James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
James 1:16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Psa. 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
Psa. 19:10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
As we focus in on these few verses of James chapter one, it is helpful to be reminded again of the context of this letter. James is writing to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion. The situation is strained, the Christian recipients feel alone, uprooted, and are struggling through what may be the greatest trial of their lives.
James is utterly aware of their circumstances and their sense of hopelessness. His focus is to reorient them and their sight to their true purpose and hope and helps them target areas of skepticism. James knows that they are facing many trials and temptations and this section of Scripture is his response. In this section James is calling the Christian church to remain steadfast in the face of trials.
Now, when we were just newlyweds, living in San Diego, CA, each year at Christmas time my wife and I would make the 18-20 hour drive up to Tacoma. We would leave at 3:00am in the morning and arrive around 11:00pm that same night. The journey was long, and as we drove by beautiful beaches, Disneyland, Universal Studios, the Redwood forests and many other wonderful attractions, we would long to stop – but we had to press on.
After the first 5 hours of driving, we were tired, but ok. After 8 hours, we’d notice that we were getting more and more uncomfortable and we’d start getting a little annoyed with little things, at 12 hours we’d start talking about calling it quits and staying at a hotel somewhere, but then at 16 hours we’d get a second wind. We would see familiar signs, we knew family was waiting for us, that we were almost there, and we’d keep on pushing.
Those trips were fairly easy. We did the drive up and back the same way for 4 years.
But the journey of our Christian lives is not that easy. We are tempted, we are tried, we get beaten up by the difficulties in this life and we can be devastated by pain. It isn’t just a long trip that is over in a day, it is more like a life-long journey in a beater of a car that keeps on breaking down and falling apart. It is a journey with wrong turns, speeding tickets and lots and lots of detours and delays.
If we were to go around this sanctuary and we all shared the difficulties in this journey of life – the trials and the hardships – we would bring down the morale of this room really quickly. We’d probably all feel deeply discouraged and overwhelmed with grief and sorrow.
In the Scriptures of the OT and NT we are given narrations into the lives of certain men and women that struggled in life with different trials and temptations. How they fell, how they recovered or didn’t recover and how God interacted with them.
Of course, these are stories of only a select few who lived in their days. How many more struggled with similar challenges and temptations that we never learned about?
Jesus himself was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. He grieved and wept, he was betrayed and denied, he was accused and crucified for sins he did not commit.
The Bible is a book full of people who have suffered in this life. There is no person in the Bible that was not touched by grief and sorrow in some way or another. No person in this world can come out unscathed. We live in a fallen world.
Like our endless drive from CA to WA, as believers it can become tempting to feel like the struggles and the long journey of life with all of its trials will never end. We are tempted to despair and detour, to glance over toward an easier path, toward something less demanding and less trying.
The Christians James was writing to, were likely ready to throw in the towel. They were feeling the heat from the trials and were getting exasperated. Christians in the early church received harsh persecution. An example of this is what Paul writes about himself, in 2 Cor. 11: Paul says he had….
“far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
With that kind of suffering, one would be tempted to despair and abandon the faith.
Though we might not have the astonishing list Paul has, there are most certainly some impressively hard lists that we could come up with here at this church. The trials and battles we face today, while possibly not on the level of stoning and beatings, are still significant and make this world a difficult place to life in.
This is precisely why James needs to reorient us – and point us the right direction. People were feeling distant from God, abandoned and unloved. That was making their world spin. “Why are we doing all of this again?” Does God love us?
James says, in v.12 “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial. For when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.”
He sort of sets the stage for what is happening. He gives us context. He reminds us that this is God’s story of redemption they are in. We are not the center of the story, nor the center of the universe. God is working in us and through us for his glory. He has a plan of redemption for us, and we are blessed!
If we are steadfast until the end, in the midst of trials, that means that we have not given into the pleasures of this world. We have not given into Satan’s kingdom and lies. It is to say that we have valued future joy and happiness in God over and against instant gratification in the here and now. We have placed our treasures in heaven where they will neither rot nor be destroyed.
