|IF I WERE A RICH MAN
Series: Faith On Trial - Part Two
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
August 20, 2006
Please turn with me to James chapter one - starting at verse 9. This morning we’re continuing our look at the Letter of James. James - which 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.
Last Sunday - as we looked at verses 1 to 8 - we saw that God knows the trials we’re in. That trials have purpose. It may not seem like it at the time. Probably not. But we need to realize - and take joy that for God’s children there’s purpose in trials. When we encounter trials we need to seek God for His wisdom - His perspective - His purpose for us in that trial - so that even through trials we can become more of who He has created us to be.
Today we want to look at trials and temptation.
A father said, “Son, don’t swim in the canal.”
“OK, Dad,” said the son. But later he came home carrying a wet swimming suit.
“Where have you been?” demanded the father.
“Swimming in the canal,” answered the boy.
“Didn’t I tell you not to swim there?” asked the father.
“Yes, sir,” answered the boy.
“Why did you?” asked the father.
“Well, dad, I had my swimming suit with me and I couldn’t resist the temptation.”
“Why did you take the swimming suit with you?”
“So I’d be prepared to swim, in case I was tempted.”
We all face temptations - right? During trials - we get squeezed and those temptations can really blind side us and move us away from God’s purposes in trials.
James 1:9: But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is go glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 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.
There are two perspectives of riches here.
First: Riches are temporal. They have no eternal value. You’ve heard this: There are no hearses with UHauls. You can’t take it - what? with you. The pursuit of riches of this world has no value in God’s eternal kingdom.
Second: Riches are temporary. We need certain things for the day-to-day stuff of life. But beyond that, we need to realize that all the stuff we surround ourselves - spend so much effort acquiring - what we’re tempted to think is so valuable - beautiful in appearance to us - James says, its just fading away. They don’t last - even in this world.
A temptation for both poor and rich is to place great a value on what has no eternal value and is only fading away. A poor person might see riches as the solution to all his problems. A rich person - surrounded by all the latest toys - can be blind to his real needs.
What James is getting at here is not material stuff - but the character of our relationship with God and what really are the eternal enduring things of life. What we need to understand - encountering trials - what we need to understand is that having stuff - pursuing the things of this world - trying to control our world with riches - all that doesn’t move us through trials deepening our relationship with God and growing us as Christians. All that is not what we really need.
Verse 12 - in contrast to verses 9 to 11: Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
There are three parts to this verse that we need to understand.
First: God’s blessing. When we persevere - go through trials God’s way - God blesses us.
Remember “The Beatitudes” - Matthew 5:1-12? The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin “beatus” which means “blessed” - it translates the Greek “makarios” - which means blessed or happy. Same word as here in verse 12.
What did Jesus say?
Blessed are those who earn six figures.
Blessed are the famous.
Blessed are those who don’t have anything to worry about.
Blessed are the powerful.
Blessed are those who have the determination and ruthlessness to eliminate anything and anyone that hinders the fulfillment of their dreams.
Remember those? There’s a lot of people out there who are trying to live life that way. Doing the temporal - temporary - things that don’t even come close to God’s blessing.
What was it Jesus said? “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. The gentle. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted. These are the ones blessed by God.”
These are people who are going through trials - really hard stuff. But, they’re blessed because God is with them in the midst of the trials. They don’t have to go at it alone. When we turn to God in trials - we open ourselves up to His presence in our lives - His provision for our needs - His healing - His rewards - His pleasure with us.
The second thing - here in verse 12 - that we need to understand is the meaning of “approval.”
In Greek, the word “approved” is “dokimos” - something that’s been tested - and approved. Think about Inspector 12. Archeologists dig up pieces of pottery in the Middle East - if the pottery passed through the kiln - the fiery test - intact - it got this stamp “dokimos” on the bottom. If it cracked “adokimos” - “not approved.”
James is saying, if we persevere through trials God’s way - seeking out God - His wisdom - His purposes - living faithfully for Him - when we pass through the trial - God places His stamp of approval on us.
Third - those persevere with God - who gain His approval - receive The Crown of Life.
A “crown” in Greek is a “stephanon.” Does that sound familiar? “Stephanon” - “Stephen.” Same word. Great name. The word was used of the laurel wreath they put on the head of a victorious athlete - someone who endured the course - the trial - persevered and was victorious.
There are two meanings of “Crown of Life.” James probably has both in mind.
First, the Crown of Life is something that God gives His children when we see Jesus face to face. After we’ve persevered through all of life and enter into eternity - eternal rewards.
Second, the Crown of Life is a reward from God that we receive more immediately - at the end of a trial - as we live each day. It’s a quality of life - living life as God intends - knowing Him - enjoying Him.
