What to do when the pain comes
Topic: James: Wise Advice for Everyday Living Scripture: James 1:1–1:8
What to do when the pain comes
Rev. Stuart Strachan Jr
Well we are starting a new series this week looking at the book of James. James is really choc-full of wisdom for everyday Christian living.
I heard one pastor say ”the genius of James is not that it's this amazing exposition of the theology of the Gospel; that's Romans. James is Christianity at street level.
And yet, I would argue, it is not simple or simplistic. It is wisdom that has trickled down into this letter from years and years of faithful worship of God. So without further adieu, let’s begin our study in James by reading chapter 1, verses 1-8.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
One of the things that James is good at is giving us a more accurate picture of ourselves. You see, we are not very good at judging ourselves. One example: our height and our weight. Studies done in North America have time and time again showed that people under-report their weight and over-report their height.
James is all about helping us recognize who we really are. And the major ways he does this is by giving advice…and he gives a lot of it. In fact, because Greek has different moods that indicate what kind of speech is being used, you can very quickly count up the pieces of advice in the book of James. There are 108 verses across 5 chapters in James. There are 54 imperatives…that means in every other verse James is offering some form of advice to the church.
And here’s something we also are aware of: We…don’t… like… being…given…advice.
But and maybe you are more or less aware of this...we need it!
One of the things I’ve noticed in our culture is that we are very comfortable giving advice to children, but not so much with adults.
It’s almost as if we assume that by the time you reach 20 or 30 or 80 or whatever age…you’ve got it covered…you don’t want to hear it.
On other end of advice, we often avoid giving advice to others even if we are pretty sure they need it because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
But is it really loving of another person if we see some big character flaw and we ignore it?
And at that point, is that more about us, or about them?
Now, if we are going to give advice, we always are called to do what Paul says in Ephesians 4, we are to speak truth in love.
And now another important point about advice is this: we are more or less likely to receive advice depending on who is giving it.
Now generally speaking, you are morke like to take advice from someone who has gone through whatever you are going through right?
In other words, you are more likely to take advice on your baseball swing from Andrew McCutchen then your aunt Roberta
You are more likely to take advice on your finances if its Warren Buffet rather than your cousin whose always asking to borrow a buck or two.
You are more likely to take advice driving from Dale Earnhardt than that random person that cut you off on your way to church.
And, if you lived during the time of the first century church, the church that developed after Jesus died, rose from the grave, then ascended to the Father and then sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, you would listen to James when he gave advice related to how to deal with suffering.
But that begs the question, who is James?
Well, who is James…there are a lot of James’ in the world, and a lot of James’ in the New Testament. In fact, there are 5 James’ in the N.T.
So which is it? Well, most scholars and pastors believe it is James the brother of Jesus…so, in and of itself, that is significant.
James was not one of the original disciples of Jesus, but he would ultimately become the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
Not only was a he a leader in the early church and a brother of Jesus, but he also was persecuted for his faith.
In fact, not only do we have reference to James’ ministry in the Bible, but Josephus, the Jewish historian also talks about James’ ministry which will ultimately lead to his martyrdom at the hands of the Jewish leadership in Rome.
So, Is James someone worthy of taking advice from, and the answer is yes.
James major piece of advice comes right in the second first: consider it joy, whenever you face trials…
We are going to unpack all of that and my hope is that you see this advice as some of the best advice you ever get.
- Trials are inevitable
Now the first point James makes is this trials are inevitable:
Let’s look again at the text:
James says consider it “pure joy” literally “all joy” in other words…that is, don’t focus on the negative of trials, because God can bring meaning and purpose to even the hardest, darkest moments of our life.
So he goes on… “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds”
Notice, brothers and sisters, it doesn’t say, consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, “if” you face trials of many kinds…it says, “when” when you face trials of many kinds…
In other words, suffering in life is going to happen…the word translated “trials” has as it’s meaning this idea of “persecution” or “affliction”…we’re not talking Olympic trials, we’re talking the trials and tribulations of life…
Now, if I was a prosperity gospel preacher, well, if I was a prosperity gospel preacher, I would just ignore this passage altogether…but the point is, Christianity is not a religion to follow in order to avoid trials. You do not become a Christian in order to avoid hardships.
