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Profiting From Trials

James 1:1-8

by
Ian McPherson

Regarding the author of the book of James.  James is the English form of Jacob.  There were three people named James in the New Testament.  James, the son Of Zebedee and brother of John (Matthew 4:21; 10:2; Mark 1:19; 3:17; Luke 5:10).  He was martyred by Herod (Acts 12:1-2).  There was also James, the son of Alphaeus, who was another apostle (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13).  If he were the author however, it would be almost certain that he would have signed himself an apostle.  We are left with the almost indisputable conclusion that the author is James, the brother of Jude (Jude 1:1), the half brother of Jesus.  (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; 1 Corinthians 9:5).

It seems that James was not a believer in Jesus' lifetime (John 7:2-3).  However after the resurrection of Christ he was with his mother and his other brethren in the upper room in Jerusalem praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit to come upon the apostles. (Acts 1:14).  James was well qualified to speak about trials.  He became very influential in the church at Jerusalem.  Eventually becoming an elder, and serving alongside the apostles.  (Acts 15:6, 13).  Paul later referred to him as one who seemed to be a "pillar" in the church.  The word "pillar" means a post or support.  Thus James was one of the backbones to the church at Jerusalem.  A glimpse of his godliness was gleaned from the writings of  Eusebius who preserved a fragment from Hegesippus a Jewish Historian which says that James was: "wont to go alone into the sanctuary, and used to be found prostrate on his knees, and asking for forgiveness for the people, so that his knees grew hard and worn, like a camel's because he was ever kneeling and worshipping God, asking forgiveness for the people"  James' eldership at Jerusalem was served during a time of immense trials. The church, since it's beginning on Pentecost had suffered extreme persecution from Jews who objected to the intrusion of Christianity into their lives.  Stephen was stoned (Acts 7),  James the apostle executed (Acts 12), and Peter had only managed to escape death by the miraculous intervention of God, when he was released from prison on the night before his planned execution (Acts 12:5-11).  Persecution had caused the church at Jerusalem to scatter, leaving the apostles alone in leadership (Acts 8:1-4).  James however, remained in Jerusalem.  James was therefore well suited to write about  "Profiting Through Trials".   He was in the forefront of the battle that took place between Christianity and Judaism, and would therefore have suffered much at the hand of the Jews.  Tradition concerning James says.  "The death of James reportedly was at the order of the high priest Ananus, and was either by stoning (Flavius Josephus,) or by being cast down from the Temple tower (Eusebius)"  If this tradition is right, then he, like the apostles eventually died as a martyr. 

The recipients were well in need of the exhortation.  The book was written to Jewish Christians dispersed throughout the Grecian world (James 1:1).  The book of Acts reveals that persecution was much wider spread than at Jerusalem.  The early Christians had  "turned the world upside down" through their preaching of the gospel. (Acts 17:6).  This made the Jews so hostile that they even followed Paul from city to city stirring up strife. (Acts 17:13).  This made the exhortation in our text also very relevant to the recipients. 

We need the exhortation today.  After the apostolic era, history Reveals how the church suffered extreme persecution from the Roman Catholic Church.  In our country today persecution is more subtle, but it still takes place.  Zealous denominational people object to the church claiming to know the truth.  If one says that he belongs to the one true church today he is immediately branded as legalists and often ridiculed or shunned in some way.  In other countries even today Christians are still being jailed by Muslims and other religious radicals for their faith.

Even worse than this is persecution which comes from within the church.  We live in an age of relativism, where truth is hated and unrighteousness is praised.  The prevalence of fornication, adultery, homosexuality, drunkenness and other worldly sins has dulled Christians' conscience and caused many to surrender their values.  Ecumenism has also made its mark on the church, resulting in Christians surrendering the Standard of Scripture to a spirit of compromise.  Consequently, godly brethren are sometimes branded as "legalists" and ostracized by those who seek to compromise the Bible and justify their own sinfulness.  People today want smooth words that do not offend.  They are like the false prophets of old: "Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever: That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:" (Isaiah 30:8-10)

Persecution from within is not new.  The apostle Paul includes  "perils among false brethren" among the list perils he had to face:  “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.  Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren “  (2 Corinthians 11:24-26).  No generation has been free from "false brethren:" All of us therefore can profit from James' exhortation in the text.

