Archive for the 'James' Category

James 2:1-7 (NIV): Faith and playing favourites in church, Part 1[1]

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

Image result for clip art favorites public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting [synagogue] wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:1-7 NIV).

A. Introduction

clip_image002(photo courtesy Chicago Now)[2]

Have you been following the recent story from Wheaton College, an evangelical college near Chicago, where one of its political science lecturers has been threatened with the sack because …

‘Wheaton College says it is taking steps to fire Dr Larycia Hawkins for her views on Islam and God’.

In trouble … Dr Larycia Hawkins faces termination from her job. This news has even reached Australia. I read this information from news.com.au, Reuters News Corp Australia Network, January 6, 2016

A POLITICAL science professor is being fired after she wrote a Facebook post saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian university outside Chicago, says it is taking steps to fire Dr Larycia Hawkins, who wrote on the social media site on December 10 that she was donning the hijab headscarf during the period of advent before Christmas as a sign of solidarity with Muslims. In her post she said “we worship the same God.”

Hawkins was placed on administrative leave after the comment drew criticism, and on Tuesday the school said in a statement Wheaton’s provost had delivered a notice to President Philip Ryken recommending her employment be terminated.[3]

Isn’t that discrimination against Dr Hawkins? Isn’t that an example of Wheaton College showing favouritism towards Christians and not towards Muslims? Is this a practical, contemporary example of the kind of issue that was addressed in James 2 of ‘faith and playing favourites in church’?

Buckle up as we examine James 2:1-7 and James’ challenge on partiality, favouritism and discrimination.

B. Christians must stop doing it

Some of your translations in v. 1 will read,

murky-arrow-small ‘show no partiality’ (ESV; NAB; NKJV);[4]

murky-arrow-small ‘Do not show prejudice’ (NET);

murky-arrow-small ‘Do not show favoritism’ (HCSB);

murky-arrow-small ‘Do not hold the faith … with partiality’ (NKJV).

In the Greek language, the verb is a present tense imperative with the negative, m?. It is used for ‘forbidding a practice already in progress’.[5] Those who received this letter from James were already doing this. They were showing favouritism or prejudice towards certain people and they were told to stop doing it. We’ll learn in verse 6 what this partiality was.

1. Remember the background of James 2.

It is in James 1:19-27 (NIV):

snowflake-red-small ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’ (v 19);

snowflake-red-small ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves’ (v 22);

snowflake-red-small If you consider yourself religious, ‘keep a tight rein on their tongues’ (v 26);

snowflake-red-small What is pure religion that is faultless? ‘Look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world’ (v 27).

What causes this difference from worldly thinking? What brings about this other centredness to care for orphans and widows? We get the answer in James 2:1

2. It’s the Jesus’ difference!

It’s too easy to say this phrase quickly, ‘glorious Lord Jesus Christ’ (NIV). Your translation could say something like, ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory’ (ESV). The biblical emphasis is that he is

(a) Lord – kurios is used 14 times in this epistle.[6] For a Jewish audience, it had the implication that Jesus is God – deity. In the Greek OT (LXX), kurios translated Yahweh, the name for God that speaks of his sovereignty.[7]

(b) Jesus – Jesous is his human name given to him at his birth and it speaks of his saving work in his incarnation. Matt 1:21 indicates this, ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (ESV). Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua that means ‘salvation’. In the name and person of Jesus, we have all that is represented in the gospel story.[8]

(c) Christ – Christos is the Greek for the Hebrew, ‘Messiah’ (see Ps 2:2; Acts 4:26), meaning ‘the anointed one’. For these Jewish readers of James, when the term Christos was placed with Jesus, it meant that he fulfilled OT prophecies.[9]

So Lord Jesus Christ refers to the one who is sovereign saviour of salvation, the fulfiller of OT prophecies.

He is the one who is spoken of in Col 1:27 (ESV), ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’. However, we must remember that in this verse, ‘you’ is plural so Paul is saying to the Colossians and to all Christians that when Christ in the Christian community, the church, he is the hope of glory. When the Lord Jesus Christ dwells among us, he makes a radical difference in our behaviour.

What difference?

3. You must quit showing favouritism in the church gathering.

It doesn’t matter whether you were a newly converted Jew in the first century or in a church today in Somalia, India, Russia, France, UK, Chile, or here at 55 Old Dayboro Rd., Petrie. You will face this same challenge to play favourites with some and to ignore others who come into this church gathering. James now gives …

C. Two hypotheticals (vv 2-3)

‘Suppose a man comes into your meeting’. The noun for ‘meeting’ is sunag?g?. What does that sound like? Synagogue! It could be that these Jewish Christians were still meeting in a Jewish synagogue but it could mean that after leaving the synagogue these Christians were still using the word, sunag?g?, to indicate their church meeting place.

