Triumph In Times Of Trial

Bible Book: James  1 : 1-12
Subject: Faith; Trials; Triumph in Trials
Series: James - Adams

James 1:1-12: "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, Who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.  The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 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. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."

I love to read - I’d even go so far at to say that I am hooked on books! In fact, its so bad that if I don’t get in a book store or library and breathe some “book air” every other day or so, I begin to go through withdrawal symptoms. I enjoy books that much! Well, I have friends and family members who share my love of reading and every so often one of them will come up to me and say, “Mark, I just read a great book!” My response is always something like, “Great! Tell me all about it. Who is the author? What is this great book of yours all about?” Then, in the discussion that follows, I ask other questions to help me find out whether or not this book they are recommending is something I would want to read myself. I mean, with all the great works of fiction and non-fiction-all the novels and mysteries and histories-out there, I don’t want to spend time and money on a book that’s not really worth it.

Well, this morning I want to recommend a book to you. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and it is published as part of a collection of books known as the New Testament. One thing that makes it such an amazing book is the fact that, even though it was written over 2,000 years ago, it is relevant to our lives today in the 21st century. This book is very short-no more than 100 verses. In fact, you can read it in under a half hour but, those 100 verses are packed with practical wisdom for dealing with several important life issues. For example, it includes guidance that will help the reader endure hard times. It talks about how we can overcome our often destructive desires. This book tells how to gain confidence in living this life as well as certainty about where we will spend eternity. It even has sections that “hit the nail on the head” when it comes to describing the incredible damage our words can cause. It also contains instructions that tell how to become a person of authentic prayer. Now…is this an appealing book or what?!

Well, the book I’m talking about is the epistle of James and before we go any further I want you to understand that the REASON its so wonderful is because its not just a book. It is the written Word of God. And I for one am excited because we are about to spend a total of 13 weeks studying it. We’ll be breathing a lot of “book air” together over the next few months!

Now, as any true book lover knows, the best place to begin a book study is by “meeting” the AUTHOR-and in this case that would be the person God used in the writing of this book. The first verse serves as sort of a cover page because the author identifies himself there as: “JAMES, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…” Now, there are several men named James mentioned in the New Testament but this particular JAMES is the half-brother of our Lord. I say HALF-brother, because James’ father was Joseph whereas Jesus was of course the son of God. It may surprise some of you but the gospels of Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus had several half-siblings-brothers as well as sisters-and the author of this book is one of them. (Matthew 13:55-56, Mark 6:3) The gospels also tell us that in the beginning James and his siblings did not believe Jesus was the Messiah (John 7:1-5, Mark 3:31-35) but at some point they must have changed their minds because Acts 1:14 states that they were in the Upper Room praying with the rest of the disciples following Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. I for one believe it was Jesus’ resurrection that convinced them that He was the Christ-because that seems to be what helped James to come to this faith-filled conclusion. And, I infer this from the fact that as 1 Corinthians 15:7 says, Jesus made a point of appearing to James following His resurrection.

Well, even before he became a believer, James must have paid attention to Jesus’ teaching because in his book there are numerous allusions to our Lord’s parables and sermons-particularly the Sermon on the Mount. In fact this little book exhibits a greater likeness to the teachings of Jesus than any other book in the New Testament. Okay-what else do we know about James?

Well, the book of Acts tells us that, following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem-the first Christian church ever founded! In fact, in Galatians 2:9 Paul refers to him as “a pillar” of that church. Acts 12 says that when Peter was delivered from prison by the angel, he made a point of sending a message to James to let him know all that had happened. It was James who moderated the church conference described in Acts 15 which dealt with the potentially divisive issue of what to do with Gentile converts to Christianity. James allowed all the factions present to express themselves and then he was able to bring peace and unity to that church by drawing a conclusion based on the Word of God. When Paul visited Jerusalem it was James to whom he brought the special love offering from the Gentile churches (Acts 21:18-19)-money to help the persecuted Christians of Jerusalem. It is said that James received the nickname “James, the Just” because of his holy life. Tradition also tells us that he was a man of prayer-which explains his emphasis on this particular spiritual discipline in his book. Some say that James prayed so much that his knees were as hard as a camel’s.