It is such a blessing to know that our suffering here on earth is an investment that brings eternal dividends.
And Paul and the apostles rejoiced at the thought that they participated in Christ’s sufferings. How could this bring them joy?
The reason it could bring them joy, is because suffering for the cross meant that they were united with Jesus in his suffering. If they are united with Christ in his suffering, that is a reminder of the fact that we are also united with him in his death, and resurrection! And with the resurrection comes the crown of life – eternal life.
“Christ overcame by the way of the cross and this set the pattern for his followers. They face grim days. But let them never forget that what seemed Christ’s defeat was in fact his victory over the world. They need not fear if they are called upon to suffer, for in that way they too will conquer.” Leon Morris, 86.
We are all called to suffer, and to follow the pattern Jesus set before us as his followers. That said, what appears to be only grim and discouraging, is actually the path to Christ’s victory and ours.
Not only are our sufferings temporary, but they are a sign of our victory. For in our suffering with Christ, we are reminded that we are his.
John 16:32-33 “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Jesus reminds us that though we are scattered and suffering, we can have peace in him, because in our union with him, we have overcome the world even as he has. He gives us assurance of salvation. He reminds us that our faith and our salvation in him is secured.
I remember preaching on a passage like this, and reminding a congregation of the Lord’s grace and mercy. Reminding them that our salvation is secured because of Jesus life and death.
Afterwards I was pulled aside and gently rebuked by a dear sister who informed me that if I preach grace, then people won’t obey God’s word. People need to think there are consequences, or they will be lazy Christians.
Well, there is some truth to that isn’t there? We hear about our union with Christ, about doctrines like effectual calling and predestination, and can sort of sit back in our chairs or pews and think to ourselves, “looks like God has this covered!”
This concept is a familiar one when it comes to group projects or study groups. I don’t know if you have had this experience, but I remember joining a study group in college where we all broke up the questions and distributed the study guide so that we could divide and conquer. We would do this with group projects as well. If you joined the right group, with the over-achieving study partner, it was easy to sort of sit back and let someone else do the heavy lifting.
This is where we Presbyterians get the saying, “Frozen Chosen” attributed to us. We know that we are chosen, we know that God is sovereign, we know that we did nothing to contribute toward our salvation, that God chose us despite our sins and despite our choices. We also know that in our union with Christ, we have his righteousness. What is the point in striving to be steadfast?
In Ephesians, we are called to be “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” (Eph 6:10-18). In fact, Paul explicitly says, “Take up the full whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
In the same way that we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” we must “stand firm” in the strength of the Lord.
Though there is 100% confidence in the power of Christ to save us from our sins and reconcile us with the Father, we are still called to obedience. Not as a means unto salvation, but rather as a genuine fruit of our union with Christ.
Timothy, for example, was called to actively fight off slothfulness.
He was warned that false teachers seek to be satisfied with the things of this world, through the desire to be rich, and fall into temptation, into a snare, ….into ruin and destruction. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith….”
Timothy was told that he must “flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith….keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ….” (1 Tim 6:11-14)
We are called to obedience and fighting the good fight. This is our duty as Christians. Paul would have zero tolerance for the Christian that is slothful in his walk with Christ.
If the result of God’s sovereignty, our predestination and union with Christ leads us to slothfulness, we have misunderstood these doctrines profoundly.
We just heard Paul’s life story. We heard all his sufferings. He knew these doctrines better than we do, and rather than slow down, get an ice-cold lemonade and purchase a rocking chair to watch the coming judgement descend upon the world, he got to work.
He went from city to city, preaching the gospel, being beaten and persecuted for preaching the gospel. He endured all sorts of hardships for the sake of Jesus and was imprisoned for his obedience.
