Joyful Perseverance in Trials Produces Spiritual Maturity (James Sermon 1)
January 12, 2020 | Andy Davis
Sanctification, Grace, Joy, Life in the Spirit, Joy in Suffering, Trials, Holiness, Good Works
Jesus’ Parable of the Hidden Treasure
My sermon title is, “Joyful Perseverance in Trials Produces Spiritual Maturity.” Jesus told a parable saying, that, “the kingdom of Heaven is likened to treasure hidden in a field. And when a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy, sold everything he had and bought that field.” There is no more precious commodity in this world than salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the most precious thing that there is, and it is real. We, who are Christians, we know that that salvation is real because God is real. Though we cannot see Him, we know that He created the universe and by faith we understand that, and by faith we know that Heaven is real, and that salvation is real. But what if our claim to that treasure, what if our claim is counterfeit?
That man went out and sold everything he had and bought that field, but imagine he bought it from a fraudulent salesman and that the title deed he had to that field was fraudulent. What if it was a fake? Speaking more directly, how can we know that our faith in Christ is genuine? How can we know that we have the kind of faith that will save our souls? There are frauds.
There are counterfeits in everything. You can think of fake rolexes. You can think of even fake hiking and mountaineering equipment. I saw in Nepal, there were name brands, and the name was spelled slightly differently than I'd seen before. They have WcDonalds in China where the M is upside down. And so there are fraudulent things.
Probably the most lucrative fraudulent businesses is in art. I was reading recently of a painting that was sold supposedly from the 16th century, a painting of Saint Jerome, and it was so realistic looking at had actual cracks of age that followed a certain pattern that was characteristic of the 16th century, it was that accurate. But the painting sold for almost a million dollars contained some pigments, some chemicals that were impossible to be from the 16th century. In the end it was exposed as a fraud.
Now, the art collector that bought that was out $860,000. We're talking about something infinitely more valuable than that. We're talking about your eternal soul. We're talking about, whether you'll spend eternity in Heaven or in Hell. And therefore it is vital for us to know whether our claim to Christ is fake or genuine. Some have told me before, and we're going through the Sermon on the Mount, in men's Bible study on Thursday. And one of the scariest passages in the Bible, is in Matthew 7 where Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But only those who do the will of my Father, who is in Heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles.' And then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers.'" People tell me that's a scary verse for them because they are aware of the possibility of being self-deceived, they're aware of the possibility of a fraudulent faith, and I think that's a good thing.
Be Willing to Evaluate Yourself
The New Testament encourages us to evaluate ourselves to test ourselves. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you unless, of course, you fail the test." So we are told by 2 Corinthians 13, and many other passages to evaluate our faith, to test ourselves, to not make assumptions. Now, the consistent answer the New Testament gives to the question, “How can I know if my faith is genuine?”, is the issue of fruit, or works. There's different ways of saying it, but it's the same answer. If there is fruit, genuine fruit, then there is genuine life. If there is not genuine fruit, there is not genuine life. Then you may wonder "Well, what fruit, should I be looking for? What is the fruit that God wants to see in my life?" Again, the Lord has not left us as orphans on that question, He has told us what He wants us to be and do. The New Testament defines the healthy Christian life. But one book in particular, zeroes in on good works as proof positive of the kind of faith that saves and that is the book we're about to study the Book of James.
The Practicality of James
Now James is a book that's hard to synthesize into one overarching theme. It actually reads somewhat like a Christian book of Proverbs, taking on various topics and sometimes even it seems changing the subject, and now we're on to another topic and it's hard always to connect the dots. It's a very practical book. However, one could argue that the theological center of the book is in James 2. A James 2:14 says this, "What good is it my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds, can such a faith save him?" It's an interesting phraseology in that translation, "Can such faith save him?" That kind of faith. “Can that faith save him?” So, what that raises is the question of, “What kind of faith is genuine, what kind of faith saves souls?” And James says there in that chapter, the faith that produces good works will save your soul, but the faith that does not produce good works is not a genuine faith. It is a dead faith, it's a demon faith, it's worthless. And he'll go through all that in Chapter 2. So it is a diabolical thing to be deceived by Satan, for Satan to lie to us about our true spiritual condition.
