Summary: First in a series on James. This message deals with principles for handling difficulties in our lives.
A Study of the Book of James
Sermon # 1
“Bad Things Happen To Everybody”
“I heard a story of a man who was riding on a subway. It was quite crowded and he had to face the door. He was prone to motion sickness and he began to get quite sick. The train raced into the station, the door opened, and the man became violently ill. The doors closed and the train sped on into the night. There happened to be a man standing on the platform waiting to get on the train at this particular door. In utter dismay he turned to the man behind him in line and said, "Why me?" I think that is often the way we feel. "Why me, Lord?’ But we shouldn’t be surprised. Suffering is no accident. It is the normal experience of every believer.” [David Roper. “Suffering Successfully.” Sermon on James 1:1-8. www.pbc.org/dp/roper/0471]
By way of introduction let me just say that the book of James is not a book of deep doctrine. It is not a defense of Christianity, nor an explanation of how to be saved. It is a letter written to individuals who are assumed to know the basics of the faith, and its intention is to drive home the importance of living out the truth. The main issue that prompted James to write is still a current concern, “If you say you believe, why do live as if you don’t?” James makes a strong demand for transformed living in daily conduct.
James begins his letter in verse one by identifying himself merely as “James, a bond servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” James, the half-brother of Jesus, is the author of the book of James. James was one of four sons, born to Joseph and Mary. If they are listed in birth order in Matt 13:54-56, he is the oldest and thus the closest in age to Jesus. As any one with brothers and sisters will acknowledge comparison is evitable. Most have heard the statement, “Why can’t you be like your brother/sister? How do you think it must have felt to literally have a perfect brother? I wonder if James did not hear, “James why can’t you be more like Jesus?” Perhaps that makes it easier for us to understand that none of Jesus’ brothers or sisters believed in Him as the Messiah, including James, until after the resurrection.
Not only did James came to faith, he went on to be considered an Apostle (1 Cor. 15:7) and to became the pastor of the church at Jerusalem (Gal. 1:19). He was a man noted for his deep faith and his profound life of prayer.
James is writing to a group of primarily Jewish believers who are undergoing severe hardship. They were hated and despised. The Gentiles hated them because they were Jews and the Jews hated them because they were Christians. But rather than consoling them he challenges them. He challenges them to rethink their difficulties. And he challenges them to trust God in the midst of their difficulties.
The modern notion that becoming a Christian will make your life easier would be a totally foreign concept to James. James would have laughed at the idea that becoming a Christian will make all your problems disappear, and that you will “live happily ever-after.” In fact, James is saying that it is our response to trials that prove the reality of our faith. Someone has said, “Christian’s are like teabags, you don’t know what is in them until you put them in hot water.”
We face the same challenge as the believer’s to whom he wrote this letter, that of dealing with difficulties in our lives. We often ask the question, “How can I avoid these trials?” The real question should be, “How can I change the way I respond to hard times?” The truth is that we cannot avoid trials. What we can do is change the way we react to difficulties in our lives. This morning I would like to share some simple principles that can change the way we deal with the difficulties that come rushing into our lives.
First, It Helps to Realize That Difficulties Come Into Everyone’s Life. (v. 2)
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials”
I want you to circle the word “when” in this verse. James is telling us that trials are not optional they are inevitable. James does not say “if” you encounter trials but “when” you encounter trials. Peter also speaks of the inevitability of trials, “Beloved, do not be astonished at the fiery trial which is to try you, as though a strange thing happened to you,” (1 Peter 4:12 MKJV).
But as Oswald Chambers wrote, “To choose suffering makes no sense at all; to choose God’s will in the midst of our suffering makes all the sense in the world.” [As quoted by David Roper. Growing Slowly Wise; Building A Faith That Works. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 2000) p. 27]