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The Epistle of James
Encounters with God
By Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, Thomas Blackaby, Melvin Blackaby, Norman Blackaby
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Henry Blackaby, Th.M., D.D. Richard Blackaby, M.Div., Ph.D. Thomas Blackaby, M.Div., D.Min. Melvin Blackaby, M.Div., Ph.D. Norman Blackaby, M.Div., B.L., Ph.D.
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FACING TRIALS AND TEMPTATIONS
Patience: the ability to endure waiting, delay, or provocation without being upset or losing one's temper
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways....
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, low to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:2–8, 12–21)
James opened his letter by dealing with the two big T's that troubled the church then and continue to disturb believers today: Trials and Temptations.
James openly acknowledged that tough times do come to good people. No Christian should expect to be immune from going through difficult trials, times of testing, or temptations. To those who might say that Christians should not be tested or tempted, James would likely have said, "Get real! There's nothing in one's acceptance of Jesus as Savior or in one's following Jesus as Lord that makes a person exempt from the hardships of this life or removes from a person the natural impulses of their own humanity. We still live in a fallen world and in fallen flesh."
The word James used for "testing" needs to be clearly understood. This word, peirasmos, refers to a time of testing that is directed toward a specific intended end. In James' understanding the God-intended end of all testing that comes to a believer is patience, strength and constancy of faith, and ultimately, wholeness or completeness. This Greek word for testing is the same word that is used when a young bird tests its wings as it leaves a nest to fly, and in the Bible it is a word used frequently to describe the struggles Israel faced in order to strengthen the nation. James clearly saw testing as a tremendous benefit in bringing any body of believers to greater maturity and stronger faith. "If you have questions about the reason for your testing," James added quickly, "ask God! He will impart His wisdom to you on the matter, if you ask with faith."
Wisdom, throughout the Bible, is a process of discernment; choices are weighed, options are evaluated. The standard against which all choices and decisions are to be made is the Word of God. To become wise, one must know God's Word and ask God to reveal from his Word the truths and guidance that are vital to any major issue or question a person faces. Part of the process of gaining wisdom is gaining God's perspective on any situation, relationship, or experience. The wise perspective is a perspective that points toward eternal benefit.
Often when people experience a difficult circumstance or season of life, they move first to a concern about what has been lost, is in the process of being lost, or is likely to be lost. Generally speaking, trouble is equated with a potential for failure, damage, or a loss of something considered valuable. "Change your perspective," James seemed to say. "See trouble through the lens of God's wisdom. Testing is a believer's opportunity for growth, refinement, success, and greater enduring power."
James moved quickly from an overview of testing trials to the concept of temptation. Temptations come to every believer, no matter how spiritually mature they may be. Again, temptation has a potential for good in a believer's life.
James sought to make it clear that temptations do not come from God. Rather, from James' perspective, they are a natural outflow of mankind's base, fleshly desires. If a person yields to the desires of the flesh—which include psychological issues as well as physical ones—the result is sinful behavior, which encompassed one's thinking and speaking behaviors, as well as one's actions. The end result of sin coming to full-blown fruition is death. Rather than present man with temptations, God gives "every good gift and every perfect gift" that promotes eternal life.
What is a good gift? It is a gift that adds genuine goodness to our lives in a way that allows us to extend good to others.
What is a perfect gift? It is a gift that produces greater spiritual maturity in us and helps us to influence those around us in a way that promotes wholeness. God never undermines His people in any way, either by testing or by temptation. Rather, He always seeks to build up and bless them.
What should be our response to testing trials and temptations? James wrote:
be swift to hear—quickly seek out God's wisdom and heed what God says.
be slow to speak—weigh carefully how you respond to trials.
be slow to wrath—do not become angry at those who cause your troubles or trials.
lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness—continue to live pure lives, refusing to stoop to the level of those who seek your demise.
receive with meekness the implanted word—take all of the wise counsel of God's Word into your life and make it your guide for all decisions and choices.
Do you firmly believe today that God is one hundred percent for you and that He does all things for your eternal benefit? If not, why not? If so, cite an example in which you knew God was working on your behalf, even if the prevailing circumstances seemed negative.
Does it make a difference how we approach a problem or difficult circumstance? What role does our attitude have in the ultimate outcome of a difficult time?
Application for Today
A Sunday school teacher presented this idea to his class of young adults, most of whom were in their twenties and thirties: "Your greatest heartache will one day be your greatest blessing if you turn that heartache over to God." He noted quickly that only one woman in the class seemed to be in full agreement with what he had said. He called upon her, "Do you have a story you would be willing to share with the class about this?"
She said, "When I was twenty-two and about to graduate from college, my fiancé called off our wedding, which was only two weeks away at that time. I was devastated. I had been planning my entire life around marriage to this man and, suddenly, my future was a blank slate. It was a terrible time of heartache to me.
"But I turned it over to God and I felt that I should go to graduate school to get a master's degree. That wasn't an easy choice—it meant more loans and meager living—but I believed it was God's wisdom for me to do this.
"At graduate school I learned about a fellowship program overseas. I applied for it and got a fellowship. It wasn't an easy choice to accept this fellowship. I was in debt, my studies had been very difficult, and I felt exhausted mentally and physically. But again, I felt it was God's wisdom that I take this fellowship. I took out still more loans.