But to some degree, it's even more diabolical when he enlists us in that process where we deceive ourselves, where we lie to ourselves about what's really going on. And so, the whole Book of James is written, I think to help us not do that, to expose fraudulent faith while there's still time to do something about it, to show us what the kind of faith that saves our souls really looks like, and this first sermon will fit right into that as we look at joyful perseverance, in trials, and how that will prove faith to be genuine.
I. An Introduction to James: The Man and His Letter (vs. 1)
Who is this James?
So let's begin with an introduction to James both the man and his letter. That would be the first heading in my outline and look at verse 1, "James a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ to the 12 tribes scattered among the nations. Greetings". So who is this James? Well, there are four James’ mentioned in the New Testament. Two of them we can remove right away, that leaves James, one of the 12 Apostles, the brother of John one of the three inner circle with Jesus. The problem is that he was the first martyred among the apostles. And so, would have died too, soon, I think, to write this letter. Most scholars zero in on James, the half-brother of Jesus. Now Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born, but she did not remain so. She and Joseph had a normal healthy married life, and so she gave birth to other children. And at one point, Jesus's enemies in Nazareth say of Jesus, "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't His mother's name Mary? And aren't his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? Aren't all his sisters with us?” So, there's clear textual proof that Mary had other children. Now they would have been half-brothers and sisters of Jesus because only Jesus had God as His true father while they all had Joseph as their father but the same mother.
James’ Journey of Faith
Now this man, James, had a journey of faith. It's very plain in John Chapter 7, and 5 that Jesus brothers did not believe in Him while He was ministering, they did not believe in Him, John 7:5. However, after the resurrection of Jesus, James is there with his brothers, and Mary in the upper room, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. So what happened? What changed? Well, I believe 1 Corinthians 15 and verse 7 makes it plain, that Jesus, as Paul's going through the evidence of the resurrection on how Jesus appeared to Peter and then to the 12, and then to 500 people. It says after that, He appeared to James. So think about that, a private appearance by the Lord of the universe, to you. And at that point there's no doubt in James’ mind who Jesus was. And his role as biological brother Jesus just disappears is not important. It was a historical note of some interest, but what really mattered is that Jesus was James' savior, and James believed in Him, became a genuine follower of Christ, and became a leader in the church in Jerusalem, became what Paul calls in Galatians chapter 2, a pillar of that church, in Acts 15, he led the Jerusalem Council as they discussed the role of circumcision for the Gentile converts. James was a leader, a pillar of the church in Jerusalem. So that I believe is the author of this book, the half-brother of Jesus.
Who is He Writing To?
Now, who is he writing to? Well, he's the leader of the Jewish church in Jerusalem. These were Jews who had come to a genuine faith in Christ, but he writes, he says to the 12 tribes scattered among the nations. Now the Jews were very aware of the scattering that went on after the exiles. They were the exiles by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, and they were scattered throughout the Gentile world. So that would have been the Roman, the Greco-Roman world, and they could have just been in the diaspora, the scattering at that point, or there might have been a specific scattering that happened with Jewish Christians. As we learn in John Chapter 9, that the Jewish authorities had already decided while Jesus was still ministering that if you believe that Jesus was the Messiah promised by God, you would be kicked out of the synagogue as the blind man that was healed was. Kicked out of the synagogue, by believing in Jesus. And so what that would mean for you economically as you couldn't carry on a business if you're a tradesman or craftsman or a merchant. No one would buy your wares. They wouldn't sell to you, you'd be ostracized financially, and so you would become poor, poverty-stricken, and you might have had to flee from Palestine, from Jerusalem just for economic reasons. So we don't know for certain why they were scattered, but it might have been those reasons as well.
