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Author:Rev. David Stares
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Masterton
 New Zealand
Title:Joy in Trials
Text:James 1:2-4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Song before the Service: 228

Silent Prayer

*Call to Worship

*Votum and Salutation

*Song of Praise: 190

Reading of the Law: Deuteronomy 5

Song of Confession: 86b:1-3

Assurance of Pardon: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

*Song of Thanksgiving: 310

Congregational Prayer

Tithes and Offerings

*Offertory Prayer

*Song of Preparation: 119:57-64

Scripture Readings: Acts 7:51-8:4; James 1:1-11

Prayer of Illumination

Text: James 1:2-4

Sermon: Joy in Trials

*Song of Response: 481



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

James 1:2-4 Manuscript

Last week when we began looking at the letter of James we saw that it is addressed to ‘the twelve tribes of the dispersion.’ Now you might remember that this term ‘the dispersion’ was originally used to describe ancient Israel, who were conquered by Assyria and Babylon and sent off into the surrounding nations.

Well, the same happened to the church in the early centuries. They were persecuted and dispersed throughout the world. No one would choose such a fate, if they were given the choice. But they weren’t. Even so, they set up churches in the gentile nations, as the true Israel, awaiting a better homeland than the nation of Israel.

So, it’s in that context that James can write the passage before us. And we will see that because our tests are directed to a perfect result, we can consider them to be joy.

Our three points will be what our trials produce:

1) Joy

2) Steadfastness

3) Lacking Nothing

1) Joy

Well, as we begin this text we read in verse 2. And I think that when we read this verse we need to understand the reality that James is describing. He is speaking about the fact that the members of the church experience various trials. And what wouldn’t have been included in this list? These people were those described in Acts 8, that after Stephen was martyred in Acts 7, in chapter 8 we read that “And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Now, what would cause such an exodus of Christians from their homes and possessions? Well, “Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”

People were given the choice, remain in Jerusalem and risk being thrown into jail by this mad dog of a man, risking being killed by crowds like Stephen was, or leave and take refuge as far away from Saul as they could safely get. So they went out through Judea and Samaria, and then these Christians went even farther, we read in Acts 11, to Phoeneicia, Cyprus and Antioch. Scattered far and wide because of the danger that they faced.

I know that this is in some ways old news, we did talk about this last time. But I want to make sure we are aware of the fact that James had seen with his own eyes, being one of those believers who stayed in Jerusalem, what it looks like to suffer for the faith. He saw the worst of the trials that one could suffer. And when he speaks later of true religion being the visiting of widows and orphans in their distress, this was not a theoretical concern. People died and were chased out of Jerusalem for the sake of the faith. Then, we find that there also seem to be the wealthy in the towns where they have found themselves who also oppress them in their new homes. James was well aware of the struggles for the faith that came to those early Christians.

But you notice that James here doesn’t limit the scope of suffering. He speaks about encountering various trials. This means he encompasses the full range of the things that Christians experience in life. It could be related to people putting us under the gun for our faith. But it could also be related to money, health, disappointment, grief. All of those things that make life hard are included here in James’ phrase ‘various trials.’

And so, you understand what that means, right? It means that James is speaking to you. I mean, you hopefully by now understand that by saying ‘brothers’ he is speaking to everyone here. That said, this term is describing you if you can say about yourself that you have trials in your life.

And I suspect that many here today can say that they have trials that they deal with. And I say that because James says ‘when.’ This means that trials aren’t just a possibility for the Christian, they are expected, part of the normal course of life. And you might not be experiencing them now, but be assured that you will. Others today are going through trials. Are you worried about whether you can afford to pay your bills? Are you worried about your health, or the health of a loved one? Are you afraid that your life isn’t going to turn out the way to always dreamed it would? Are you grieving today? Is life just hard? If you can say yes to this or anything else that is difficult in your life, then James is speaking to you today. And what does he say? My brother…my sister… consider it all joy.

And of course, for those who are experiencing trials today the feeling you feel is not joy. And for those who remember trials in their lives, I’m sure that the feeling is not joy. But, here is the word I want you to focus on: “Consider.” This word means that our minds are engaged. That when we have trials and we process what our trials mean, that as we consider our trials we can have joy even while we are experiencing them. And James does explain how.