That is a gospel we all want. I mean, who wants to be told, you are going to face trials! No one! And there are pastors out there who will tell you that all you need to do is believe and you name it and you claim it, health, wealth, and it’s all good…but guess what, that’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t say, just get on the gravy train and God’s going to bless you and nothing bad is ever going to happen.
No,, but what the gospel does do, and perhaps a better way of saying it is, what Jesus gives you through the power of the Holy Spirit, is a different way to deal with trials when they come.
In fact, the Christian faith has the resources right here in this passage to completely change the script, to change the way you deal with trials…but it will not remove them from you…and too often, and I don’t know where this comes from, but a lot of people assume that being a follower of Jesus, or being a worshipper of God entitles you to a get out of trials free card.
And when that turns out not to happen, as James alerts us will be the case, some people simply turn away from God.
How many of you know people who have turned their backs on God not because they don’t believe in Him, but they believe he betrayed them by allowing some hard thing to happen in their lives.
But you see, that’s just not true to the Christian faith. Trials will come, as James says, and its how you respond to those trials that will make all the difference.
Let’s look at what the text says:
“If any of you lacks wisdom (and I think here it’s important to say, lacks wisdom as to how to move forward in a difficult situation…have any of you been in a difficult situation and you didn’t know what to do?
Yes, okay, than this is for you…)…so if any of you lacks wisdom… you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
But when you ask (that is, when you ask God for wisdom), you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”
So trials are inevitable…but they also have the power to do something for us, and that is to expose our true character.
When we face trials “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”
This word perseverance is the word “upomeno”. I’ve talked about it before. It literally means “to remain under” to “hang in there”. I kind of have this word picture for it of a person caught in a storm, and they’ve taken refuge under a giant rock, and they are just trying to “remain under” that rock as the wind and the rain and the hail come flying down on them”
And that is what we are called to do, to remain under during the trials and the storms of life.
Now the point I want to make here is that trials lead to revelation…or in other words, to an unveiling. They reveal our inner motivations, our inner struggles, our inner insecurities…etc. etc..and I want to get to what James is saying with that, but I want to take just a moment to talk about wisdom.
Because, as James has already stated, wisdom is the outcome of someone who endures trials. Wisdom, in a sense, is the reward of faithfulness, wisdom is the reward of steadfastness.
But what exactly is wisdom? Right? Kind of an important question. For many of us when we think about wisdom, we think of someone like Yoda…right…someone that’s advanced in years and has learned a lot about life through that experience.
Well that is, fairly close to what Biblical wisdom is. Biblical wisdom, and I’m quoting here from a scholar, is “above all a practically oriented virtue that gives direction for the life of the godly person. ‘Insight’ into the will of God and the way it is to be applied in life are both given by wisdom”
So wisdom teaches you how to behave in a life that is often very complicated. The social media site Facebook has made popular a phrase related to romantic relationships: “Its complicated”…right…but the truth is, all human relationships are complicated, and therefore what we need is wisdom to be able to navigate all the complexity.
For those of us who know the Bible fairly well we remember the story of Solomon, right, who is called the wisest man that ever lived…and the story goes that two women approach him, each claiming to be the mother of a baby. The baby can’t speak for itself, surprisingly enough, and so, Solomon is tasked with trying to discover who the real mother is.
And as you may remember, Solomon says, okay, this is what we’re going to do…each of you claims to be the mother, so we’ll cut the baby in half and each of you will get half a baby. The woman who is lying about the baby says, fine, that will work for me, whereas the woman who is the actual mother says, dear God no, please give the baby to the other woman and she can raise it…better to lose the baby than to another mother than to see it cut in half…yes…the Bible is not always G rated.
Solomon of course realizes who the real mother is because of the two women’s responses…and grants the baby to the real mother. It took wisdom to come up with that plan. Right?
And we want that that kind of wisdom too, I think, I hope?
