J. Gordon Duncan

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Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 1:1-8


Family Devotional for James 1:1-8

Big Picture Question:  During difficult times, what might God really be doing in our lives?  

James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

·    What do we learn about James’ faith if he can call Jesus (his half-brother) “Lord”?
·    The “twelve tribes in the dispersion” was a term the early church used for Christians scattered all over the world.  Do you find encouragement knowing this book was written with you in mind just as much as the Christians in other parts of the world and in different times?

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

·    Why should we count trials joy?
·    If God is ordaining trials in our lives for these reasons, why do we do wish them away so quickly?
·    Is there a trial in your life right now that you should ask God to give you joy in rather than asking Him to take it away?

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

·    Think of a situation right now in your life where you need lots of wisdom.  Have you asked God to give you wisdom concerning it?  Do you believe He will give it to you?
·    Pray to God to help you not be double-minded.

Sermon Notes for James 1:1-8

I cannot believe we are here ready to take on a study of the Book of James.  And I’ll be honest:  this is a daunting task.  James packs a punch for such a small book of the Bible.  Now I know that several of you here in your life have memorized the entire book of James word for word.  And hard as that is and as commendable as that may be, attempting to take these words in your heart may be even harder.  James is flat out an amazing book of the Bible.  And James is not without controversy.

Here are a few things to help us understand the daunting and controversial nature of the book.  First of all, it is written by James, the half-brother of Jesus.  So, we should think, “Oh, this guy knows Jesus so well,” and I’m sure he did.  But an odd thing happens along the way.  James talks about the Lord a lot in his book, but he rarely gets around to actually mentioning Jesus’ name.  In fact, he speaks Jesus by name a whopping two times.  That seems odd, doesn’t it?

Years and years after James was written, some 1500 or so years later in fact, Martin Luther wondered if the book should even be in the Bible.  You see, Luther fought so hard, facing death in fact, to defend that we are forgiven and made right before God by faith in Jesus alone.  Luther knew that there was nothing we could do to recommend ourselves or make ourselves right before God.  We are forgiven by our faith in Jesus and even that faith is a gift.

So when James said things like “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:14 Luther wondered if James was preaching another Gospel than the one Jesus did.  Luther got so mad, he called James “the Epistle of Straw” and in his frustration, as legend has it, he either threw a copy of it into a river or threw a copy of it in a stove.  Either way, Luther struggled with the book of James and because he was honest with his heart as he read it, he eventually saw the Godly wisdom lying in the book.  On a side note, as students of scripture, which is what we need to be, students of scriptures, let’s be honest and wrestle with scripture and tell God our frustrations.  He ultimately said in referring to James, ‘Faith, is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith’.

I could preach an entire sermon just on the width and depth of this small book, but I would like to venture into a few verses this morning just so we can get a sense of where we are going for the next few months.  So with that, let’s take on this simple, yet daunting thought as we approach the book of James.  Let’s try to answer this Big Picture Question:  During difficult time, what might God really be doing in our lives?  How is that for a Big Picture Question?  Let’s jump in.

James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:  2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Now the temptation with any book of the Bible is to just skate over the introductions and salutations, but there is a lot of going on in verse 1 of the book of James.  So let me make two quick observations about James’ introduction.  James grew up with Jesus.  Jesus was his older half-brother.  And remember Jesus didn’t make an outward declaration of His ministry until His early 30’s.  And James struggled to see Jesus go from brother to Savior.  In fact, when Jesus did assert His divinity and began His public ministry by gathering 12 disciples, James and the rest of the family thought He was insane.  Mark 3: 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

Yet, despite James’ early fears and concerns, he resolutely now states that Jesus is His Lord.  So the first thing we should take away from this salutation is that James has a firm, dedicated, and resolute faith in Jesus as Savior.  James didn’t come to faith in Him easily, but now, He has no doubt.  He could say:  My half-brother Jesus is my Lord and Savior.  For all of us:  reckon well who Jesus is.  Pursue Him relentlessly in the scriptures and claim Him well.

