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This is a challenging and powerful passage for how we can view, receive, count as joy hard things. We will look at how faith receives trials as the good and perfect gifts from our Father. This combination of joy in trial is evident in Hugh Latimer’s charge to his burning friend, “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out.” Why could Latimer call for rejoicing? He trusted that God had a purpose for this trial. In faith, he saw the torching of their bodies as the spark God kindled that would continue to burn in England. Be of good cheer, for your trials are the good and the perfect gifts from God your Father.
Jesus Character Course (1-4)
In verse two, James rolls up his sleeves and gets to business, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kind…” James says that the flat tire when you’re already late, the roommate who doesn’t do her dishes, the back pain, the discovery of a brain tumor, another miscarriage, the inability to have children should all be considered joy. The reason you can have joy is because the trial has meaning. The trial is for your maturity––that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (vs. 3-4).
When you become a Christian, you begin the life long process of becoming like Jesus, which is called sanctification. You are enrolled in the “Jesus Christ Prep-School of Character.” When the teacher gives you tests, you should not sigh, roll your eyes, or walk out of the class. One of the regular things being tested is our faith––Can you properly see and identify? Here’s a car accident or an angry child or cancer. What is this?
Asking for Wisdom (5-8)
If any of you lacks wisdom, specifically for what’s going on in this process of maturity, then you can ask God, and he will give what you need and give generously (vs. 5). God is willing to back up the dump truck of wisdom for how to joyfully live in trials. But when the truck has backed into your driveway and dumped half its load, you shouldn’t wave your arms and shout, “Actually, I don’t want this. Can you take it back?” Everyone wants wisdom, but we are not as keen on the process to gain wisdom. But this is a double-minded man (vs. 6-8).
The Long View of Faith (9-12)
The faith required for Christians can seem confusing up close, but becomes clearer with the long view. James gives a specific example of faith in finances (vs. 9-11). The poor can boast in his exaltation because true riches are not his own but come from another, and the rich can boast in his humiliation because true riches are not his own but come from another. Faith looks ahead to the promised end and lives like it in the present moment. The man with faith on the long view is the blessed man. Happy is the one who remains steadfast in the pain for he receives the crown of life (vs. 12). This is at odds with our culture that preaches, “Happy are those who take it easy.” Happiness comes not through the lack of trials, but from triumphing over them. A thirty-nine year man snuggled in his bathrobe that hasn’t come off since Y2K is not an exhibit of happiness.
Testing Not Tempting (13-16)
James anticipates several likely flair ups and explains the difference between testing and tempting. God can not be tempted and he does not tempt anyone, so God is not the source of the problem for temptation (vs. 13). The wagging finger is pointed back at each of us (vs. 14-15). Adam and Eve were lured by their desires, and these desires gave birth to sin and sin grew up and killed them (Gen. 3:6).
But God put them in the garden with the no-touchy tree. How was this not a temptation? God tests us but he does not tempt us. The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness helps to clarify. Both the Spirit and Satan are planning something for Jesus. The situation is the same––Jesus alone in the wilderness. But the Spirit and Satan have different objectives––Satan wants to tempt Jesus, the Spirit wants to test Jesus. Same situation, different objectives. Satan tempted Jesus to sin in order to disqualify him from being the Savior. The Spirit tested Jesus in order to confirm him as the Savior (Heb. 4:15).
Jesus Christ: The Good and Perfect Gift (17-18)
God the Father gives every good gift and every perfect gift (vs. 17-18). Look around your life, and see the gift boxes stacked from floor to ceiling. God gives generously, so we receive gratefully. Faith believes that nothing comes to us except by God’s will. By faith we know that everything that comes to us is for our good.
We must end with the Father’s greatest gift. For God the Father so loved the world that he gave a gift. You unwrap it and you discover Jesus, your Savior. All of this is yours because Jesus received the trials from his Father as good gifts in faith. And now he says to you, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”