April 7, 2013
Charlestown United Methodist Church
Book of James
Second Sunday of Easter
True Religion Is Developed by Trial and Testing
Today we begin a series of seven messages from the Book of James that will take us to Memorial Day. In these messages we will look at trials and testing, faith, wisdom, works, love, and prayer. These are still as important to us today as they were to the new Christians in the middle of the first century.
Even though the new Christians were undergoing persecution in James’ lifetime, James was all about doing the work of Jesus Christ. And so the main focus of his letter was to describe the practical aspects of what it means to be a Christian.
Among the apostles, Peter was usually considered the fighter and Paul was considered the thinker. But James was the doer. He was a man of action. James, the half-brother of Jesus, was one of Jesus’ several brothers and sisters born later to Mary by her husband Joseph. As Jesus started his ministry, James was certainly not a believer and was convinced his older brother was nothing more than that, an older brother or maybe one of the many prophets of the time that considered themselves the Messiah.
But after Jesus’ resurrection and his appearance to the five hundred and then to James, which you can read about in 1 Corinthians 15, James became one of the strongest believers in his brother’s teachings, death, and resurrection. James would lay claim not to his physical relationship to Jesus but to his spiritual relationship as a bondservant, a slave, of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, that is the way he begins his letter: James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A bond-servant required absolute obedience, absolute humility, and absolute loyalty to his master. James took a certain amount of pride in being a servant of the Risen Christ.
After Jesus’ resurrection, James became a pillar of the Christian church and the leader, the bishop if you will, of the Council of Jerusalem. You can read about that in Acts 15. It was James who sent Peter off to preach the gospel to the Jews and Paul to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Around 62 A.D., James was accused by the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish Council in Jerusalem, of “breaking the law” and was taken to the top of the wall of the Temple and thrown down. Barely surviving the fall, he was then stoned and beaten over the head with a club. He was martyred for the Body of Christ, the Church.
And so today, we begin with James’ writing to the Jewish Christian faithful about trials and testing. More about that in a moment, but first would you pray with me?
If you remember about ten years ago, Krispy Kreme opened a manufacturing facility right here in Ravenna. I was ecstatic. Krispy Kremes were all the rage at the time. We used to get the day old donuts on Sunday mornings at Ravenna First for our coffee and fellowship time. It was heaven. People used to line up in the area stores to purchase the sweet, tasty delights. But do you know how they were made?
First the little balls of dough are shot through with a piercing blast of air to create a hole. Then they go into the proof box where they ride up and down an elevator in an atmosphere of heat and humidity, causing the dough to rise. After this, they are dropped into hot oil and boiled thoroughly. After surviving this ordeal, the donuts pass through a cascading waterfall of icing.
Does anyone here today feel like a Krispy Kreme? Do you feel like you have been blasted with air? Do you feel like you have been boiled in oil? If you do, just remember that these experiences precede the sweet delight that follows.
None of us look forward to trials and certainly none of us love hardship. But without them, we will never enjoy the sweet fruit of maturity. Listen to James once again: 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Paul echoed these same thoughts about trials in his letter to the Romans, Chapter 5, verses 3-4: …we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 
Billy Graham once said, “Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys.” You see, joy is the correct response to the times of testing our faith because the result of our steadfastness in faith allows us to mature, to be perfect, to be complete, and to lack nothing. Testing makes us stronger and purer. It purges us of all impurity and turns the trials of our life into greatness and glory for God. Testing can increase our faith.
In Luke 17:5, the apostles said to Jesus, Increase our faith! So how do we do that? I would like to have more faith. I know you’d like to have more faith. But how do we get more faith? I don’t think you are going to like the answer. But the truth is God builds your faith and my faith by testing it.
Faith is like a muscle and when it’s stretched and it’s pulled then it develops. When you test your muscles against weights then your muscles develop. In the same manner, your faith develops as it is tested.
As Rick Warren once said, “You don’t develop your faith just setting on your blessed assurance in church.” You develop your faith through testing so that you may be mature and complete.
But the next question to ask is this, “How are we to respond when the unexpected trials of life land on our doorstep?” And you and I both know they do. Sometimes it seems like every day. How are we to respond?
