Persevering Through Trials

James 1:1-18

February 2, 2019 | Brian Bill

A man who filed an insurance claim was asked for additional information from the company.  Here’s his response. 

I am a bricklayer by trade.  On the date of the accident I was working alone on the roof of a new six-story building.  When I completed my work, I found that I had about 500 pounds of brick left over.  Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley, which fortunately was attached to the side of the building.  Securing the rope at ground level, I went up to the roof, swung the barrel out, and loaded the bricks into it.  Then I went back to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure a slow descent of the 500 pounds of brick.

You will note in blank #11 of the accident report that I weigh 135 pounds.  Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope.  Needless to say, I proceeded at a rather rapid rate up the side of the building.  In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming down.  This explains the fractured skull, and broken collarbone.  Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were 2 knuckles deep into the pulley.  Fortunately, by this time, I had regained my presence of mind, and was able to hold tightly to the rope, in spite of my pain.

At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground, and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel then weighed approximately 50 pounds.  I refer you again to my weight in blank #11.

As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building.  In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up.  This accounts for the two fractured ankles, and lacerations on my lower body area.  The encounter with the barrel slowed me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell onto the pile of bricks, and fortunately only three vertebrae were cracked.

I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the bricks, in pain…unable to stand…and watching the empty barrel six stories above me…I again lost my presence of mind and let go of the rope.  The empty barrel weighed more than the rope, so it came back down on me, and broke both my legs.

I hope I have furnished the information you have required.

That’s the definition of a bad day, isn’t it?  Some of you are going through a barrel of problems as it feels like bricks have broken you into pieces.  You’re at the end of your rope and you’re just about ready to let go.

Some time ago I received this email: “Why does it seem some people just can’t get a…break?  It isn’t right and it isn’t fair to those of us who are trying to start over…why do things always have to happen to my family?  I mean I know it’s just not mine but…did I do something to deserve this?  I just want to give up…I want to fight…I want to run…I hate this.”

Most of us hate going through hard times. 

We’re beginning a new series from the Book of James called “Faith Works.”  This book is extremely practical and filled with wise sayings, similar to Proverbs.  Likely the first book written in the New Testament, James wants to make sure right beliefs get translated into right behavior, that our conduct matches our creed.  We’re called to be doers, not simply hearers.  In just 108 verses, we’re given 54 different commands.  

If you’d like to do some supplemental study on James, you could attend the Berean Sunday Growth Group at 9:30, use the February Bible Reading Plan or Today in the Word Devotional, or watch Francis Chan’s study on RightNow Media.  You can find links on Sermon Extras.

Every one is faced with two things that can torpedo faith – our trials and temptations.  Here’s what we’re going to learn today: Trials that test us will toughen our faith if we don’t allow temptations to trip us up.  Trials from without and temptations from within are no match for the Christian who stands in truth from above.  

Let’s jump into James 1:1: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”  James is the half-brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem church, but instead of reciting his resume, he celebrates his servanthood.  The word here is “bondservant,” meaning his will is consumed in fulfilling the will of his Master.  Notice how he identifies God and Jesus as co-equal.  The word “Lord” is the Old Testament equivalent of Yahweh, “Jesus” means the one who saves, and “Christ” is the Anointed One, or Messiah.

The Book of James refers or alludes to 22 books of the Old Testament.  That makes sense because the original recipients of this letter were Jewish-background believers who had been scattered in the “dispersion” throughout the known world.  This makes me think of Acts 8:1.  When the believers were not living out the Great Commission, God sent persecution to propel His people to other places: “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria…”  We’ve been scattered as well to live on mission where He has placed us. 

Trials to Test Us

Because it’s so easy to get off mission when we go through the messes of life, let’s consider three commands we’re to obey.

1. Count it all joy.

Check out verse 2: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”  The word “count” has the idea of “pressing your mind down on something.”  The picture is of someone leading his or her mind through a reasoning process to arrive at a conclusion.  We’re to weigh our worries and add up our adversity in order to put them in perspective.  