Here are some points about “profiting from trials” (James 1:1-8).  "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations"  (James 1:2).  Notice he does not say  "if" you fall into temptation, but "when".  James considered suffering of the recipients of his letter to be a foregone conclusion. 2 Timothy 3:12 says:  "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution".  We notice also that James does not ask us to go out and look for temptations but indicates that we just "fall" into them. The Greek word "fall" means "to fall into something that is all around". We don't have to look for temptations, as they are everywhere. The Christian life is full of trials and testings. An important thing to realise is that much of the suffering that takes place is actually caused by our stand for truth.  In order to go to heaven, we must pass the test of trials.  Peter said: “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:7).  This is why the disciples could rejoice even from suffering persecution for the cause of Christ:  "And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.  And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”  (Acts 5:40-42)

Only the faithful Christian can understand these verses.  He does not fear what persecutors can do to the body, because he is primarily concerned about the preservation of his soul.  Jesus said: "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).  Peter points out the importance of suffering for righteousness  "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf." (1 Peter 4:15-16).  Consider John the Baptist who stood for truth against Herod and Herodias..  "For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not:  For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly." (Mark 6:17-20).  The account goes on to inform us that Herod, yielding to the pressure of his adulterous wife, beheaded John because of his stand for truth. Even though John was his prisoner, Herod feared him.  However, it was actually the message that Herod feared, he liked John as a person, but it was John's mouth that he wanted to stop.  John lived a godly life but suffered persecution and eventually death for standing up for Christ on Marriage and Divorce.  If such persecution was allowable today, many brethren would brethren would be executed  as John was.  We hear of preachers being ostracized or even fired for preaching on this subject.  Churches that stand for truth are branded as "legalistic traditionalists" or "ultra- conservative.  The reason why there is so much liberalism today is because preachers bow to the pressures of the masses.  They are afraid to preach the truth because of worldly peer pressure around them.  Some compromise for "filthy lucre's sake" in that they want to keep their jobs.  Preachers who back off from preaching truth because they fear persecution should no be in the Lord's pulpit. (2 Timothy 4:1-5).  All preachers are to be willing to teach the "Whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27)  Consider also  how Stephen lost his life.  He was a godly man, preaching against the stiff-necked attitude of the Pharisees.  Instead of responding in repentance, the Jews gnashed on him with their teeth (Acts 7:54).  Even when they "stopped their ears" they could not drown out the self-conviction that they had.  They therefore took stones and slew Stephen.

What profit did such people as Stephen and John the baptizer get from being martyred for preaching the truth?  On the surface they seemed like complete losers.  People of the world would call them fools for losing their life.  In both cases,  compromise would have saved their lives.  However the profit they received was far greater than anything man could offer.  Like Paul, they had the "crown of righteousness" awaiting for them.  Paul who also died in prison as a martyr said at the close of his life: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."  (2 Timothy 4:7-8).  Notice that the crown of life is available to all faithful Christians.  Those who surrender to temptations will have a temporary easing Of persecution but have no eternal profit.  All that awaits them is  "But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries."  (Hebrews 10:27).  Concerning Stephen The Scriptures say "he saw the glory of God, And Jesus standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55).  I have often wondered why this verse pictures Jesus as standing while the other Scriptures depict Him as sitting on the right hand of God!  Perhaps the Lord was standing and applauding the courageous stand he was making against his persecutors.  Or perhaps he was standing to beckon him into his place of reward.  Whatever the reason, this scene was of great encouragement to Stephen.  This was Stephen's time of victory.  He would now realise the truth of what Paul was speaking about when he said.  "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory"  (2 Corinthians 4:17).  Unlike those of the world, Christians look upon death as the time of triumph.  The resurrection of Jesus is proof that a victorious resurrection awaits all the faithful.

