Summary: Like everything ordained by God, He intends testing and trials for our good. But Satan twists God’s good tests into temptation. His desire is for us to fail God’s good tests by succumbing to the temptation he brings from them.
1. God’s intentions for His tests are good (9-12)
a. God’s pattern for testing (9-11)
b. God’s freedom from testing (12)
2. Transition verse (13)
3. Satan’s intentions for God’s tests are evil (14-15)
a. Satan’s pattern for temptation (14)
b. Satan’s bondage from temptation (15)
4. Conclusion (16)
This morning we’re continuing in the introduction part of James. Remember how the book of James is set up. The first verse is the greeting to his letter. Then in verses 2-18, he gives an overview to the theme of his entire letter. Last week we covered the first part of his overview in verses 2-8. This morning we’re going to get to the second part of it in verses 9-16.
One of the most difficult things we will ever have to understand in life is why bad things happen. Why did 9/11 happen? Why did Hurricane Katrina happen? Why did the Virginia Tech shooting happen? Why is there sickness and pain and disease and heartbreak in the world today? Most of us who have any understanding of Scripture would be quick with an answer. We would be quick to point out that all those things are a result of sin. Not necessarily our personal sin, but original sin. We live in a fallen world because God cursed it as a result of the original sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. That’s the answer. As they used to say on the old Dragnet show, that’s the facts ma’am. But how do the facts help when we’re the one who is being tested? When we’re the one going through the trial? How do they help when we’re the one who has lost a spouse? How do they help when we’re the one who’s been diagnosed with an incurable disease? If God is truly all-powerful, doesn’t He have the power to overrule our fallen world? If He is truly in control of everything, why doesn’t He take those things away? Well, let me first say that God is all-powerful. He has the power to do anything except contradict His own nature. And God is truly in control of everything. He doesn’t cause everything, but what He doesn’t cause, He allows. Another way to put it is to say that God ordains everything. One of the most popular verses of the Bible is Romans 8:28. It says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” God works all things together for good. Now, how could He do that if He wasn’t truly in control? How could He do that if He didn’t ordain everything? Now, don’t get confused—ordain doesn’t mean cause. Ordain means either cause or allow. And God ordains everything—including trials. Including testing. Like everything ordained by God, He intends testing and trials for our good. But Satan has evil intents for what God intends for good. Satan twists God’s good tests into temptation. His desire is for us to fail God’s good tests by succumbing to the temptation he brings from them. Now remember last week I said that James uses the word “tempted” or “temptation” 6 times in his introduction. The original word doesn’t necessarily carry the negative meaning we attach to the word. In the original, it simply meant “test” or “trial”. Where the different meanings come into play is in how that test is intended. See, God ordains the test. He intends it for our good. But Satan intends that same test for evil—that’s temptation in the way we think of it. This morning, I want us to flee from the devil’s temptations by recognizing that God is in control of testing us. And when we recognize God’s hand in our testing, may we enjoy the freedom that only comes from faithfully passing His tests. In order to do that, we’re going to look at two intentions for the tests we go through. The first intention for the tests we go through is God’s intentions. Look with me in verses 9-12.
God’s intentions for His tests are good. Some of the hardest questions a person will ever have to answer is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Don’t think that we’re the first ones to come up with that question. It’s probably as old as the fall. We know that the psalmist asked the question. That’s what the 73rd Psalm is about. In verses 3-5 he wrote, “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men.” Even the prophet Jeremiah wrestled with it. In Jeremiah 12:1 he wrote, “Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” So, don’t think you’re the first one to come up with that question. It’s been around forever. So what’s the answer to it? The answer is the same one that Jesus gave to His disciples when they walked past a man who had been born blind. John 9:1-3 says, “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Jesus told them that this man had been blind from the time of his birth for a reason. He had to endure the tests of a physical handicap his entire life for one reason—to glorify God. God intended good for the tests and trials of that man’s life. Just like He intends good for all the tests and trials of your life. So, understanding that God’s intentions for His tests are good, James sets out to tell us a little bit about the nature of God’s testing. First, he shows us the pattern for God’s testing in verses 9-11. Sometimes God tests by exalting the humble. We don’t normally think of that as testing do we? But it’s the first one test James lists here in verse 9. God can test us with prosperity. Boy, let me get in line for that one. That’s the one I want to volunteer for. But is it? You can define prosperity a lot of different ways, but the one that comes to mind first is by money—big money. Here are some stories of some humble people who were exalted. Evelyn Adams won the New Jersey lottery—not just once, but twice, in 1985 and 1986. She went from average middle-class to multi-millionaire overnight. Now she’s in debt up to her eyeballs and lives in a trailer. Bud Post won 16 million dollars in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988. Now he lives on food stamps. Of course we all know the tragic story of WV lottery winner Jack Whittaker. Each of those stories can be a lesson in ill-gotten gain, but they are also examples of God testing the humble by exalting them. But money is just one way for God to test the humble by exalting them. Have you ever seen anyone get promoted and change the way they treat people? Or see anyone move into a higher class neighborhood and act differently? How do you react to the blessings God gives you? When you’re given the test of prosperity? God can test you with prosperity. He can exalt the humble in order to test them. But He can also humble the exalted like verses 10-11 say. This is the kind of test we don’t want to get in line for. This is the kind of test that we see as a tragedy or a trial. When someone loses a house. When they lose their job. When they lose a child. It’s the kind of test that people respond to by shaking their fist at God. They say things like, “God, how could you let this happen.” It’s the kind of test that Job’s wife responded to by telling him to just curse God and die. How do you react when tragedy strikes? When you’re given the test of humility? God can exalt the humble and He can humble the exalted. That is His pattern for testing.