James gives an example of two men who come to a church gathering and look what happens:

1. You suck up to the rich (v 2)

Image result for the rich public domainWhy? He’s ‘wearing a gold ring and fine clothes’. The Greek word for ‘fine’ is lampra which was often used in the first century to ‘describe the clothing of a rich person or a dignitary. In the Roman world it was the toga [an official robe] of a candidate of public office’.[10]

What do we do with this man? We show him ‘special attention’ and refer him to ‘a good seat’. Where is that in this building? Does he get a cushioned seat? In Derbyshire, UK, in the 1630s, there are Derbyshire Record Office entries that tell of wealthier, male householders who had ‘pews in the high status area near the pulpit’ and there were ‘common & vulgar seats’ for the common folks (Wood 2013:214).

Then there is the contrast in v. 3:

2. You belittle the poor (v 3)

‘A poor man in filthy old clothes comes in’. ‘Filthy’, rhypara, means shabby and is often associated with someone who is dirty and grubby. Today we’d call him a tramp or hobo.

Four Pink Towels In PovertyWhat did these people say to this grubby man who entered their church meeting? The NLT rightly translates this: ‘You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor’. He is treated as worthless scum.

What have these Christians done with both the rich man and the bloke in filthy clothing? They have judged by outward appearance.

The Scriptures could not be more forthright in the assessment. For those who do this:

 

D. Bigotry God condemns (v 4)

Notice how the text puts this in question form in v 4:

1. This is terribly wrong behaviour

Here’s the question: Have you not discriminated? It comes with the negative particle in Greek, ou, and James expects his readers to agree with him. Yes, we have discriminated.

The examples in vv 2-3 demonstrate that there was unjustified discrimination – favouritism. What you have done is terribly, terribly wrong because …

2. You have become judges with evil thoughts (v 4).

There’s an interesting play on words in the original language in v. 4. The word used for ‘discriminated’ (diekrith?te) is built on the same root as the word for ‘judges’ (kritai). Donald Burdick has conveyed this play on words well: ‘In so judging between men, the readers had become unjust judges’ (Burdick 1981:178).

(a) Do we get it?

(b) In so judging, you promote injustice because you are unjust judges.

If people come into this church and one looks lavish and you show him special favours and the other scruffy bum comes in and you show him where to go, you have committed injustice through your evil thoughts which led to evil actions.

James would not be including this example in his epistle if it was impossible to commit this discrimination in the 21st century. We are as vulnerable as the Jewish Christians in the first century.

Now James gives

E. Argument against favouritism (vv. 5-7)

The next example is in the next sermon. We should be convinced already that showing favouritism towards anyone coming into the church is wrong, discriminates against them, and Christians are guilty of judging unjustly. But James is not finished with driving the point home. He does it through two main arguments. I’ll deal with one of them tonight and the second argument in the next sermon.

The first argument against favouritism concerns what we Christians have done. Look how v. 5 begins, ‘Listen, my dear brothers and sisters’. It’s the imperative – a command. Some of your translations may have only ‘brothers/brethren’ (like ESV, NASB, NKJV, KJV) but whenever the Greek adelphoi is addressed to a mixed audience (like a church group in James), it means both males and females, so it refers to brothers and sisters in Christ.[11]

1. We have distorted God’s view of the poor (v 5)

The early church did not come from the realm of the high and mighty. It came largely from the poor; there were exceptions. Look at v. 5, ‘Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?’ The expected answer is, Yes. God chose ‘the poor in this world’.

We know this from verses such as Matt 11:5 (NIV) where it is recorded that Jesus said, ‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor’.

This is implied in what Paul said to the Corinthians:

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him (1 Cor 1:26-29 NIV)

Image result for the poor AfricaThese people are poor ‘in the eyes of the world’ but they are really rich. They are ‘rich in faith’ and their destiny is ‘to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him’ (James 2:6). The inheritance of the kingdom is yet to come. Aren’t you looking forward to that day?

But what do Christians do to the poor? Verse 6:

(a) We have degraded the poor (v 6)

We can screw up what James says about the poor if we have a superficial evaluation. James does not say that all poor people have a rich faith. Also, he doesn’t say that that because you are rich, you are disqualified from receiving salvation. God’s choice of the rich or the poor is not based in any merit because they are poor or disqualification because they are rich. We come before God on an equal footing. We are all sinners in need of a Saviour.

(b) Why does God choose the poor?

We find 2 reasons in Scripture:

(1) One reason is given in the story of the rich young ruler

Mark 10:23-25 states,

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (NIV).

Their dollars and riches stand in the way of entering God’s kingdom.

It is only those who recognise they are spiritually bankrupt before God, will be blessed. Again, Jesus: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 5:3 NIV).

(2) Second reason why God chooses the poor

According to 1 Cor 1:29, God chooses the poor ‘so that no one may boast before him’. God chooses the poor, as he has stated, because they have nothing and have nothing within themselves to brag before God.

What a contrast between how God was choosing the poor and why he does it, and how James readers were treating the poor and shabby. James 1:6 says that his readers ‘have dishonoured the poor’.

But there’s a contrast that we see with the rich according to James 1:6

2. What were the rich doing to their Christian witness?

James answers with 3 piercing questions in vv 6-7.

(a) Aren’t they exploiting you?

The word for ‘exploit’ is very strong in the Greek language. Katadynasteuw. It describes ‘the brutal and tyrannical deprivation of one’s rights’. We see it in the Greek translation of the OT (the LXX) in passages such as

flamin-arrow-small Ezek 22:29, ‘The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress [katadynasteu?] the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice’ (NIV).

flamin-arrow-small Zech 7:10, ‘Do not oppress [katadynasteu?] the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other’ (NIV).

