See part 1 for the introduction to this series
Test Number 1: My attitude towards God in the TRIALS of life
Firstly, in chapter 1:2-17, James looks at how we react to the trials of life. This test may show up my lack of faith – my proud adulterous attitude towards God:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
We all face hardship, unexpected events that floor us. Relationships fail, loved ones die, we get ill, we face financial problems, life just isn’t turning out as we’d dreamt it would, and we think, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this! This wasn’t my plan for me…”
The shock is, James says: When troubles of any kind come your way – Consider it an opportunity for pure joy!
Now he surely can’t be asking us to have a perma-grin on our face. We can’t pretend to enjoy suffering? No, he is asking us to be joyful because we understand God’s purpose behind the trial – that perseverance through the testing of our faith leads to maturity; making us more like Christ – Remember – that is God’s plan for us.
The question James asks is: How will you deal with the trials? Will you turn to the Lord, and ask for his wisdom, to trust him through times of trouble… and in turn have your faith strengthened?
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. (James 1:5)
Or will you ask for wisdom, and then continue to doubt his goodness – thinking in some perverse way that he is wrong to allow you to suffer like this?
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. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:6-8)
When things are tough, it is a real test of our faith… whether we believe God is good. But James says that if we doubt God’s good intentions for us through trials, we have divided loyalty – we are being double-minded and unstable… like a wave tossed on the wind.
In the Bible we are taught that God doesn’t promise us health and happiness in this life, but actually that he will use our trials for the strengthening of our faith. But often we choose to ignore that uncomfortable truth! No – secretly, we want to sue God! We want compensation for losing out on our happiness.
James goes on to give an everyday example of an everyday trial – that of our financial and social standing. Which path will we choose: faithfulness or adultery? Obedience or disobedience. Will we be like Jesus?
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wildflower. (James 1:9-10)
Much of our lives are taken up with money matters, aren’t they? Earning enough to feed ourselves and our families, create a nice living environment, run a car, have plenty of clothes, holidays, haircuts, etc. etc. Here’s an area, James says, where we will be tempted to mistrust God’s goodness… where we will be likely have divided loyalty.
There are two tests. First, the test of poverty in 1:9:
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.
“What high position?” he mumbles. Well, flip over to chapter 2 verse 5:
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?
Listen says James – the poor person has many more opportunities to practice trusting God because they face more hardship. It’s as they trust him – they see that God provides all they need, not necessarily all they want. In turn they learn to trust God more and more – they become richer in faith. It’s a virtuous circle.
Also, Christ chose to live on this earth in incredibly poor and shameful circumstances, he never lived an extravagant lifestyle. Ultimately The Lord of the universe allowed himself to be humiliated in the extreme as he died the worst possible public death. And yet because of Christ’s humility, he has won for us – the kingdom of heaven!
And that is what the poor Christian must set their eyes on – that amazing inheritance waiting for them beyond the grave. But here is that choice, those two pathways – the pathway of faith and trust and wisdom or the pathway of proud wilful double-mindedness. Will they actually feel hard done by, not content with their position in God’s eyes?
The temptation is obvious isn’t it: The measures of status in our culture are:
How gorgeous are you?
How clever are you?
How rich are you?
So, as Christian [men and] women, we are going to be tempted to believe those things are what’s really important in life. But we are fools if we fall into the trap of caring what the world thinks is worthwhile whilst ignoring God’s assessment of what is worthwhile. The poor and lowly are so precious to him. In God’s eyes, they hold a high position. But will we believe that?
Well, What about the trial of riches in 1:10:
But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wildflower.
It would appear that James is saying the troubles faced by the rich are harder than poverty. But we don’t believe that, do we! We think “I’d quite like to have a go at the trial of being rich!”
But of course, riches are dangerous. The world says money = security. Life is not so hard when you’ve got dosh. Money is power – just look at who landed the top spot in the USA… because he was rich. But it’s lethal because – The richer you are the less you will think you need to exercise faith in your God.
James says, “You rich people BEWARE!
“You need to take pride in your low position.
“You are not secure without Christ!
“Your security in this world is not security beyond the grave! Along with you – It will all just get blown away like a fragile flower in the field. Have you ever picked a wildflower and seen how long it lasts? However beautiful it is, it’s not long before it droops and drops and withers.
There was a vicar at a millionaires funeral and at the wake someone sidled up to him and whispered “How much did he leave?” and the vicar whispered back “Everything…!”
We Christians are in danger in this green and pleasant land. We are good at talking like God-trusters but actually, how much of our security is tied up in our worldly wealth?Putting our FAITH firmly in pension schemes, savings, and insurance policies. I’ve got an ISA. That is my only savings and its value bounces up and down like a yo-yo on Red Bull – ooh, I get really cross. That’s my future security… Really?
How much of my time, or if I’m married, my husband’s time, is taken up earning just a bit more to make my life more comfortable, more secure? So, James says, Beware! You are in danger!
The only thing the rich person has to be proud of is that he is a slave of God. The things that make a person rich in this world will not last, so we must evaluate our lives by God’s plan for us, not our worldly one.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)
The promise here is wonderful – As we trust God through trials he will increase our faith and we will be richly rewarded – the crown of life has been won for us by Christ and is waiting for us when we cross the finishing line.
However, James has a serious warning for us too – the other path is to shake a fist at God. To blame him for our misfortune.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is fullgrown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
This is a perfect potted version of what happened in Genesis 3 with Adam & Eve and the fruit. Listen again to that dreadful event: From Genesis 2:16-17 we read
And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.
God is essentially asking Adam to trust him – that he – God is the only one qualified to make the rules and to decide what is good and what is evil. And he is commanding Adam to obey him: TRUST & OBEY – it’s THAT SIMPLE! Fundamentally – that is what FAITH is: TRUST & OBEY.
But then Satan crawls in and undermines the very essence of God’s character:
He questions God’s right to make the rules and calls him a liar. 3:1
He tempts Eve to mistrust God. 3:4
Then Satan implies that Eve would make a great job of deciding what was right and wrong. He tempts Eve to disobey God. 3:5 -6
and she falls for it completely.
And the rest as they say – is history – literally HISTORY. This has been happening ever since in every human heart; every second of every minute of every hour of every day of History.
MISTRUST & DISOBEDIENCE
WE HAVE A TOTALY WRONG ATTITUDE TOWARDS GOD
And the terrifying thing is – exactly as God had promised – the result is death.
More diagnosis and bad news next week, but you have to know the bad news before you can appreciate the good news.
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk