The Trial of Faith – James 1:1-18

The book of James is written by the half-brother of Jesus to the Jewish believers that were scattered throughout the world. Basically, the book is written to all believers in all places. The content of the book is very practical. We find in it some very basic instructions for the Christian life. These are instructions that we would all do well to listen to and adhere to.

In verses 2-18, James begins by giving instruction concerning the trial of faith. The Christian life is a joyous, adventurous, and abundant life. However, it is also a very trying life. There are many things that we face in life that at times can simply overwhelm us.

Joy in trials (v. 2-4). We are told in verse two that we are to count it all joy when we go through various temptations. The word ‘temptation’ here refers not just to the struggle with sin, but the struggle with all of life’s problems. A better use of the word may be ‘tested’ or ‘tried.’ James says to count it all joy when your faith is put to the test. Joy in trials is something that is very difficult for us to grasp. How can we have joy when we just found out we have cancer? How can we have joy when we lose a loved one? How can we have joy when someone turns against us? How can we have joy when the same sin keeps creeping up in our life? These are very common responses to James’ declaration that we are to count it all joy when we are tried. The answer to these questions is two-fold.

(1) The trying of our faith builds up endurance. The word ‘patience’ in our text refers to ‘endurance.’ If you are training for a certain sport event, you must push your body to the limit in order that you may build up the endurance to perform well. Endurance takes hard work and pain. Our bodies must be tried and tested, pushed to the limits, in order to endure the rigorous physical challenges of a sporting event. The same is true when it comes to our faith and our walk with God. The trying and testing of our soul gives us the endurance we need to carry on when the battle rages around us.

(2) Enduring trials makes us complete or mature. In verse four we see that the trying of our faith which gives us endurance will make us perfect or complete. In other words, the trials we endure helps us grow and mature and become stronger Christians. Enduring through trials enables us to become more like Jesus. This should be the goal of every believer. We should welcome the opportunity to grow and develop in our Christian walk. However, to grow we must endure trials. “James encouraged them to embrace their trials not for what they were but for what God could accomplish through them.”[1] Think of it this way: if you never went through anything, if you never have a trial, if you never have a struggle whether it be with sin or with life itself, then how much would you depend on God? How often would you come to God in prayer if there were no trials in this life? It is human nature that when things are going good to forget about God and just go on and do whatever we want to do. However, when there are trials and struggles, it is in our nature to stay close to God.

Since enduring trials makes us stronger and draws us closer to God, then we can count it all joy. This does not mean that we are glad for the trial. However, it means that we can still have joy in the trial knowing what enduring the trial could do for our walk with God.

Pray through the trials (v. 5-8). It should be obvious to every believer that prayer is the key to get through the trials of life. As we go through trials, there are several things that we should pray for.

(1) Pray that you may grow. In verse five, James mentions that if we lack wisdom we should ask God and He will give it to us. It is true that God will give wisdom to believers who ask it of Him, however, I am not sure that wisdom itself is what James is referring to here. In the context of enduring trials, James says to ask for wisdom. In other words, pray that as you go through the trial that you will learn and grow to become more like Christ. It is inevitable that you will have trials in life. So, why not make the most of it? If you are going to go through trials anyways, then why not use it as an opportunity to learn and grow?

(2) Pray that you may have faith. Verses six and seven mentions that we are to pray in faith in order to receive anything from the Lord. Faith in God is essential to endure trials. As Hebrews tells us, Faith is when the things that we cannot see yet becomes a reality for us because of our hope or confident expectation in the Word of God. Therefore as we pray in the trials, we should pray expectantly, knowing that God will make us stronger and will see us through. Such faith is so important that we must pray that God would give us faith to endure the trials.

(3) Pray that you may be focused. Verse eight mentions that a double-minded man is unstable. The term double-minded has to do with having dual allegiances. In other words, to endure trials, you cannot be friends with the world and friends with God at the same time. You must be focused on Jesus to endure the trial. When you lose that focus, then the trial will overwhelm you and you will find yourself in utter despair.