(b) Aren’t they ‘dragging you into court?’ (v 6)

Yes, ‘drag’, helkw, can mean ‘to draw and attract’, as in John 6:44, but in other places it can mean ‘the act of forcibly dragging a person’. We see that meaning in Acts 16:19, ‘When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities’. We see it meaning that kind of dragging also in Acts 21:30, ‘The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut’ (NIV). That’s no gentle drawing of attracting. It’s giving the meaning of forcibly dragging the person.

That’s what they were doing with the poor. The rich were dragging them into court.

But the rich were doing more:

(c) Aren’t they ‘blaspheming the noble name’ of Christ (v 7)?

When I read this question in James 2:7, it reminded me of the language, plastered across the mass media many times, from the late Kerry Packer.

Some of you are old enough to remember the story of what happened to him.

On 6 October 1990, Australia’s richest man, the late media mogul Kerry Packer, was playing polo at Sydney’s Warwick Farm racecourse when he suffered a massive heart attack. His heart stopped for eight minutes, but he was revived by an ambulance crew using a defibrillator (which produces an electric shock to restart the heart’s normal rhythm).[12]

Other reports said ‘he was clinically dead for six minutes before being revived by ambulance officers’ (Zinn 2005).

However, it is what he often said between his encounter with death in 1990 and his final death in 2005 that demonstrated how this richest of rich may could use foul language about what happens at death.

He repeated over and over for the media to grab their one-liners. He told his interviewer friend, Phillip Adams: ‘I’ve been to the other side, and let me tell you, son, [blankety blank][13] there’s nothing there. There’s no one waiting for you. There’s no one to judge you, so you can do what you [blankety blank] like’.[14]

That’s just one example of how the rich blaspheme God and the afterlife. It is recorded in Scripture that ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement’ (Heb 9:27 ESV).

I’m backing Scripture over Kerry Packer. As James warned us about the rich, ‘They are blaspheming the noble name’ of the Lord Jesus Christ.

F. Dangerous favouritism

What would you say after listening to the message I’ve preached tonight? (wait for an answer before giving the following. What’s the danger of playing favouritism in church?

1. It destroys our witness (v 1).

2. Outward appearance is a shocking way to judge spiritual intent (vv 2-3).

3. God’s love is of all people, but the poor respond to his offer more readily (v 5).

4. The rich have been known to blaspheme God (v 7).

5. Next sermon: The crux of the matter is to do what is right through practising the royal law. And it has nothing to do with Queen Elizabeth or Prince Charles.

G. Conclusion

I began this message with the illustration of Dr Larycia Hawkins, professor of political science at Wheaton College, Illinois, who is being threatened with the sack because of her statement on Facebook that ‘we worship the same God’, i.e. her claim is that Christians worship the same God as Muslims.

Secularists will see it as discrimination, but from the information available to me, Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian institution, wants to be faithful to its heritage and statement of faith.

On the Wheaton website, ‘Statement of Faith and Educational Purpose’, it states:

The doctrinal statement of Wheaton College, reaffirmed annually by its Board of Trustees, faculty, and staff, provides a summary of biblical doctrine that is consonant with evangelical Christianity….

WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life….

WE BELIEVE that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, as a representative and substitutionary sacrifice, triumphing over all evil; and that all who believe in Him are justified by His shed blood and forgiven of all their sins.[15]

However, what is Islam’s view of God and Jesus? I will be very brief:

1. Allah: Is he the Lord God Almighty revealed in the Bible?

Quran 112:1-4 (Yusuf Ali translation) succinctly gives the Muslim understanding of Allah’s nature:

1. Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;

2. Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;

3. He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;

4. And there is none like unto Him.

2. Curse on those who call Christ, the son of Allah

Quran 9:30 states: ‘The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!’

In summary:

gold foward button Allah is Unitarian and not Trinitarian;

gold foward button Allah does not beget a son.

Therefore, the God of Christianity is not the same as the God of Islam.

What Wheaton College is doing is dealing with a faculty member who denies a part of Wheaton’s Statement of Faith. Wheaton, in wanting to be faithful to Scripture and its Statement of Faith, is taking action to sever the professor’s employment as her view is not consistent with being an evangelical Christian faculty member at Wheaton.

It is showing that the Wheaton College action is not practising partiality or discrimination but is dealing with a faculty member who has moved away from the standards of Wheaton as affirmed in its Statement of Faith. It is being obedient to its godly vision.

[See Appendix for final decision reached by Wheaton College regarding staff member, Dr Larycia Hawkins.]

Appendix

The Chicago Tribune, February 6, 2016, reported on what seems to be the final outcome of this situation:

A tenured professor at Wheaton College [Dr Larycia Hawkins] suspended for saying Muslims and Christians worship the same God has reached an agreement with the west suburban evangelical school to end her employment there, while the administrator who called for her termination has apologized for acting in haste.

Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones told professors in an email Saturday night that he had turned over the decision of whether to vacate the administrative leave of their colleague, Larycia Hawkins, to college President Philip Ryken. But two hours later, faculty received another email from Ryken, informing them that Hawkins would not return to teach.

“The administration and Dr. Hawkins have come to a place of resolution and reconciliation,” Ryken wrote. “With a mutual desire for God’s blessing, we have decided to part ways.”

Ryken invited faculty to a private worship service at Edman Memorial Chapel Tuesday night and a reception, where Hawkins will say goodbye.

“This is a time for prayer, lament, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation,” Ryken said.

The settlement agreement appears to bring to a close a drama that began in December when Hawkins announced on Facebook that she would don a hijab as part of her Advent devotion to show support for Muslims who had been under scrutiny since mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on Facebook, along with a photograph of herself in a hijab. “And as Pope Francis stated … we worship the same God.”

Within days, the college placed Hawkins on paid administrative leave through the spring semester, pending a review.[16]

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[17] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Burdick, D W 1981. James, in F E Gaebelein (gen ed), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol 12, 159-205. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Kelly, W J 2015. Wheaton College must fire Larycia Hawkins. Chicago Now (online), 17 December. Available at: http://www.chicagonow.com/kelly-truth-squad/2015/12/wheaton-college-must-fire-larycia-hawkins/ (Accessed 27 August 2016).

Pashman, M B 2016. Wheaton College reverses efforts to fire professor, but she won’t return to teach. The Chicago Tribune (online), 6 February. Available at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-wheaton-college-professor-firing-reversal-20160206-story.html (Accessed 27 August 2016).

Rowe, D 2009. What Should I Believe? Why Our Beliefs About the Nature of Death and the Purpose of Life Dominate Our Lives. London and New York: Routledge.

Thayer, J H 1885/1962.Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Wood, A 2013. The Memory of the People: Custom and Popular Senses of the Past in Early Modern England.. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Zinn, C 2005. Kerry Packer: Australian media tycoon who built on his family fortune and transformed world cricket. The Guardian, 28 December. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2005/dec/28/guardianobituaries.cricket (Accessed 9 January 2016).

Notes


[1] This message was preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld, Australia, Sunday PM service, 17 January 2016

[2] Kelly (2015).

[3] Reuters New Corp Australia Network 2016. Wheaton College says it is taking steps to fire Dr Larycia Hawkins for her views on Islam and God (online), 6 January. Available at: http://www.news.com.au/world/north-america/wheaton-college-says-it-is-taking-steps-to-fire-dr-larycia-hawkins-for-her-views-on-islam-and-god/news-story/1a040e7641fc2a6e493d73158c8b06da (Accessed 6 January 2016).

[4] The NKJV reads, ‘Do not hold the faith … with partiality’.

[5] Burdick (1981:177).

[6] They are 1:1, 7, 12; 2;1; 4:10, 15; 5:4, 7, 8, 10, 11 twice, 14, 15 (Hiebert 1979:62).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., p. 178.

[11] See Arndt & Gingrich (1957:15-16); Thayer (1885/1962:11).

[12] ‘Kerry Packer and a plea for privacy’, Oxford University Press 2015. Available at: http://www.oup.com.au/orc/extra_pages/higher_education/hirst__and__patching/kerry_packer (Accessed 9 January 2016).

[13] He said, ‘Fucking’.

[14] Cited in Rowe ( :205)

[15] Available at: http://www.wheaton.edu/About-Wheaton/Statement-of-Faith-and-Educational-Purpose (Accessed 9 January 2016).

[16] Pashman (2016).

[17] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 August 2016.

Turning trash into treasure (James 1:2-4)

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

Litter Disposal Clip Art

(image courtesy clker.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Pollster George Barna in the USA ‘was commissioned to inquire of people what one question they would ask of God if they had the opportunity. By an overwhelming margin, the most urgent question was: Why is there so much suffering in the world?’[1]

Amongst some Christians I’ve heard comments like: If you are an obedient, growing and sanctified Christian who seeks to do the will of God, you will not experience horrible suffering. But I ask: What happened to Job, John the Baptist, and the apostle Paul? If bad things happened to them, why can’t they happen to you and me? Ron Rhodes tells the story of a Christian leader who was sledding and ran into a barbed wire fence he didn’t see. He was decapitated. A pastor got into his car and backed over his infant son on the driveway, killing him instantly. A Christian woman saw her husband and child killed when hit by a car. Surely these examples tell us that Christians are experience some of the tragedies of the world around us.[2]

As I was finishing preparation of this message, I received an email from a friend in the UK. He didn’t know I was preparing a sermon on this topic and he said that he had had a disagreement with his wife a few days ago and asked, ‘Why are relationships so difficult?’[3]

Have you ever asked?

clip_image002

(image courtesy lookseekblog.com)

Now let’s read for some answers.

James 1:1-4 (NASB)
Testing Your Faith

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

Consider it all joy, my brethren [brothers and sisters], when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

A. Sit up & take notice: This must sink in

We could miss this emphasis in the biblical text, because our English translations begin James 1:2 with something like this: ‘Consider it’ (NIV, NLT, NASB, NET); or ‘Count it’ (KJV, ESV).

