Joy is not the absence of sorrow or pain or suffering. Joy is the knowledge that God is working in your life through all that you’re going through.
If you have your Bible this morning, turn with me to James Chapter One. James Chapter One. If you’re going to use one of our pew Bibles, you’ll find that on page 1196, so James Chapter One, a pew Bible page 1196.
We’re starting a new series of sermons today that will probably take us up through Christmas. I haven’t decided if it’ll be like 13 weeks or 30 weeks. James is one of those books. It’s somewhat hard to break down because of the nature of James’ writing, but I’m excited for us to look at this and to kind of open it up because it’s probably the oldest New Testament book. James is probably the first person to write down anything regarding instruction for the church. He is a man of great character. A man who is very spiritual in nature. It has been said by some of the great historians that James had knees like that of a camel. That sounds pretty hard, right? It’s because he prayed so much. He was a man committed to worshipping and praying, but he’s also a pastor. He is the pastor of the church in Jerusalem. He is the man who is responsible for shepherding that very first church that was planted in Jerusalem and so he writes this letter to his people who are no longer able to worship with him, because if you look in chapter one it says they have been scattered. It says they have been dispersed.
I thought about it last night. Here’s how I’m going to relate what James is doing. This is like the original Facebook Live of a sermon. These people were unable to gather with him and with the church physically in Jerusalem. So James is writing them a sermon. In fact, it’s probably multiple sermons that he is instructing them on, and so that’s what we have is a pastor who loves his church. A pastor who desperately and deeply cares for his church, so much so he wants to encourage them while they are unable to gather with the body. He wants to challenge them and he wants to instruct them.
But what I find so interesting about James is he was not always a Christian. In fact, the James who writes this book is the brother of Jesus. We would say half-brother, because Jesus had God as His Father. James had Joseph as his father, but Mary was their mother. It is the man who was with Jesus every day growing up. They ate together, went to school together, played together. Can you imagine, now follow me for a second. Can you imagine if James broke the vase? Can you imagine if he’s throwing ball in the house? James throws the ball and knocks the vase off the table and it shatters. Mary gets home and asks “who broke the vase?” And none of the other brothers say anything or sister say anything. And then she looks at Jesus and she asks “Jesus who broke the vase?” Now Jesus, by His very nature has to tell the truth. And I just bet James was so upset and says “why do I have to be the brother of the Messiah anyway?” But he was not a believer while Jesus was alive. In fact, you can read about this in Mark’s Gospel. There was an instance where the brothers and the family of Jesus think He’s crazy. You know they denied Him, they mocked Him, they distanced themselves from Him. So James was not always like this.
So what happened that led him from an unbeliever to a believer, which ultimately led him to be the leader and pastor of the church? Well, you can read about that in first Corinthians 15, I’ll just read it for you. “He appeared, Jesus (the resurrected Jesus) appeared to Cephus, which is Peter, then to the 12. Then He appeared to over 500 brothers and sisters at one time. Most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep, which means they have died. Then He appeared to James and then all the apostles.”
James had a life changing experience when he met a resurrected, living, lifegiving Savior. That’s what changed James. Listen, you and I can have that same experience when we encounter the resurrected, living, lifegiving Savior. And I know what you’re thinking. You’re like it was easy for James. James saw a resurrected Jesus. James was able to talk to his brother who died and was now alive. It’s easy for him to have an encounter with Jesus. But it’s just as easy for us because we have the eyewitness accounts of these people. We have the Word of God, the Bible, that the very letter that James wrote to the church telling us how to experience Jesus. So as we journey through this letter, we’re going to experience the brother of Jesus telling us about Jesus. So we can have that life changing experience because we have the Word of God with us.
So, as James writes this letter to his church, he starts with this greeting in verse one. “James, a servant of God, ’cause his life has been transformed, to the 12 tribes scattered among the nations.” It’s important for us to understand who these people are, that he labels the 12 tribes. It is a reference to the Jewish dispersion from the Old Testament. But it’s clearly a letter written to Jewish Christians. At this point in history, Christianity was predominantly Jewish people, but they were Jewish people who were experiencing great persecution. Now think about this, the Jewish people were hated by the Romans. The Jewish people were hated by the Gentiles. So that’s strike one and two. Strike three is these are Jews who are following Jesus, so now they’re hated by Jews. That’s strike three. So they have been dispersed. You read about it in acts Chapter 8 when Stephen becomes the very first martyr of the church. So without warning and you know, basically overnight, they are asked to pick up and get out.