Doesn’t your heart long to walk with God through life? To get as close to Him as you can? To not be alone? To go through life with the One who sees you as you are and loves you deeply? Who longs to comfort and heal you? To fill you with His peace? To give you His wisdom? To care for you and take you through life?
That’s God’s blessing. That’s His approval. That’s His life that He offers us - even in the midst of the worst of life - for today - and forever.
That really is the bottom line of what James is getting at. In contrast to all the temporal and temporary fixes we try to come up with - James is getting us to think about what’s really important - what’s really enduring and of greatest value.
Verse 13: Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God;” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
In trials - a temptation - is anything which entices us to turn away from God - to allow other things to come between us and persevering with God through trials.
Marriage can be a trial. Anyone ever been there? You don’t have to raise your hands.
Trials bring to the surface long standing issues that need to be dealt with. The temptation is to do anything other than deal with real issues or allow God to work in our lives. 70% plus of spouses at some point in their marriage contemplate the death of their spouse as a way of escaping the marriage. We’re tempted to commit mental adultery - pornography - relational fantasy where we get the affirmation we lack in marriage - but without the need for all that difficult relationship and commitment stuff - working on the deeper issues.
Relationships are trials. 20% plus of Americans would rather spend time with their computer than a real person.
Addictions are an escape - the temptation to do drugs and alcohol - to get that little nicotine lift. Food is a great escape. We escape into work and sports and recreation.
We escape to the mall. Vince Lombardi had a plaque on the wall of the Packers dressing room: “When the going gets tough, the tough get - what? going.” When the going gets tough the tough go shopping. Trinkets and toys to fill the emptiness of our lives.
We blame others for our problems. The rich blame the poor. The poor blame the rich. One race blames the other. “I don’t deserve this. Look what they’re doing to me.” James writes, in trials we face the temptation to blame God. “How could God allow this to happen? All this is God’s fault.”
But, God cannot be tempted. He’s sinless - holy - desires for us to persevere and pass the test. The truth - James writes - is that we struggle - not with God - or with others - but with what lies deep within us.
Raynald III was a 14th century duke in what is now Belgium. Grossly overweight, Raynald was commonly called by his Latin nickname, Crassus, which means “fat.”
After a violent quarrel, Raynald’s younger brother Edward led a successful revolt against him. Edward captured Raynald but didn’t kill him. Instead, he built a room around Raynald in the Nieuwkerk castle and promised him he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room.
That wouldn’t have been too difficult for most people since the room had several windows and a door of near normal size. None of them was locked or barred. The problem was Raynald’s size. To regain his freedom - all he had to do was loose weight. But Edward knew his older brother. Each day he sent a variety of delicious foods. Instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald grew fatter.
When Edward was accused of cruelty, he had a ready answer. “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills.”
Raynald stayed in that room for ten years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. (1)
James writes that the temptation to seek after our own solutions - rather than letting God deal with our deeper issues - seeking anything other than God leads us to lust - to desire what is not legitimate for us to involve ourselves with. So we follow our desires into sin - acting in disobedience to God’s will for us. Ultimately we face death - physical and potentially spiritual - eternal - death.
Bottom line: In trials - when we’re not seeking after God - His wisdom and His way through the trial - we’re in a process of self-destructive behavior.
Verse 16: Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
There are three truths here that we need to emphasize. Each of these can help us focus on what really matters in trials.
First - in verse 16, James writes, “Do not be deceived.” We have a choice. Say that with me, “We have a choice.” We don’t have to be deceived. We can choose to resist the temptation. We can choose to seek God.
In Genesis 4 is the account of Cain and Abel. We know this account. Abel is a shepherd. Cain is a farmer. Cain brings an offering to God from his produce. Abel brings an offering to God from his flock. God chooses Abel’s offering over Cain’s offering. Cain gets really angry.
Here’s a man - in the midst of a trying circumstance - a trial - who’s entertaining an evil desire - temptation - and is on the verge of conceiving sin. “Why did God pick Abel’s offering? I’m the oldest. He should have picked mine. Who does Abel think he is anyway? I wish he was dead!”
God says to Cain - Genesis 4:6: “Cain, why are you angry? Why is your face all twisted up with rage? If you obey what I’ve told you to do you’ll have joy.” Everything will work out okay. Genesis 4:7: “But if you refuse to obey, watch out. Sin is crouching at the door - sin is waiting to attack you - and its desire is to destroy you. But, you can conquer it. You can be the master over it!” Cain - in temptation - you have a choice. Choose to obey me and do what’s right.
We know how this turns out. One day Cain suggested to Abel, “Let’s go out into the fields.” While they’re out there, Cain attacks and kills his brother. His evil desire gives birth to sin. Cain is severely punished by God.