This word is addressing these Christians as a group[4] (2nd person plural) with point action for themselves.[5] But what does it mean? Arndt and Gingrich’s Greek lexicon says that the verb[6] means to ‘think, consider, regard, deem it’.[7] Kittel’s Greek word study says it means ‘to regard as particularly important’.[8]

So, in down-to-earth Aussie lingo the Greek means: ‘Sit up & take notice. You must think about it to the point where it must sink in daily’. I ask you to sit up and take notice of what will bring you the greatest maturity in your Christian life now and in succeeding years.

What must we think about? The Greeks put the most important part of the sentence at the beginning.

The NASB starts, ‘Consider it all joy’. The Greek word order literally states, ‘All joy you consider (it)’.

B. Think on all the joy or the pure joy it brings

Is this saying you are to have all kinds of happiness when the Broncos beat the Bulldogs in footie or the Aussies beat the South Africans in cricket?

Is this happiness when the bank balance is comfortable and there are not too many bills to pay? Is James 1:2 talking about being happy when your health is good or manageable and the kids are behaving themselves?

What on earth is joy in a world of strife in Ukraine and Crimea? What about being a Christian in Syria or the South Sudan today? How can there be joy when a large aeroplane is lost on a flight and we don’t know its whereabouts?

What about being a Christian in the midst of the Holocaust, Soviet Gulag, the persecution of Nero? How about with a husband or wife who abuses you? Children who are rebels? Bullies on the job?

What does it mean to have ‘joy’ in the midst of those kinds of circumstance? This is chara in the Greek and related to the verb ‘to rejoice’.

Joy is more than a matter of mood because 1 Thess 3:9 asks: ‘How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?’ (NIV) We know that joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22. It is fruit that the Spirit grows in believers.

It’s a paradox: The idea of joy in suffering came from Judaism. Take a read of the Book of Job. See also 1 Peter 2:20-24 and 4:12-14 where suffering is given a Christological perspective. These latter verses read:

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV).

Paul regularly reminded his readers of the source of joy. Its source was beyond human happiness or human joy. It is ‘in the Lord, and therefore outside of ourselves’. That’s why Paul reminded his readers of the origin of joy and exhorted them to manifest it. In Phil 3:1 he said, ‘Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice [i.e. have joy] in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you’ (NIV).[9]

Happiness is based on good outward circumstances. Joy is based on your inner relationship with the Lord and He causes joy to grow in you in your contentment in your relationship with Jesus.

We need to make something clear before we proceed:

C. Ladies: You are not let off the hook

In many translations, James 1:2 in English is addressed to ‘brothers’ or ‘brethren’. Does this exempt the ladies? Is the Book of James sexist and only addressed to blokes and the women can tune out and nod off for the next half hour?

In the NT, ‘adelphos’ can refer to a male brother. But Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives examples of how the plural form ‘can also mean brothers and sisters’. In Matt 12:50, Jesus said, ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’. We have examples of the plural term ‘adelphoi’ (brothers) being ‘used by Christians in their relations with each other’ – see Acts 6:3; 9:30; 10:23; Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 5:11; Eph 6:23; 1 Tim 6:2; Rev 1:9; and 12:10.[10]

So for the book of James, you ladies are not left off the hook. James is addressed to ‘brothers’ who are male and female. That doesn’t sound too good in English. But in the Greek we can say that all Christians, male and female, can be addressed as adelphoi.

What happens to the Christian? You are living the daily Christian life and

D. Trash – the horrible stuff – comes into your life

Scrap YardThe ESV translates as ‘meet trials’, NIV as ‘face trials’, NKJV ‘fall into various trials’, and NASB ‘when you encounter various trials’. So you can ‘encounter’ trials.

Is this like joining an ‘encounter group’ from the 1960s, 70s to deal with the trials and tribulations of life? These groups were gatherings of about 10-20 people where there was an opportunity to open up and share the emotional side of what was going on in your life as you experienced it with other group members. There was open sharing – and some had very emotionally charged encounters. It was hoped people would get in touch with their feelings, receive support from others and become more aware of the feelings of others.[11]

Is this what James is talking about? Those groups were a place where many secular and some Christian people went to encounter others and try to gain healing for their emotional ills. Is that what James is dealing with? I hardly think so.

‘Encounter’ or ‘meet’ or ‘face’ or ‘fall into’ is from the verb, peripipt?[12] which means to ‘become involved in’[13] or ‘to come on something accidentally … to be innocently involved in something … In James 1:2, … we have the figurative … emphasis on the swift and unexpected way in which [people] can be involved in temptation’.[14]

Because it is the subjunctive mood, in general, according to Greek guru, John Wenham, it ‘is the mood of doubtful assertion. In nearly all its uses there is some element of indefiniteness in the sentence’.[15] This means that it may happen or may not. This is accentuated by the use of ‘when’ or ‘whenever’ (hotan), which is a conjunction of uncertainty. And because it is the aorist tense it may happen suddenly – point action.

Has this happened to you? Difficulties in your life have come with no notice. It is doubtful and not certain when they come and they can come on you suddenly? That’s what James is communicating to us with that simple verb, ‘encounter’ or ‘fall into’.