Think about like this. Somebody shows up at your door tomorrow and said it is now illegal to be a Christian in China Grove. You have one hour to get out of town. That’s what these people have experienced. Leaving most of their belongings behind, leaving their house, leaving possibly family members. They are scattered, they are hopeless, they’re helpless, they are religious and outcast social outcast, economic outcasts, they’re homeless, they’re disenfranchised. But yet this word scattered carries with it an idea of sowing of seed. In the fall or in a few weeks, we’re going to be seeding our yards, aren’t we? We’re going to be getting those little things and walking around or push and spreading seed everywhere. We want to scatter that seed so the grass will grow.
That’s the picture you get when you see this word scattered. I don’t want you to miss this. We are seeing the advancement of the Gospel through the persecution of God’s people. God has taken the people of Jerusalem, scattered them to the ends of the earth, into Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem all over the place because He’s got a church to build. So literally this congregation was forced outside of their church as seed that is being planted, and we see that seed beginning to grow in Acts 11 and throughout the book of Acts.
But don’t miss how hard it was. Think if you had to leave, how hard it would be. Think if you couldn’t get work, how hard it would be. They were experiencing suffering and right out of the gate, James is going to address the idea of suffering. Look with me again in verse 2. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you faced many kinds of trials or trials of many kinds.” Verse 3 “because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work or let perseverance complete its work or finish its work so that you may be mature, complete, not lacking anything.”
Man, right out of the gate he addresses the number one issue that his sheep are facing. Suffering. And the first insight that I want you to see is this everybody experiences suffering. Everybody goes through the trials of life, unbeliever and believer. I’ve heard it said and you’ve heard it said too that there’s two things you can count on in life, taxes and death. It doesn’t matter where you go, you’re going to pay taxes and all of us will die. But there’s a third thing, all of us will experience suffering. All of us are going to go through seasons when we are in the valley. We are going to go through these trials that we didn’t want and we didn’t expect. They’re just going to hit us from out of nowhere. Christians are not immune from the trials of life now.
If you’re watching the TV preachers, they’ll tell you health, wealth and prosperity for being a Christian. That’s the false gospel. Christians may suffer more than non-Christians because Jesus says the world hated Me, they’re going to hate you. We are not immune from the sufferings of life just because we say yes to Jesus. Everyone is going to suffer, big and little, and when we’re going through it nothing seems little, but all different kinds. He says various kinds of trials.
I love what Chuck Swindoll says about that word. The Greek word “various” is where we get the term polka dot. You know, those wonderful little sundresses that have the polka dots. The word various comes from this word. Various trials or trials of many kinds. Chuck Swindoll says this. “What James means is we will be spotted, dotted, speckled, and splattered with all kinds of trials.” It’s not great. I wish I was Chuck Swindoll. That’s great. Spotted and dotted, speckled, and splattered with all kinds of trials. Undoubtedly listen. Undoubtedly. There are some people here today who are going through a trial that you didn’t expect. You are going through a season of your life that just came out of nowhere and it’s hard and it’s challenging and you may not understand it. You may think you’re not going to get through it. You may have no idea what tomorrow is going to bring. Some of you are here and you’re experiencing a season of peace a season of comfort. You’re not going through the trials. But listen, when you turn the page from the from today till tomorrow, you don’t know what’s going to hit you. Now you don’t know what’s going to happen. Everybody will experience being spotted and dotted, speckled and splattered. That will lead to loneliness. It will lead to grief. It will lead to disappointment. It will lead to heartache and it will lead to pain.
