The Blessings of Trials (James 1)

By Mary Kroeger

This letter was written by James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ. He had a concern for the twelve tribes who were dispersed abroad because of the persecution they suffered for their faith in Christ. The trials that come with persecution, suffering, unfairness, etc., are easily identified, yet difficult to overcome. All trials require faith and a submission to God's will in order to walk triumphantly through them.

In addition to the easily identifiable trials, there is another trial that is not as easily identified. This is the trial that comes with blessings.

Blessings speak to us of comfort and joy, of ease and the fulfilment of our desires. The trial and temptation in the midst of these blessings come slyly in our thought life. Instead of keeping our focus on Christ and our constant dependence on Him, we are tempted to take some credit for these blessings. Our natural, carnal mind is always trying to lead us astray. It wants us to focus on self. Maybe God is blessing us because we keep His commandments, go to church, read our Bibles, pray long prayers, support missions, and do all these good things. This mindset robs God of the glory that belongs to Him. Instead of recognizing God's grace, we falsely think that we can produce a bit of righteousness in our own strength. This is the area we have to guard against. God's blessings have their source in God - not in self!

James is not speaking of this type of testing, but of the outward trials that affect our physical well-being, our reputation, our fear of pain, of hunger and death, and things like that.

In an interview on life's problems, Rick Warren said, "Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you're just coming out of one, or you're getting ready to go into another one. The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort. God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy. We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that's not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness." In order to grow spiritually, we need trials and problems!

James recognized that discouragement often accompanies these heavy duty trials. So let us see how he encourages the hurting people!

Keeping encouragement in mind, James writes, "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 1:2-4)

We are surprised that instead of offering sympathy to these hurting people, James tells them to consider it joy. In the midst of suffering and ill-treatment our carnal reasoning assures us we have reason to feel sorry for ourselves. But carnal reasoning with its "poor me" rational is not for Christians. The carnal mind is always against the Spirit, for it CANNOT understand spiritual realities. (1 Cor. 2:14) So it is no wonder that the Spirit is against the carnal mind! The two do not mix! That which is born of the flesh, is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. It is so important that our thoughts have their source in the mind of Christ!

James does not say that trials are a joyous experience, but we are to consider them as joy! Why? Because trials and difficulties are necessary to produce Christ-like virtues in us. For example, a surgical operation is not fun, but we are happy to endure the pain because it will result in wholeness. In our spiritual journey, trials and hardships are necessary to transform us into the image of Christ! This transformation is beyond all human understanding, and to participate in it we need situations that cannot be resolved by the carnal mind.

To journey through these difficulties successfully, our only option is to trust God! Without faith we will fall into depression with its accompanying despair. Since our only way of deliverance is by faith, we are pressured to walk in the obedience of faith! When the source of our thoughts is the mind of Christ, changes occur in us.

In the midst of trials we need to look at God's goal for us, and the part they play in our journey towards this goal! Suffering and trials are necessary in order to produce the obedience of faith. He wants the Christians to see the value of suffering and trials!

Many Christians do not know that the mind of Christ is included in the new creation that we are in Christ. In 1 Cor. 2:16, Paul wrote that we have the mind of Christ. When I first read that, I figured that God had overlooked me. But there it was! I read and reread that verse. I was forced to believe it, for God is always right! But I did not see the evidence! Seeing the evidence is not a faith walk. Our carnal mind does not want us to know the truth, so it loudly yells, "Unfair, unfair," as well as other words of hate and revenge. But our new mind in Christ does not listen to that mind. His mind reminds us of the truth that trials are needful for us to be changed into the image of Christ! Christ is love, and He always loves and forgives!

Without the practice of overcoming small trials in our faith walk, we won't be overcomers when the going gets tough. We will lack the endurance to become perfect and complete!