But in spite of being renowned for his spiritual maturity and for the fact that he was Jesus’ half-brother-I want to point out that James was obviously a very humble man. We see that in the way he begins his book-for he doesn’t identify himself as, “James, Half-brother of the Messiah-leader of THE church at Jerusalem.” He didn’t even identify himself as an apostle like Peter and Paul did when they began their own books. No…James simply says that he is “…a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The biblical record is fairly silent about James’ death but tradition tells us that he was martyred in 62 A.D. Apparently the Pharisees in Jerusalem hated the way James so much they had him cast down from the temple and then beaten to death with clubs. It is said that James died like his Savior, praying for his murderers by saying, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Okay, that’s enough about the AUTHOR, let’s focus a bit on the people James had in mind when he wrote his book. In the first verse he says his book is written to “…the twelve tribes scattered among the nations…” and when I first read that it sounded to me like this book wouldn’t apply to us-but it does. You see to early Christians, like James, believers like you and me are the TRUE Israel-we are part of the “twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” Now, as a Hebrew, James knew that the nation of Israel had been specially chosen by God. but he also knew they had refused to accept their God-given task to share His love with the world. And-no one than James was more aware of the fact that when Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah of God came, the Jewish nation as a whole rejected Him. Because they did, all the privileges which had once belonged to them passed over to the church and the church (made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers) became the chosen people of God. Listen to Romans 9:6-8. Paul-himself a Jew of Jews-writes, “…not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abrahams’ children. On the contrary, [according to Genesis 21:12] ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abrahams’ offspring.”

Paul is telling us here that the true descendants of Abraham-the TRUE ISRAEL-is not made up of those who can trace their physical descent from Abraham, but rather those who had made the same venture of faith that he did. The true Israel is not composed of any nation or race but of all those down through the centuries who have accepted Christ in faith. So this letter WAS written with you and me in mind for, as Christians, we are part of the twelve tribes scattered among the nations-the true nation of Israel.

Now, as I said, God used James to write a book that is very PRACTICAL. And it is-in fact James has been called “the epistle of practice.” Any one who has read it can see that from beginning to end this little book is an urgent demand for “reality in religion.” I think that James would surely have agreed with John Bunyan who said that, “the soul of religion is the practical part-the relevant part.” And one of the relevant topics that James deals with is the issue of trials-the tough times in life. This is one reason every Christian should read and study this book because we all face trials. Brian Harbour writes: “Everyone either IS a problem or HAS a problem or LIVES with one.” We all face a wide variety of tough times in life and James realized this. Note that in verse 2 he does not say, “if” you have “trials of many kinds” but “when.” The truth is that hard times are inevitable both as a result of our own sinful choices and because we live in a fallen world where bad happens every day-even to good people.

And, by the way, James isn’t the only biblical author who teaches this. In Job 5:7 Job’s friend Eliphaz said, “Man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.” In Psalm 22:11 David cried out to the Lord and said, “Be not far from me, for trouble is near.” Isaiah declared, “Look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness the gloom of anguish.” In Ecclesiastes 2 Solomon wrote, “man’s task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest.”

The New Testament underscores this truth and says that even Christians-even God’s own people-are not exempt from hard times. In John 16:33 Jesus assured His disciples that, “in the world you will have tribulation.” Now, don’t get me wrong, the Christian life can be full and satisfying but it has never been easy and the Bible says it never will be-on this side of eternity.

Okay-what practical guidance does James give us when it comes to dealing with the inevitable hard times of life? Well he says some pretty amazing things. First of all he says that when trials come, we should...


James agrees with Paul here for he writes in1 Thessalonians 5:18 and says that we are to, “give thanks in ALL circumstances.” -which includes even the painful, frustrating ones. Now, this concept is alien to most people-even Christian people. I mean, when trials come many of us embrace an attitude of resentment and grow angry at God. Others become apathetic and withdraw from life-but James gives another alternative. He says that the secret to dealing with the trials of life is found in having an attitude of gratitude. In fact he says that we should consider the arrival of tough times as a joyful thing.