In verses 5-8, James says to pray to God without doubt and ask for wisdom, not knowledge, but wisdom. If we pray in faith for God’s wisdom, then we won’t be confused or mislead by any outside influences on our life as we move through our testing. We can’t waiver between believing and unbelieving.
Someone once said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together. Wisdom is using knowledge rightly. And if we
pray to God he will give us wisdom generously and without criticism or blame. We need wisdom so we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature.
You may have heard the story of the farmer’s donkey that fell into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway. It just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey, so he invited all his neighbors to come over and help him.
They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down. A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well and was astonished at what he saw. With every shovel of dirt that hit the donkey’s back, he was shaking it off and taking a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off!
Here’s the moral. Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. James knew that. The trick, though, to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles and trials in life is a stepping stone to becoming closer in our relationship with God and our dependence on Jesus Christ. We should never waste the opportunities God gives us to prove his awesome power to us. Because when we ask for wisdom to handle our trials God will give it generously and without finding fault and we will persevere.
So far we know that God tests our faith through difficulties so that we might become mature and complete. And that God helps us through those difficulties by generously giving us wisdom if we only ask. But then James also tells us that wealth may be another test of faith, not a proof of faith.
Verses 9-11: 9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.
James says that the brother or sister of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position. Why? Because that person, a brother or sister in Christ, matters to the church, matters in the world, and matters to God. The person of humble circumstance has nothing else to offer but himself or herself and their life in Christ. So many times God uses our material possessions as a test of character and a test of faith.
In Luke 16:11, Jesus says this, “If you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth [that’s dollars, that’s money], who will trust you with true riches?” Jesus is teaching us that there is a definite, direct relationship between how I handle my money and the spiritual depth in my life. In fact, Jesus says if I’m not faithful in handling material wealth, he will not trust me with spiritual wealth.
The great peril of riches is that they tend to give a person a false sense of security. She feels that she is safe; she feels that she has the resources to cope with anything and to buy herself out of any situation she may wish to avoid. But James draws a very vivid picture that was familiar to the people of Palestine. In the desert places, if there is a shower of rain the thin green shoots of grass will sprout; but one day’s burning sunshine will make them vanish as if they had never been.
A man or woman who puts their trust in riches is trusting in things which the chances and changes of life can take away at any moment. Life itself is uncertain, so uncertain that calamity and disaster can come at any moment and the wealth can disappear. Better, says James, that we put our trust in things which we cannot lose. Trust in God, he says, who alone can give the things which abide forever.
If we trust in God, persevere through our trials, ask for wisdom, and don’t allow wealth to lead us astray, then, writes James, we will receive life even more abundant. Blessed is the [person] who perseveres under trial; for he or she will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” Folks, this is the crown of royalty, the crown of joy, the crown of victory, the crown of dignity. As Paul would say, you have finished the race.
As James finishes this section of his writing, he wants to remind us to take responsibility for our actions and for our sins. Since God cannot be tempted by evil, then he himself cannot tempt any of us to sin. Don’t blame God for the sins you commit. If you remember the Fall, when confronted by God, Adam blamed Eve for eating the forbidden fruit and Eve turned around and blamed the serpent. We like to blame others for our shortcomings.
But James says don’t do this. Take responsibility for yourself and don’t let your temptations carry you away into sin. In other words, don’t let desire become action because it brings spiritual death. It is through the grace of God alone that can make us and keep us clean. And that grace is available to everyone.
Every person here today can think of a trial which you have gone through. If I asked you, “Would you like to go through that again?” You would undoubtedly say, “No way.”
But if I asked you, “Are you grateful for what that difficulty accomplished in your life?” Many of you would say, “I wouldn’t trade those lessons and the character developed in those trials for anything.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is why we consider it all joy. We consider it all joy because we know that when tough times come, the end result is going to be perseverance and maturity. Perseverance and spiritual maturity are things that please God. They are essential traits for the Christian life. The only way to get them is to face trials of many kinds.
Remember that cascading waterfall of icing on our Krispy Crème donut? Well that is the sweetest part of the whole process of making a Krispy Crème. The mature Christian life is like that. It is the sweet fruit of bitter times.
True religion is developed by trial and testing. So, the next time your faith is being tested, consider it all joy!