Patience And Wisdom
Trials And Temptations
1. In today's passage of scripture we find the word "trials." Later in verse thirteen we find the words "meet with temptation" or "be tempted." In these passages, there is a difference between the noun and the verb, but basically, the same word is being used. "Trials" and "temptations" have a bigger difference in meaning as Japanese words, but in the original text they are the same word.
2. The specific situation to which this is pointing is clear. It is the hardships and difficult times which have fallen upon the believers. For the Christians back then, persecution must have been against them at a great rate. But, as it has "various trials" here, the particular contents of their hardships was not necessarily just persecution. In some cases the confusion that has arisen in a church may be the cause of the suffering. Or, as Paul had experienced, a thorn given to his body, that is a sickness, may have been the great cause of suffering. Some types of suffering are mixed up and intertwined. The contents of hardships are not always simple.
3. Whatever the case may be, suffering does work as a "temptation" for sure. It works as a power to separate a person from God. It works as a power that pulls a person into sin. It works as a power to lead one unto death. Hardships and suffering work as a power from the devil against human beings.
4. However, there is this scene where suffering is thus working as a power of the devil, but at the same time, there is also the scene of our faith being tested. We might say that it is the scene where the contents of our faith is being called into question. In whom do you really believe? What do you believe? Why are you believing it? These things are being called in to question. We recite the confession of the faith each week in worship, but what in the world are we doing in that? To express the faith in receiving baptism, to express the faith by taking of the Lord's Supper, what in the world does this mean? -- So, while we are in a specific hardship, while the power of the devil is at work trying to separate us from God, our faith is tested, and the contents of what we usually call faith is questioned.
5. Therefore, then, The Epistle Of James addresses us as follows: "My brothers, when you encounter various trials, consider it the highest joy," (James 1:2). If hardship is only a temptation, if it only has meaning as a power from the devil, any way you look at it, it would not be a joy. But, that's not how it is. As already discussed, it is more than the mere temptation that we experience.
6. The questioning and the testing of [our] faith is not bad in and of itself. Instead, it is necessary over time. Of course, it's not necessary for God. God doesn't need to deliberately impose a test on a person to find out about our faith. God doesn't need it, the people do. It is so that something good arises within us. What might that something good be? The Bible calls it "perseverance." The Bible says, "You know that perseverance arises through the testing of [your] faith," (verse three).
7. "The perseverance" that is talked about here in this text is not any "hardiness" [of never complaining and being super patient] as some human trait. When it comes to being "hardy," there are some people who are naturally very strong and patient, but there are also some people like me who make a lot of noise over just a little pain. But, what James is addressing is not this type of human trait. Please pay attention to the fact that he is addressing them here as "my brothers." He is speaking to his brethren in the faith. That which is being taken up as the topic for discussion here involves the faith through and through. This word "hardiness" originally comes from the word "to stay, to abide." It is the power by which one can stay on on. Where does one stay on and abide? One stays on and abides in the faith.
8. Even though one claims to abide in the faith, if the contents of that faith are not clear, one will not be able to really abide. Who do you believe in? What do you believe? Why are you believing it? When one is vague, one will not really be able to abide. But, as I already mentioned, during trials, we as believers are questioned. The terms of our faith are called into question. Therefore, we ourselves can't escape being questioned either. We can't avoid looking over once more our own grounding. We will desire to see clearly once again that which has some time ago become vaguely visible to us. We will be ready to hear clearly that which has become faintly audible to us. We will look hard. We will clear out our ears. So it will look clearer than ever, and it will be heard better than ever. What has become vague will come in clear. Our hope along with the contents of our faith will look clear. That happens during a trial.
9. So, I understand well that as I stand at the lectern, I am worshipping with all of you. The sparkle in a person's eyes when in a trial changes. A person's countenance opening to the Bible changes. The way of the hour in which one worships changes. This kind of thing happens. Thus, the place where faith is tested can also become the place where faith is made sure. It can also become the place where hope is made certain. Thus then, a person is given the power to abide in the faith. A person is given perseverance.
10. So, to abide in the faith means that one abides during a specific hardship over time. One is not to quit. One is not to run away. When the will of God is in it, one will continue to abide. That is perseverance. Perseverance arises from out of our faith being tested.