Now he’s not talking about a “pasted-on fake smile” kind of joy nor is James advocating some form of masochism in which we seek painful things. James is writing about an attitude of joy that comes from knowing pain’s purpose. Over the years God had helped James to see that He often uses pain to reach us and teach us. And James is not the only one in the Bible who advocates this attitude toward tough times. Jesus Himself said, “Blessed are you when persecuted.” (Matthew 5:11-12) Acts 5:41 says that the Apostles rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer. In 2 Corinthians 7:4 Paul said, “In all my troubles my joy knows no bounds.” And, Hebrews 10:34 talks about believers who “joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property because they knew that they had better and lasting possessions.”

Now, as James points out, one of the advantages of going through tough times is that they can help us to develop us PERSEVERANCE…or ENDURANCE…or what we might call “stick-to-it-iveness.”

In other words, trials teach us to hang in there and not quit! And we do quit so easily don’t we-mainly because it is so much easier than hanging in there. I mean when we were kids it was easier to go out and play with our friends than it was to sit at the piano and practice our scales. It’s easier to walk out of the room during an argument with our spouse than it is to stay and work through the conflict. It’s easier to stop praying for our enemies than it is to hang in there and ask God to help us know how to continually act in love toward them. I think this is what Peter was getting at when he asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive his enemies. In essence he asked, “Can I quit after seven times?” It’s always easier to quit! It’s easier to do what you want with your life than it is to kneel before God, turn the reins over to Him and wait patiently and expectantly and sometimes agonizingly for Him to lead you.

ENDURANCE is tough for us to grasp because in our culture the EASY way is preferred. I mean you could say we live in the “instamatic” era. These days we demand overnight stardom, overnight delivery, overnight success, overnight growth, overnight solutions, overnight marital bliss and even overnight spiritual maturity. And there is no such thing. Spiritual maturity is a life-long process that requires endurance. I think this is why the Bible speaks so highly of PERSISTENCE or ENDURANCE. In fact Titus 2:2 sets it along side of FAITH and LOVE as a basic and decisive Christian virtue. It says: “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love, and in ENDURANCE!” You see, the truth is many Christians simply give up when they get tired or when the way gets rough or when God doesn’t answer their prayers quickly enough and we will never get any where in the Christian walk with this attitude. To grow spiritually we must learn to practice ENDURANCE.

This reminds me of the words of Calvin Coolidge who said, “Press on. Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are important.”

And Coolidge was right. You see, when we persevere-when we hang in there-then we grow and mature into the people God wants us to be and are made able to do the things He designed us to do. As James says in verse 4 when we hang in there perseverance, “…finishes its work so that we become mature and complete, not lacking anything.” So the perplexing truth is that trials can actually be good for us. Someone once put it this way, “A Christian is like a tea bag; he’s not worth much until he’s been through some hot water.”

Nothing produces like pressure! So, when you face the nightmares of life remind yourself that God has a definite purpose in allowing these times of difficulty. As Paul says in Romans 8, God “…works for our good in ALL things!” If you doubt this then study history and you’ll discover that great souls always graduate from the “school of tough times.”

Victor Hugo, the French literary giant, was exiled by Napoleon and forced to spend years of adversity away from his native land. During his trials, however, he found himself. His literary genius flowered and his fame exploded. He was said to have exclaimed, “Why was I not exiled before?”

Helen Keller never knew the beauties of sound of sight. Yet she said of her blindness and deafness, “I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself and my God.”

John Calvin who suffered from ill health and persecution wrote, “You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy.”

You know, Ephesians 1 says that it is God’s will for as believers is to become more like Jesus Who, as Hebrews 12 says, “…ENDURED the cross for the joy set before Him.” Well that means that God will take us through many of the same things He took Jesus through. There were times when Jesus was lonely, exhausted, tempted, discouraged, and depressed and there will be times then that we are lonely, exhausted, tempted, discouraged, and depressed. Peter realized this for, in the 4th chapter of his first epistle he said that we can expect to experience the same kind of suffering that Christ did. Amy Carmichael, a longtime missionary in South India-someone who was certainly not a stranger to hardships of every sort once wrote:

“Hast thou no scar? No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?