2) Steadfastness

And this is what James builds on in the next verse. As he explains why we can have joy. And as he said at the beginning that joy comes from consideration, here he builds on that consideration with the word ‘knowing.’ And what is the knowledge that produces joy? V.3.

James here recognizes the fact that often when we go through trials it puts us under pressure. And the image that is being used is one of the fire of a refiner. That when you want metal to become pure, you need to try it. You need to put it in some heat and get rid of the impurities. Well, the same is true of our faith. God wants to refine our faith. To make it pure, to make it genuine, to make it wholehearted. And that is done through trials.

And what impurities do we have that need to be refined? Often they are connected to our attachment to the world. Because as we live our lives, we find that we get so caught up in the things of life. Not things that are bad in themselves, but they crowd out our relationship to God, and we become dependent on them, they distract from the hope of glory, they turn our eyes from Jesus. Onto our jobs, on our possessions, on our health. We rely for our joy on these things. And when those things are threatened we can struggle, because we find how shaky these supports prove to be!

We learn that we ought to be leaning on one only sure foundation for our lives. And this is what makes the Christian struggle different from the struggles of unbelievers. Because we do see that people in the world overcome difficulty, suffering and sorrow. But what makes the struggle of the believer unique is that it is a struggle of faith, a struggle that refines our faith. And one that doesn’t merely make us reevaluate our lives, but drives us to a true hope: Jesus Christ.

Only Jesus Christ is the only comfort of the Christian in life and in death. Only he provides hope that never fails, only he gives eternal security. Only his work of salvation assures us that all things in this life are working together for our good. We know that Christ alone should be the solid rock of our lives. But often we find ourselves leaning on other material things. And trials are the refining fire that burn away those false supports.

And when we have been tested in this way. As we are tested, and our faith is refined, what is produced is steadfastness. And this means what it sounds like. That when we are put under intense pressure. As our faith is refined, and as we are taught to rely on God in the most difficult times of our life, we are also given the steadfastness to endure for the long haul. Like someone who goes to the gym, they undertake strenuous exercise for an hour of the day, but that fitness helps them the rest of the day, and a few hours a week can have a positive influence on general health and fitness for the whole week.

And so with our faith. We can be joyful because we know that the tests we endure are not there to crush us, but to refine us, to drive us to Christ, and to produe in us the steadfastness of a life strong in faith in God! And james says that this knowledge allows us to have hope and joy in trials.

3) Lacking Nothing

Now, we need to see as well that this steadfastness isn’t an end in itself. Because it, too has a goal. V.4. this goal is described here as the perfect result. And the result is that we might be perfect and complete, not lacking anything. Now, what does it mean that we might be perfect and complete? Well, as we look at the rest of the letter of James we find that a serious problem that he faces in his hearers is double-mindedness. People who don’t live the faith that they claim to hold. A hearer of the word, and not a doer.

Such a man is unwise, and immature. And this is why the word ‘perfect’ here could be helpfully translated as ‘mature.’ Describing a believer who is both a hearer of the word and a doer. Whose faith is stable. For whom what they say and what they do are in sync. Not perfect in the sense that jesus was perfect, but whole, as a unity of faith and action. Now, it’s true that such a unity is not perfectly possible in this life. That perfect unity is only going to happen in heaven.

And yet it is a goal in this life that we have as believers. That we would be steadfast, that we would be mature and whole. And if you are looking at these words saying ‘I wish these things described me, but they don’t.’ Then you understand why James is telling his audience to rejoice!

If your goal in the Christian life is to grow in maturity, don’t think that you can take short cuts. If you want to be steadfast, mature, complete, then the path you need to walk is the path of trial. And that doesn’t mean going out and creating hardships for yourself by being reckless or irresponsible. It means that when we suffer, when we have difficulty, we see it as an opportunity to draw closer to God. To abandon our attachment to this life and to long for the glory to come and to find as the foundation of our life Jesus and him alone. This is the goal of a steadfast, refined faith, to be the mature followers of Jesus.

And so, to those today who are going through trials, who are grieving, who are in pain, who are anxious about the future, perhaps the trials are so intense that you feel like they are shaking your faith. This is precisely why James is writing. So that you know that this is part of God’s work in your life. That he is refining you into the believer that he wants you to be. Rather than despair, trials are a reason for hope. Rather than sorrow, we can consider them joy. Not because they are joyful in themselves, but because they produce a life of joy, and they are events on the path to eternal joy!


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. David Stares

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