II. Joyful Perseverance in All Trials (vs. 2-4)
The Suffering of Trials
Now, in verses 2-4, we get to the first urging the James gives. Joyful perseverance, in all trials, that's my heading of the second part. Joyful perseverance in all trials, verses 2-4. Look at the verses, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance, Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." So we come to the issue of the suffering of trials of afflictions. And so, the first test of the Christian faith is how you respond to trials. Remember the parable of the seed in soils and only the genuinely rooted, grounded in the true soil of a noble and right heart endures and perseveres and bears fruit. But there is that rocky soil that as soon as any trouble comes because of the Word they quickly fall away. So, falling away is a clear evidence that the faith is not genuine. So how do you behave in trials?
Now James does not specify what sorts of trials he's talking about, he just says trials of any kind. Anything you find difficult anything that afflicts you, that crosses you, that you find challenging, we could, as Christians, put those into two categories. Those afflictions and trials that are common to the human race that we share with all human beings, and then those things that are specifically focused on our Christian testimony. So the first would be sickness, injury, pain, accidents, the death of loved ones, poverty, financial challenges, economic issues, natural disasters, troubles in the family, difficulties in the family, or conflicts at the workplace, or in the neighborhood where you live, these are common to all people. They just have to do with us living in a sin-cursed world. Everybody has to face those. And the world needs us Christians to be evidently, clearly filled with hope at times like that. When we get that diagnosis of cancer that we would have a radiant hope that we're going to live forever. And it's a hope that the other people with the exact same malady, the same diagnosis but not the same faith, not the same Lord have to go through alone stripped of any hope that they would see in you, a hope that they have no earthly answer for, they have no understanding of why, what's the root system of that hope. And they might ask you to give a reason for the hope that you have as 1 Peter 3:15, says. They need you to be evidently filled with joy and hope.
But then there are also trials that come because of our Christian testimony as well. Afflictions and persecutions that come some more in other parts of the world than in this one, where there's religious freedom. Persecution, economic isolation as I mentioned already with the Jews there in Palestine, a boycotting confiscation of property, loss of personal freedom, incarceration, and perhaps even martyrdom in very rare cases. Jesus said these trials, must come really of both categories. They must come. John 16:33, Jesus said, "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world."
Trials Will Come
So it's a new year, 2020. Doesn't feel like a year name to me, I'm still not used to that, but it's a new year. And who knows what will come, but I can tell you this, congregation of 500 plus people, there's going to be a lot of suffering in this community over the next 12 months, but we don't know what it's going to be, but isn't it a beautiful thing to not have to go through that alone, to not have to go through that alone. The more faithful we are in our Christian witness, the bolder we are in our Christian testimony, the more trouble we're going to have in this world. It says in 2 Timothy 3:12, "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." And so the bolder we are in testimony, the more persecution. That's in our context.
In other contexts, like in North Korea, just to be a Christian, just to assemble together, you have to be watching at all times, for the governmental police, the authorities to come in, or in the controlling government of China, same kind of thing, where brothers and sisters are arrested frequently, or in the fundamentalist Islamic states like Iran and Saudi Arabia where our brothers and sisters live under the constant fear of persecution from Muslim family and friends and neighbors and the authorities, or the fiercely nationalistic situation among Hindus in India, persecution comes much more vigorously in those places.
Well, James is not specific about the trials. He speaks of trials of various kinds. Whatever they are, expect them, they will come. And he actually uses this language, "Whenever you fall into trials of various kinds." Sometimes it feels that way, doesn't it? You're just moving along in your life and then suddenly you're in a dark pit, metaphorically, you're in a dark pit. And how did I get here? And the light seems so distant, and you're injured by the fall, and you're there wondering, what to do, how to get out of it, what to do next, when ever you fall into trials of various kinds that are going to come. Now, we should understand that our heavenly Father's quick carefully orchestrating all of these things, isn’t that encouraging? You don't fall into anything. It's not an accident, it's not like you're going to God in prayer, and He's saying, "Wow that happened to you. Wow, I wasn't watching at the time." God actually carefully orchestrates our trials and temptations “lest we be tempted beyond what we can bear” as we've already learned, in 1 Corinthians 10. But God is orchestrating these things.