In Acts 27, Paul was on a ship as a prisoner along with other prisoners and guards. A brutal storm threatened their ship and made them fear that they would die. In fact verse 20 says, “When neither sun nor start appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”
God spoke to Paul in a dream and told him not to be afraid, because he had granted that all who were with him would be saved. God gives him a clear promise that he will save every person on that boat, and yet when Paul sees the sailors seeking to save themselves by getting away on the ship’s boat, Paul alerts the centurion and soldiers and says, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”
Paul knew God would not fail him, and yet, he did not just sit back and relax. He was active in the saving of the entire ship and its crew.
Brothers and sisters, while it is true that we must be careful not to turn our obedience into some sort of works-righteousness, we must realize that the Scripture strongly condemns our sins of omission as well.
Listen for a moment to this section of Revelation 3 to the church in Sardis:
Rev. 3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you….
5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
If we understand this passage to say that we are not responsible to repent from our sins, and grow in righteousness, to do the good works that God has prepared for us to do, because we are too afraid of being Pharisees, then I would say to you, be more afraid of this stern warning to the church of Sardis. To those who are dead inside.
Those who are alive, will overcome their sins. They will remain steadfast in trials. They will strive against the evil one and against their worldly desires. There is no room for lukewarm Christians. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
One of the national men that I met with for discipleship in South America was struggling with the issue of control. He didn’t see how his micromanaging of his wife was actually a problem, and she could see it very clearly.
He seemed genuinely interested in growing and so I asked him if he’d be willing to try a frustrating exercise to help him see it. He hesitantly agreed.
To help him understand why his micromanaging and control was frustrating for her, I gave him a piece of paper and asked him to draw a house and gave him no instructions. He took the pen and started to draw. I immediately corrected him, and said, “no, not there, over here” motioning to another section of the paper. He said, “ok” Then he drew the outline of the house on the section I pointed to. Then I said, “no, not that small, bigger.” A little frustrated, he started over. Then I said, “no not with doors there, put them over here.” “No, not with a roof, like that, but a flat roof.” About 30 seconds into the exercise, he stopped drawing altogether and put the pen down. You could see visible manifestations of his frustration. He was not happy. “How am I supposed to draw this house if you keep changing the rules on me?!”
Had I pushed it another 30 seconds, I think he would have started drawing that house on my forehead.
I explained what I was doing. He got it. I was controlling his every move, and he felt useless. He felt manipulated and he didn’t want to play by those rules. He understood how he had been controlling his wife’s life in a similar way.
No one likes to be controlled, and no one likes to think that their efforts are useless or meaningless. If we are called to remain steadfast under trials, who of us would find solace in the thought that God was the one poking us and provoking us? It would be like him asking us to draw a house, and then punishing us every time we did. It would seem self-defeating.
In V. 13 we read: Let no one when he is tempted say, “I’m being tempted by God.”
There is a commonly held belief that when we suffer, it is because God is toying with us. We know he is sovereign, and so we logically conclude that he must also be the one tempting us and pushing us to the edge of our limits. We go through trials, and we attribute all the pain and suffering to God.
This was a common perspective. Even Jesus’ disciples saw things this way. They, along with the Jews of their days, thought that sicknesses and other trials and temptations in life were due to the fact that someone had sinned against God and that God was punishing them. Remember the disciples asked Jesus about the man born blind: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
The common assumption is that suffering is brought on by God.
In James 13-15 we read the following:
James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
James says to those Christians suffering in the early church, “don’t blame God for your trials.” God is on your side. He does not want any to perish.
When you are tempted to throw in the towel, it is not God who is tempting you with evil. He wouldn’t do that because he hates evil and is not tempted by evil nor does he tempt anyone with evil.
To be sure, we do see passages in Scripture where God puts man to the test. In fact, Henry Krabbendam would say,
“…all of life is God’s worldwide Test Range. But he never induces to evil or solicits to commit sin, whether directly by arranging the temptation or indirectly by arranging the circumstances conducive for temptation as if he would take delight in man’s destruction (PDavids, 35). God has no interest in producing either a state of sin, or instances of sin, as the result of testing (Laws, 71).”