Second from our salutation:  James addresses the 12 Tribes in Dispersion.  The Dispersion was the name given in the OT when the Jewish people were scattered out of their homeland Israel.  For example, during the Babylonian Captivity, God had the Babylonians come in, take the Jewish people from their home, and they were enslaved in Babylon as a judgment for their sin.  James does something interesting.  He takes that Dispersion title but applies it to Christians.  The message of Christ was spreading across the world, in addressing the book to the 12 Tribes in the Dispersion, he saying, The People of God, the Church who claims Jesus as their Savior, they are the Dispersion.  And being dispersed, you long for home, but now that longing for home is a heavenly home, not an earthly one.  Our takeaway from this salutation is to realize that this book is for us – the church in captivity.  We are to hear it as God’s gracious provision for us informing us how to live as we wait for Jesus’ return.  Our home is heaven and not and so our desires should be pointed more towards heaven than here.  Gang, the Book of James is incredibly relevant for us.  So having said that, let’s jump into what James has for us.  Let’s see just how we are to live.

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The commands of verse 2-4 are so revolutionary, so counter-intuitive, and so loosely held by Christians today, that in hearing what James tell us, we are almost tempted to discard it or assume he means something other than what he is saying.  James tells us this.  Whenever you face a trial, a trial of any sort, our initial and ongoing response should be to count it joy.  So, if you are struggling with health issues or someone you love is struggling with health issues, count it all joy.  Some translations read it as, “Count it pure joy.”  If you are struggling with a relationship.  You are at great odds with someone you love or you are in a confliction with work or your children are disobeying or rebelling or pulling away from you, count it all joy.  If you think your parents are crazy sometimes and you are constantly fighting them, count it all joy.  If you are having a hard time paying your bills or you just don’t see any end to the massive credit card debt that you are in, count it all joy.

Right now, reckon well what trial you are enduring, and then be joyful that you are going through whatever it is that you are going through.  Now, why would God tell us this?  Why is God, through James, commanding us, not suggesting, but commanding us to count our trials as joy?  Is it that God is a sadist and He likes toying with us like a little boy who burns an ant with in the sun with a magnifying glass?  Is this like some twisted, perverse characteristic of God that He just likes to punish His creation?  Did He create us just to toy with us?

Well, fortunately, the answer to those questions is “No” and James explains to us why we should count all of our trials as all joy or pure joy.  The reason is that by enduring all types of trials, this testing of our faith, God gifts us with steadfastness.  What in the world is steadfastness?  Well, steadfastness is a firm, immovability that endures through any type of circumstance.  Now we need to get this because steadfastness is a major theme in the book of James coming up over and over again.  Why do we need to be steadfast?  What good is it for Christians to immovable in any circumstance?  Why is this characteristic so important that God ordains we go through difficult and painful times just to get it?

Paul speaks of steadfastness and explains that for us in 1 Corinthians 15.  He says in verse 58 that steadfastness enables the Christian to abound in their work and worship of God and steadfastness enables the Christian to not labor in vain.  Maybe you want a better explanation than that but James, and God, don’t give you one.  Trials produce steadfastness that enables you to serve God more faithfully.

Spurgeon calls this the most practical of teaching from the scriptures.  He describes it this way.  He says some teachers are like a builder who cuts down trees and then prepares all the wood in such a way as to build a house.  The builder does all this work, laying all the wood and materials out, but never builds the house.  How impractical is that?  Spurgeon says this kind of teaching is not like that.  Instead this kind of teaching cuts the wood, prepares everything for building, and then builds the house.  This kind of teaching is the most practical teaching in all of  world.  It is a direct, how do I live as a follower of Christ

Verse 4 tells us that once we learn to endure trials with joy, then steadfastness is produced and then we become perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  This is not a holiness perfect but the word for perfect used for being thoroughly complete.  If you want to be used by God, if you want to give Him glory, if you want to not be tossed about by the waves, if you want to be used to advance God’s kingdom and see the name of Jesus lifted high, then enduring trials, and enduring them with joy is how you are going to get there.

What that means is that as the followers of Jesus, His church, we have to want faith in God more than we want an ease to our circumstances.  If we want don’t want that, if want ease of circumstances more than being used by God to give glory to God, then we see a competing desire in our hearts.  If we want ease of circumstances more than we want faith in God, if we want anything more than we want faith in God, then that wanting by definition is an idol, an opposing object of worship in our heart.  And God will root out all of our idols.  God will cast down any and everything that exalts itself against the glory of God.  God will not share His glory with anyone or anything.  If you want ease and the removal of all trials more than you want to give glory to God, then God is going to root that desire out of your heart.  Guess how God often does that…by giving your more trials making you more dependent on Him.

