Summary: Perseverance thru trial is God’s primary means of maturing his children.
“The Good Thing about Bad Things”
I Introduction and Overview to the Letter of James
In the foreward of his book, Inside Out, Larry Crabb writes this: “Modern Christianity, in dramatic reversal of its biblical form, promises to relieve the pain of living in a fallen world. The message, whether it’s from fundamentalists requiring us to live by a favored set of rules or from charismatics urging deeper surrender to the Spirit’s power, is too often the same: The promise of bliss is for NOW! Complete satisfaction can be ours this side of heaven.....
We are told, sometimes explicitly but more often by example, that it’s simply not necessary to feel the impact of family tensions, frightening possibilities, or discouraging news. [We are told that] life may have its rough spots, but the reality of Christ’s presence and blessing can so thrill our soul that pain is virtually unfelt. It simply isn’t necessary to wrestle with internal struggle and disorder. Just trust, surrender, persevere, obey.
“The effect of such teaching,” continues Crabb, “is to blunt the painful reality of what it’s like to live as part of an imperfect, and sometimes evil, community. We learn to pretend that we feel now what we cannot feel until Heaven.
But not all of us are good at playing the game. Those whose integrity makes such pretense difficult sometimes worry over their apparent lack of faith. “Why don’t I feel as happy and together as others? Something must be wrong with my spiritual life.” To make matters worse, these people of integrity often appear less mature and their lives less inviting than folks more skilled at denial. And churches tend to reward their members who more convincingly create the illusion of intactness by parading them as examples of what every Christian should be.
[But] beneath the surface of everyone’s life, especially the more mature, is an ache that will not go away. It can be ignored, disguised, mislabeled, or submerged by a torrent of activity, but it will not disappear. And for good reason. We were designed to enjoy a better world than this. And until that better world comes along, we will groan for what we do not have. An aching soul is evidence not of neurosis or spiritual immaturity, but of realism.
[This] experience of groaning, however, is precisely what modern Christianity so often tried to help us escape....Faith becomes the means not to learning contentment regardless of circumstances, but rather to rearranging one’s circumstances to provide more comfort. [We are told that] more knowledge, more commitment, more giving, more prayer - some combination of Christian disciplines - will eliminate our need to struggle with deeply felt realities. Yet there is no escape from an aching soul, only denial of it. The promise of one day being with Jesus in a perfect world is the Christian’s only hope for complete relief. Until then, we either groan or pretend we don’t.
The effect of widespread pretense, whether maintained by rigidly living on the surface of life or by being consumed with emotionalism, has been traumatic for the Church. Rather than being salt and light, we’ve become a theologically diverse community of powerless Pharisees, penetrating very little of society because we refuse to grapple honestly with the experience of life.” (Larry Crabb, Inside Out, 13-14)
So says Larry Crabb. Those are challenging words. They are haunting words. And they are very fitting words, appropriately setting the stage for us as we look this morning at the letter of James, found in the New Testament, just to the right of the Letter to the Hebrews - a letter which deals very seriously with the realities of life, which takes the blinders off, which talks openly and honestly about the reality of suffering and hardship in the Christian’s life.
Now, since you may or may not have had a good look at this letter before, let me make a couple more introductory comments, to help orient you to what this book is all about, and then we’ll dig in.
Martin Luther once called this letter “an epistle (or “letter”) of straw” - which is probably more instructive about the state of Martin Luther’s mind when he wrote that, than it is about anything else. And, to be fair to Luther, it must be said that he never doubted whether the letter ought to be part of the Bible. Luther’s feeling, rather, was that it should not be given as prominent a place as other letters, such as the letter to the Galatians. But Luther’s comments, while un-balanced, are reflective of the troubled history of this letter in the life of the Church - not so much from believers who have, for the most part, readily accepted and greatly loved the letter - but from some unorthodox academics and scholars who, for various reasons, have manufactured arguments for doubting its place within the Scriptures.