But in order to experience that wisdom we have to be able to endure through trials, through the afflictions of life and we cannot constantly waver back and forth between faith and doubt.
Let’s look again at the text:
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do
Now, right off the bat here we need to talk about this word “doubt”. I know in the past when I read this text I’ve felt this fear, “oh my gosh, I’ve doubted God’s existence from time to time, does that mean I’m like one who is blown and tossed by the wind?
And this is where looking at the original language, that is, the Greek can be helpful. The word translated as “doubt” is an interesting word in Greek, “Diakrino”.
Diakrino literally means to judge through…but it has at its center, someone who constantly goes back and forth, back and forth, not able to make a decision.
In other words, someone who wavers constantly in their faith. They cannot make a decision. Some days they believe, other days they do not. And so, that makes sense, that such a person, someone who goes back and forth in their belief when a crisis hits, or when trials come, will be like a ship tossed back and forth in a storm, unable to control it’s outcome.
Because, as we’ve already said: Trials have a revelatory capability, that is, they reveal where our hearts really are. And if we have one foot in and one foot out of the ship of Christian faith, we can expect not to come out on the other side with wisdom, but really just stuck.
But this is true for all of us, this fact that when we face trials, we will earn more about who we are as human beings than we ever did before.
I was listening to one of my favorite pastors preach on this text and this is how he put it: “Trials are the ruler and scale to reveal in our lives”
We are all squeaky clean when our stomachs are full, when are car started in the morning, when there’s no traffic, when we all have jobs, the stock market is up…but when the trials come, boy, things are different…we’re all squeaky clean until someone challenges your second amendment rights if you are conservative, or someone challenges your belief in climate change if you are liberal.
I’ll never forget when I was in college, and I believe it was my senior year and a group of my friends decided to go on this trip to an island off the coast of Santa Barbara and camp out. And there were a couple of decisions early on that doomed this trip.
The first bad decision was putting my friend Andrew Brumme in charge of purchasing the food. Andrew was already at that point known for being the stingiest, most frugal persons we knew, and putting him solely in charge of food provisions was a catastrophic mistake.
I remember he literally purchased on can of “hungry man” stew for dinner for 5 college men. That’s not going to cut it.
The second major flawed decision was to believe that our food would naturally be complemented by what we caught fishing on the island. Well guess, what, there was no habitat for fish on the island, so no fish were caught.
We also had to hike about a half mile straight up a cliff to get to our campsite, so naturally we would be quite hungry by the time we ate.
How do you build capacity to show Christ during trials?
everyone is really generous…until there isn’t enough food to go around…
Fence: revealed my anger problem
what is at stake is our ability to display Christ when everything doesn’t go well.
And so I’ll never forget on the second day, where we each received on pb&j sandwich we decided to cast lots, or whatever system we came up with to choose who got to eat the very last dregs out of the peanut butter jar.
I wanted that peanut butter so badly. And truthfully, everyone except for me, including Andrew who did the shopping, decided to bring their own stash of food with them. And another friend of mine, who had at least a few cliff bars to supplement his diet, won the peanut butter jar. And I was sure he would share it with me, because he was just, an amazing man of God. I really looked up to him. I thought he had a maturity and a wisdom to him beyond his age and so when he had this boon of extra peanut butter, I was sure he would give me some of it.
Well, guess what…didn’t happen! Why not? Because he was in a trial of hunger…and the normally generous, kind, loving friend became a hoarder: MY PEANUT BUTTER!
So he had some maturing to do…and so did I. But you see, trials will ultimately reveal the condition of our hearts.
You see trials are the stage on which we have the chance to mature. Trials are the stage where we have the opportunity to not simply survive but to thrive as we become more and more transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.
Paul puts it this way in Romans 5:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Brothers and sisters, trials are inevitable. And as much as I wish I could tell you that they aren’t going to happen again…they will. And the question is, how will you respond? What elements of your character will be revealed?
My prayer is that you will see these trials for what they can be in Christ alone: Pure joy.
Will you pray with me?
 Richard Dahlstrom