11. Then, James went on to say, "Persevere through thick and thin. When one does, a person becomes perfect, above reproach, and is not lacking in anything," (verse four). Saying "Persevere through thick and thin" is the expression to "Let your patience do its work sufficiently." When patience works, it will cause good in addition. But, still, doesn't it seem an exaggeration to say "A person becomes perfect, above reproach, and is not lacking in anything?" Of course, we cannot possibly accept this when it is a mere goal of our own efforts. But, [the Bible] is talking about this as the work of God as one abides in the faith through thick and thin. The word for "perfect" in our text is a word that shows forth "an adult." The image being given here is one of growth, maturity, and God himself is the one who causes us to grow.
12. What I am reminded of in connection with this passage is a statement from Paul from The Epistle To The Romans in chapter five. "Not only that, but I take pride in hardships. We know that hardships yield forth perseverance, perseverance [yields forth] mastery, mastery [yields forth] hope," (Romans 5:3-4). What James said fits in exactly with this "mastery." When this is compared to metal, it is the word that means by going through the refining process, its purity is raised, and it becomes a passing quality product. Likewise, God is refining us. The work of perseverance does not end in vain. It makes us grow as believers, it points us to perfection, and prepares us for the kingdom of God. During this, our great hopes within us are made more and more sure.
13. Yet, even though we have understood this, the exhortation of James of "when you encounter various trials, consider it the highest joy," could after all is said and done be considered a distressing exhortation. When we are sitting in a place of worship quietly like this, it seems okay, but when we are placed in the midst of the every day tough moments of life, it will happen to us that the words of the scripture and reality don't connect at all. With regard to a specific "trial" and not an abstract ideal, it doesn't seem to be "the highest joy" by any means at all.
14. But, because that is precisely how we are, the Bible has more to say about it. "If there is anyone among you who is lacking wisdom, implore God who will give to anyone no matter whom and without scolding or holding back. When you do that, it will be given to you," (verse five). What the Bible is speaking of here in this text is not "wisdom" in the general sense of the word. It is not a worldly wisdom for crossing skillfully over the world filled with woe. If it were that kind of wisdom, there wouldn't be a need to seek God for anything. But, if we are trying to live discovering the purpose God has and the meaning God gives to us while in the real world we face now and not trying to just avoid hardship and suffering, God given insight and divine wisdom will become a necessity [to us]. That's why we have to seek God.
15. Actually, there are a lot of times when we can't help but ask "Why?" in our daily [lives]. "Why did this happen?" "Why to me of all people did this happen?" "Why am I alone having a hard time?" Even when we look around us, it seems like there are quite a lot of situations we don't comprehend. But, think about this if you would. Whenever we are saying, "Why? Why?," it is not always the case that we are seeking for an answer. When we say, "Ooh, I don't know why. I don't understand," it is not the case that we are truly wanting to understand or wanting to know why. We may just be wanting to grumble a little to somebody or just want to complain a bit to someone. Don't you agree?
16. If we really want to have an answer, if we really want to understand, if we want to find out why, it's no use complaining off into the universe or just turning to someone and asking him or her. We ought to be turning to God. Then, when we do turn to God, we should turn to him in sincerity. We ought to seek God in a serious way for the wisdom to understand the world we're in. Let there be no occasion for doubting or any such behavior. The Bible states that "Ask with faith, not doubting even a little. The one who doubts is like the waves of the sea blown and shaken by the winds. The person like that should not think that he or she will receive anything from the Lord," (verses six and seven). It is true, there is no room for doubting and wavering because unless we seek God and receive [wisdom] from him, we will ultimately only live by the wisdom of humankind, or by our own wisdom, or even by our own power to understand. So, if we live by our own wisdom, do we live always repeating "Why? Why?" our whole life through and will we give up somewhere, only to eventually just shut down our questioning? [I think we will.]
17. Hardships and suffering do not automatically produce perseverance and patience and lead to mastery. It does not by default connect itself to the growth of the believer. As I mentioned earlier, it first starts to work primarily as a temptation. It works as a power from the devil. Wisdom from God is needed in order not to fall into this temptation. Therefore, as James says, we should beseech God, the giver [of his wisdom] to anyone no matter whom and without scolding or holding back.