"Once I got overseas I had lots more time than I had anticipated. I poured myself into Bible study, and I attended every Christian seminar I could find in my host nation. Fortunately, there were some good seminars available. It was at one of those seminars that I met a student who was also in that nation on a fellowship. We became good friends, and after we both returned to the United States, we stayed in touch. During the next six months we realized we were in love and we married a year later.
"Was the breakup of my first romance devastating? Yes. It was the hardest thing I had ever gone through. Was graduate school difficult? Yes. It was demanding in ways I never imagined. But those two very difficult experiences set me up for the greatest joys of my life: a marriage to a man I love deeply, an even better career than I would have had with only a bachelor's degree, and a life that is rooted securely in God's Word. If it took the heartache of a breakup to get me grounded in the Bible, there's no putting value on that! If I had to go through that difficult time again to be who I am and to have what I have today, I would do so in the blink of an eye. I can't even imagine being married to the man to whom I was engaged when I was twenty-two. His rejection of me turned out to be a huge blessing."
What about you? Is there a time of testing that God used to build into you things that were and are for your eternal blessing? Has your greatest heartache become your greatest blessing?
Supplementary Scriptures to Consider
James believed that the Lord brought just the right "tests" to every person:
Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. (James 1:9–11)
The person low in self-value or from a low socio-economic stratum should never allow trials to reinforce a sense of their low self-worth or poverty. Rather, the "lowly" brother should see his trials as an opportunity for exaltation. Have you ever grown in your confidence in the Lord through a time of difficult testing or trouble? What caused that growth? How did the Lord "lift you up" on the inside as you overcame your time of testing?
The person who thinks too highly of himself or is from a high socioeconomic stratum should never conclude that he is above learning important lessons from difficult circumstances. Rather, the "rich" brother should see his trials as an opportunity to pursue spiritual riches. What lessons have you learned from a time of testing? Especially focus on lessons that might involve a shift in focus from temporal matters to eternal realities.
James addressed our desire to have times of trial or temptation come to a quick end:
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 5:7–9)
Have you ever hoped for a "quick fix" to a major problem in your life? What happened? What was the result with regard to your faith?
Have you ever prayed that God would quickly remove from you an area of weakness that seems particularly prone to temptation? Did God do this? What benefit do you see in the way God responded to your prayer?
In what ways have you struggled with the concept of patience? Are you a patient person? Are you growing in patience? Why or why not?
What does the phrase "establish your hearts" mean to you? How does a person do this? What are the benefits of having an established heart?
The apostle Paul wrote this about temptation:
Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:12–13)
Have you ever known someone who thought himself impervious to temptation or believed she was above being tempted? What happened?
What is the danger of thinking that you have power to withstand temptation apart from God's help?
How does a person discover God's "way of escape" when he is tempted?
Have you ever experienced a divinely provided "way of escape" during a time when you were experiencing temptation? What happened?
James seemed to echo words from Proverbs:
My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands; For length of days and long life And peace they will add to you.
Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart, And so find favor and high esteem
In the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and depart from evil. (Proverbs 3:1–7)
What stands out to you in a particularly challenging way as you read this passage from Proverbs?
Recall a time when you know without a shadow of doubt that God directed your path. What happened?
In what ways do you find it difficult to trust in the Lord with all your heart?
In what ways do you find it difficult to obey the admonition: "Do not be wise in your own eyes?"
Introspection and Implications
1. How do you respond to James' teaching that temptation occurs when a person is "drawn away by his own desires and enticed?" In what ways have you found it difficult to take responsibility for the temptations you experience and for your response to temptations?
2. Have you ever been angry with God for your own yielding to temptation, perhaps saying to God, "You made me this way. How can You expect me to say no to such a temptation?" Do you truly believe God made you with weaknesses so He could trip you up in your weaknesses? To what degree do we make ourselves weaker by repeated yielding to temptation? What aid does God promise us in a time of temptation?
3. Do you always turn first to God with a request for wisdom when you experience a difficult time? What do you believe keeps a person from turning to God to ask for wisdom when tough times strike?
4. James wrote that when we turn to God to ask for wisdom, God gives wisdom "liberally and without reproach." In other words, He provides a generous outpouring of wisdom and never berates or belittles us for not already having it. Do you take comfort in this? Have you ever turned to God to ask for specific wisdom on a particular choice, decision, or issue? What happened?
5. Why is it important to ask for wisdom without doubting?
6. Do you value wisdom as highly as you believe you should? Why or why not?
7. Identify ways you struggle with these admonitions from James:
be swift to hear —
be slow to speak—
be slow to wrath—
lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness—
receive with meekness the implanted word—
Communicating the Good News
What is the error in focusing an evangelistic message solely on all of the good things that will be given to a person who accepts Jesus as Savior, while neglecting the downside of living in a fallen world and in frail, temptation-prone flesh? Do some evangelists raise expectations too high for a life that is all roses, no thorns? What is the benefit of holding out to a non—Christian the abiding presence of Christ Jesus that helps a Christian endure difficult times and overcome temptations?
Excerpted from The Epistle of James by Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, Thomas Blackaby, Melvin Blackaby, Norman Blackaby. Copyright © 2008 Henry Blackaby, Th.M., D.D. Richard Blackaby, M.Div., Ph.D. Thomas Blackaby, M.Div., D.Min. Melvin Blackaby, M.Div., Ph.D. Norman Blackaby, M.Div., B.L., Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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