Wisdom in Action
Now I will tell you what! preparing this weeks sermon was quite difficult! I spent a lot of time working through this text. reading commentaries and wrestling with the themes that seemed at first to not really flow into the kindo cohesive whole that is easy to understand. And quite frankly it wasn’t till Friday that I stepped back at stopped focusing on the trees and looked at the forest. .and after a bit of that I was much encouraged and even excited. Because I understood how it all fit together.. I guess that is one more lesson in wisdom! And wisdom is what this is all about.
Remember last week we talked about wisdom and how it was a guaranteed gift from God for those who trusted Him without doubting Him. This week James is going to show us an example of that wisdom at work!
The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
A journey into wisdom.
James presents us with a well understood example that echoes with the situations of his readers.
The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.
The lowly brother’s exaltation.
You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.
For the poor man his lowliness creates an opportunity for him to see and know god better.
For the wealthy man his opportunity is to rejoice in what will not fade - Jesus- as his wealth fades around him.
inversely there is a temptation that James is encouraging them each to avoid. for the poor man it is the temptation to grow bitter and envious. and for the wealthy man it is to take pride in their wealth and to forget their maker.
His readers would recognize all of this from a well know proverb from the book of proverbs.
“Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.
These situations both poor and rich are at their core trials. which means that they are opportunities for success and for growth.
We have been told in
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
And now James emphasizes again that these trial can lead to triumph
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.
This is the promise that anchors the reader in hope to face whatever may come. It gives a purpose to our suffering and a hope to look forward too on the other side.
Summary thus far. James has shown us a particular set of trials that are common to all people. He has advised us as to how we can overcome them and pointed us to our hope and goal of victory and a crown.
Now he pauses in his exhortation to deal with temptation within the temptation..
This is a bit of a Russian nesting doll of temptations..
there is the circumstantial trial.. the disappointment, the challenge, the suffering that we are facing in this moment.. In this situation is it the proverty or the wealth of his listeners.
and then there is the deeper temptation that comes from within our hearts..
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
God is temping me! this is the lie that James says no one should say..
And to believe this lie is to give way to the inner nesting doll of temptations. To blame God for our sins. This sin is incredibly common and very very old.
The most often question asked is why did God leave the tree of the knowledge of Garden of Good and evil in the garden of Eden? It must mean that he is at fault for Adam and eve’s sin.
Now we do that with our lives as well. And it is a dangerous for two reasons.. It makes god our enemy when we should be running to him. and It becomes an excuse to give into temptation because it fatalistically assumes that this temptation is ours to fail.
But James counters that twice in this passage.
The origins of temptation.
James likes processes. In this chapter James lists three processes.
the first was for the progress of growing in sanctification.
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.
This process gives us a very possitive view of our trials.. that they are our gateway to triumph, not to failure...
The second process james gives us are verses 14-15 .
This one explains what has happened when we have failed our trial.
but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
James is saying that desire within our hearts produces the temptation.
Lets go back to the examples that James gave us earlier.
The poor man grows heart grows discontented and angry- envy grows in his heart till he is convinced that wealth is the only thing that can make him happy, this is idolatry. sin and death.
The rich man's heart grows proud of his wealth and pride of wealth he forgets god, idolizes wealth and lives to get more.
in both situations both men are Christians, both have opportunity to succeed in their trials, but illicit desire within their hearts grows until they have lost the battle with temptation because of the desires of their own hearts.
Now if you confronted either of them they might say, it was god’s fault he put me in a position to fail. if only he had given me wealth or poverty. then I would not have sinned.
But James would reply, “
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Notice his compassion in his voice as he calls his readers his brothers..
This is more than academic for James. This is a matter of the heart- this is a matter of Wisdom.
This is a matter of knowing the character of the creator of heaven and earth.
I can can imagine him saying the same thing to Adam and Eve.. don’t be deceived Adam and Eve, God’s character is good. he is for you not against you. you can trust him. put down the fruit!
James wants us to know that God is good, he is not tempting you, he is not waiting for you to fail. He only gives good and perfect gifts.. And he is unchanging he doesn’t love you one minute and then tempt you or curse you the next.
This is a great foundation piece of wisdom to walk with.
I am reminded of a children's book that I loved as a boy. In fact I still love it..
Taran the Wanderer.
The cover doesn’t do this book justice- it is one of the great stories of how a boy becomes a man.. A story of learning and growing and triumphing over our fears and our follies.
There is a character in the book names. Llonio, son of Llonwen, is a gatherer. Unusually lucky, he and his family spend their day waiting for whatever is coming their way, and making the best use of it, sometimes with astonishing results.
Believer when we face a trial we can turn to god and ask him to show us the success in the midst of the trial. The victory in the midst of the temptation.
This is an important perceptive change so I am going to say it again. James is telling us to change our perspective. The trials that we face are not dangerous traps to catch us as we fall. Rather they are opportunities to test the metal of our faith to see it as pure gold and to triumph and receive the crown.
And if you aren’t ready to jump into that perspective James gives us all very good reason to see things in a more positive light with his third process description in this chapter.
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
James say’s why should you expect to defeat that trial and to walk away victoriously? Because the old you is gone.. you have been reborn through Jesus.
You are a living example of the the truth that God is good. of the love of God poured out in bloody sacrifice to prove his righteousness as he forgave us for our sins.
And all of that is so that we can be a new beginning the prequel to sins defeat and destruction for all of creation. James is saying that you are that new creation if you are in Christ.
And AS such our trials are predictors not of our failures but of our victories!
In this way we follow in the footsteps of Christ. As the author of Hebrews says.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
So to summarize.
James calls us to preserver in the face of our trials..
to put an end to the temptation to blame God and the desires that lead to death and to walk with confidence and hope that the trial we are going through is nothing compared to the crown on the other side as we look to the Joy of our victory. Since we are the first fruits of Christ’s victory.