I hear thee sung as mighty in the land, I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,

Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound? Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent,

Leaned me against the tree to die; and rent By raving beasts that compassed me, I swooned;

Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar? Yes, as the Master the servant shall be,

And pierced are the feet that follow Me; But thine are whole, can he have followed far

Who has no wound no scar?”

Amy Carmichael is right because if you truly follow Jesus, you will get wounded. In fact both Peter and James go so far as to say that suffering is necessary in order for us to become the person God wants us to be. These two learned that sometimes God uses trials to refine us and mature us for His work because there are some things we cannot learn unless we go through diversity.

This summer, while in Kenya we saw lots of giraffe. We even went to a park where we could feed them right out of our hands. Well this week I read a portion of Gary Richmond’s book, A View from a Zoo in which he tells about the birth of a giraffe: The first thing to emerge are the baby giraffe’s front hooves and head. A few minutes later the plucky newborn calf is hurled forth, falls ten feet, and lands on its back. Well then the mother giraffe lowers her head long enough to take a look and then after about 60 seconds or so, she does the most unreasonable thing. She swings her long pendulous leg outward and kicks her baby so that it is sent sprawling head over heals. When it doesn’t get up, the violent process is repeated over and over again. The little guy struggles to rise and when he grows tired, the mother kicks it again. Well, finally the calf stands for the first time on its wobbly legs. Then the mother giraffe kicks it off its feet again. Why? Well, she wants him to REMEMBER how he got up. You see, in the wild, baby giraffes must be able to get up as quickly as possible in order to stay with the herd, where there is safety. Lions, hyenas, leopards, and wild hunting dogs all love to eat young giraffes, and they’d get to a lot more often if mother giraffe’s didn’t teach their babies to get up quickly.

Has there ever been a time when you endured one trial, only to get knocked down again? Well, it may be that God is allowing this series of hard knocks to help you remember how it was that you got up, maybe He is permitting this to help you and me get it through our thick skulls that to become like Jesus-to survive in this cruel world-we must stay close to God. We must learn to walk in His shadow, under His care. You see God is more interested in our character than He is our comfort and character cannot be developed in times of ease. You can’t become a person of endurance and patience by reading a book or even listening to a sermon. These eternal, Christlike qualities can only be learned through tough times. And so when they come we should rejoice and give thanks. Thomas Watson, 17th the century puritan pastor wrote, “Affliction works as our preacher and tutor. Sometimes a sickbed can tech us more than a sermon. Affliction is often the medicine that God uses to carry off our spiritual diseases.”

So James’ first advice on how to deal with trials is to THANK GOD FOR THEM-but that is hard for most of us which is why James says in verse 5 that our next step should be to…


In other words, we need to learn to respond to trials with prayer in which we ask God not only for the strength to endure our hard times but also for His wisdom-his perspective on our trials.

Now if we were honest we would all have to admit that we do not practice the discipline of prayer as often as we should. In fact too many of us have given up on genuine prayer-either through busyness or laziness. And trials have a way of driving us back to God. We go through months of prayerlessness only to be faced by some trauma which causes us to cry out to God for help. We are like the little boy who said his prayers at night not in the day because he said, “I’m not scared in the daytime.”

Well in these opening words to his book James reminds us that when trials come, when it’s dark outside and we need to see how trials can mature us, we need to ask God. In verse 5 James says that if we ask for this kind of help and guidance, it will be given to us generously, without fault. In other words when it comes to prayer, there is no such thing as a stupid question. God wants us to learn from our trials. He wants us to mature-so He welcomes our asking. As Jesus sais in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ask and it shall be given you.” This reminds me of John Newton’s little poem about prayer: “Thou art coming to a King. Large petitions with thee bring, for His grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much.” But James gives us a very important word of guidance here. He says that when we pray, we must do so in faith. We must draw near to God confident of both His willingness and His ability to answer our questions. We must trust His answers-His perspective-more than our own. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, we must “…trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding.”

