J. Gordon Duncan

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Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 1:12

Family Devotion:

Big Picture Question:  How are trials, temptations, and blessings connected?

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

9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

·    What brings about blessing in the midst of trials?
·    Reread verses 1-8 and discuss the promises surrounding steadfastness and trials.
·    Read http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/crown-life/ and consider the questions under the section entitled “coram deo”.

Sermon Notes

Kids, youth, and anyone else, still living at home:  when you live at home with your Mom and Dad, it is easy to forget how many things they do for you.  Hopefully, and I mean hopefully, you wake up with the electricity on, food to eat, clean clothes to wear, and a host of other things.  Even the best of parents are sinful, get mad, are impatient, and sometimes they even raise their voice.  But hopefully, again I will say hopefully, even the worst of parents take care of their kids.

But this isn’t the case for everyone.  Now according both to the police and the Community of Hope organization, this church resides in a neighborhood where loving and caring parents cannot always be assumed.  There are many kids, just a ¼ mile from our door, for which I think we are accountable for btw, who don’t have the kind of dependability that I have been talking about.

But when you live in a home where those kinds of thing are provided for you (heat, food, a roof), your parents do this because they work hard to provide these things.  They provide them for you because they love you.  Even if you have a hard day at school or even if you are upset about something, most of you can probably count on going home and resting because your Mom and Dad love you and take care of you.

A parent’s love for their child should mirror God’s love for His children.  God provides for us because He loves us.  He sent Jesus to live and die and rise again so that we could be forgiven.  And just like when you have bad day and you can count on your parents, you can have a bad day and count on God and love, care, and protection.  In fact, you can count on God’s love in an even greater manner than your parents.

Well, the Book of James tells us that when you count on God in hard times and that you will ultimately be blessed.  That doesn’t mean that all your problems will go away.  But it does mean that God promises to use all of your difficulties for your own good and for His own glory.  When you count on God to take care of you over a long period of time, the Bible calls that steadfastness.  And when you count on God your entire life, you will one day go to Heaven and God will give you a Crown of Life.

We have all of these blessings because Jesus loved us, died for us, and forgives us.  As you grow in believing in Him, you will be able to go through hard times and still have lots of joy because you know Jesus is helping you.  As you get older, the only way in which you are going to understand how good times and bad times fit together, is to trust God loves and cares for you.

For all of us adults in the crowd, this is a good lesson as well.  Knowing you heard all of that, remind yourself, that God alone is the one who can speak to how trials, temptations, and even blessings are connected.  God speaks to the hows and the whys, but never ever are those understandings apart from faith which requires a dependency and a trust other than what you have in own head and heart.  So this week as we approach James, let’s see what God says about the meaning attached to tough times, curious times, trials, and even blessings.  With that in mind, let’s attempt to answer this

Big Picture Question:  How are trials, temptations, and blessings connected?

Again, for the sake of context, let’s read the first 12 verses of the book of James.

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

9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

We’ve been in James for a whopping three weeks so far, and James hasn’t disappointed.  So far James has told us to take joy in trials because God uses them to produce greater faith and steadfastness in our hearts.  James has told us that if we need wisdom, ask for it by faith and God will give it.  We’ve been told that if we are poor and lowly, then thank God and boast in that state of life because God is going to lift us up.  And James also said if we are trusting in riches, then God is going to humble us.  So all of a sudden, we begin to get a larger sense for God’s connectivity between trials, temptations, and blessings.

That alone is enough to shake us to the core.  But it also enough to lead us into a revived spirit of worship that causes us the thank God in all thinks and grow in new levels sacrifice and service.  It is enough to help us realize that God is at work in events that this thinks are evidence of His abandonment.  These verses are enough to change our view of what is going on and move our hearts to a great hope of revival. With all of those things in mind, let’s jump into verse 12 of James and see where all of these lines of thoughts take us next.

James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

This is James’ bookend thought on trials that began a few verses ago.  In verse 2, he told us to take great joy in trials because by enduring them faithfully, we grow in steadfastness and God uses them to equip us for whatever it is that He wants for us.  Now, in verse 12, James tells us that to remain steadfast in trials is to be blessed.  Don’t worry, I know you are just dying for me to keep talking about hard times.  So if you just can’t enough of this hard times talk, James, will have much more to say about them later on in the book.  But for the moment, James wants to bring this section of teaching on trials to a nice conclusion.
He again explains in a way that is quite counter-intuitive for most of us that we are in a state of blessing from God as we remain steadfast during trials.  Why?  Because James says, you steadfastness in trials, ultimately will lead you to receiving the crown of life.  Now, we need to spend some time talking about this crown of life, but really before that, we need to make sure that we understand assuredly what is meant here by steadfastness in trials, especially if it leads to such a wonderful blessing.