Our Response to the Trial is Everything
The thing is you can't control it. You can't control your life's circumstances, the only thing you can control is your response, your attitude, your demeanor, and what James says is that you are to, “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Literally, “all joy.” Consider it all joy, or joy through and through, joy straight through. Now, we should not think that James is saying that we should minimize it like it's not happening. That would be weird, it would not be a good witness. It's like, "Do you not understand what's happening to your loved one, what the diagnosis is?" “Well, no. Now I am happy all the day!” No, it's a real rooted, grounded awareness like in Romans 4. Abraham faced the fact that his body was as good as dead since he was about a 100 years old and that Sarah's womb was also dead. They did not waver through unbelief. So you know what's going on, you're aware of it. And you take I think the eternal perspective. I think exactly like the attitude that Jesus had about the cross in Hebrews 12:2, "We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfect or of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God."
What was the joy that was set before Him? I'll tell you what it was. It was us, a multitude of the redeemed from every tribe and language and people and nation, won by His suffering, won by His blood to eternal joy and bliss in His presence. That was the joy that was set before Him. The cross was still physical and spiritual agony. But there was a joy beyond it. I think we're supposed to see it the same way. These trials that are coming are working in us and for us, “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all,” Paul tells us in Corinthians, that's the joy. So we have joyful faithful submission then to the trial.
What Joyful, Faith-filled Submission to Trials Produces
What does that produce? Well everything starts with knowledge. Look at verse 3, "Knowing that the testing of your faith develops perseverance", or endurance. The testing of your faith, that's the testing, the trying, the assaying of it to separate out the true gold from the fool's gold. So there's assaying, but there's also a purifying of our faith.
Now, the trial reveals our faith to be the true thing if we stand firm through it and are not cast away. So, if we stand firm. More than that, however, the actual process of the suffering of the trial produces a stronger faith. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen,” so what happens is we become more reliant on the invisible God, more aware of the presence of the invisible Christ, more mindful of the invisible death of Jesus centuries ago on the cross for us, more mindful of the invisible New Heaven and New Earth that are coming, more mindful of the glory that we will have in our resurrection bodies. All of these invisible realities become much more intense, stronger, if we walk well through the trial and the affliction. That's its purpose.
Just like some of you have begun a time in the health center and the weight rooms, because it's January, after all. And so you're on the treadmill and you're working the weights, and you're working off whatever it is you may have eaten in the last part of last year. And you're working the muscles, and the weights oppose the motion, and cause the muscles to get stronger, and so these circumstances cross you and oppose you, and cause your faith to get stronger. Now, what is the end of a Christian endurance? It says in verse 4, "Let endurance have its full effect so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." So as we stay steady, under God's working, steady under His hand. He will work on your souls. There's a clear grammatical insight here that some translations omit. “Let endurance have its full effect.” You're being told to allow endurance to work in you or even better, “Let God do His work in you.” Stay calm and steady under His surgical touch.
Imagine a situation where someone has a serious gash somewhere in their body and they're away from medical treatment, but there happens to be a doctor, a skilled doctor there with the necessary tools to disinfect the cut and to sew it up. But imagine the person is skittish and flinches and twitches and yells at the doctor and pushes the doctor away. The doctor is like, looking around saying, "Someone strap him down. You got to hold your hand steady, so I can help you." And so, if we're like that spiritually, and you're going through the trial, it will not have the right effect in your soul. “Let God do His work in you.” That's what it's saying in Verse 4.
