Good morning! Lord, your word is precious, necessary, and often mysterious. And yet, it also has common themes that teach us more about you and how we should relate to you. Lord, this morning as we open James together, we pray you would use our time to your Glory, that you would be our joy and strength. Amen.
We are starting our study in James, and I know you have already done week one and have been discussing it some this morning. I want us to take a step back, and get a glimpse of the larger picture before we delve into specifics. A couple of weeks ago when I did this “bigger picture” exercise, I am afraid I may have gone too quickly, so this morning, I am going to use the whiteboard and write some of it out for you in a minute.
To start with, the book of James was most likely the first of the New Testament books to be written. It is dated somewhere between 40 and 50 A.D. The author is widely believed to be James, the brother of Jesus. While he was not a believer during Jesus’ earthly ministry. We see in Acts chapter one, though, that along with the remaining 11 disciples, the women, and Mary, his mother, and his brothers were in Jerusalem together after having seen the resurrected Christ. He went on to become a leader in the early church, and would have been well-known enough to identify himself simply as James, although humbly not proudly, in the letter.
James is writing to The 12 tribes in the Dispersion. If you look with me in Acts chapter 8 verse 1: Stephen has just been stoned to death for his beautiful speech:
And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
In Acts 11, again this Scattering is mentioned:
Verse 19: Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch,
So his audience for this letter is Christians. Particularly, Jewish Christians whose world has been turned upside down and inside out!
James is a very practical book. It is sometimes called the “Proverbs of the New Testament.” However, we need to be careful not to cherry pick this book. The temptation might be to see some of these very practical and moral ideas as a list of separate ideas. But there is a structure to the book. This is where the whiteboard is going to come in handy. I am going to give you a brief outline of the book, but not all the sub points (because again, I am not going to do your homework for you!)
Obviously, point 1 of the outline, is the Greeting.
I want to point something out before I continue and you can look with me as I go. James has a tell! In this outline, of the 9 points, 6 of the transitions to a new idea are signaled by this tell. Can anyone tell me what it is? “My brothers”, or My beloved brothers. This is a clue to us as we read that he is moving between points.
Okay, Here is the rest of the outline.
2. The Testing of Faith, Chapter 1: 2-18 Verse 2: Count it all joy, my brothers,
3. Hearing and Doing the Word, Chapter 1: 19-27, Verse 19 Know this my beloved
4. The Sin of Partiality, Chapter 2:1-13. Chapter 2 Verse 1:My brothers, show no partiality
5. Faith without Works is Dead. Chapter 2:14-26, verse 14 What good is it, My brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
6. The sin of Dissension in Community, Chapter 3:1-4:12 Verse 1, Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers,
7. The Sins of the wealthy Chapter 4:13 – 5:12 No my brothers here.
8. The Prayer of Faith, Chapter 5:13-18
9. Concluding Admonition, Chapter 5 verse 19, My brothers, if any among you wanders from the truth
So why did I just put this up here? Well, I think it helps to see the overall structure. And at the end of the study, maybe we’ll come back to this and see if we can come to a conclusion together what the overarching theme of the book is.
So there is some big picture. Let’s get into some detail. A few weeks ago, I stood up here and talked about joy. We were in Philippians, and Paul was talking about learning to be content in any circumstance. This last week, in verse two, James tells us to consider it joy when we face trials of many kinds. I just wanted to spend a minute talking about what that joy and trials. You have heard me say that this JOY James is talking about is not a felicity of feeling. He’s not telling you to fake it till you make it either. He is saying that the trials are valuable, and therefore should be faced with joy, or with appreciation for what they will bring. He’s not saying that you should not feel pain when being tried. But you should value the result of the pain – the strengthening of your faith. How do we do that? I’ll get to that in a minute.
Before I talk about how, I want to talk about the what. As in, what do these trials he is talking about look like. Have you ever heard someone give their testimony and it is this great, dramatic, extraordinary story of God’s rescue? And then you look at your own life, your own story of how you met Jesus, and it is not nearly as earth-shattering as that story? Does that make your story less valuable? Your testimony less necessary for the Kingdom? NOOOO! God does not call on us to Go and make disciples, but only if you have a remarkable story that will really pack in the room with people to hear it. He calls on you to be faithful to tell what God has done.
So, in that vein, are the trials that produce steadfastness only the dramatic ones? Are the only the ones of great persecution in China? Are the only the ones that detail long battles with terminal disease? Are the only the ones where someone is sharing their faith under threat of death? No. Now, those are definitely trials. But we all face trials. James doesn’t say “if” you face trials, but “when.” When your child is disobeying you for the umpteenth time, and you have to choose your response. When your new house has an ant problem. When you struggle with exhaustion because you were up too many times last night with the baby. When you wanted to get out the door on time to come here this morning, and the kiddos were not cooperating. These are trials too. These are moments when your faith is being tested. When you desperately need to recognize that you are not in control, that He is, and that he is growing you towards maturity in faith.
So, how do we value the pain of the trials, big and small? I want to read to you something I wrote about this four years ago:
Listen to what Paul said in his first letter to the Thessalonian church.
1Thessalonians 5:8-9 says But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our lord Jesus Christ.
Let us put it on. We have a choice! When we wake up in the morning, our joy, our hope, is not determined by the circumstances of the day. Period. But, we have a choice how we will respond to those circumstances. Will you choose joy? Will you choose to consider those circumstances, those trials of many kinds, something to be greatly valued?
I know, I know. The joy gets lost sometimes in the midst of the schedules, and the feedings, and the stinky diapers, and the doctor’s appointments, and the issues of discipline, or even in the midst of taking care of ailing parents, worry about jobs, or lack thereof. I know. I forget too. But you know what I have found? If you daily bathe in the Word, let the reminders of this HOPE we have wash over you, just as routinely as you wash your own body, His joy will be ever present before our eyes. How do I know that? Because that kind of joy does not come from us or from our own strength.
1 Thessalonians 1:6 says You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit.
When you are daily in the Word, even briefly, daily listening for the Holy Spirit, you are daily allowing God’s Joy to be the glasses through which you view everything else. It does not make it all go away. It is not light and fluffy, and bright sun-shiny days. It is remembering the promise of the one who never fails to carry you through and to bring you salvation, ESPECIALLY on those dark and dreary days.
As you head back into discussion time, I want to you to especially consider the last two questions on Day 3, numbers 13 and 14. What are some trials you are currently undergoing? How can you have joy in the midst of these trials? Maybe spend some time with your groups suggesting ways to help remind yourselves how to have that joy.
Lord, I pray these ladies would be filled with the joy and hope of the Gospel this morning, no matter what they are facing today. I pray that we would remember the effects of these trials, that you would continue to grow us, and shape us into your likeness, that we would reflect not our glory, but yours to the world around us.