Our desire to avoid trials and suffering often just leads us into more trials and suffering because our desire to avoid trials is contrary to the will of God.  There is a host of bad teaching right now that says faith in God means the removal of all trials and great faith in God means the pouring out of great earthly blessings.  That teaching stinks of hell according to the book of James.

Now, this really seems crazy, doesn’t it?  I mean this is how James begins his book…telling us to be joyful that we are going through trials.  Let me share a quick story here and I don’t share this personal story as one who has arrived.  I share it as one who struggles along with you.

In the last, I don’t know, 13 years of my 15 years of being married to Amy, I bet she has felt good maybe a half dozen days.  She struggles with an out of balance thyroid, an auto-immune deficiency, and polycystic ovarian syndrome to just name a few conditions.  Because of these things, day to day life can be a struggle and any plan we ever make is subject to change depending upon how much energy she has.  And we have seen every doctor under the sun and have pleaded to God to remove these conditions and to heal them, but at present, it is the will of God for Amy and me to endure these things together.

Now, how in the world might these conditions produced steadfastness and greater faith in us?  Well for me, I can tell you several things, in fact, I’ve thought a lot about this.  But for the sake of time, I’ll share just one simple application of steadfastness and faith that God has produced in my heart or is presently producing in my heart through these trials.  Because I am gifted with a lot of energy, and because I love the work of being a pastor, and I love you folks and I love working hard, I could easily be a man who spent every waking moment working on and thinking about the church.  I could be gone every day and night for the sake of the church.  And there are some weeks where I feel like the number of hours I work is equal to the number of hours I am awake.

But one of the gifts that God has given us is Amy’s prolonged health conditions.  It has taught me to keep close to home.  It has taught me to run commitments by Amy before making them.  It has taught me that building the church is not worth doing if it comes at the expense of Amy’s health or time with my kids.  I have buddies who have planted churches and pastored churches and their marriages and their relationships with their kids have eroded or even come to an end.  That is not God’s intention for His people or for this pastor.  The trials that God has ordained for my family have the purpose of teaching us to give God greater glory and to each us dependency on Him.  To produce a steadfastness and readiness for the Gospel.

I encourage all of you right now to consider this command of James.  I truly think the weakness of the American church is that we worship ease and we assume the blessing of God means that we have no difficulties or trials.  And we can definitely ask God to remove difficult circumstances and to change our lives when we are struggling.  But we rarely view our trials as the means by which we are going to give greater glory to God.  We just want them to go away and go away quickly.

Right now, what is it in your life that you just want to go away?  Are there trials that you are not concerned with giving God glory in but are much more concerned with having them pass?  They might pass.  God might graciously make your trial disappear.  He might also graciously make your trial or difficulty or pain or physical condition or whatever, He might graciously make those things stay around for the rest of your life.

And James, “Consider it pure joy because the testing of your faith will produce a steadfastness in you that will make your more complete and ready for the tasks that God calls you to.  One of the reasons the American church is so weak is that we do not get this.  We assume we can’t be used by God because our trials are so great.  We are so consumed with trying to pursue a life of ease and one free of trials that we miss out on what God is calling us to.  Your trial is God’s blessing poured out on your life.  Your trial is intended by God to cause you to have greater faith and that faith well enable you to ready and complete for whatever mission you are called to.

You do not have to have conquered every trial to be used by God.  We should ask God to equip you with greater faith and make you perfect and complete in that trial yes, but you don’t have to have conquered your trial to be used by God.  Right now, some of you are essentially on the sidelines not actively serving God or attempting to advance His kingdom because you just want your difficulties to go away.  Instead, we should see our difficulties as the thing that God has placed in our live to prepare us for greater ministry.  We are to declare a dependency on God to the world, not a life free from being dependent.

Now at this point in time, we probably are incredibly confused.  Maybe some of us have oriented our entire life to attempt to be free from trial and if James is correct which I’m offering He is, then some of almost don’t know how to live anymore.  What does it mean to live joyfully amid trials instead of constantly wishing the way?  Verse 5 explains that for us.

You see, our enduring trials with great joy is going to look a little different for everybody because we all experience different types of trials.  How do we know how to do this?  Verse 5 tells us.  Ask God for wisdom.