And what does perseverance produce? Well, one translation says that you'll be “perfect.” I think a better translation is “mature.” We're not going to be perfect in this life, but the word is more Christ-like. That these trials will produce Christian virtues in you, the fruit of the Spirit, love. You'll be more loving if the trial does its work in you. More patient, more joyful, more hopeful, bolder, more compassionate to others that suffer like you are. It just makes you more like Christ. It conforms you, and these things do not happen automatically. They happen because God is working, and what happens is there's a feedback loop here, where you start to realize "I'm not going to fall away. I love Jesus more now than I did six months ago, I'm real, I'm a real Christian. And that proven character, Romans 5 says is the ground of my hope. I know I'm going to Heaven when I die, because of how I reacted how I responded. I'm actually more in love with Jesus, more strong in Him that I was before the trial. Praise God, I'm real, I'm genuine, I'm going to Heaven." And so, that's what happens with endurance, and you'll see it says “mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
So my geeky engineering mind at one point turned that whole thing around. Well, I guess what that means is, without the trials we'll be immature, incomplete, and lack things. Exactly! And that's how we start in the Christian life. We're immature, we're incomplete, we lack some things that we need. Justified, yes, forgiven adopted. But you need to grow up. And the only way that's going to happen is with trials.
III. Seeking Wisdom from a Generously Wise God (vs. 5-8)
Now in Verses 5 through 8, he turns to the topic of wisdom. Look at those verses, it says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea blown and tossed by the wind. That man shall not think he will receive anything from the Lord. He's a double-minded man unstable in all he does." So my third heading is, “Seeking Wisdom from a Generously Wise God.”
A Timeless and Universal Promise
Now I think these verses, verses 5-8 give a timeless universal principle, that you can use at all times, whether you're suffering or not. But I also think it's helpful to see them in context too. So I think we'll do both. First, you just need to ask God for wisdom more than you do. You should not say, "Well, some days I like wisdom, but other days I'm perfectly fine when it comes to wisdom." You can imagine your Heavenly Father saying, "Are you sure there's nothing you might, no insights you might need from Me?" But that would just pose Him as a counselor, He's more than that. He's your king, and you're not your own you're bought at a price, and so you should, in your daily morning quiet time, be asking your king what He wants you to do today? You should go to Him for wisdom. God, what should I do today? What should I do next? You should have this incredible humility about you saying, "I lack wisdom, I lack wisdom, I lack wisdom and you're just going in God, the Ancient of Days, who knows you from your mother's womb, who knows everything that's going on, He will give you wisdom about anything. And so, we always need wisdom. But then there are those big moments in life. Should I marry this person? Should I take this job? Should we move to this city? Should I go on this mission trip? Should I contribute to this or that or the other Christian ministry, and how much? There's so many things. What are my spiritual gifts? What ministry should I do with my spiritual gift? There's a lot of those big moments.
The Purpose of Wisdom in a Trial
But we also, I think, should see these verses in context. James said that, "If you stand firm and are steady you will be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Next verse, "If anyone lacks wisdom." So there seems to be a link between verse 4 and 5. So verses 2-4 is all about afflictions. I think that fits very, very well in terms of the afflictions. One of the number one questions that comes up when we're in afflictions, is, "Why is this happening to me?" Whenever you're facing pain and suffering, "I don't understand God why you're doing this to me?" "Why is God not hearing our prayer for the healing of our little girl? Why not?" Or even "Why did you take her from me,” if in the end she dies? "Why is this chronic ailment in my life not responding with the treatment when usually it responds well in other cases?" Or in persecuted countries, “Why do the wicked prosper? Why are the wicked in charge? And then our Godly pastor got arrested last month, and he's being tortured and we have to hide from the authorities. Why is this happening?" Or, "Why in a natural disaster did you allow our home to be destroyed and then those homes were spared?" It doesn't seem to make any sense. And so, if you are in affliction and trials of various kinds, you should bring your questions to God, you should ask Him for wisdom and He will give it to you. He'll tell you why you're going through this trial.
