Saturday, April 23, 2011

Insights from James - Part 1 Count it all joy

I recently hopped into a new men's Bible study at our church - the Black Coffee Dude's study. It's obscenely early in the morning (6:00am), but the guys and the coffee make it worthwhile. We're going through the book of James, so I thought I would post some insights from our study each week. Today we looked at verses 1:1-18.

Context: The author James is a pillar of the early church and is writing to a Jewish Christian audience scattered away from Jerusalem, facing significant persecution. As our study leader and D.A. Carson's father like to say: "A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text."

v2 - Gotta love how the letter starts out: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds." (quotes here are NIV)  Seriously?! Ouch! Talk about hard application. He follows with the reason "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."

-> Regardless of the reason for the trial, temptation, or suffering, there is the option to respond in joy for the chance to grow closer to God and grow in character (not joyful in the event itself). We'll have to face the trial regardless, and the pain is real, but the type of person who emerges from the trial depends on this choice of attitude.

v6 - why is it bad to pray for wisdom while doubting? Practically speaking, if you lack faith that God is listening, that He cares, or that He is able to see you through and help you grow, the result will almost surely be bitterness and greater confusion. When the circumstances don't change, our natural inclination will be to blame God for not rescuing us. But remember, we're to pray here for wisdom, not an escape from the circumstance of our trial.

-> The context is a group of believers suffering for holding on to their faith. Their suffering would go away if they simply deny their faith. To stay faithful means the persecution and pain will continue. What's needed in this circumstance is the strength to endure, and the wisdom to know how to live and witness. In doing so we follow in the example of Christ and grow in fellowship with Him.

What is the difference between trial and temptation? (v1,12,13,14)  Actually, these words are used almost interchangeably in different translations, and with good reason. The underlying Greek word is the same for both: peirasmos/peiraz┼Ź, which means the type of trial or temptation in which a man is tested. It's utterly natural for man to consider taking the easy way out, satisfying his own desire rather than God's desire. Circumstances plus this desire lead to the temptation - God does not need to do anything special.

-> The purpose of trial / temptation is not for God to find out how we'll respond (He already knows), but for us to realize what kind of person we are and how strong our faith is. Why is this necessary for us to grow? If we don't know when/how our faith is weak, we will not turn to God for strength. God through the Holy Spirit offers the strength and means to avoid temptation, but the choice is ours whether to seek His help. Pray for wisdom.

Back to verse 2... still, isn't it awful how rosy and unrealistic James is, asking us to reckon it as joy when we face these trials? What does he know about suffering and trials? It was a major "Aha!!" moment for me when I realized...

James is the brother (half-brother) of Jesus. Despite knowing Jesus well, he rejected His ministry and gave Him little respect. Then he had to watch the best brother the world has even known be tortured and killed on the cross. On top of that, he soon came to realize Jesus claims were true, feeling the shame of rejecting his brother and savior. (It's hard to convey just how powerfully and personally this struck me today.) Historians tell us that shortly after writing the epistle James faced the exact persecution he was telling others to count as joy! He was accused by religious leaders, facing being stoned to death unless he recanted his faith. His answer? James "declared himself fully before the whole multitude, and confessed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, our Savior and Lord."  So this is a man who is acquainted with suffering, with trials, and who was in fact able to live out his own teaching - counting all this joy as a humble servant of Christ.
Ok, James, you've got my attention. Let's see what else the Spirit has to say through the words you wrote to your brothers - and to us. Father, grant us wisdom. Amen!

No comments: