12/09/2016

Consider Trials as Beneficial (The Book of James)

Theme: Be happy when you encounter trials, difficulties, disappointments and hardships.
"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy." "God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him" (Jas 1:2, 12, NLT). 
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds." "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him" (Jas 1:2, 12, NIV).
Persecution of Jewish Christians broke out around A. D. 34, following the death of Stephen, causing many believers to flee for safety to other cities and countries (Acts 8:1–4; 9:1–2). As these Jewish Christians attempted to start life over in new communities, they found themselves facing almost insurmountable obstacles. Their shops and businesses were being boycotted. Their children were being tormented in the schools. Their wives were being cheated and hassled in the markets. The citizens of the towns hated them because they were Jews, and the Jews of the towns hated them because they were Christians. The believers found themselves isolated, menaced, and harassed by a hostile world. They began asking, "Why is this happening to us? Why must there be so many hardships? What is God doing? What are we to think?"
Their former pastor, James, heard about their difficulties and wrote a letter to them. Though he refers to himself simply as "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," he was actually a physical brother of Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph a few years after the birth of Jesus (Mark 6:3). Along with his other brothers, James did not believe in Jesus at first ( John 7:1–5), but became convinced after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5–7) and went on to become an early leader and pastor of the church in Jerusalem (Acts. 15:12–13; 21:17–18). He became known as James the Righteous because of his godliness. His congregation also referred to him affectionately as Old Camel Knees—because he spent so much time praying that he had developed large calluses on his knees.
Many have suggested that James's letter is simply a loose collection of exhortations without any logical connections between the various parts or any overall unity to the book. But this is not the case. We will see, instead, that the entire letter is focused on the trials James's friends are going through. This unifying focus is apparent from the internal inclusios that James uses, and from his repeated use of certain key words.
An inclusio is the use of similar language at the beginning and end of a section that includes all the intervening materials in a common topic. This linguistic bracketing is the author's way of indicating that all the intervening material is related to the same theme of the inclusio language. [In biblical studies, inclusio is a literary device based on a concentric principle, also known as bracketing or an envelope structure, which consists of creating a frame by placing similar material at the beginning and end of a section, although whether this material should consist of a word or a phrase.]
James's first use of inclusio to focus on the common theme of "perseverance in trials" is in 1:2–4 and 1:12:
  • "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (Jas 1:2–4). 
  • "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him" (Jas 1:12).
A further inclusio occurs at the end of the letter, showing that the entire letter is focused on the theme of persevering under trials in light of the reward: 
  • "As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (Jas 5:11).
This final inclusio means that as we read the intervening chapters between Jas 1:12 and Jas 5:11 we should be thinking of how they connect to the theme of persevering under trials. This will drastically change some of our previous interpretations, as will be seen from the expositions which follow.
In addition to the use of inclusio to highlight his continuous theme, James also repeats certain key words to reinforce it. For example: In Jas 1:8, if we "doubt" that God is working good through our trials, we are "double-minded."
In Jas 2:4, if we favor the rich man who can alleviate our trials, we have "discriminated" (literally, "doubted") within ourselves as to who is in control, God or the rich man, thus judging between the two with evil thoughts. In Jas 4:8, if we resist God's working through our trials, we are "double-minded." Using these repeated key words, James threads his theme of trials throughout the letter.
In summary, James's purpose is to tell his friends and us how to act, both as individuals and as a church, when we find ourselves in stressful and difficult situations. His comments unfold along the following lines (summarized in paraphrase):
  • Persevere joyfully through trials, for they lead to maturity and the crown of life. (Jas 1:1–12)
  • If you respond sinfully to a trial, don't blame God or others, but instead obey what the Word says. (Jas 1:13–25)
  • To safely get through the trials, you must thus guard your tongue from blaming God and others, and then determine that you will love others and that you will avoid the world's way of responding to difficulties. (Jas 1:26–27)
  • Determine that you will love others. (Jas 2:1–26) 
  • Love impartially, for this will reveal your confidence that God is in control of the trial. (Jas 2:1–13) 
  • Love tangibly, for this will reveal a living faith that will safely take you through the trial. (Jas 2:14–26)
  • Determine that you will avoid the world's way of responding to difficulties. (Jas 3:1–5:20) 
  • Avoid lashing out against other believers whose behavior you think may be adding to your difficulties. (Jas 3:1–4:12) 
  • Don't too quickly presume to teach others how to act so as to minimize the group's difficulties, for you will inevitably sin in the process. (Jas 3:1–12)
  • If you have "wisdom" for how other believers should be acting during the trial, make sure it isn't prompted by any personal agenda, but instead let it emerge through a humble example and a gentle counsel that will bring peace to the group. (Jas 3:13–18) 
  • If you find that you are angry with someone in the group, it's probably because they have frustrated your personal agenda, and because you have stopped trusting God. (Jas 4:1–6) 
  • Instead of being angry with others, submit to what God is doing in your life, accept that things will be difficult for a while, and don't sit in judgment of others. (Jas 4:7–12)
  • Don't arrogantly assume that by becoming rich you will insulate yourself from difficulties. (Jas 4:13–5:6)
  • You cannot confidently predict the future; God alone controls it. (Jas 4:13–17)
  • Attempts to insulate yourself from difficulties by becoming rich will lead to other sins and bring God's judgment on you. (Jas 5:1–6) 
  • Wait patiently for the Lord's mercy without grumbling against others or compromising your integrity. (Jas 5:7–12) 
  • Talk with God about whatever is happening in your life, and pray for others in your group. (Jas 5:13–20)
Essentially, James writes to his former church members, "If you want your trials to produce the maturity and completeness that God intends, guard your tongue tightly from anger against God; love your fellow believers impartially and tangibly, for this will demonstrate your faith that God is in control; and avoid the world's polluting responses to difficulties as you wait patiently for the Lord and minister prayerfully to each other."
Reference: Invitation to James: Persevering through Trials to Win the Crown.