Would you agree with Job’s friend, Eliphaz?

Job 5:7 states, ‘Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward’ (NIV)

Job said in Job 14:1, ‘Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble” (NIV)

We have lots of examples of evil and suffering in the Bible.

  • Job lost his family & all of his possessions;
  • David was pursued and persecuted by the jealous and angry Saul for a long time (1 Sam. 20:33; 21:10; 23:8);
  • The wife of Hosea was unfaithful to him (Hosea 1:2; 2:2, 4);
  • Joseph in the OT was badly treated by his brothers and sold into slavery (Gen. 37:27-28);
  • Herod’s step-daughter asked for and got the head of John the Baptist on a plate (Matt. 14:6-10);
  • Paul, the apostle, was jailed several times, was shipwrecked, beaten and left for dead (2 Cor. 11:25).[16] According to 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul wrote: ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed’ (ESV);

These examples show that those who obey God and seek to be faithful believers still may experience horrible suffering. This is suffering for God’s purpose in their lives!

But what are you encountering? The NASB calls them, ‘trials’.

1. Are you experiencing all kinds of life’s ‘garbage’?

I’ve heard Christians say to me, ‘I wish God wouldn’t send all of this junk into my life. It’s garbage and I want to get rid of it. I hate it’.

‘Trials of many kinds’ is the NIV translation. NKJV agrees with the NASB and calls them ‘various trials’. The ESV reads, ‘trials of various kinds’. Would you agree that the trials you experience in your life are just like that – many and varied? And they can come on you suddenly?

I was in the midst of preparing this message in November 2013 when I had another job to do and climbed a ladder in an attempt to clean the leaves from my house gutters, leaves from my neighbour’s trees. But the ladder collapsed and the back of my head slammed onto the concrete at our front door. I became concussed and ended up in Redcliffe hospital. Two weeks later I collapsed with a heart issue when taking a walk and landed head first into the gravel and into hospital and had an ICD implanted in my chest to regulate my heart rhythm. Two weeks later in the early morning while sleeping, I had a grand mal seizure and then into hospital. Talk about trials of various kinds happening suddenly.

J I Packer wrote a wonderful book, A Quest for Godliness, in it he stated: ‘Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings today, do not make for maturity; hardship and struggle however do’.[17]

Many of you know what I’m talking about. God allows these various trials into our lives, but what’s the purpose of them?

Before we get to the purpose or reason for trials for the believer, we need to talk about what they are. Are they …

2. Trash, garbage or something else?

Many English translations call them ‘trials’ (NIV, NASB, ESV, NET, RSV, NRSV), ‘troubles’ (NLT, CEV), or ‘temptations’ (KJV, Douay-Rheims, ASV, RV).

But what are these trials, troubles or temptations? Peirasmos can mean a ‘test, trial’ or a ‘temptation, enticement to sin’.[18] All of them can be involved. I know that you and I can give examples of what seems like trash through trials and temptations coming into our lives.

In this passage from James 1, God has something special to teach us about the trials of trash in our lives. They are:

E. Horrible stuff with a BIG purpose

(image courtesy vector.me)

James 1:3 tells us exactly why God allows the trials and temptations into our lives. It is for the ‘testing of your faith’. Of what kind of stuff is your faith in God made?

How are diamonds formed? I read an article online from geology.com which stated,

The formation of natural diamonds requires very high temperatures and pressures. These conditions occur in limited zones of Earth’s mantle about 90 miles (150 kilometers) below the surface where temperatures are at least 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (1050 degrees Celsius).[19]

Remember that precious diamonds are made through pressure and very high temperatures.

What about expensive pearls? Science from ‘How stuff works’ tells us that

the formation of a natural pearl begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritate­s the mantle. It’s kind of like the oyster getting a splinter. The oyster’s natural reaction is to cover up that irritant to protect itself. The man­tle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create the shell. This eventually forms a pearl.[20]

Precious and expensive pearls are caused by an irritant.

God uses a similar process in helping Christians grow to maturity in Christ. Let’s

F. Get in step with God’s plan for you & me

https://i1.wp.com/2.bp.blogspot.com/_YjcJAeRzX-4/TUR2Orsk0ZI/AAAAAAAAAZA/NhxnPY-5WOg/s1600/Image11.jpg?resize=143%2C162

(image courtesy Google, public domain)

How will the diamonds and pearls of sanctification come in our lives? Let’s follow these steps carefully to see how God brings you and me to maturity in the Christian life:

1. You need to know it (1:3)

Verse 3 begins, ‘for you know’ (ESV) or ‘knowing that’ (NASB). This is present continuing action of experiential knowledge.[21] You need to have this knowledge as a continuing experience in your Christian life. Knowledge of what? You will not be able to count it all joy when trials come into our lives unless you continually know by experience what God is up to with your life.

What is God up to? Stay tuned because the reasons are about to unfold.

This is what God is up to in every Christian’s life by allowing trials and temptations to come into your life at ANY time. God is engaged in the task of

2. Refining rubbish (1:3)

It is trash with a purpose in every Christian’s life.