So now that I’ve got you all motivated and happy right now. I mean now that you’re just like, yeah, I’m so glad I came today, let me give you the good news. James says consider it joy when you go through it! Right? Consider it joy when you are suffering now. You might be thinking this is Pastor wacko writing a letter. I mean, can you imagine these early church people like who are just completely and utterly devastated, opening their letter and it reads consider, first thing out of his mouth, Oh Pastor James, consider it. Consider pure joy?! He doesn’t know what I’m going through, but he does. ‘Cause he’s suffering too. They’re going to throw it. By the way, James, his death is pretty brutal. They throw him off the top of the temple and then beat him with clubs. And you know what he says while he’s going through that? The same thing Jesus says. “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
So James knows about trials. He knows about this. We can relate to James and we can relate to the readers, but it does sound crazy that he would say consider it pure joy. I can tell you, beyond the shadow of a doubt, when I was in Honduras many years ago and I was laying in a hospital bed, in a third world country, with a doctor and a nurse who did not speak English, putting IVs in both of my arms, I was not sitting there going, “this is so great, just so excited.” I was grabbing and clutching the arm of the missionary, begging him that they he did not let these people hurt me anymore. If you ever had a kidney stone, you know. If you, not if you haven’t had a kidney stone, you don’t know. But I was begging for the strongest pain medication. By the way, Honduras has got some good medications OK. I wasn’t saying “joy!!” Actually, the next day after the hospital visit, I was lying in bed, I couldn’t go anywhere, the pain medication is starting to wear off and so I started hurt again, I wouldn’t lay in that bed the day after thinking “this is just so great.” In fact, I was being bothered by this little Honduran woman who kept coming in trying to feed me grapefruit and pineapple. She kept saying “It’ll help your stomach.” That’s the only English she knew, by the way. And I kept saying my stomach doesn’t hurt. I have kidney stones. But every hour, eat eat, eat, eat. I was not experiencing joy. In fact, I was pretty frustrated ’cause here in my team that I had laid down here were on the mission field and I wasn’t with them. I couldn’t figure out what is going on. Why am I not out there advancing the Gospel with my youth and with my adults. I was angry. I was getting a little bitter because it’s just something that kept nagging me all week and I got home and it nagged me. It was rough. And yet, James says have joy. Count it all joy.
Now I think we have to look at two different things. First, is this word joy. James is not saying, let’s be clear, he’s not saying that we have to enjoy what we are going through. He’s not saying we have to be happy when the doctor calls and we get that diagnosis that we don’t want. He’s not saying we have to be happy when our marriages begin to fall apart. He’s not saying we have to be happy when family situations come up that are just unbearable. He’s not saying we have to be happy when we go through the trials of life. But what he’s saying is you can have joy because you know that there is purpose in the pain that you are going through. Joy is not the absence of sadness or sorrow or even pain. Joy, don’t miss this, joy is the presence of God working in your life. Don’t miss that. Joy is not the absence of sorrow or pain or suffering. Joy is the knowledge that God is working in your life through all that you’re going through. That word consider, is an accounting word where it means to count or to evaluate. What James is saying is when you are going through these trials, you need to evaluate your circumstances in light of what God is doing. If we value comfort when we are in uncomfortable situations, we will struggle. If we value health, when we are unhealthy, we will struggle. If we value money, when it just flies away, like money always does, we will struggle. If we value popularity, when we are lonely we will struggle. If we value being the best at everything, sports, job, whatever. If we value being the best, then when that person comes along, who’s better, we will feel defeated. But if we value and if we look at things through the lens of the Gospel. If we value Jesus, then when we face trials, we will have joy because we know, now don’t miss this, because we know we can have the attitude of joy because we know that those trials are not meant to destroy us. They’re meant to develop us.
Trials will develop in us endurance. Trials will develop in us endurance because we know that the testing of our faith will produce endurance. This is staying power or fortitude or strength to get through the. When I first started learning how to play the guitar. I loved the guitar. I love playing it, but I hated playing it at the beginning and Graham knows this and if you play the car, you know why I hated it. Your fingers hurt when you start playing, and I had this old timey the acoustic and the strings were really thick and pressed down and your fingers hurt. Your fingers bleed and it’s just painful. By the way, the music sounds terrible, OK, but you keep playing it and you keep playing it. Over time your fingers get tough, your fingers get these really thick calluses on them. So much so that you can press harder and it begins to sound better. That’s what testing does. It produces calluses. It produces endurance in our life, and here’s how it works. We go through a trial. It’s hard, it’s challenging, it’s confusing. We don’t understand it when we go through it, and then God gets us through it. That has shown us something very important that God never forsakes us in the darkness. It shows us that God has a plan. I can look back on every trial I’ve ever gone through and I can look back and see how God really worked that out for my good. And so that creates in me a trust so when the next season of trial comes, ’cause you’re either in it, coming out of it or going into it. So when the next season comes like, well, I saw what God did here, I know that God is not going to do it again. I’ve got the endurance to get through it because I trust in God for all of that. But so encouraging.
