First Mennonite Church
January 17, 2016
Consider It Pure Joy
Text: James: 1:1-5
Beginning today and for the next couple of Sundays, I will take the Letter of James for a new series of Bible study. As we will see, James presents a wide range of topics on practical aspect of the Christian faith.
But who was James? The Gospels mention four persons associated with Jesus whose name was James. There was James, son of Zebedee and the brother of John (Matthew 10:2); James, son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3); James, one of the sons of Mary and Clopas (Mark 15:40; 16:1; John 19:25), and there was James the brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3).
The Letter of James has, since the early church period, been attributed to James, the brother of Jesus. This could be the reason why when the author of the letter identified himself in it, he only wrote: James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. The author found no need to further identify himself because he was a well-known figure. He was acknowledged as someone with authority among the early church leaders and writers (Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; Gal. 2:9).
If the James who wrote the letter was indeed the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, we should remember that he was not among his apostles or the first disciples. But that does not mean that James did not witness Jesus’ life. In fact, we can say that he spent more time with Jesus than the disciples did with Jesus. James grew up with Jesus. He ate around the table with his oldest brother Jesus. He played with him. He learnt the trade of carpentry and worked together with him in the trade. James and his family may have shared the surprise at the ways Jesus conducted himself even before he went into his public ministry. James was a witness of how Jesus spoke, related, and loved his mother, father, siblings and others. James heard him speak truth and kindly. Jesus’ mouth was a fountain from which only sweet water came. He knew how to control his tongue. James knew Jesus as a breathing and living person of flesh and blood. Whether Mary spoke to her children about Jesus’s mission according to Gabriel, we do not know. But it seems that during Jesus’ ministry, James and the rest of his siblings could not accept the fact that one of their family members could be too far different than the rest of them. James could not believe that one in his own family could call himself the Son of God or the Savior of the world.
James certainly could understand the death of his brother Jesus under the Roman hand, for no one would dare to challenge the established authorities without suffering the consequences. No one who would, either by personal claim or by public acclamation, call himself “kings of the Jews” stand a chance without becoming an example to others as to what the governing powers could do. But what changed James’ perspective about his brother was Jesus’ resurrection. Paul, when speaking of the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians, says that Jesus after appearing to many disciples, he also appeared to James. That is: Jesus appeared to his younger brother. And James most have been together with the crowd of 120 people who received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day. Those two experiences most have changed James entire perspective about his brother Jesus. Everything he had witnessed earlier in the life of Jesus began to make sense within that new perspective he got after Pentecost. James could remember witnessing Jesus’ patience, humility, friendship, authentic love and gentleness towards others, things or characters James came to understand as the true incarnation of the Christian character, which he wrote about in his letter.
It is very interesting that while other New Testament writers took upon themselves the charge to write about Jesus’ life, ministry death and resurrection, James took on a different aspect to write about. He wanted to address practical ways how to live the Christian faith in the day to day ordinary life. His writing looks more like wisdom saying rather than deep theological affirmations.
Today we will begin by reading the first 4 verses of James chapter 1.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James wrote to a broad audience. He wrote to the Jews who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. The letter of James is called a Catholic Letter, that is, a letter addressed to the universal church.
Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds! There are certain words that almost always go together. It’s like saying, “peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” or like saying, “chocolate chips cookies and milk.” But to say, “Pure joy and trials” that sound not only weird but simply wrong! James call to consider as pure joy when faced by many trials seems so out of place. We like to experience joy, but we also like to stay away from trials. Think for instance those things that really annoys you and tries your patience.
Imagine you are about to sleep and the neighbor’s dogs begin to bark. Or you wake up in the middle of the night and you hear the faucet dripping or the phone ringing before you get out of bed on your day off. Pure joy, ha? Yet, these are not necessarily what James had in mind. He had in mind more serious stuff. He was writing to this fellow Christian of Jewish background scattered throughout in the Roman Empire who were being singled out not only because they were Jews but more because they were followers of Jesus. Yes, the man called Jesus who was crucified by the Romans in Jerusalem. James was talking about the incidents known to his fellow Christian brothers and sisters of being dragged to the courthouse or of those whose property had been confiscated, and who had been thrown in prison. Trials equal persecution in James mind. Yet he write, “Consider it pure joy when trials of many kinds come.”
We should be thankful that we do not face this kinds of trials, although we should remember in prayer those who do. Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds” says James. There are still other kinds of trials. Take for instance the gradual decline of health, the large bill for out of pocket you have to pay after going to the doctor, or when divorce happens in the family, or when young people break up, or when signs of mental decline begin to show, or when the doctor says, “it’s cancer,” or when your child flunks his or her class, or when the company you have worked for many years decides to close down. This list can go on and on. “Consider it pure joy,” says James. And you say, “You got to be kidding, God!”
Does considering trials as pure joy means that we are supposed to “chin up” even when we feel like crying or quitting? Does it mean that we as Christians must always put a happy face regardless of the pain we are bearing inside? Does it mean we are to deny the fact that we might be hurting inside? Are we to pretend as if nothing wrong is going on even when pain or grief is clearly visible in our face?
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. Life involves having to face trials, testing of our faith. And it is within this life, beset by trials and testing that Jesus has called us to a life different than that of the world. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” Jesus said in John 16:33b. The confidence we have of overcoming trials and troubles is that Jesus himself overcame the world. The life of a Christian will be confronted by trials and testing because we are exposed to a world that is under the effects of sin and because it does not know Jesus. The life we are called to live should reflect the life of the one who conquered the world and overcame it, even if it meant he had to die on a cross. This could be the reason why the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (12:1-3)
Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds does not mean that whenever your car breaks down you say, “Praise God my car broke!” Or when you fall down and fracture a bone, you are to say, “Alleluia, God is great! My bone just broke!” James calls us to consider it pure joy not for the trials but whenever we are in those trying circumstances. This is like what Paul says about being thankful to God, where he writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thessalonians 5:18). We are to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. And so it is with considering trials as pure joy. We are to consider as pure joy when we are being tried because through our trails we know that our faith is being tested and refined. Trials are what will strengthen our trust in God. Trials will make us mature and complete. Trials will help us achieve the stature of Christ Jesus.
God wants to change you and He wants to change me. God wants to sanctify you and me. This kind of change is never easy. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes trials. But ultimately it makes us perfect and complete.
“Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Don’t let your response to trials be determined by how they first feel. Don’t let your response to trials be determined by how awful the situation seems to be.
Through trials God is at work in us, changing us, improving us. God is working in us to His glory and praise.
It could be that not everything will go as planned for you this week. It could be that either at home or at your place of work your patience will be tried. It could be that we might receive some kind of bad news. Let us remember James word: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. May our lives continue to be molded in the character of Christ. Every trial that comes to us gives us the opportunity to become more like Christ. Let us consider these opportunities as pure joy! Amen!