The language in the English translations is that God uses trials in ‘the testing of your faith’ (ESV, NIV, NASB, NET, NKJV, RSV, NRSV), ‘trying of your faith’ (KJV), ‘proving of your faith’ (ASV).

We know from an examination of the papyri that this word, to dikimion, is a noun that means ‘testing’ or ‘means of testing’.[22]

How does that apply to trials as a ‘means of testing’ our faith? It is the …

3. Refining your faith (1:3)

How do you refine gold? Put it in a furnace. It is purified by the use of the fire of refining. To get purer gold, you put it through the fire of testing. This is the analogy James is using with this word. Your faith is like gold that stands the test of fire to examine its genuineness.

How genuine is your faith? You will know through the testing of the fire of trials.

Note God’s purpose for trials:

4. Trash that produces staying power (1:3)

The word ‘produces’[23] or ‘works’ is again continuing action in your life. It’s the middle voice, so it is referring to what happens for you. So trash is continuing to produce what?

Hupomon? is an old Greek noun that means ‘staying power’.[24] Our English translations will use language such as ‘steadfastness’ (ESV), ‘perseverance’ (NIV), ‘endurance’ (NLT, NASB), ‘patience’ (KJV). But the meaning is stickability, staying power. Oh for people in the church who have staying power, even through the most difficult times? Are trials going to make you or devastate you? Do you know God’s purpose in trials is to refine your faith and produce staying power in your Christian life?

Alister Begg wrote a book, Made for His pleasure. In it he stated something that resonates with James 1, ‘The truth is that more spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than success and laughter’.[25]

This staying power means, according to James 1:4, that

5. Trash brings the perfect result (1:4)

Notice how v. 4 puts it, ‘And let endurance [staying power] have its perfect result’. ‘Let’ is a present tense imperative – ‘let it keep on having’[26] what? It’s a ‘perfect result’ or ‘perfect work’. The thought is that trials, the trash in our lives, are to ‘carry on the work to the end or completion’, just like John 17:4, where Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and said that he had ‘accomplished the work that you gave me to do’ (ESV).

Here’s the issue that we have to keep on knowing in experience and acknowledging: To get to the end of life and accomplish God’s perfect result or work for us, we need trials to refine our faith.

For what purpose?

6. Trash brings the ultimate result: Maturity & completeness (1:4)

Here we have a purpose clause in the Greek, which is the goal of trials in your life. Trials are for the ultimate purpose of refining us, through staying power, and bringing us to being ‘perfect [or mature] and complete’ (ESV). Greek exegete A T Robertson put it so well: we will be ‘perfected at the end of the task (telos) and complete in all parts…. “perfected all over”’.[27]

This will lead to …

7. Imagine it? Lacking in nothing (1:4)

What could this possibly mean that you are ‘lacking in nothing’ (1:4)? This is really a ‘negative statement of the preceding positive’ one.[28] James uses this kind of technique where he’s make a positive statement and then gives the negative side of it. You can see it in 1:6. To lack nothing is another way of saying we are mature and complete.

G. Practical responses for trials

(image courtesy sharefaith.com)

For Christians who are going through trials, there is a special ministry of the body of Christ that I want to emphasise as I draw to a close. It’s a dynamic that is missing from many churches in this country:

6pointLight-small Romans 12:14-15 (ESV) puts it very clearly, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’.

This ‘one another’ ministry is so critical for other believers who are experiencing trials of various kinds:

6pointLight-small ‘Bearing with one another in love’ (Eph. 4:2);

6pointLight-small Eph. 4:32 (ESV), ‘Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you’.

6pointLight-small Eph. 5:20-21 (ESV), ‘Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ’.

6pointLight-small Col. 3:13 (ESV), ‘bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive’.

6pointLight-small 1 Thess. 3:12 (ESV), ‘and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you’.

6pointLight-small 1 Thess. 5:11 (ESV),’Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing’.

6pointLight-small Heb. 3:13 (ESV), ‘But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin’.

There is much more to this ‘one another’ ministry but we must be there with it for those experiencing trials. Those who are going through trials desperately need this. That’s enough for now, but I do find it in short supply in today’s evangelical church in this country. But it’s also a challenge to me to be more vigilant in this ministry to others.

H. Conclusion

There are times when I’ve thought: Lord, why did you allow me to have three horrific bouts of rheumatic fever when I was aged 6, 10, and 12 that left me with lifelong leaking heart valves and now 5 open-heart surgeries. Why, oh why, Lord do you allow for such suffering?

How do Christians get to become mature and complete in the Christian life? These are the steps that James gives that we must know and practice daily. It is not a politically correct message. It is not a message that goes down well with the heal-wealth false theology. In fact, many evangelical Christians have lost this perspective on the Christian life. These are God’s steps to maturity and completeness in the Christian life.

Consider it pure joy

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Trials with a BIG purpose

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Trials for refining faith

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Trials for staying power

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Trials for the perfect result

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Trials for maturity & completeness

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Trials clip_image007 lacking in nothing

 

That’s the message of James 1:1-4. Will you receive it now and for the futuer?

  • Material prosperity will not do it.
  • Obedient, well-behaved children will not cause it to happen.
  • Even good health is no guarantee more joy will be in your life.
  • What will it be for you?