Even Christ had to learn obedience through the things He had to suffer! Throughout His ministry, He had to endure rejection from His people! For the 30 years while He was under the law, He just lived a normal life. He did not do any miracles and He was not rejected by people. But after He repented of having been under the law when He was baptized by John, the rejection began. After He was baptized, the Holy Spirit came down on Him in the form of a dove. Later, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came on the disciples as tongues of fire. Why the difference? It was because Christ did not need the consuming fire of God to burn away any carnality, for He never sinned. After this experience He was always led by the Spirit. This was when His troubles began, and they continued and grew worse until they ended with the horrible sufferings, torture, and death on the cross! In all these trials He always remained obedient to the Father's will for Him! He had perfect confidence in the Father's will for Him! He looked at what it would achieve!

"For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross." (Heb. 12:2) What was this joy? It was the joy of knowing that He would become the Saviour of the world! He knew it was worth being obedient to the Father's will because His will was, and always is, best! His will is also best for us! We too have to be convinced that God's will is best for us! This is 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." (v. 5)

What will convince us of our need for wisdom? When everything is going well, and we are patting ourselves on the back, figuring it's because we are so good? No way! But when trials and difficulties come, and we don't know which way to turn, we recognize our need for wisdom. Trials also test our faith and trust in God! They reveal our strengths and weaknesses, and bring to light our understanding of of God is!

Without wisdom we will wonder for what sin God is punishing us. We may be asking "Why," instead of believing that God always has our best in mind, and that He is in us and with us to give us the victory! God wants us to be convinced of the fact that He is our wisdom and He will reveal His wisdom to us when we ask for it in faith!

"Without faith it is impossible to please God." (Heb. 11:6) We cannot expect answers when we do not have faith. "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 1:6-8)

Here we have a description of a doubting man, a double-minded man - a man who listens to two minds - the carnal mind of unbelief, and the spiritual mind of Christ. He gives a nodding assent to the mind of Christ when he reads the scriptures or when he goes to church, then listens to his carnal mind when confronted by a problem. His faith travels up and down, like a wave driven by the wind or like a teeter-totter, going up and down, believing and doubting. In the end he does what his natural mind tells him to do. It gives him various reasons for doubting God. Maybe God does not want the best for him or maybe God wants to punish him for his many sins and failures, or maybe these circumstances are beyond God's ability to resolve, or maybe he is not worthy of God's attention. With so many maybes and doubts in regard to God, he thinks it is safer for him to help God answer his prayers. Surely God would appreciate a little self-effort on his part. Surely God would appreciate his co-operation in this way. This man thinks he can decree a thing and it will happen. His faith in self fights against the faith in God's promises! All doubts have their roots in self-endeavour!

There is no stability in a double-minded man, for the carnal mind is always against truth, and therefore it has no discernment! This man will accept and do whatever seems most convenient to him at that moment. There is no place for wisdom in two minds!

Humanity's foolishness thinks God needs our help! At one time Abraham also thought that. This brought Ishmael into existence and problems increased.

Foolishness fosters disobedience; wisdom produces obedience! We need the wisdom that Christ is in us, in order to believe that God will do what He has said He will do. The promise is even greater than the answer, for the promise produced the answer!

God always seems to wait with His answer until we have exhausted all our energy and are either convinced that we need Him or we think He's too late!

In a doubting man, the carnal mind of doubt and the spiritual mind of Christ are unequally yoked together, so they do not bear the fruit of the Spirit! To be unequally yoked does not only apply to marriage but also to many other situations. To be victorious, a separation between these two minds has to take place, and that can only take place throughout death to sin. Even as Christ was dead to sin (Rom. 6:10), so in Christ we too must die to sin. Christ wants us to be yoked with Him, for He said, "Take My yoke upon you." His yoke consists of a complete trust in His ability to do His will, and the knowledge that His will is best. and that it will bring the greatest rewards for us. In this knowledge we can embrace the Father's desires and will as our own! Since the mind of Christ always obeyed the Father, we know that His mind working in us will also keep us blameless and secure, always doing the Father's will! As we feed on Christ and mature in Him, this will become more apparent to us. His mind will keep us from sinning, and we too will be victorious because we are yoked with Him!

