Experiencing The Blessings Of God In The Midst Of Hardship
James 1:2-4, 12-15

Rev. Bryn MacPhail

Last Sunday we were all challenged to "get in the race". We were challenged to "get off the fence", to train and to run the race with endurance.

Now, if I could sum up the purpose of the epistle of James in one word, the word would be endurance. James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote this letter to the church at large to build their endurance .

Unfortunately, the notion of justification by faith alone had given occasion for apathy in many of the Christian churches rather than a desire "to run the race". James' readers weren't putting their faith into practice, so James writes this letter to exhort them to be "doers of the word"(1:22).

You may have already noticed, the first 11 verses of the letter are not closely connected. The reason being is that they provide a table of contents for James' letter. In these verses, James begins with trials and endurance(v.2-4). From there he moves to the subjects of wisdom, faith, and prayer(v.5-8). And finally to issues surrounding poverty and wealth(v.9-11).

For our purposes today, we will look at verses 2-4 and verses 12-15. We will look at trials and temptations and how they affect how well we run the race.

Beginning in verse 2, the first part of the sentence is one of the most startling verses in the entire New Testament, "Consider it pure joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials"(repeat). What is startling about this sentence should be obvious--James is calling for a completely unnatural response. When we experience trials we become frustrated, we become distraught, we become angry, and we even become depressed . . . But joyful ? How many of us experience joy in the midst of hardship?

I have been in enough of your homes, and have heard enough of your stories to know that many--if not most--of you have been through some very difficult trials. Trials that, I am sure, did not include joy, but only profound heartache.

How is it possible for us to experience joy in the midst of hardship? This is what verses 3 and 4 has to say: "Consider it pure joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing".

Is this a simplistic answer to hardship? I don't think so. Notice that James NEVER tells us to rejoice IN our trials. James doesn't want us to celebrate when we lose our job. James doesn't want us to take joy in the death of a loved one. James wants us to rejoice IN SPITE of all our difficulties, not because of them.

James points beyond what we can see to what God is doing behind the scenes. James reminds us of the principle we learn in the poem "Footsteps"--that in the midst of hardships, God is CARRYING us. God is changing us--He is giving us strength and endurance for the race so that we "may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing". We are to rejoice in the Lord always, not in our trials. Our salvation is the root of our joy, not our hardship.

We were reminded a few weeks ago, from the apostle Peter, how our salvation is more valuable than gold. Peter also reminded us that our trials are temporary , while our salvation is not. I know, however, that for some of you, certain trials have been a reality for years and it becomes increasingly difficult to see these trials as temporary. But James agrees with Peter, "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him"(v.12).

Now that statement is good news only when we recognize the value of that "crown of life". If the "crown" sounds like some abstract, irrelevant, reward to us, we may not be motivated to "persevere under trial". But the reality is that the crown of life is worth more than all the gold in the world!, Peter tells us. The crown of life is the inheritance of ETERNAL life and fellowship with God. When we truly believe this, it is then that we will begin to experience joy in the midst of life's most difficult trials.

Now James must have anticipated his readers' response, and maybe it is your response: "If the way I am reacting to these trials is sinful, then it is God's fault because He sent them". James refutes that notion quite plainly, "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone"(v.13).

So how do we make sense of our trials? That, I cannot answer for you. "Why?" certain things happen, I can't explain because Scripture doesn't explicitly explain. I am not concerned here so much with "Why?" things happen because James isn't. The Bible nowhere explains "Why" bad things happen to "good" people, but it has plenty to say about how righteous people should respond to difficult trials. The "Why?" is not nearly as important as "What are we going to do now? ".

James' primary concern, and our primary concern should be HOW we respond to trials. And we have at least 2 choices: we can endure the trial by trusting and rejoicing in God, or we can allow the trial to dominate our attention and tempt us to sin.

And when the trial becomes a temptation to sin, the tendency is to blame God. But God does not want temptation or sin to result. God wants us to respond by remaining joyful in our salvation. God desires us to gain endurance, strength, and maturity from our trials. Satan, however, wants to see our trial become a temptation to sin. The most familiar example of this is the trials of Job.

God wanted to see Job endure the trials and have his faith strengthened, while Satan wanted those same trials to cause Job to curse God.

Think of how you typically respond to trials. Do trials cause you to trust God more or doubt God? Do trials drive you to pray more or less? In short, do trials bring you closer to God or separate you from God?

If the answer is negative to any of these you may wonder why this is the case. We can't blame God for this because we know God wants us to trust Him more, pray to Him more, and draw closer to Him. Can we blame the devil? We can't even do that because verse 14 makes the source of our temptation to sin clear, "each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed".

The word "enticed" is the translation of the Greek word which means literally, "to lure by a bait". By using this word, James is likening our enticement to sin with a fish lured to a bait. This metaphor is important because it distinguishes between Satan dropping a fishing net and catching a "fish" involuntarily from him lowering the bait for the "fish" to voluntarily approach and latch on to. This verse shows that we are not helpless victims when we sin, but rather beings who are able to choose or resist the "bait". James could not be more explicit. The source of temptation is not God, or even the devil, but our own sinful heart .

James then makes us aware of the consequences of temptation. James moves from snare imagery to conception and birth imagery: "Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death"(v.15). Once the "hook" is in, there is a dreaded three-generational course: evil desire, sin, and death.

The inevitability of this "sin" is stressed by the birth imagery; one cannot reverse the course of conception. To be precise; there are two births. Once desire is conceived it inevitably gives birth to sin. Sin inevitably grows up and gives birth to death. Thankfully we have been saved from death by Christ! Though we are exempt from the second birth--that of death, the first birth--that of sin is inevitable once evil desire has conceived. The only possible solution then, is to prevent conception--to prevent sinful desires .

This is the key to experiencing joy in the midst of hardship. Please don't misunderstand me--it is perfectly acceptable to be upset when something bad happens--feelings of frustration, sadness, and even anger may be appropriate. The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians to "Be angry, and yet do not sin"(4:26). If your anger begins to manifest itself against your neighbour, your children, or your spouse, you probably took the bait. You can be upset at the circumstance of your trial, but remain joyful in the Lord and in your salvation.

Your trial may be complex, but your response to that trial does not have to be. Our response to trials is simple--not always easy--but simple. Choose not to let your trial rule your life. Choose to maintain the joy of your salvation.

This is easier said than done, no doubt. We naturally allow ourselves to be ruled by our trials and circumstances. That is humanity's typical response. But that is not to say that it is the right response. The appropriate response--rejoicing in the Lord--will take tremendous amounts of prayer. It will require regular Bible reading--and this isn't my idea but the Psalmist's: "Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee"(Ps.119:11). The Bible insulates our mind. It fortifies our mind from bitter, hateful thoughts.

Difficult trials may come our way. We will be ruled by these trials and they will cause us to sin. But it doesn't have to be this way. God will give us the strength to endure, but we must ask for it--we must look for it in the Scriptures. These disciplines will help us both persevere through trials, and mature us as Christians.

Who here doesn't long for joy in the midst of hardship? It can be ours in Jesus Christ. The question is, "Will we CHOOSE to rejoice?".