We must pass the test of trials.  “Knowing this, that the trying of Your faith worketh patience.”  (James 1:3).  In suffering we are being put to the test.  Peter said: "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:  That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:"  It is  impossible for us to develop a true faith without trials.  It is easy to serve God in good times. If Christians never suffered, then everyone would be a Christian, but their faith would not be tested.  They would have no backbone or maturity (1 Peter 1:6-7).  Therefore whenever we are under trial, it is important to remember to pass the test. The Crown of life is only for who endure till  the end (Revelation 2:10).

We must produce the fruits of suffering (James 1:4-8).  When a tree is first planted, it is vulnerable to the perils around it.  It must pass the test of droughts, floods, insects, winds etc. in order to survive.  Once it is big however, it is almost indestructible.  Some trees are thousands of years old.  They have become hardened against the same type of droughts and floods that would have almost wiped them out in infancy.  Jesus used a similar illustration to this in Matthew 7 where he likened the Christian life to a house built on a rock.  Only the house that is able to withstand the boisterous challenges of the environment can stand.  In the Christian life, only the strong will grow to maturity and withstand the storms of persecution and suffering. It is hard sometimes to understand why we are going through temptations and trials. But if we have endured faithfully we bear fruit.  While we go through the trials, we need to pray for wisdom and strength to endure the discipline of the Lord..  Unless we do, it can be very easy to crumble.  The author of Hebrews points this out.  "And ye have  forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?  But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.  Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?  For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.  Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.  Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (Hebrews 12:5-12)

The fruits of suffering from our text.  First we have patience (V3) "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience." (Endurance or perseverance).  Long-suffering is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) The Spirit cannot produce this  fruit in us without suffering.  Remember the parable of the seed, how  some fell among the  stones.  (Matthew 13:20-21)  This heart "...  hearth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dearth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, by and by he is offended." Also we see maturity (V4) "But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."  If we suffer faithfully it produces "perfect work", and we "lack nothing"  Suffering performs a special work of God in us.  This is why young people cannot be elders, they have not gone through the testing of time nor experienced its purging powers. Older Christians who are faithful have stood the test of time.  They have contended for the faith (Jude 3)  They have fought the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7), they had endured shame as Christ had (Hebrews 12:2-3).  They have been abused, criticised, and slandered.  They bear the scares of Jesus on their bodies and still walk around with a smile.  They still love the church which they become qualified to oversee. They have been tempered by time and circumstance so that they can now qualify for the most exacting and difficult job on earth.  Another fruit listed is wisdom (5-7) "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.  For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord"  The faithful man goes to God in prayer when he suffers.  He needs God, and although he may lack wisdom about what to do, he knows that God has the answers, and is eager to seek His help. People of the world have no real comfort in suffering.  They have no help.  The Christian however is different.  He knows that there is an inexhaustible supply of strength and knowledge available to him from God.  He can endure suffering as a child endures discipline.  It is not pleasant to go through but afterwards it bears peaceful fruit. He needs the wisdom to decide on the right thing when the wrong thing would be more comfortable.  He needs wisdom and strength to take the difficult path when the easy one would be temporarily more desirable.  (Matthew 7:13-14).  He needs the wisdom that is from above, not that of the earth (James 3:17-18).  He needs strength to cast off Satan who works so hard in times of trial to pull us down.  Notice also the fruit of stability of mind, "For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.  A double minded man is unstable in all his ways."  The Christian knows the right thing to do, but is often wavering because he is affected by the peer pressure of the world.  The world is a powerful magnet, able to pull all but the strongest into its clutches.  We must ask ourselves:  "Will I deny Christ for the sake of momentary relief?  Or will I stand for him and suffer temporally for a future reward and peace of mind". The double minded man will waver and make wrong decisions.  Once we have endured the trials we have profited from suffering, and realised its value and necessity.  We learn that life on earth is not free of it trials.  May God help us to endure trials  because only then can we profit from them.

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