Next, James encourages those who are poor in worldly goods, for they often feel inferior to the rich. Often the rich also treat them disrespectfully. Their prosperity-minded brothers may even tell them that their lack of faith is the reason for their poverty. In the face of all the indignities the poor man has to suffer, he is encouraged "to glory in his high position." (v.9) His lack of earthly goods does not affect his standing with God!

Then there is the rich man who often tends to be self-satisfied. He is "to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass, His riches will pass away. For the sun rises with 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." (1:10-11)

The rich are to realize that their riches are temporary. This is humiliating for them, for they realize they cannot depend on their riches. When they realize that their dependence needs to be Christ, a change will take place in them, and they will glory in their humiliation. It will free them from their greed and from holding on to their riches. A spirit of generosity will be kindled in them. Despite their wealth and good deeds, they too have to depend completely on Christ for their righteousness and strength. Once they recognize that their wealth is not their security, they can capitalize on what they have by using their money to help others. By keeping it for themselves, they will fade away in the midst of their pursuits. If they give it away by helping others, they will lay up treasures for themselves in heaven where they have a lasting value! "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." (v.12)

This blessing does not depend on our social standing, our jobs or racial origin. It is for ALL who persevere under trial! Our perseverance under trial reveals our love for God and our trust in Him! It is the evidence that we trust the promises that He has made! The crown of life is not a physical crown that is worn on the head. Christ is the head of His body, and His life flows down into His body. The crown of life symbolizes the life that is ours in Christ, our head! He is our life! His life is absolutely pure and sinless, and this is the life He gives us! Our physical life will perish, but the life He gives us has nothing perishable in it, so it is everlasting!

Many Christians have a wrong understanding of who our God is, so they blame Him when things go wrong! After Adam sinned, the blaming began! He blamed God for giving him a wife and he blamed his wife for his failure. Humanity still loves to blame others for its own humanity and the problems inherent in humanity. It even blames God because it figures that God should only give His people the things that make them happy. God has the ability to do whatever He wants to, so should they not dictate their wants to Him, and expect Him to cater to all their wishes? If they do not get what they want, or when things go wrong, God gets the blame. When they yield to their lustful desires, God also gets the blame! They do not realize that God has given us Christ, and that He is the answer to all our needs!

Just in case someone thinks that God is to blame for his problems, James lets us know that God is not the source of our temptations. He writes, "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." (1:13-15)

These verses tell us the source of our temptations! The apostle John enlarges on this and writes that it is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life that cause us to sin. (1 John 2:16) It is like a pregnancy. Before a birth can take place, the ovum and the sperm have to unite. In regard to sin, the lust has to unite with our unbelief in God to supply what is best for us! To fill the void, faith in self-effort takes place. After this conception has taken place, the lust in the carnal mind grows until it is ready to be born. Then when the sin is committed, death follows! Sin can never birth obedience. Our carnal mind is the mind of death. (Rom. 8:6) So it is always against the life in the Spirit! This shows us that our thoughts have to have their source in the mind of Christ!

"Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren." (James 1:16) It is so easy to be deceived by good counterfeits, and the carnal mind is very adept at producing them! We need the light that Christ is, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to differentiate between religion (trying to become righteous through our own works) and Christianity (having Christ be our righteousness).

Trials open the door to the temptation of yielding to the desires of the flesh, for our desires pose as carefree, happy living. Only Christ, the truth, can free us from our bondage to our lustful desires for honour, prestige, riches and the pleasures of this world. Truth reveals the lie, identifies it and judges it!

Truth is the most powerful thing there is! It does away with the lie! If we do not have truth, we will embrace the lie, and claim it as our truth! Let's not be deceived by our passions, traditions and desires that are rooted in self, and dressed in sheep's clothing. Christ is the reality!

