Bits and Pieces, quoted in Lloyd Cory, Quote Unquote
4. Elizabeth Elliot,
Let Me Be A Woman

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.