Very clear example of this is Paul's thorn in the flesh. Remember in 2 Corinthians 12? Paul talks about some incredible vision he had, where he was caught up to the third heaven and he saw indescribable things. He saw heaven, he saw God on His throne. But then the next thing he says, "To keep me from being conceded because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I sought the Lord that it be removed from me, and He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness', therefore I will boast in my weaknesses." You see what's happened there? He didn't know why this thorn in the flesh, this messenger of Satan had come to him. He was told, "It's to keep you from being arrogant Paul, it's to keep you humble, to keep your feet nailed to the ground after you ascended to heaven and saw heavenly the things you're not allowed to talk about.”
And you're like, "Wow would Paul ever become prideful arrogant?" All of us are prideful. We all, we all could be conceded and Paul needed that help, he needed the pain, the suffering, that God did not heal. So, he's healing other people but he's not healing himself, but he had understanding. "Alright, I get it. My strength is made perfect in weakness. I'll keep praying I'll keep trusting, I'll walk in agony and in pain until God chooses to heal it, or until I die." But he got the insight, he got the wisdom of what the reason for it was. And God doesn't tell everything in this world, but He gives you enough wisdom.
Seeking Guidance for Your Lives
Now you need to seek guidance in your life more than you do. I do too. We are so independent aren't we? We're like, "I know what to do, I got this one, God. I know exactly what to do." If any of you lacks wisdom, it's like, "Well that's not me, I'm on it, I know what I'm doing." But when big decisions come along many decisions we need some guidance don't we?
Now, I could give you the guidance of the famous philosopher, Yogi Berra, the catcher for the Yankees. He said, "Whenever you come to a fork in the road, take it." I don't find that incredibly helpful. I guess, at least I know I'm not turning back, so at least that. But I don't know, right or left, but God wants us to express our dependence on Him. He has searched us to know us. He knows all the days ordained for us, He knows exactly what way we should take and He wants us to ask Him. And then we hear in Isaiah 30, in verse 21, "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’” Don't you see the gift that is from God? You won't have no idea what to do in life. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God. But when you ask, you should believe and not doubt. You should believe that God will give you the wisdom. He'll tell you what to do, He will guide you.” So you're asking has to be in faith, because if not, then James says, you're a double-minded person, you're going back and forth. You believe, you don't believe. You believe, you don't believe. You're acting like a believer, then you're acting like God doesn't exist. James also, later in chapter 4, uses double-minded people to speak of those that are worldly. They're after the world's golds, the world's applause, the world's power and position. And so you're not getting wisdom because in James 4, "You're asking, but you're not receiving because you're asking wrongly. You're asking like a double-minded person." And so you have to go as a faith-filled disciple of Christ and He will give you the wisdom that you need.
Seeking Wisdom by Faith
Now how does He do that? Well, He gives it through the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Spirit is God's direct minister to you, to guide you in your life. Now the Spirit speaks primarily through the scripture. The more you study the word of God, the more you memorize Scripture, the more tools the Holy Spirit will have to get specific in your life and guide you and you'll know what to do. You'll know the big picture of what God is doing in the world and you'll know details about spiritual gifts, or various ministries. You'll just know what to do more and more. Even then there's some things that are pertinent to you, and the Holy Spirit will guide you by counsel from friends, disciplers, men and women that speak wisdom into your lives, and you also have internal impressions. Be careful about those internal impressions. I've studied them for my entire Christian life. When I got down on my knees and asked the Lord in my PhD office at Southern Seminary, "Should I come to Durham as pastor, senior pastor of this church?" I felt that I needed an answer. I felt that the search committee needed an answer. It was only polite to give them an answer. “God I met the fork in the road, what do you want me to do?" And I had a strong impression to come here.