Well, steadfastness can be the momentary conviction and trust of God in a specific circumstance, but it is larger than that.  Steadfastness is like wisdom.  It is born out over a long period of time.  Enduring one trial well is steadfast to an extent.  But remaining hopeful and joyful in the midst of trials enduring, that is the larger sense of steadfastness.  What I want each of you to know in the midst of that is if you feel you are presently failing in a circumstance it doesn’t mean you aren’t or haven’t been or won’t be steadfast.  We are fallible, sinful human beings and we do fail in certain trials.  But steadfastness is God’s work in your heart over a long period of time

So right now, if you are enduring a specific trial.  Perhaps your disappointment has caused you to be a terrible gossip (all masked under spiritual concern of course).  Perhaps your lust has caused you to begin to desire another and lose pursuit of your spouse.  Perhaps the frustration of raising children has caused you to lose your temper more times than you can count.  Perhaps you are secretly friendly to folks you disagree with but privately you are bitter and divisive.  The question becomes, Have you not been steadfastly faithful?

Well, here is the wonderful thing.  Steadfast begins as you cry out to God for help.  And you know what happens when you do?  When you go from trust of self to crying out to God, you know what happens?  Psalm 18:6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help.  From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.

This is hard for the human heart to grasp.  Trials are difficult enough to understand much less how we can be steadfast in them.  And as I mentioned last week, we sinfully go to the extremes, even when it comes to steadfastness.  Let me explain the extremes associated with steadfastness and this really is important because steadfastness is connected to the receiving of the crown of life.

One extreme in thinking about steadfastness is the Christian who refuses to admit that trials and circumstances are difficult, painful, and hurtful.  You see, admitting how hard something is and admitting one’s weakness is not sinful, weak or faithless.  Admitting the difficulty of trials is being faithful.  Yes, complaining is a sin, but being honest about one’s emotions is not.  Big difference.  You know why?  If you can’t admit weakness before God, then you don’t need a Savior.  And if even if you do admit your weaknesses before God but you are unwilling to do it before others then you are a hypocrite. Saying, “Oh yeah this is hard but God is doing some wonderful things” with a Pollyanna smile or He-man grimace is not steadfastness.  Often it is denial, self-righteousness, masked anger or a lack of understanding the Gospel.  Control is not peace or steadfastness.  It is control.

As a good friend of mine counseled me the other day, “It is sinful for me pretend to be joyful when I am sad.”  You see honesty before God is worship.  Please hear this.  Ecclesiastes 7:  14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other.  Being honest with a broken heart, living that out in integrity and offering it to God IS worship and is steadfastness.  Trying to deny that trials are trying for the sake of some pseudo-spiritually is to deny the promises of James and the necessity of the work of Jesus Christ.  Count the trial joy.  It doesn’t say count death or taxes or pain joy.  It is says count the trial that God is ordaining for you joy.

I know a guy who has been through the worst of circumstances this year, but will never admit the toll it is taking on his heart.  Everyone else sees it but he doesn’t.  He says he never gets mad, and you know what, he never yells or raise his voice, but you know what?  It looks like control.  He looks and presents himself as perhaps the angriest person I know.  And those around him see the anger and the pain, but he won’t admit it.

Admitting the difficulty of a circumstance and admitting how desperately dependent you are on in God in its midst is not wrong and it is not sinful.  Admitting difficulty and admitting your dependency on God is the pathway to steadfastness.  It is worship.  Let’s be a church that evidences and encourages just and honest expressions of trials and encouraging each other to find joy in the fact that God is working in our lives.  We can be a people who are joyful in trials but let’s just not be a people who are appear to be full of denial.  If you present your self as one who always downplays the difficulty of what’s going on and plasters on a fake Jesus smile, not only are you not being honest before God, then you are also presenting yourself as a person who is not safe for others to share their difficulties with.

Now, the other extreme is to see every trial and circumstance as the end of the world.  This is a world of sin and pain.  It is a world of difficulty, betrayal, and hurt.  That is why in John 16:33 we hear from Jesus, “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.”  The extreme that falls apart at every circumstance either thinks that God has promised roses and sunshine or their faith is weak not thinking that God can instill them the steadfastness to persevere.  Faith and steadfastness says, “God is at work, not to put white paint on moldy walls but God is at work making all things to my benefit and to His glory.”

Gang, this hope of steadfastness that James speaks of is really a faith in God’s work, the mercy of Jesus, and the application of that work by the Holy Spirit over a long period of time.  Yes, there are moments where you endure trials amazingly well.  And there are trials that overwhelm and paralyze us.  You will take up your cross and follow Jesus.

But we serve a triumphal Savior who assured every promise of God in your life by His triumphant resurrection over the dead.  Steadfastness is admitting how desperately needy we are before God, realizing the challenges of trials, and then living out an honest, faithful trust that God is working.  Don’t deny how tough things are.  Admit that you are human and weak.  Lift up the hope you have.  Don’t try to be superhuman or super spiritual.  Grow in a thankfulness for Christ and a thankfulness for what He is doing in your life through trials.

Now, as we continue to understand this steadfastness in the midst of trials, remember it is speaking both to your enduring the present circumstance that you are going through and you enduring until the end.  This is speaking to that wonderful theological point called “perseverance of the saints’ which is similar to another term called “eternal security” but a little deeper.  Please bear with me as I explain these terms because in their understanding you will find great hope and greater understanding to this passage in James.