I read a story by Amy Anderson in Forbes magazine online that was titled, ‘Trials should make us better, not bitter’.[29] It began with this story:

I heard a speech given by a 20-something young woman who had grown up without her sight or hearing. She underwent surgery in high school to have a cochlear implant, which partially restored her hearing and helped her to more effectively communicate her story.  She is still totally blind. As she shared her life story with us, she asked us to close our eyes and to imagine a world where all we saw was darkness, no color, no light. She asked us to imagine how depressing that would feel. With eyes still closed, she asked that this time we imagine our world with color and light and joy. She then stated, “The second picture you imagined is what I choose to see every day.” Then she asked us to open our eyes. She proceeded to share with us that she had a choice in life, “to be sad and depressed and see only darkness, or to be happy and joyful and see color and light.” She stated that she was able to make the choice.

She acknowledged that many times it is easy in life to focus on our trials by saying, “I often think that many of us count our blessings on our fingers and toes, but count our trials with a calculator.” That statement is all too true. She shared that many of us spend our lives thinking “Why me? Why is my life hard? Why do I have to struggle? Why do I have to suffer loss? Why, why, why?”

I was totally caught off guard by the words that came out of her mouth next. “I too, wake up each day and ask ‘Why me? Why am I so lucky to have ten fingers and ten toes? Why am I so lucky to have people that love me? Why am I so lucky to be able to walk? Why am I so blessed?’” WOW!  That was all I could think in that moment. Just wow! She closed her talk by reminding us that “all of us are given trials to make us better, not to make us bitter.”

Will you

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Joy of the LORD

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Works consulted

Anderson, A R 2013. Trials should make us better, not bitter. Forbes, 10 April. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/amyanderson/2013/04/10/why-me/ (Accessed 11 March 2014).

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[30] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Begg, A 1998. What angels wish they knew. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Begg, A 1996, 2005. Made for his pleasure: Ten benchmarks of a vital faith. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Bennett, W H n.d. The general epistles, James, Peter, John, and Jude (The Century Bible: A modern commentary). H H Rowley & M Black (eds). London: Blackwood, Le Bas.

Beyreuther, E & Finkenrath, G 1976. ?????, in C Brown (ed), The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 2, 356-361. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Brown, C (ed) 1976, The new international dictionary of New Testament theology,[31] vol 2. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Büchsel, O 1964. Egeomai, in Kittel, G (ed). Tr by G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 2, 907-908. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The epistle of James: Tests of a living faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Michaelis, W 1968. Peripiptw, in Friedrich, G (ed). Tr G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 6, 173. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Packer, J I 1990. A quest for godliness: The puritan vision of the Christian life. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

Rhodes, R. 2004. Why Do Bad Things Happen If God Is Good?  Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and the Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Ropes, J H 1916/1973. A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle of St. James. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Wenham, J W 1965. The elements of New Testament Greek. London/New York: Cambridge University Press.

Notes:


[1] In Rhodes (2004:8). The footnote indicated: ‘Cited by Lee Strobel, “Why does God allow suffering?” Message delivered at Saddleback Valley Community Church, El Toro, California, February 26, 2000’ (Rhodes 2004:265, n. 1).

[2] Based on Rhodes (2004:12).

[3] Email received on 16 March 2014.

[4] 2nd person plural.

[5] Aorist, middle, indicative.

[6] Hegeomai.

[7] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:344).

[8] Büchsel (1964:907)

[9] This paragraph is based on information from Beyreuther & Finkenrath (1976:361).

[10] Arndt &Gingrich (1957:15-16).

[11] Based on ‘Psychology glossary’, AlleyDog.com, 1998-2014, available at: http://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Encounter+Groups (Accessed 9 March 2014).

[12] Peripes?te, 2nd person pl, aorist active subjunctive.

[13] Arndt & Gingrich 1957:655.

[14] Peripiptw (Michaelis 1968:173).

[15] Wenham (1965:160).

[16] These scriptural illustrations were suggested by Rhodes (2004:12).

[17] Packer (1990:22).

[18] Peirasmos (A&G 1957: 646).

[19] ‘How diamonds form’ 2005-2014, geology.com, available at: http://geology.com/articles/diamonds-from-coal/ (Accessed 10 March 2014).

[20] ‘How do oysters make pearls?’ 1998-2014. Science, How stuff works, available at: http://science.howstuffworks.com/zoology/question630.htm (Accessed 10 March 2014).

[21] ‘Knowing’ is ginwskontes, present active participle from ginwskw. For experiential knowledge, A T Robertson calls it ‘experimental knowledge’ (Robertson1933:12).

[22] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:202).

[23] Katergazetai, present middle indicative.

[24] Robertson (1933:12).

[25] Begg (1996:106).

[26] Robertson (1933:12).

[27] Robertson (1933:12).

[28] Ibid.

[29] Anderson (2013), emphasis added.

[30] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev and aug edn. 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

[31] This is translated with additions and revisions from the German, Theologisches Begriffenslexikon zum Neuen Testament, original German 1971 (Brown 1976:3-4).

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 August 2016.