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James (2011)

Every Good and Perfect Gift

James 1:1-17

Lesson audio

Introduction

The book of James has been accepted as a part of the canonical literature since the earliest days of the church. There has been some doubt, however, over precisely which James wrote this book. The issue turns upon the perpetual virginity of Mary. If you believe in that, then you hold that this was written by James son of Alphaeus. All the rest of us believe it was written by James, the brother of Jesus.

The purpose of the book is quite clear: it is the wisdom literature of the New Testament. It occupies a place parallel to that of the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. Indeed, the letter was not written for the church in general but for the Jewish people who had been dispersed from Jerusalem. The best efforts of history indicate that this was written just before the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. It is a book to be taken in small bites.

Trials

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

(James 1:1-4 NASB)

To Test Your Faith

Understanding this section will require us to know the difference between the trial and temptation. Let's take the trials first:

·         There are physical trials – the common ordinary suffering of the Christian. It's a time when we ask, "why me, God?"

·         Sometimes these trials actually occurred to others but we must share them. If you've ever had an invalid in the house, you know what I mean. You ask, "why her, God?"

·         It does occasionally happen that these trials come to the church and we ask, "why us, God?"

Reaction

Trials in life rarely bounce off of us. We are going to react to them; the question is how? It seems strange the James would tell us to consider these as all joy. How could he possibly say such a thing?

·         Please remember that our reaction is not the emotional one, but the logical one. This is something that you purpose to do. If your reaction is entirely emotional, and continues to be that way, then you do not have your emotions under control.

·         How do we do that? The old saints would've answered with one word: contemplation. We are to think about our situation, and analyze it in the light of the Scriptures. Indeed, Aquinas tells us that the contemplation of the truth is one of the highest joys of the human mind. Evidently the modern Christian has some way to go to get to this point.

·         So we need a method. That method begins with prayer, and ends with accepting the Lord's consolation. Have you ever considered that your trials drive you closer to God? And that that just might be a good thing?

Result

The result of these trials is described in this translation as endurance. It is a word which is almost untranslatable; patience, fortitude, power, toughness — these are all synonyms for a word that means patience. It is an active patience. Perhaps it is best described by its results:

·         Maturity comes first. In our day we think of maturity as something to be despised; it is much preferable to be young. But those of us who have reached a certain state of antiquity know that maturity brings its own advantages. We have been there and done that, and experience helps.

·         The second aspect is completeness. Remember the whole armor of God? Our weaknesses are gradually plated over with God's armor.

·         There is also an aspect of perfection here. To say that something is perfect is to imply that it has a purpose. Thus, we making clue that God is perfect in us for a purpose known to him, at least. Often enough, however, God doesn't share this knowledge with the person being perfected.

Wisdom

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

(James 1:5-8 NASB)

How God Gives

You know much about the character of a person if you know how they give. It really doesn't matter what amount they're giving, it's the style. Are they a skinflint?

·         God gives generously. Indeed, he is the model of the cheerful giver that he loves so much. The arch-example of this is the cross.

·         More than that, he gives to all. This is not something for the selected few, or those who are in on the mystic secret.

·         Perhaps the most important characteristic of God's giving is that he does it without finding fault. If you've ever had a gift delivered with a lecture, you know why that's a blessing.

Requirement: Faith

It might seem strange that God requires faith before he gives wisdom. But there is a very good and specific reason for this: first of all, he wants your commitment. This is not a man at a convention giving out free samples. He wants you to be committed to him; more than that, to use his wisdom you will absolutely require faith.

How is that? Remember, God's wisdom is not like the wisdom of the world. For example, he just told you to react to trials and suffering with joy. Does that sound something like the advice you would get from Oprah Winfrey? It's not the world's vision, it's God's vision that must be implemented. And you're going to need faith to implement it.

Contrary Wisdom

Here's an example of what we are talking about:

But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

(James 1:9-12 NASB)

The poor get to boast in their poverty? Let's look at it this way: on a football team, which players get hit the hardest? The ones on the field, or the ones on the bench? The answer is obvious. It is the way of this world that the rich have fewer trials and therefore lesser reward. They also have the problem of money; the temptation is to rely on money — something the poor really don't have the chance to do. Moreover, if you are poor it's easy to consider the lilies of the field; if you are rich, the tendency is to hire a gardener to weed them out.

Temptation

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

(James 1:13-17 NASB)

Words

This section goes a little easier if you have some definitions of some of the Greek translations.

·         The word for "tempted" means exactly that. It is a different word from the word used for trials.

·         The phrase that God cannot be tempted has a particular tense in the Greek. It implies that it is logically impossible for God to be tempted; the thing simply doesn't fit reality. It does not mean that it is forbidden, but impossible.

·         The phrase, "no variation" is an astronomical term involving what we now called parallax. In the Greek's understanding of astronomy it would mean that God was like a fixed star.

The Nature of Temptation

Perhaps this is best understood as a process:

·         It starts with our own lust. We need to understand that the problem begins with in us. It is not something that God applies from the outside. If we do not have the lust, we do not have the sin. Unfortunately, lusts of all types are in abundant supply in the human being.

·         The problem is not in the existence of the lust itself. It is in the giving in. To put it more directly, the problem is not temptation but what you do about it.

·         The result of this is death, spiritually.

We can best understand the fact that God does not tempt anyone by understanding how we tempt others. When we tempt others, we look within ourselves for the kinds of things that tempt us. It's rather simple really; we are comfort will doing the temptation with the lust that we understand. In short, we seek a common weak spot. God has no weak spots.

God's Gifts

The gifts that God gives us reflect his eternal character. Specifically:

·         They are intrinsically good. It is not possible for God to give us something which is evil. It is possible for him to permitted to come to us.

·         They are perfect — this meaning in the sense of being complete and fitted for a purpose. This of course implies that God has a purpose for the Christian.

·         They are eternally the same; God is eternal and does not change. So if he gave such gifts to the early church he will give the same to us.

Summary

So then, Christian, I commend to you the idea that you should rejoice in your trials. It means you're on the football field and not on the bench. But also that you should seek wisdom, asking God for it, so that at the very least you'll know the difference between the trial and the temptation. Then perhaps you can learn to accept the trial and avoid the temptation.

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