He had a choice. He could have trusted God. He could have listened to God’s wisdom and grown through the trial. But he choose to do what he knew was wrong. No matter how trapped we may feel - or how strong the temptation or difficult the circumstance - we always have a choice.
Drew Anderson writes in the Reader’s Digest: “While my wife and I were shopping at a mall, a shapely young woman in a short, form-fitting dress strolled by. My eyes followed her. Without looking up from the item she was examining, my wife asked, ‘Was it worth the trouble you’re in?’” Have you heard that? That’s way too close to home.
It is within us to sin. Satan knows that. He and his minions study us - our weaknesses - our deep seated resentments and hurts - what we harbor in our hearts - the stuff we go through and the choices we make. Satan will throw trials at us to tap into all that - to temp us - to entice us - to lure us away from God.
Choosing means taking ownership over our desires and our sin nature. We have no one else to blame but ourselves. Ownership means admitting our weaknesses - admitting our struggles - that we can’t handle what we’re up against - even that we’re tempted to stumble around in sin.
Choosing to take all that to God and agree with Him. What God says about me is true. I have a sin nature. There are deep issues in my life that I struggle with that keep me back from being all that He has created me to be. If there is to be any hope for me I desperately need to seek His wisdom and guidance in all of what I am confronted with.
We have a choice. Truth number two comes in verse 17 - The Character of God.
Remember the dialogue between Satan and Eve? Satan asks the question, “Did God say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree of the Garden?”
Eve responds, “Oh no. God said we could eat fruit from any tree except the one in the center of the Garden. We’re not even suppose to touch the one in the center or we’ll die.”
“That’s not true. You won’t die. God said that because He knows that when you eat it, you’ll be like God - knowing what’s good and what’s bad.”
She eats the fruit and she’s still breathing. Still upright. The snake was right. Physically she didn’t die - at least not yet. And of course Satan left out the crucial part about eternal death and separation from God. But he’s got her hooked. “Hey Adam, have some fruit.” (Genesis 3:1-6)
One way our Adversary works is creating doubts in our minds about God. When we encounter trials, can we really choose to trust God?
Look what James says in verse 17: Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above
How many good things? Every good thing. How many perfect gifts? Every perfect gift. That’s inclusive. Everything we need in life is included. And, that’s exclusive. Aside from these things there’s nothing else we need. We don’t need to search for some other wisdom or understanding.
Look again at verse 17: It all comes from where? - down from the Father of lights - from God - the creator of everything - created even the stars. He is sovereign. Nothing - no one - can prevent Him from blessing those He chooses to bless.
And “with whom - with God - there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
The planets are always moving - turning and casting shadows - changing in shape and appearance. But, God doesn’t change. His promises are certain to be honored and He never breaks His word.
Bottom line: The character of God - God is always worthy of our trust. Never doubt that when we choose to go to God, God will be there with everything we need.
Third truth: God chooses us. Say that with me, “God chooses us.”
James writes - verse 18: In the exercise of His will - by God’s own choice - His own free will. God wasn’t forced into doing this. By His will - God - brought us forth by the word of truth - the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ - so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures - the first of all those through the centuries who would be born again.
1 John 4:9: “And God showed His love for us by sending His only Son into the world, so that we might have life through Him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.” (1 John 4:9,10)
In the world we live in - love is selfish. Its focused on what we can get. On having our needs met. It demands satisfaction. It seeks to be served. There’s no commitment in the world’s love. “If you aren’t meeting my needs, I’m out of here.”
God’s love seeks to serve - is focused on meeting the deepest needs of others. With us - our deepest need is a restored relationship with God - the forgiveness of sin and the payment of sins penalty.
Sin is ugly. Disobedience is disgusting. What did God ever do that we should put Him on trial with our sins? But, God chooses to love. To forgive. To commit Himself to us. Even in death on a cross.
Isn’t there reassurance in that? When we choose to trust God He will never reject us - never walk away from us - never leave us high and dry and defenseless. We can trust Him with our lives.
Last thought. All of this gives us a great opportunity.
Just as there’s a process that leads to death - temptation leads to lust leads to sin leads to death - remember that? Just as there’s a process that leads to death - there’s a process that leads to life. God gives us that opportunity.
Instead of dwelling on the temptations - the choices that come with trusting ourselves - when tempted we can choose to trust God - that choice carries us deeper into desire for God and His wisdom - how God would have us live even in the midst of trials - that desire gives birth to obedient behavior - places us within His blessing - brings us to the life God has for us - now and forever.
Which do you choose? What fades away and leads to destruction? Or, what endures and leads to life? In trials, we always have that choice.
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.