Counting “it all joy” means we can find jubilation in tribulation.  Instead of just telling people we’re “surviving,” we can actually give testimony we’re thriving through Christ. 

Warren Wiersbe writes: “Our values determine our evaluations.  If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us.  If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to ‘count it all joy!’  If we live only for the present and forget about the future, the trials will make us bitter, not better.”

Joy is deep satisfaction that comes from knowing God is in control even when my circumstances seem to be out of control.  

We tend to equate “happiness” with joy, but happiness is often dependent upon what is “happening” to me.  If things are hip in my life, then I’m happy.  If my happenings are horrible, then I’m unhappy.   Here’s a helpful definition of joy: Joy is deep satisfaction that comes from knowing God is in control even when my circumstances seem to be out of control.  

I heard about some grandparents who received an anniversary card from their grandson.  On the back were some wiggly lines drawn by the 3-year-old, along with a note from their daughter who interpreted what her son wrote: “I’m writing a letter for your love and happy adversity.”  Into every anniversary comes some adversity because every marriage has some messy spots.

The phrase, “my brothers” is a term of pastoral affection which reminds born again believers we are members of the family of God.  It literally means, “those from the same womb” and is used 15 times in the book.  Notice James doesn’t say “if” you fall into trials but “when” you meet them.  The word “meet” has the idea of falling or stumbling.  

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, “various kinds” or “variegated” is the same phrase used to describe Joseph’s coat of many colors.  Our miseries are manifold, aren’t they?

2. Concentrate on the benefits.

James 1:3 says: “For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”  The word “know” literally means, “to know from experience” and “testing” refers to precious metals being heated until all the impurities rise to the top to be scraped off.  Job 23:10: “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

Erwin Lutzer reminds us, “God often puts us in situations that are too much for us so that we will learn that no situation is too much for Him.”  Last summer we learned God does give us more than we can handle but He never gives us more than He can handle.  God’s purpose is to make us more like Jesus and He uses trials to get us there.  We can benefit even while being buffeted.  One author puts it like this: “God already knows what’s in our hearts…but He tests us so we’ll see it for ourselves.”

This testing “produces,” or brings about “steadfastness,” which is translated as “patience” or “endurance.” The Greek comes from two words, meaning to “remain” and “under.”  The testing of your faith produces the ability to remain under without going under.  

When we persevere, our trials make us complete.  We see this in verse 4: “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Steadfastness brings us to the “intended end.”  If we persevere under pressure we will become finished and fruitful.  The phrase “lacking in nothing” means all the necessary parts are present.  If you and I want to be mature, we must learn how to stay under our suffering.  Only those who go through some messes will become mature.  

3. Connect to God’s wisdom. 

James 1:5 is no doubt one of the most popular passages in James but is often taken out of context: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”  God promises to give wisdom when we’re wondering why we’re going through tough times.

God gives wisdom in two ways…

  • Generously.  This is in the present tense and is translated as “bountifully,” which means He keeps on giving generously.  
  • Graciously.  God gives wisdom as a gift.  The NIV translates it this way: “without finding fault.”

We need wisdom during our trials so we will not miss what God wants to teach us.  For me when I don’t have wisdom, I just end up whining.  We’re to ask without doubting and He will give it to us.  We see this in verses 6-7: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” 

When we’re all tore up inside by the trials we’re going through, we can become very unstable.  According to verse 8, a doubter “is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”  This word was used to describe someone staggering like a drunken man.  Someone has said if your heart and mind are divided, trials will tear you apart.  

C.S. Lewis was once asked, “Why do the righteous suffer?”  He replied, “Why not?  They’re the only ones who can take it.”

Pastor Ray preached a sermon called, “The Sixth Law of the Spiritual Life,” in which he stated there is no growth without struggle.  

  • Because we live in a fallen world, bad things happen to all of us.
  • We have no control over many things that happen to us or to those around us.
  • We do have complete control over how we respond.
  • Our response to our trials largely determines our spiritual growth—or lack thereof.

Drop down to verse 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.”

Trials that test us will toughen our faith if we don’t allow temptations to trip us up.  