"Every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures." (1:17-18)

Here we see a wonderful truth! Every good and perfect gift comes from above; it does not come from the earth. It does not have its source in the darkness of carnality, but in the Father of lights! Again we are reminded of the fact that the source of our thoughts is so very important! I used to think that I had to make the decision to follow Christ, but here we are told that it is, "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures." It's so wonderful to know that God has a purpose for bringing us out of darkness! He wants us to be a first fruit! The first fruit reveals what the fruit of the harvest will look like. Christ is the exact representation of the invisible God. As we learn who Christ is, we learn to know who God is. Likewise, we, the first fruit, are to show the world what Christ is like. As they observe us, they are to learn to know Christ! This is our high calling in Christ!

"This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls." (1:19-21)

Keeping in mind that we are representatives of Christ and members of His body, is it no wonder that James exhorts us to watch our speech! Jesus only did what the Father showed Him to do! In like manner we too should only do and say the things that the Spirit shows us! Jesus never obeyed His feelings! He always listened to the Father! When our ears are tuned to hear the voice of the Spirit, His words of wisdom and love will pour out of our mouths!

"But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was." (1: 22-23)

Here we have a man who looks in a mirror. Why? To see himself, of course! He wants to make sure he looks his best to others. Have you ever noticed that you see yourself in reverse when you look into a mirror? The right arm is where the left should be, and vice versa. We think we see ourselves as we are, but we don't. Spiritually speaking, this man's mirror is the law of Moses, the law of commandments. He wants to see how well he measures up. Compared to others, he thinks he looks pretty good, but of course he does not see himself quite like he is. He sees some blemishes, but on the whole, the outside of him, the part people see, looks good. He keeps the Sabbath, tithes, prays long prayers, sits on committees, and makes a good spiritual impression on others! He feels good about himself. As this feeling grows, he forgets about the blemishes. His satisfaction dismisses his need for inner beauty. He seems to be ignorant of the fact that in comparing ourselves with others we are not wise! (2 Cor.10:12) The Law of Moses has not yet taught him that the righteousness of the law can never meet God's standard for righteousness! He has not learned that through the law is our knowledge of sin. Man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart!

The natural mind can never produce spiritual understanding. For example, the apostle Peter had received revelation knowledge from God when, in answer to Christ's question, Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matt.16:16) At that time the Holy Spirit had not yet been poured out, so Peter only received this revelation in his natural mind. Therefore this revelation did not change him or keep him in the time of trial. At Christ's trial, when he was asked whether he knew Christ, he denied knowing Him and even swore that he did not know Him. Later, after he was filled with the Spirit, he was a changed man and ready to die for Him!

Unless we hear the words of Christ spiritually, we too will only be hearers of the word. We will be content with a good reputation and with works that have their source in self-effort, and that seek to fulfil the Law of Moses.

In this next verse we see a different man. "But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does." (1:25)

This verse describes a man who does not look at himself in the Law of Moses. Instead, he looks at the perfect law of liberty. This law is not like the Law of Moses, the law of condemnation. The law of liberty is the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus! This law frees us from the law of sin and death and from our bondage to sin! It also frees us from our reliance on self-performance, and brings us into a faith in what Christ has done for us! He is now our righteousness, sanctification, redemption and wisdom! What more can we ask for!!!

"If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. (v. 26)

There are many religions in this world! There is a big difference between being in a religion and being in Christ. Being in a religion just means that we subscribe to the doctrines of that organization and obey them. But being in Christ is different. Christ is not an organization; Christ has a body and we are members of His body. This brings us into a relationship of life with Christ, the head. This union brings us into an alignment with His thoughts, so He can do His work through us! Being in Christ changes us on the inside. This is evidenced in the words we speak and in the things we do! If this evidence is missing, we are only in a worthless religion.

In the next verse we have the earmark of true religion. "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (v. 27)

Our faith has to agree with God's perspective of what is pure and undefiled. As long as we focus on self, we are not free to focus on others. This brings us into a dilemma, for we find we cannot free ourselves from our bondage to sin and self. Our inability to free ourselves shows us our need for grace and truth! In Christ we are freed from being centred on self, self-achievement, honour, riches, greed and flattery. We can now focus on others and their needs. Helping widows and orphans, the poor and afflicted becomes a priority! This is the pure and undefiled religion that is ours in Christ!

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