Eternal security, also known as once saved always saved, is the belief that once you have faith in Jesus Christ, you can never lose it.  If you have been forgiven and the condemnation of death in hell as been removed from you, God will never remove it from you.  This is 100% true.  There are a host of verses that support this but for the sake of time, I’ll just settle on this one.  And this is an area when I put the notes on the website for family devotion, you’ll more verses.  Jude 24, 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

I Peter 1.3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

God is the one who causes us to be born again.  We should bless God and give Him glory.  Why?  Jesus’ resurrection is the hope that God will cause us to born again.  We will go from death to life.  Dead in sin to alive in Christ.  Dead in hell to alive in heaven.

That gives us an inheritance, something we wait for, which is imperishable; it cannot die.  And your salvation, that inheritance, that ultimate being with God, is kept for you in heaven, not by your power but by God’s.  That’s the hope here.  God is the one who protects your salvation.  Therefore you cannot lose it.  That is why Jesus says in John 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

Now that in a nutshell is eternal security.  Now taking that thought a bit further is the doctrine of perseverance of the saints which is really what this passage in James is speaking of.  We find that in many places, but for the sake of time, let’s look at Romans 8

Romans 8: 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God gave us His son Jesus for our salvation.  That is security enough but verse 37 tells us the hope of that salvation – it is an enduring salvation.  God’s children, His elect, cannot and will not be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus because God’s love has made us more than conquerors.  Nothing in all of creation, get that, nothing in all of creation, including you yourself can separate from the expression of God’s love.

Think about the language being used here.  We have no idea a conqueror is.  But Israel did.  They understood Herod and Pilates and all the other conquerors who came in and took over their land.  Paul is saying, We are more powerful than all of them because of what God has done for us in  Christ Jesus.  If you have faith in Jesus, it is a persevering faith that will remain until the end.  Through Christ, you and I, we, are more than conquerors.  No one and no thing can separate you from the love of God that you have in Christ Jesus.  You will persevere until the end, sometimes greatly and sometimes weakly, but always trusting in Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

So, having said all of that, when James says that the man who remains steadfast will receive the crown of life, he is speaking of people who have faith in Jesus.  If you truly have faith in Jesus, a transformative faith that knows forgiveness and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, you will endure and persevere as a Christian.  That doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect.   That doesn’t mean you won’t have struggles, but you will continue to have a transformative faith in Jesus and because of that indwelling persevering faith that God has given you, when you die you will receive the crown of life.

What is that?  Oh, there are libraries on that topic.  So with time that is left, let me provide you with some background.  John also mentions the crown of life in Revelation 2.10 when he says, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  So we know the crown has to do with enduring faithfulness which is consistent with what James says here.  The crown of life was a well known idiom in James’ day.  It was of joy, gladness, and glory more than royalty.  It is the crowning gift that culminates in heaven where the undoing of the curse of sin is realized.  You see the judgment for sin was the curse of death promised all the way back in Genesis 3 – on the day you eat, you shall surely die.  So the gift of salvation realized in heaven is the crown of life.  But we will ultimately walk into the realization of that crown of life after enduring faithfully the difficult trials of this world.

Phil Ryken quoting John Calvin says, “All whom the Lord has chosen and received into the society of his saints, ought to prepare themselves for a life that is hard, difficult, laborious, and full of countless griefs.  This is because the Christian life is patterned after the life of Christ.  As it was for Christ, so it is for the Christian:  through suffering into glory.  First humiliation then exaltation – the cross before the crown.”

So with all of those things, let’s make just a few applications about how God connects our trials, temptations, and blessings.  First, the steadfastness in trials that God calls us to is not a denial of the difficulty of this world, our sin, or the pain that we are experiencing.  Psalm 51 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  Honest worship is being who we are before who God is.  We are weak and sinful ever dependent upon God.   He desires in us a broken and contrite heart that cries out in dependence.  That is steadfastness.

Second, the steadfastness in trials that God calls us to is not a helplessness that crushes us.  2 Corinthians 4: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.  Yes, we will be afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, and we will carry in our body the death of Jesus. But we live an abundant life that Christ has given to us.

All of these things that God does in our hearts ultimately will enable us to persevere, endure, and be steadfastness so that ultimately, when we die, we will sit with Christ in the heavenlies and we will receive the crown of life that will be the fulfillment of Christ reversing the punishment and curse of death that is due to sin.  Gang, let’s be a people that are patient when other suffer.  Let’s offer each other and the community around us a safe place to be broken and hurting.  Let’s be honest about this painful world.  Let’s not be overwhelmed and crushed.  Let’s offer the real, tangible hope of Christ that doesn’t deny the hardships that he promised but actually lifts Him up in an honest way that is believable.

That’s the hard part isn’t it?  How in the world is our hope real, credible, and believable?  Well, if it is, it will transform you.  And ultimately, the only way your trials will transform you is if you seek the glory of God before you seek the ease of circumstances

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January 15, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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