Temptations to Trip us Up

We move from trials to temptations in verse 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.” 

You will not make it as a Christian if you don’t learn to deal with trials and temptations.

Brothers and sisters; lean in and learn this: You will not make it as a Christian if you don’t learn to deal with trials and temptations.  To put it another way: Once we know the truth about trials and temptations they won’t be so trying and so tempting.  

Trials on the outside can become temptations on the inside.  Douglas Moo writes: “Every trial, every external difficulty, carries with it a temptation, an inner enticement to sin.”  How we handle trials and temptations will determine the depth of our discipleship because either one can derail us.  Someone has said the greatest threat is not the wrong being done to me but the wrong that may be done by me.  

God often tests, but He doesn’t tempt.  When it comes to temptation, we tend to blame everyone but ourselves.  This blame game has its roots in the Garden of Eden.  

    • We blame others.  When God asked Adam if he had eaten from the forbidden fruit, his first response was to blame Eve in Genesis 3:12: “…SHE gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”  
    • We blame God.  Look at the first part of verse 12: “The man said, ‘The woman whom YOU gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’” Adam tries to blame God for the shame he now feels.  After all, Eve was God’s idea, not his.  
    • We blame the devil.  In verse 13 God turns to Eve and asks her what she has done.  Eve is quick to say, “The devil made me do it.”  Check it out: “The SERPENT deceived me, and I ate.”  

What about you?  Are you quick to blame someone else for your sins?  Are you holding God responsible for your sinful choices?  Do you secretly think you have an out because the ‘devil made you do it’?  

The Source of Temptation

If we want to overcome temptation we must first understand its origins.  We see this in verses 13-14: “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.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”  John MacArthur writes: “The problem is not the tempter without, the problem is the traitor within.”  Let’s draw four truths about temptations from these verses.

  1. Temptations are inevitable. “When tempted…”  James doesn’t say “if” you are tempted, but “when” you are tempted.
  2. Temptations are not from God. Chuck Swindoll offers this literal translation: “Don’t even remotely suggest that God has anything to do with your temptation.”  Even after losing everything, we read this about Job in Job 1:22: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”
  3. Temptations are universal.  “But each person…” Each and every one of us faces temptations.  1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man…”  
  4. Temptations are personal.  “…By his own desire.”  Temptations are tailor-made to trip us up. 

The first thing we must come to grips with is the source of temptation.  Next we must understand the snare of temptation because trials that test us will toughen our faith if we don’t allow temptations to trip us up.  

The Snare of Temptation

Temptation is designed to deceive and destroy us.  Look at verse 14: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” 

Using hunting and fishing metaphors, the word “lured” means to “drag out and draw away” and “enticed” refers “to bait, capture or catch.”  The idea is we’re drawn out of the place of safety and entrapped by a specific attraction.  The fish sees the bait and bites, thinking he’s getting a meal.  Instead, he’s hooked and becomes the meal!  It’s in the present tense, which means temptation is always trying to catch us off guard, to entice us and drag us away.  

I did a lot of fishing with my dad when I was younger.  We primarily focused on blue gills and bullheads.  We didn’t need a lot of equipment — just a pole, a bobber, a hook, a couple sinkers and some night crawlers from our lawn the night before.  And of course some A&W root beer and a bag of Snicker bars.  I’ve passed along my love for fishing to our daughters, though we would only go once a year when on vacation.  Each of them had their own Barbie or Mickey Mouse fishing pole (hold up).  

I’m really impressed with guys who have huge tackle boxes and fancy fishing poles.  Some time ago I asked a friend who loves to fish this question: “What do you do if the fish are not biting?”  He said you go home and start telling fish stories about the big one that got away.  That wasn’t really the answer I was looking for.  

I’ve asked Micah Kuriscak to come up and help us understand how fish are lured and enticed.  Micah is married to Ari and they have three daughters.  They lead the Young Marrieds Sunday Growth Group and Micah serves as a Trustee.  Micah is the son of Pastor Ed and Sheila Kuriscak.

  1. What do you do if the fish are not biting?

A: Change bait or location or angle…or go home and start telling fish stories.