You see, in our weakness, we are tempted when facing difficult times, to just pray them away.  “Dear God, just take this away from me.”  And you can pray that prayer.  But how many of us in light of a difficult trial ask, “God give me wisdom in this circumstance.  Please show me how to live?”  I’m afraid many, many of us never get to that point because we are just asking God to take away what is difficult.  And because that is our tendency, the church is weak.

I believe this church, this community, and Christians worldwide, would experience a revival that would wind up in the history books if we began to pray for joy in our circumstances instead of being so resolutely focused on making how hard times go way.  Ask yourselves this:  If trials produce greater faith and steadfastness, if trials prepare us and make us complete for the work of God, why don’t we pray for God to give us great joy and wisdom in the midst of those trial?  Again, I think it is because we worship ease and comfort more than God sometimes.  Can we pray now that prayer?  Ask God, “What do you want me to do with this circumstance, right now?   It is fair to wonder how are we going to resolve this in our hearts and minds and move forward?

Now if you caught any of my 1 Samuel sermons over the past year and a half, you may have noticed a little trick up my sleeve.  Any time in the OT, any time something really difficult would happen either by some ones actions that didn’t’ make sense or God did or something or said something that was difficult to understand, did you ever notice what I did?  I would say, “Well, let’s look at the NT and see what Jesus did or what Jesus has to say about that.

Uh oh.  We are in the NT.  James is writing this after Jesus has lived, died, and risen again.  There is nowhere to go.  This is what God wants for your life in light of what Jesus has done.  That doesn’t mean that the work of Jesus no longer has any say in these things, because in a minute, we will definitively see that He does.  What it does mean is that we need to look at these verses and think and say, “There is no wiggle room.  This is exactly what God wants for me.”

Now, we couldn’t say that about the OT either.  There is no wiggle room there either.  What happened in the OT was just as much what God wanted for us as what is commanded in the NT.  But the OT was a dim picture that awaited the full illumination of the work of Jesus.  The NT is the full illumination.

So let’s see how Jesus enables us to apply this illuminated command to consider trials great and pure joy.  Ask yourself this question:  What hope do you want from Jesus?  Do you want His help, His support, His aid or do you just want to take all your problems away?  I’m afraid our problems aren’t going way.  Jesus said so Himself

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Our trials are not going away.  Oh, we might have relief from a specific circumstance, but while we live on this earth, we are going to face trials and tribulations.  And we will live transformed lives if we realize that Jesus has not come to take all of those away.  Instead, He has come to help over this world of sin and pain.  Hebrews 2 tells us that Jesus lived, suffered, died and rose again to overcome death and Satan.

Hebrews 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.

And Hebrews 4 gives us the big answer to our big picture question:  What is God doing during our trials and suffering?  14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus Christ suffered alongside of us so that we have a Savior who understands our weaknesses.  Jesus Christ suffered alongside of us so that our High Priest, the one who stands before God on our behalf, sympathizes with our weaknesses.  Because of the work of Jesus Christ, we can take joy in our trials and circumstances.  Our trials increase our faith.  Our trials cause us to be steadfast.  Our trials cause us to be made ready and complete for whatever God calls us to do in His name.

And we are not alone in our trials.  Jesus, our Savior, sympathizes with weaknesses.  He was tempted just like we are tempted, in every way.  But our hope is that Jesus endured these trials and circumstances with great joy and even more importantly, He endured them without sinning.

And because of all these things, because of Jesus’ enduring trials sinlessly on our part, when we endure trials we get to do what verse 16 of Hebrews 4 promises.  We get to with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Because of Jesus, when you and I struggle in our trials and circumstances, when we struggle to find joy and all we can hope for the hard times to just go away, we can go to verse 16.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

We can walk before the Throne of God, and because we are forgiven and transformed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that throne of God is a throne of grace.  We walk before God in need both for our sins and for our trials, and those sins and needs are met with what we do not deserve:  the love and affection of God.  So in your time of need, right now, whether that time of need be physical sickness, relationship problems, financial problems, whatever.  In your time of need, walk before the Throne of God and feel His love and grace poured out – forgiving you, transforming you and enabling you to do whatever it is that God has called you to do.

If we do that now, we might very well see God work a revival in our hearts and lives like we have never seen before in our lifetime.


January 1, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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