Now, this word testing, I just want to camp out on it ’cause I don’t want you to be confused with it. Most of us, when we think of the word testing, we think of taking a test in school. School’s getting ready to start back. Yeah!! You’re going to have to take test. Those tests are really to judge how much you know. How much you have learned. That’s not the kind of test that that God is giving us when we go through trials. The test is not intended, don’t miss this, the test is not intended to determine whether we have faith. God’s not saying, “Trent, I don’t know if your faith is strong enough. I don’t even know if you have faith. Let me give you a test to see if you have it.” That’s not what He’s doing. The test is intended to strengthen or refine your faith. The Old Testament word, is used for the process of refining silver and gold. You take gold ore, you chop away and break it down you put it into something called a crucible. The crucible is a heat resistant, heatproof dish, and then you take the gold you put it into the hottest fire that you can get and it melts all the impurities away from the gold. It gives you a pure gold solid brick as you scrape the impurities off of it. When we are going through the trials of life, we are being put in the crucible so we can become refined. Don’t miss that the crucible protects the gold though. The trials are not meant to destroy you, they’re meant to develop you because the last thing he says is he wants you to have Christian character. He wants the endurance that you’re gaining to produce character. God’s desire is for you to be complete. His desire is for you to be mature. His desire is for you to lack nothing, and we’ll expand upon that lacking nothing in a couple weeks. But he says, James says, let endurance. That’s the second command in this section. Let endurance, surrender your life to God working in you. I use this illustration ’cause it gets the kids involved. Like Elsa says, let it go. Just let it go and let God work in you because God is producing in you the character that He wants you to have.
Listen, when you become a Christian, you’re like a little baby. You’re new to the faith. You don’t know how to walk yet. Now you know sometimes it’s ignorance on fire and we try to do things we’re not ready to do, but we’re just little babies. I love babies. I loved it when my kids were babies. I would love to have my children little and small. But you know what I don’t want? I don’t want diapers. I don’t want midnight feedings. I’m glad they’ve grown up. God does not want us to stay baby Christians. He wants us to grow. He wants us to mature. Trials help us grow. Trials help us mature, along with Bible study and Sunday School and worship and individual devotions. All of that works together to produce the character that God wants us to have. God wants to impact the world with us and we have to have a certain level of maturity to do what God has called us to do.
Now I know, I know that every single person would love to never face a bad experience, right? We would love to live life on the mountain top. Wouldn’t we? Mountain tops are so amazing. You go up there and you look out and you see the beauty of creation. You go to Caswell and it’s a mountaintop experience. You go to a men’s conference or a women’s conference for a weekend, it’s a mountaintop experience. You get away from the headaches of the world and we would all love to stay on the mountain top. Billy Graham says this, “mountaintops are for views and inspiration. Mountaintops are for views and inspiration. Fruit grows in the valley.” Let me say that again. “Mountaintops are for views and inspiration. Fruit grows in the valley.”
Psalm 23 says that when we walk through the valley of Death, God is with us. God is with us on the mountaintop, but God certainly with us in the valley. In fact, when you read the entirety of Psalm 23, you see that that God is with is not only with us, He’s leading us. He’s the Good Shepherd. He will lead you through your trials. You just have to hold on to the promises of His Word. You just have to know that what you’re going through today is going to make you who He wants you to be tomorrow. And I know it’s hard because I’ve been through trials. You’ve been through trials and we don’t understand it when we’re going through it. But we cling to God’s promises that we know there is a purpose for our pain. There is a purpose for our pain.
Let’s pray together.
Father, we know that there’s suffering in this world. We know that Christians will experience the mountaintops, but we’ll spend a lot of time in the valleys. So we’re so grateful that You don’t leave us. You don’t forsake us, You’re there in the valley with us. You’re holding our hand, You’re carrying us through because You have a purpose for the trial. So Father, help our attitude reflect that of Christ. Help us to have joy not sorrow, not sadness, joy knowing that You love us, that You care for us, that You are in control of our situation. We ask all this in Jesus’ Name. Amen, Amen.