Last week we looked at the author of this book- James the Just. We looked at his life, his ministry, the hope we gain from this book in the few short words of the first verse and also the topics you will be examining with me and the other preachers. Today we are looking at a topic that is at the front of most people’s minds; trials and tribulations. Why is this at the forefront of our minds? Because we are a species that does endure hardships. We talked about the straightforwardness of James last week and how simple his statements and instructions were and not that they were lacking or a “strawy epistle.” James is not a figurative speaker in this text; he does not offer a lot of metaphors, anecdotes, or reflections. For the first part of the text there is no real flowery edification or opening prayer. He dives into the deep end-consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds. How many people do that? I personally will endure a trial but I will moan and winge about it. But we’re not called to just to endure it, or tolerate it well, or even be happy about it-we are told to consider it pure joy. What do you think of when you think of pure joy? I think of relaxing on the dock of a lake by a cabin early in the morning with a cup of coffee; I think of reading a good book about some Christian missionary in a far off land, people making fun of my religious beliefs where I work is not my idea of pure joy. But that is the theme for this message why we should not only expect but also welcome trials-and we look at this in three parts. The first being we know that our trials build up endurance in us, the second part is that trials bring completeness and maturity, and the third reason is that we should welcome trials because the value of the growth is worth more than benefits of being spared pain.
We have all encountered trials in our lives. I have not heard of anyone in history who had a perfect life. Even Christ Himself had trials that would test anyone’s resolve. However, our trials are never an example of God neglecting us or rejecting us. Often times we go through trials and when something in the future happens we are thankful for our trials because they prepared and refined us in the fire for that moment. The Lord never once promised us that our lives would be easy but He did say He would be there with us. Warren Wiersbe said “Life’s trials are not easy. But in God’s will, each has a purpose. Often He uses them to enlarge you.” I once knew a man who was very successful actually; he owned a business, engineering, drove a very nice car, and had a beautiful wife and kids. One day the market took a slight turn for the worse-we refer to this event as the global economic crisis. When I asked “Ed” (not his real name) how he fared in the market, he informed me that he had to file for bankruptcy. Just utterly shocked-I apologised, offered what I could do and was remorseful. Ed brushed it off; evidently businesses declared bankruptcy all the time-truly Donald Trump has stated he has declared bankruptcy 9 times in his career. When I asked Ed why he was so nonchalant about it. He responded that financially it would all work out; he would be fine, his family would be ok and in the grand spectrum of eternity this really didn’t make a difference. See Ed had grown up homeless on the streets; he lived with foster parents and was frequently abused. He was beaten so much his eyes are permanently crossed now. He lived on the streets until he was 24; then got into a half way house, got work, got a college education, and the rest is history. Ed said to me that after eating out of a dumpster, cutting back on the frills wasn’t a big deal. Even my experiences that have been horrible have prepared me to be a preacher, teacher, husband, and maybe one day a father.
This brings me to my next point-that trials bring maturity and completeness thus we should be grateful for this. The Holy Bible says that iron sharpens iron; something hard, sharp, and tough creates something strong, sharp, and tough. In the Bible there are multiple verses that clearly link trials with Christian growth; In Romans it says “In His gracious, sovereign oversight, God uses all aspects in believers’ lives—including great difficulties—to help them become more like Jesus.” Isn’t that the whole point to become more like Christ? We cannot get through life without trials-Christ never did but all these trials guided Him towards an event; the resurrection. Christ told us to expect troubles; no servant is above their master but we should rejoice. Rather than trying to fight the trials let us embrace them, the pain may be less when we don’t fight and we may actually be able to see the changes in us and the growth. Christmas Evans once said that completeness in Christ will never be complete until we are with Christ. We need to understand that this life is a fleeting moment, a blink of the eye and 17 000 years from now our trials will seem like a faded memory of a pinprick we felt running for the phone. But trials seem more real to us because we want that maturity and that wholeness in Christ right away. We feel that when we become Christians we should achieve this immediately but as I have been once; we will always have a little darkness in our souls but if it becomes less through Christ each and every day we are on the right track. The same is true in how we respond to our trials. This leads me to my third point, that the benefit we achieve from the trials outweigh the benefits of avoiding the trial all together.
Charles Finley once said that “A state of mind that sees God in everything is evidence of growth in grace and a thankful heart.” See, knowing that the pain on earth will one day turn into the joys of heaven doesn’t take away the tears but it does give us hope. There was once a young man I attended university with, his name was “Adam B”. He was a nice guy-he was in third year; I was in first year. Adam was one of our dorm advisors but he was also a heavy drinker, drug user, and womaniser. One of my first memories was of Adam in a compromising position; truly he reminded me of the prodigal son. One night, Adam got really drunk, he was smart enough not to drive home but not smart enough to follow the crosswalks. Adam was hit by a car and spent several months in the hospital. Afterwards he got his life back together and eventually even became a Christian. Adam once spoke at our Christian fellowship group and emphasised how he was thankful for the accident. He told me in a later conversation that when we get in our own way; God will use other methods to get our attention. Adam thought about the way he had acted in the past and the joys that he got from that carnal life. He equated it to a photo copy of a photo copy- a faint copy of joy. In the Bible God promises that if we are faithful, if we keep the faith what we have waiting for us is greater than anything, truly greater is He that is in me than he who is in the world. Since that is true, clearly the benefits of those trials we endure for Christ either directly, or indirectly are of a greater benefit to us than avoiding hardships. The Bible says “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” The Bible promises that it will just be for a little while. So why is James writing this at the start of his epistle? Well clearly the messianic Christians were experiencing trials but James does not sugar coat it, suck it up, and be happy because we are experiencing these trials for a reason. Bad things are going to happen whether you are a Christian or not-at least our trials will yield fruit and that is the promise of God. We keep the faith, we bear the fruit, and we win the race. Let’s pray.
Benediction: And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”
(1 Peter 5:10-11 NRSV)