Humility in trials (v. 9-12). In these verses we find a comparison between those who are poor and those who are rich. The encouragement here is that we are to be content with whatever God blesses us with. “Poor people must not lament their poverty, but must rejoice at God’s bounty in their lives. The rich people must not delight in their wealth, but must find joy in the humility which trials produce in their lives.”[2]Both groups of people must endure trials in life. It does not matter if you are rich or poor, there will be trials. Enduring trials has a way of humbling you. It puts things in perspective. It keeps you from thinking to highly of yourselves and from depending on yourself rather than depending on God. In verse twelve, we find that those who endure trials, no matter who they are, will receive a special reward. “The crown is not a physical object but a spiritual privilege which gives a deeper, fuller life on earth (John 10:10) and an unending, joyous life in the world to come. Enduring trials for his glory shows that we love God. God has stored up marvelous blessings for those who love him.”[3]

The source of trials (v. 13-15). The question is often raised: where does trials come from? The answer to this question is clearly given to us in these verses. There are four things that we observe when it comes to the question concerning the source of trials.

(1) Trials do not come from God. God is a good God. He desires the best for His children. God is holy and perfect in every way. God is just in all He does including in His wrath on the disobedient. God does not cause man to sin. God does not bring about sickness, heartache, and death. There is no way that we can blame God for the problems we face and the trails we endure. God will use the trials we face in order to teach us and help us grow, but He is certainly not the source of trials.

(2) Sin is the source of trials. When Adam and Eve was in the Garden of Eden, there were no trials. Everything was perfect. However, when Adam disobeyed God, sin entered into the world. God is holy and righteous in every way and cannot have anything to do with sin. Therefore, sin separated man from all that is good. It separated man from God. As a direct result of sin, we now have sickness, depression, pain, decay, and even death. The trials that you and I face in this life would not be possible if it were not for the existence of sin in this world. We live in a sin-cursed world. As a result of living in such an environment, it does not matter who you are: rich or poor, good or bad; you will face trials in this life.

(3) Sin comes from the heart. Time and time again, I am reminded of just how totally depraved I am. It does not matter how much I try to remove temptation from my life, I still struggle with sin. I have a sin nature. I was born as a sinner. Sin is in my heart. I am my own worst enemy. No matter how hard I may try, I will still struggle with sin. Some of the trails I face in life comes from my own doing, my own sin. Other trials that I may face comes from the sin of others. Yet, the majority of everyday trials and struggles comes simply from the fact that we live in a sin cursed world. Again, we cannot blame God for our trials. The trails and testing of this life exist because sin exist.

(4) Sin destroys. In verse fifteen, we read that sin ultimately brings forth death. As a result of sin in this world we now have both physical death and spiritual death. Our bodies will die and we will spend an eternity separated from God in hell, unless we look to the only one who can rescue us from this terrible plight.

God’s purpose in trials (v. 16-18). Could God remove all trials from our lives? Yes, He can. Could God protect us from the dangers of this world? Yes, He does. God does not necessarily send the trials, but He does use the trials for our good. There are three things we see here in these verses.

(1) God desires only what is best for us. God takes no delight in seeing us suffer. Everything that we can call good; comes from God. He does not want us to hurt. He does not want us to suffer. He desires only what is best for us. However, sometimes, what is best for us is that suffer. Therefore, God will allow trials into our lives because He knows that going through the trial will ultimately work for our good and our benefit.

(2) God uses the trials that we may know Him and grow in Him. Verse eighteen is speaking concerning our salvation. God has begotten us by the Word of truth, the Gospel. He desires that we would know Him in a real and personal way. He will do whatever is necessary in order to draw us to Himself, even if that means He must allow us to suffer. He desires that we grow in our walk with Him. Therefore, He will allow us to face the trails of this life in order that we may grow to become more like Him.

(3) God uses the trials that others may know Him. James mentions to his readers that they are the ‘first fruits.’ In other words, there will be others that will come to know the Lord. We must understand that the world is watching us. The way in which we endure trials is a testimony of our faith in God. Sometimes, God will allow us to suffer in order that others may come to know Him. Knowing that God will use our personal trials in order to bring others to Himself, should fill us with all joy.

Going through trials is not fun. It is real. It is hard. It is painful. Yet, by the grace of God, we can endure. We can count it all joy when we go through trials, knowing that those trials will help us grow to be more like Jesus and they will be used to bring others to Him.

[1] Richardson, K. A. (1997). James (Vol. 36, p. 58). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, p. 259). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, pp. 260–261). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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