• Tony Birkhead

The right TOOLS for the job



Failure will cause us to Focus our Faith or Fail Further!

INTRODUCTION

In your life there will be many trials and temptations. Often, we view these as failures. When we experience these failures, we can choose to find purpose through them or slump deeper into the failure.

KEY SCRIPTURE

James 1:2-4

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.

James 1:12

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.

James 1:13-15

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

James 1:16-18

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

What is the last major lesson you learned in life?

What types of life experiences do you feel you learn the most from? Why?

Why do trials in our lives increase our dependency upon God? What do we need and receive from God in trials that we may be hesitant to ask for without the presence of hardship?

James says if we lack wisdom to ask God. What are some lesser sources of wisdom that you look to before you look to God? Why do we often look to these places first?

What have you learned about God from a failure or trial that you would not have learned any other way?

PRAY TOGETHER

Father, thank you for allowing trials and failures in our lives. Thank you that these are the things you use to draw us to you. Help us to trust you through every failure and trial we go through. Amen!

MOVING FORWARD

  • When the people around you who do not know Jesus experience trials, they have nowhere certain to look. How might you be able to step into a situation like this and point them back to Jesus? Can you think of any specific opportunities at this time?

COMMENTARY

James 1:5-18

1:5-8. These verses outline our resources for facing trials and explain how to get them. Christians need wisdom and faith as they encounter trials. We are encouraged to pray for wisdom and to pray with faith. Jewish Christians should understand wisdom. To James and to Jews, wisdom was much more than knowledge and intelligence. Judaism emphasized that “the fear of the Lord” was the starting point of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). Wisdom was a spiritual trait which developed from a wholehearted love for God’s ways. James will later contrast divine wisdom with earthly wisdom (3:13-18). Earthly wisdom is unspiritual and demonic. Divine wisdom is pure; . . . peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere (Jas. 3:17). With wisdom Christians can understand how their trials merged into God’s plan for their lives. They have the commitment to his will necessary to assure that they follow God and not wander from the path of his plan. But how do Christians get this wisdom?

They must ask God for it. Four facts about God encourage us to ask for this wisdom. First, God is a giving God. Giving to those who ask from him is natural for God. Second, God gives generously to all. He has no favorite recipients of his gifts, but gives to all classes, races, and types of people. Third, God gave without finding fault. God does not give in such a way as to humiliate us. He does not chastise us for our failures or hold our unworthiness against us. He is always ready to add new blessings to old ones without finding fault in us for our many shortcomings. Finally, God promises to answer those who come seeking wisdom. A request according to his will receives his answer (1 John 5:14-15).

Such wisdom helps us understand how our troubles fit in with God’s plan. It assures us that God has not forsaken us. God’s gift of wisdom allows us to understand how God is involved in life’s daily events. Instead of serving as a hindrance, trials present a marvelous opportunity to become wise!

Verses 6-7 deal with the need for faith in prayer. Whoever asks God for wisdom must believe and not doubt. Faith is a complete commitment to God in trusting obedience. Two reasons to encourage faith are presented. First, a doubting person is spiritually unstable like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. Our prayers for wisdom must not alternate between faith and unbelief. We must endure in the confidence that God will answer our request according to his will.

Second, doubters should not even imagine that God will answer their prayers. Faith alone opens the door to God’s limitless treasury of wisdom. Unbelief receives God’s rejection slip which reads, “Request denied due to insufficient faith.”

Let us be careful not to make light of our hesitant faith. Doubting God is serious business! Such doubt implies we have a low view of God. To receive answers from God, you must come to him with the conviction that he gives rewards to those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). Diligence is a trait we all need desperately.

Verse 8 provides an additional description of the spiritual makeup of a doubter. The doubter is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. Doubters display no stamina in their commitment to the Lord. One moment they are inclined to obedience; another moment, they follow their own ways. Failure to endure with faith in prayer is an indicator of the doubter’s general character.

1:9-11. These verses give examples of trials for two different groups of people and call for both groups to show a right estimate of their trials. 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.

James wanted poor people to find delight in their spiritual position in God’s kingdom and avoid the temptation to murmur about their material distress. The brother in humble circumstances is a Christian who lives in poverty. Depression, resentment, and selfish ambition may easily characterize their lives. Instead, they should glory in the prominent position to which God has elevated them as believers. Paul suggested that God has given the Holy Spirit as a down payment on all the good things he will do for believers throughout eternity (Eph. 1:14). Poor believers are to rejoice that they are “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Eph. 2:19).

Verses 10-11 focus on wealthy people. The rich person faces the temptation of glorying in wealth. In one sense the possession of wealth is a trial because it tempts rich people to rejoice in earthly treasures (Matt. 6:19-21). The wealthy are encouraged to glory in the humbling of soul which life’s trials can bring them. They can learn that worldly riches pass away, while God’s wisdom lasts for eternity. Wealthy people should exult in the privilege of learning that true treasures are located only in heaven.

Since the possession of money often gives wealthy people a false sense of security, an illustration from nature demonstrates the brevity and uncertainty of life. The pageantry of wealth resembles the blooming of a wild plant which fades in the hot sun soon after it displays its beauty. Isaiah 40:6-7 uses a similar image to show that life is brief and uncertain. These verses warn that in the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. Rich people must recognize that the possession of wealth provides a challenge to overcome (cf. 1 Tim. 6:9). Possessing wealth without spiritual wisdom eventually brings only emptiness. Like the poor, the rich should revel in the spiritual privileges which the Lord has opened for them.

These verses also warn against the tendencies of both poverty and wealth. Poverty brings no joy, so many people feel that wealth provides joy. In reality the poor must find joy in their spiritual privileges despite their penury. The wealthy must avoid delighting in wealth, glorying instead in the spiritual privileges God makes available. James would doubtless have followed Paul in urging his wealthy listeners to be “rich in good deeds” (1 Tim. 6:18).

1:12. A double result is promised those who faithfully endure their trials. First is an inner reward of blessedness. Blessed is the same term which appears repeatedly in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12). It describes an inner quality of joy resting in God and unaffected by external events. It is not a wish or statement of fact but a joyous affirmation: “O the blessedness of the person who endures trials.” In the New Testament it often describes people whom the world would never regard as blessed or fortunate in any sense— such as the persecuted (Matt. 5:11-12). Having the trial is not a blessing in itself, but the stalwart endurance of the trial brought blessing.

The second blessing is a gift from God, the crown of life. Crown did not refer to the ornament of a ruler but to a garland wreath given to the victor in an athletic contest. God’s reward to us for faithfully enduring trials is not a position of royalty over others. Rather, it is recognition from God for spiritual victory. 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.

Four features in this section provide encouragement for people caught up in trials. First, God uses trials to produce staying power in those who endure. Second, for those who seek it, God provides wisdom to understand trials. Third, believers, whether rich or poor, find encouragement to rejoice over their position in life. Fourth, God promises a reward to fill the believer with hope.

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