You see, the word for “doubting” in verse 6 refers to a person who wants to rely on God AND on himself or someone else or something else. It refers to an individual who seeks God’s will but wants to do his will as well or someone who prays but also checks his horoscope for guidance. James says that such a person is double-minded and unstable. I get the picture of a man with one foot on a boat that is leaving the dock and the other food on the dock. A swim is inevitable and it is also inevitable that we will miss the maturity lessons God want’s us to grasp if we don’t put our complete trust in Him during tough times.

Then, in the next verses James cites two kinds of trials: the trial of POVERTY and the trial of PROSPERITY. And if this seems odd to you then write this down: Any trial that you face will be either be caused by pain or by pleasure.

Now, all of us know the pain of not having enough money. Without enough money our physical needs go unmet. As someone once said, “When our outgo exceeds our income, our upkeep is our downfall!” Many of us can identify with the man who told his wife they were going to start living within their income even if they had to borrow money to do so.

But there are other problems associated with not having enough money. We begin to envy others who DO have enough. We can even become embittered toward our peers who are financially blessed or we can give-in to self-pity.

Well the pleasure of PROSPERITY can also be a problem. Many times having an abundance of money can lead to an abundance of problems. For example wealth can lead us to have a false sense of self-security. We think, “Whatever I need, I can buy.” Self-security leads to a dependence on our money and causes us to forget our need for God. The tangible become our god. And this is foolish because as James says, material possessions are transitory. A person who depends on his riches will be like a colorful flower in the desert. His life may be spectacular and colorful, but it will also be short-lived.

So, the trial of poverty teaches us to rely on God alone to meet our needs. And the trial of prosperity can help us to see that material things are transitory and that only a fool invests his life in them.

So James tells us that when trials come we must…THANK GOD FOR THEM and ASK GOD ABOUT THEM and then finally he says that we should…

III. look forward to the BENEFIT OF THEM

In verse 12, he says that when we endure tough times we are “blessed” and the Greek word here is “makarios.” The word can literally be translated, “happy” or “fulfilled.” It carries the idea of a profound inner joy and satisfaction, a joy that only the Lord Himself is able to bestow on those who, for His sake and in His power, faithfully and patiently endure and conquer trials. J. B. Phillips translation captures the idea by wording verse 12 in this way, “The man who patiently endures the temptations and trials that come to him is the truly happy man.”

James goes on to say that this blessed person “will receive the crown of life.” He is no doubt thinking of the wreath of victory that is placed on the head of the winner of a race in the Greek games or the wreath placed on the head of a victorious warrior returning from battle. The crown of life is a reward that is given for enduring. But I want to make sure you understand what James is saying here. He’s not talking about a reward that is given at the end of life…because the Greek words for “crown” and “life” are appositives-which means they refer to the same thing.

So he’s not referring to our heavenly reward. No-James is talking about the abundant life that comes NOW as we walk with God. He’s saying that a “crowned” life is the result of enduring tough times.

Someone once said, “The pay for being a Christian is not much but the retirement plan is out of this world.” And that is not altogether true. I mean the retirement plan is wonderful but the pay right now isn’t too bad either. For, by enduring-by keeping faithful to Jesus no matter what comes, we gain true happiness-we experience life in its deepest and fullest sense. Barclay writes, “…the struggle of the Christian life is the WAY to glory and it is itself a glory.”

I’m a jogger. I run about 15-20 miles each week and like most joggers I do this for two reasons.

First of all I know that jogging has a FUTURE pay off. By running I will live longer. But jogging also has a PRESENT pay off and this is the MAIN reason I go to all this trouble. You see when I ENDURE daily runs, I feel better. I sleep better and handle the stress of the pastorate better. I think clearer. I’m a happier person. The truth is God designed our body so that physical stress causes it to release endorphins, which are hormones that give us a physical sense of well-being. And the truth James points out here is that GOD designed our spiritual selves in the same way for when we endure tough times while holding on to a faith in Him alone, we are happier…blessed people.