Now, here's the thing about impressions. They're from one of three sources. They're from God through the Holy Spirit, they are from the devil as he deceives us and they're from you as you talk to yourself. And some of the wisdom you give yourself is pretty good. And some of it isn't. I remember once seeing a man wearing this t-shirt saying, "I do whatever the voices in my head tell me to do." That's not the way to go. But we need to believe that God is able to guide us in those key moments well, without becoming erratic and strange following voices in our heads.
IV. Temporary Wealth vs. Eternal Wealth (vs. 9-11)
Verses 9-11 in Connection with the Rest of the Chapter
Now in verses 9-11, James addresses temporary versus eternal wealth. To some degree, you could almost see a seam here, is there's a whole, new topic. James is like that. Sometimes we don't know, are we getting to a whole new issue now that he brings up? But I think it's possible even here to see some points of connection. Look at Verses 9-11, "The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position." By the way, that's not talking about Andy Winn preaching on the third floor. I told him that this morning. He said, "It's right in the text." I said, "Bad exegesis." So he's in the high position. We're in the low position. Tell him what I said about that whenever you see him. "The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position, but the one who is rich should take pride in his low position because he will pass away like a wild flower, for the sun rises with scorching heat, and whithers the plant its blossom falls, its beauty is destroyed in the same way the rich man will fade away, even while he goes about his business." So what is the connection? It could be that the connection is just economic suffering that the Jewish Christians are doing, that they're poor. They're poor. They can't make a living they've had to flee their homes in Palestine, and they're in new cities and people even then aren't really buying their wares and they're suffering, they're struggling, they're poor. And as with the advice he's going to give, I think this section is best to read it as rich and poor Christians except toward the end. Whereas in James Chapter 5, the rich are clearly oppressors who are murdering people, that's a different matter. So I think it's best to read this as rich Christians, and poor Christians except at the end, he changes just a little bit.
Eternal vs. Temporal Wealth
In any case, we should all have an eternal perspective on physical, material wealth. Its advantages yes, but it's limitations. And so both poor and rich, Christians need to be very clear on the limitations of earthly wealth. Poor Christians need to realize that the money and the possessions that they lack in this life are actually a very limited value. The poor can be led by their circumstances, into bitter coveting, bitterness against God, tempted even toward crime, they can become materialistic, and this will only make their trial in poverty much worse.
James says that poor Christians should focus on their exalted position as adopted sons and daughters of the living God and heirs of Heaven. That's their true wealth. They're storing up there in Heaven, every day by their faithful service. Set their minds on things above and things to come, not on earthly wealth, because it's not going to help their lives as much as they think it is. They should boast. "Let the wise man, not boast in his wisdom, or the rich man boast in his wealth or the strong man boast in his strength, but let him who boast, boast in this, that He knows me." Jeremiah 9. And so, boast in God, boast in Christ, boast not in your material situation because it's nothing. It's dust in the wind. That's what he's saying. Conversely then, rich Christians should focus on their humiliation as Christians in this life. They serve a Lord who was rejected by society, who was cast out from Jewish society, who was crucified outside the city gates. And the author to Hebrews there invites us to stand under the bloody cross and join with Him in suffering the reproach of the name of Christ. So you can see how rich Christians, might have business connections which would be jeopardized if they're very honest about their Christian confession.
Rich Unbelievers Fade Away in the Midst of Business
Don't do that. Don't do that. Be humble in this world as a Christian. Be willing to be named by the name Christian, and take whatever comes. Now rich unbelievers, I think he shifts a little bit there. He says, "The rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business." It's like Isaiah 40 says, "All flesh is like grass and all their glory is like the flower of the field, the grass withers, and the flowers fall, when the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are like grass. “The grass withers, and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” And so, those rich people we know we hear stories, they're going about their business. They're just moving along and then suddenly they grab their chest and fall dead. Or suddenly there's a car accident, or suddenly some other malady, a sudden fever, something comes and then they're gone, even while they're going about their business, they're dead. Proverbs 11:4, says, "Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, the righteousness delivers from judgment." So wealth isn't going to help you spiritually, in this world and it's certainly not going to help you on Judgment Day because the Judge of all the earth cannot be bribed. He judges justly. He judges to the glory of God.
