Thursday, December 21, 2023

2023.12.21 Hopewell @Home ▫ James 1:1–18

Read James 1:1–18

Questions from the Scripture text: Who wrote this (James 1:1)? Of Whom is he a slave? To whom is it written? What is their current condition? What does he call them in James 1:2? What should they count joy? How much of it should they count joy? What do these trials produce (James 1:3)? What does patience work (James 1:4)? What will they end up lacking? What might they currently lack (James 1:5)? What should they do about that? What is God like? What will His response be to their request for work-perfecting patience? How mustn’t they ask (James 1:6)? What is the person like, who is unsure that he actually wants God’s work to be perfected (James 1:6-8)? What must a lowly brother glory in (James 1:9)? What must the rich glory in (James 1:10)? Why (James 1:10-11)? Who is blessed (James 1:12a, cf. James 1:2)? What will happen to him at the end of these trials (James 1:12b)? What will he receive (verse 12c)? To whom has the Lord promised it? What mustn’t one say in trials (James 1:13)? What can’t happen to God? What doesn’t He do? How do we experience temptation to sin—by what are we drawn away and enticed (James 1:14)? To what does desire give birth (James 1:15)? What does sin bring forth? What are they in danger of (James 1:16)? Rather than enticement to sin, what is actually coming from God (James 1:17)? What does this verse call Him? What, in His character, makes it certain that this goodness will never be interrupted by an enticement to sin? What has He done to believers, in this invariable goodness (James 1:18)? What role do they have in the display of His goodness?

How should Christians respond to trials? James 1:1–18 prepares us for the second serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these eighteen verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that believers should respond to varying trials with all joy, because of the invariable goodness of God, in Whose providence those trials come.

All joy. James, the half-brother (in Mary) and brother (through union by the Spirit) of Jesus, writes this letter (James 1:1a). The church is described as the “12 tribes scattered”—the church is in exile, not yet gathered to her Home (verse 1b). But the Lord, Who brings them through “various trials” (many different kinds of trials, James 1:2), does so only, always, continually—invariably(!)—for their good (James 1:17).

The type of trial varies (James 1:2), but the perfect goodness of the Fatherly goodness of God toward them never does (James 1:17). He made a statement about Himself, and how He rules from the heavens, by the lights that He put there in Genesis 1:14–19. There would be no time at which a light, which He has given in His goodness, would not shine in the exactly appropriate amount upon His creatures. But it is in the perfection of His working, as He brings many sons home to glory, that He makes steady (but spectacular) display of His invariable goodness.

God’s sovereign work, even as He sanctifies us, is the key to “all joy.” It is all from God and all for good. 

Perfecting faith. This is only true for believers. This is only true for believers. Only believers can say, “this trial is for good, in order to bring out perseverance (James 1:3), wisdom (James 1:5), and more faith (James 1:6).” It is the believer who, having had these things brought out by the trials (same word as “temptation” in James 1:12), has proved himself and is approved before all. These are all proofs of being in the same condition as that in which we find the man in Romans 8:28—loving God (end of James 1:12). Those who are “called according to His purpose” must surely “receive the crown of life.”

But there is no crown without crosses. Thankfully, while God is invariably good, believers are not static. They are dynamic. They grow. God works on them. We will not grow in patience/perseverance without pain (James 1:2-3). We will not grow in wisdom without going through those challenges that make us to cry out for more of it (James 1:4-5). God gave us the faith in the first place. He knows precisely what to bring us through, in order to perfect that faith.

Purifying priorities. There is a foolish way of reading James 1:6-7, as if there is some sort of power of self-assuredness that guarantees that we can name whatever we wish and obtain it from God. Ironically, this is almost exactly the double-mindedness that this passage warns us against.

James 1:8-10 helps us understand what the “doubting” is in James 1:6. The word in verse 6 refers to a divided mind, which James 1:8 also calls a “double” mind. This is referring to the one whose prayer in trial is not for things like patience, faith, wisdom, and love, but rather to be exalted and rich in this world. 

What does the single-minded man pray for? He learns from Scripture what those good things are that the good God has designed for those who love him. And those are the things that the single-minded man prays for. He must not pray with a divided heart, hoping to have those things that are prioritized by the flesh, rather than faith. 

But we also find other things coming out of us, when we go through trials: evil. This is because much of the flesh (and its desires) remains in us. It is exceedingly evil to blame God, when He sends us a trial in His goodness to sanctify us, and we respond not in the Spirit but in the flesh. When we say something like “that situation made me  _______________” (fill in the blank with any sinful response), then we are the fool in James 1:13 who says, “I am tempted by God.” But God and evil are diametrically opposed. If any evil comes out of us, we have responded to the goodness of God with the evil that comes from within. 

So, trials advance sanctification in at least four ways. First, trials bring out what virtue the Lord has already produced in us, encouraging us about His work in us. Second, trials give us opportunity to identify what is lacking and ask God for it. Third, trials bring out what remains from our former nature, so that we can target it. Fourth, trials remind us that we are not yet at that glorious destination to which the Lord is taking us. He brought us forth according to His will, so that our wills might be more conformed to His, as we align ourselves with the world to come (James 1:18).

What different sorts of trials are you going through now? How has your certainty about the unchangeable goodness of God to you helped you put the trial(s) in the correct perspective? How is your praying, within those trials, reflecting the priorities that we learn in this passage? What good have you seen the Lord produce in you? What sin has been exposed? How are you targeting it? 

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for Your unchangeable, invariably perfect, goodness toward us! Forgive us for how we have chafed against various trials that You have sent in that goodness. Rather than seeking that sanctification that You lovingly give us, we are often double-minded, aiming at comfort and glory in this world. We have even blamed circumstances for sin, not realizing that this is really blaming You Yourself for our sin. O, forgive us such dreadful wickedness! Thank You for giving to us Your own Son, our Lord Jesus, to be all of our righteousness before You. Grant that Your Spirit, by Whom You have brought us forth, would keep conforming us to Christ’s image, that we might prove to be the firstfruits of the new creation, we ask through Christ Himself, AMEN!

 Suggested songs: ARP197 “Christian Unity” or TPH509 “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me” 

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