Rather than consider God one who would seek to cause you to sin or fall into sin through testing,, we must remember that not only is God not a perpetrator of sin, but both the critic and avenger of sin! (Krabbendam, 292).
As we read in the next two verses, “do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”
We need to remember that the temptations that we face and the internal struggles we endure originate in sin, not God.
Though every human being, from the beginning of time has pointed their finger at someone else as the one to blame for sin, James tells us that the blame is ours.
The opening chapters of Genesis take us to a beautiful garden, lush with everything you could ever want. Adam and Eve sin by taking the forbidden fruit out of the desire of their hearts, and then when confronted, Adam points blame to Eve and Eve shifts her blame to the Serpent.
Jer. 17.9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
Mt. 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person.
Brothers and sisters, do not be deceived: our struggle in this world is not against God. It is against our very own desires. James explains that we are tempted WHEN we are lured and enticed by our own desire.
Man cannot claim innocence. Each one is tempted by his own desire…the cause lies within ourselves. Desire conceives when man’s will no longer objects but yields. When that takes place, conception begins and sin develops and eventually is born.
As we face trials, and struggle with the long journey of trials and difficulties, we may be tempted to give up. To try an easier path.
But when you are tempted, remember that it was not God who tempted you. You are responsible, due to your own desire. You are responsible for your sins of commission and omission.
Krabbendam says, “…blame must be shouldered by one’s “very own”, “totally voluntary” evil impulse. Don’t go after God, neither in his nature nor in his providence….By implication don’t go after Satan. [Saying] He made me do it! No, go after yourself! The flame may come from the outside, but the combustible matter is on the inside.” (Krabbendam, 303)
Remember, God is not only not against you, he is completely with you. Every good and perfect gift is from above. He is our strength and our rock. He has called us to himself and united us with Christ that we might be a kind of first fruits of his creatures (v.18).
Paul reminds us that we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:13)
Before I conclude this sermon, I would like to circle back around to v. 12. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial….for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.” This is apocalyptic language.
Think of these passages:
Rev. 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who overcomes I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
Rev. 2:10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer… Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Brothers and sisters, as we hear this apocalyptic hope, and we think of the message of Revelation. Our minds and hearts must focus on the hope of the book of Revelation. In Revelation 12, we read of the great battle against Satan, the “deceiver of the whole world” being thrown down and defeated.
And it is as if the Apostle John, who is witnessing all of this turns around to see who this majestic, triumphant King is, and “he sees not a Lion crowned in royalty but a Lamb “standing as if it had been slain.” (HOMCY)
The sacrificial Lamb, Jesus Christ, is “standing” by the throne. He is no longer dead but alive in the presence of God.
Brothers and sisters, make no mistake, when we are called to overcome and to remain steadfast, this is no empty command. We, along with Paul and James and all Christian believers are called to put our hand on the plow and never turn back. We are called to count the cost and follow Jesus, no matter the consequences.
But make no mistake, even as we are called to this holy obedience, we should never lose sight of the fact that it was the Lamb of God, who was slain on our behalf that secured our salvation. That secured the Crown of Life.
Let me finish by reading John’s words in Rev. 5:13:
“And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” Amen.
This sermon draws on material from:
Adamson, James B. The Epistles of James. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976.
Bauer, Walter; Danker, Frederick W; F Arndt, William. BDAG: A Greek – English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.
Homcy, Stephen L. 1995. “‘To Him Who Overcomes’: A Fresh Look at What ‘Victory’ Means for the Believer According to the Book of Revelation.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38 (2): 193–201.
Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Editors, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1989.
Kistemaker, Simon J. James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. NTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007.
Krabbendam, Henry. The Epistle of James: Tender Love in Tough Pursuit of Total Holiness. Germany: Martin Bucer Seminar, 2006.
Moo, Douglas J. The Letter of James. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.
Morris, Leon. Tyndale New Testament Commentary: Revelation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987.