  • We might not bite on a particular kind of bait, but we can get hooked on something else that attracts us or comes at us from another angle.  For example, a rock of cocaine has no allurement to me.  You could set it right in front of me and I’d just walk away.  On the other hand, a bag of garlic and dill cheese curds would be tremendously tempting.
  1. I’m told that fish like to hide out in “cribs.”  Can you explain what these are?  

A: It’s like their home; a place of safety where they congregate.

  • We’re vulnerable when we think we’re safe or when we’re coasting spiritually.  Proverbs 16:18 says: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
  1. Why do fish bite on something that is obviously fake and artificial and has a huge hook in it?

A: Fish are attracted by appearance and they’re only thinking of the satisfaction of eating.

  • We deceive ourselves when we chase after those things that only get us hooked.  We’re prone to follow the flashy and often settle for cheap substitutes as well.
  1. Fish have no idea how close they are to being caught, do they?  Explain.

A: There are dangers everywhere and fishermen are determined to hook them with every cast.

  • Most of us have no idea how close we really are to moral catastrophe.  We think we won’t get caught; that we’ll never get hooked on a substance or an experience.  Danger is everywhere because of the desires inside us.
  1. How can a subtle change be the difference between catching and not catching a fish?

A: It doesn’t take much to get a fish to bite.

  • The same is true for us.  Just a subtle change can make us more vulnerable to temptation.
  1. Sometimes the goal is to get a fish irritated and he’ll bite, right?  Why is that?

A: Because he wants to get rid of what’s bothering him.

  • We need to watch out when we’re weary and crabby as well.  It’s interesting that in the midst of all his pain, Job declares that he made “a covenant with his eyes to not gaze lustfully at a maiden.”  (Job 31:1)
  1. I’ve heard it can take 10,000 casts to catch a trophy Muskie.  Why so many?  How old can a fish like this get?

A: Sometimes the bigger ones are harder to catch.  They can be up to 30-40 years old.

  • Satan is persistent and will continue to pursue you.  Our evil desires may be under control for 9,999 times but then we take the bait.  We must always be vigilant.  We could say no to the same temptation over and over and over and then give in.  1 Peter 5:8: “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
  1. How important is it to set the hook?

A: Otherwise the fish will get away.

  • There are people today who are nibbling on bait but sooner or later the hook will be set!  Numbers 32:23: “…Be sure that your sin will find you out.”  Sin will take you farther than you were planning to go, keep you longer than you were planning to stay and cost you more than you want to pay.
  1. Why is some bait designed to show weakness like blood or erratic behavior?

A: To deceive the fish into thinking there is no danger.

  • It’s very easy to be deceived.  Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”
  1. Fish bite because they’re attracted to the bait or irritated but sometimes it’s just out of instinct, right?

A: Yes.

  • In a similar way, we sin because we are sinners.  That’s why it’s hard to get a good answer from a toddler or a teenager when you ask why they disobeyed.  It’s our nature.  Romans 3:10-11: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”
  1. How important is it to know everything you can about the fish you are trying to catch?  

A:  If you know their habits, preferences, location, and even quirks you can catch them.

  • We must understand ourselves.  There are some things you just can’t do because of your past, your tendencies or your triggers.  You have to be careful not to go into wrong locations as well.
  1. Can you describe the design of a hook and why it’s so important to keep it sharp?

A: They’re designed to go through their lip easily but then not to come out.

  • Sin is like that.  It goes in smoothly but then we get hooked and can’t spit it out.
  1. What happens when a fish breaks the line?

A: He will have a hook in his mouth for a long time and will have the scars until he dies.

  • Likewise, we are forgiven for our sins, but sometimes there are long-lasting consequences.
  1. What happens if a fish swallows the hook?

A: It will eventually die.

  • Sin leads to death.
  1. Have you ever released a fish only to catch him again a few minutes later?

A: Yes.

  • We’ve been set free by God’s grace if we know Jesus Christ as our Savior and yet many of us go back to the very things we were hooked on before.

Trials that test us will toughen our faith if we don’t allow temptations to trip us up.  