Well, verse 12 wraps up this whole first section, "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he is to the test, he will see the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him." So that goes back to the issue of perseverance under trial. Sums up this whole section. Speaks of blessing of eternity on you. If you persevere, look what you're going to get. You're going to get a crown of life, that God's going to hand you and that really is just eternal life, just being alive forever and ever, but also the rewards of your faithful labor. He will give it to you, if you love Him. And you love His appearing.
Get Prepared for Your Last Day on Earth
So, applications. First and foremost, just all I can say to you is come to Christ, come to Christ. This week some of you know my mother died. Don't have any clear assurance that she was a Christian. Had the opportunity, the responsibility of preaching the Gospel to my unsaved family. Many of you prayed for me in that regard. About two months ago, my mother asked me, "How can I prepare to die." Coming from a mother that had never made a testimony of faith in Christ, I looked on that as a golden opportunity. Probably the 100th time I could have shared the Gospel with her, but it was a gift to me, and I said, "Mom I want you to think about the thief on the cross, when Jesus died, he didn't die alone, but two other thieves were crucified with Him. And they began insulting and reviling Jesus, but at one point, one of them realized what was happening, and he stopped and he said, 'Don't you fear God?' He said that to his other thieves, 'Seeing we are into the same judgment. And we're only getting what we deserve, but this man here, Jesus has done nothing wrong.' And then he turned to Jesus and said, 'Remember me when you come in your kingdom.' To be able to see, in a crucified dying man, a coming King is a gift of faith. He already had faith. He hadn't done any good works. He couldn't. His hands and feet were nailed to the cross. But by simple faith in Jesus, he was able to be saved to have all of his sins forgiven, and to spend eternity with God in paradise.” I said, "Mom. That's how you get ready to die." I said those exact same words at the grave site on Monday.
Do Not Assume Your Soul is Secure
My desire is that any of you that came in here today, unsaved that you will hear the wise words that James is giving and understand what God is doing, and the ultimate gift of salvation, and trust in Christ. For those of you that are already Christians, just test your faith to see if it's genuine. Don't assume. Just say, "Lord, what is the fruit of my life? What's happening in my life. Is there fruit? Are there good works? Do I see that in my life?" Don't just assume. And especially zero on how you respond to trials and afflictions. Many of you have expressed a desire to be more evangelistic. It could be that God will make you more evangelistic by putting you into suffering on a platform of suffering, so that other people who have the exact same diagnosis as you can see how you behave and will ask you to give a reason for the hope that you have.
Suffer well. Suffer well to the glory of God. And just generally, if I can urge you, in the year 2020, seek wisdom from God more than you've ever done it before. I would just say every day in your quiet time, just get up and say, "You're my King. I'm not my own, I'm bought at a price. What do you want me to do today?" And then listen, and let Him guide you by His Scripture, and by His word. And finally, to wealthy Christians, which is all of us who are Christians. We are amazingly wealthy. Let's realize the limits of our material wealth. Let's be generous, let's give to the needy. Let's give more than we've ever given before realizing our true wealth is Heaven. It is a benefit for us to have material blessings, but let's be generous and faith-filled with it and realize, either way, we're going to fade away, or pass away when the Lord says. Let's be ready for that by faith in Christ.
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the time we've had to be here. I thank you for all of the gifts of the spiritual gifts of this church. I thank you for the love that me and my family received from this church. I thank you for the gifts of those that like Wes and his team are so excellent leading worship, I thank you for those who are so good at logistics to be able to plan this whole double worship service with such skill. Lord, I pray that in 2020, we would more than ever before walk in wisdom asking you what to do and seeking Your guidance. And we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.