Temptation is more than an event…it’s a process.  The pattern is predictable and can be spelled out.  I like how Warren describes it.  

  1. Desire.  It starts with our evil desires.  Sometimes we think the problem is “out there” but the desire to sin lives “in here.”
  2. Deception.  The hook is hidden.  One reason we’re enticed by sin is because we don’t see the hook.  We are deceived into thinking it’s not there.  Sin seems enjoyable at the time but in the end pain outweighs the pleasure.  Bait not only attracts but it disguises the sorrow, pain and consequences sure to follow.

It’s at this point James changes metaphors.  He moves from the world of fishing to the process of human development, from bait to biology.  We see this in verse 15: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” 

When we play around with temptation a conception occurs and gives birth to sin.  As sin is allowed free reign it grows and develops, leading finally to death.  We could call it the death spiral of sin.  Conception leads to birth which leads to growing up which ends in death.  

  1. Disobedience. This is when we act on our feelings and thoughts.  Sin starts with our emotions (desire) and then goes to the intellect where we rationalize (deception) and then to the will (disobedience).  Listen.  The place to deal with temptation is at the point of desire.  
  2. Death.  It may take years but sin always leads to separation or death.  There is no future in sin.  Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…” Sin always looks better through the windshield than the rearview mirror.  It might promise pleasure but always delivers pain.  When faced with temptation, stop looking at the lure or the beauty of the bait and look ahead to the consequences of getting caught.

I’m not sure where I first heard this: “Watch your thoughts, they become words.  Watch your words, they become actions.  Watch your actions, they become habits.  Watch your habits, they become character.  Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

We must understand the source and then the snare of temptation and finally we come to the solution to temptation.

The Solution to Temptation

Verse 16 calls us not to give into deception: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.”  The word, “deceive” means “to wander away.”  The tense reads this way: “Stop being deceived.”  It’s an action that is already in progress.  Notice James calls them “dear brothers.”  He is giving a warning but he does so with great warmth and affection.

The key to overcoming temptation is to recognize its source and how it’s designed to ensnare us.  If we want victory we must focus our attention on the Almighty.  We must not be deceived about the doctrine of God.  Check out verses 17-18: “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.  Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

If we want to win over temptation we must come back to the character of God.  While it’s important to resist, the real key is to refocus.  Since temptation begins with inner thoughts, changing our thoughts is the way to victory.  Let’s focus on who God is and what He has done in the past, what He is doing right now, and what He will do in the future.  A.W. Tozer put it like this: “What you think about God is the most important thing about you.”

There are three key doctrines taught in these two verses.

1. God is good. 

Because God is good, He gives good and perfect gifts: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down…”  God doesn’t send temptation; He gives good gifts.  The idea here is He gives gifts continually.  Even in the midst of trials, and faced with temptation, God is good.  

2. God is great. 

“…from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”  He is the father of every born again individual.  In the Jewish mindset the heavenly lights referred to the sun, moon, stars and planets.  God is the Creator of all things and stands above all He has made.  These heavenly lights turn, rotate and shift, causing shadows.  Not so with God.  There might be a dark side of the moon but there is no dark side to God.  He is our Father and He is Light.  

3. God is a giver.

God is the source of salvation, not temptation: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” If you’re born again, aren’t you glad God chose to give you the new birth through the word of truth?

Have you believed and received Him as your Savior and Lord?  He’s offering you a gift right now but you must take it.

Have you been buffeted by the bricks of life?  Does it feel like the barrel dropped on you?  Are you at the end of your rope?  Some of you have filed a claim against God for all the trials and temptations you’re facing right now.  It’s time to tear that up and declare God is good, He is great and He is a giver.

Because these three doctrinal truths are so critical in dealing with trials and temptations, let’s say them together: God is good.  God is great.  God is a giver. 

Instead of filing a claim against God, claim these truths about God by faith: God is good.  God is great.  God is a giver.  

As we close, let’s stand and declare these truths.  I’ll say each phrase and you repeat after me.

God is good.  God is good!

God is great.  God is great!

God is a giver.  God is a giver!

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?