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Sep 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 16, 2018 – James 1:1-4

James Can’t Be Serious–Can He?

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 [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. James 1:1-4

Intro: I love the Bible and appreciate its diversity of styles
(especially its poems and stories)

James, however, is not one of my favorite books
– there were followers of Jesus who believed,
• to be a true Christian a person had to be Jewish (cf. Acts 15:1)
◦ this was the dominant opinion in Jerusalem
◦ those who held to it included some Christian leaders
• the apostles, Peter and Paul did not agree with them
◦ they believed Gentiles could know God in their own culture and context
◦ and apart from fulfilling all the requirements of the law

At an important council convened in Jerusalem to rule on this issue, Peter spoke up on behalf of Gentile conversion to Jesus without having to also place them under the law and Jewish traditions, asking his opponents, “Now, therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10)

– eventually, two forms of living Christian faith emerged:
• one, mostly Gentile, enjoyed the freedom of grace
• the other, mostly Jewish, enjoyed grace and practiced the discipline of the law
◦ Paul, in his letters tried to teach both groups how to live together in peace
◦ see especially Romans chapters 14 and 15

James belonged to the group that stressed law and Jewish traditions
– his letter was written in Greek, but with a Hebrew flair
• we can discern the influence of the Old Testament:
◦ in his emphasis on wisdom including strong parallels with the Book of Proverbs
◦ for James, the law is still the gold standard of religion (cf. Jas. 2:8-12)
◦ his stress on having a strong sense of identity in conflict with the rest of the world
• James was writing to Jewish Christians like himself
◦ his letters is addressed to the “twelve tribes” of the diaspora
◦ a technical term referring to Jewish exiles scattered around the world from the sixth century BC on
– in spite of Jame’s religious preference
(and there are still many Christians hold it today)
• there is much here for us freedom-loving Gentiles to learn

A few technical observations

I’m never sure how much grammatical information you need
– I tend to explain what’s important to me
– so here are translations of the words in these verses that are important to me:

encounter: “to fall among” – like falling into a muddy ditch
various: “lots of colors” – we fall into “all kinds of colorful troubles”
trials: trouble, pain, hardship (we’ll come back to this)
testing: proof – something that has passed the test
◦ that is, the real thing, genuine gold
(translated approved in verse 12 and “proven character” in Romans 5:4)
Notice how Peter uses this same language in his letter, . . . now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pe. 1:6-7)
◦ genuine faith survives every ordeal
endurance: commitment to stay with an activity (a task or race)
perfect: something that has reached its goal, done its job
complete: nothing is missing, everything is integrated
◦ think of wholeness (cf. 1 Thes. 5:23)

What does James mean by “lacking in nothing?”

If you’re wondering why I’m homing in on this, I’ll explain
– I’m not ready to begin a new series of sermons
• I have something big in mind, but not certain
• so I’ve been drawing from my own meditations during each week
– Monday morning God had me thinking about “lacking in nothing”

To be lacking nothing doesn’t mean that I have everything
– I think our nervous systems conspire with our culture,
• to create discontent
• our bodies naturally and automatically respond to specific threats and dangers
◦ the lack of food, not having a social net for support, being unloved
◦ we want to avoid pain, loss and public embarrassment
– advertisers play on our basic human fears
• marketing agencies are paid big money,
◦ to make us feel like we can’t live with out certain products
• worse imaginable things will happen without:
◦ the right deodorant, the cheapest insurance, the finest car
– James does suggest say that contentment comes from “having it all,”
• but from being complete — being a whole person
• and being content does not mean I have no troubles

Paul made a simple statement regarding contentment

. . . godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and [clothing], with these we shall be content (1 Tim. 6:6-8)

– in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve didn’t even need clothing
• but today! we must have designer jeans and name brand shirts and blouses

Many years ago, in our morning devotions my mom shared an observation with us kids. She said, “I believe that what lured Adam and Eve into the first sin was discontent.”

◦ with the great variety of fruits and vegetables from all the trees and plants,
◦ our first parents just had to have the apple from that one forbidden tree
• they lived in paradise, but they were fed discontent

There is something calming about Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd”
– the poem paints an idyllic scene of
• quiet streams, lush grass, and the constant presence of our strong Protector
• the feeling of serene satisfaction is in the first stanza:

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want

– to be at peace is to live without want
• with out that nagging feeling that I need more
◦ more comfort, more control, more protection and security
◦ more things, more insurance, more money
• contentment brings peace
◦ the poet could say, “I have God, and that’s enough”

In my own life, I have enjoyed moments of contentment

And, typically, when there I don’t want anyone to bother me
– to call, to interrupt, to need me
• but you see, a fragile contentment is not a true content.
• true content remains even when phone rings or someone knocks on the door
– contentment says,
• “I do need undisturbed quiet,”
• “I do not need to be left alone,”
• “I do not need this interruption to do anything for me or add anything to my life”
• “If I’m working in my field and someone demands that I carry his gear one mile, contentment tells me, ‘Carry it two’”
◦ this is what “lacking in nothing” means; I need nothing else
◦ and we learn this from Jesus

The word “temptation” used to have two meanings
(the same is true of the Greek word used here)
– one meaning: any event that affected a person, good or bad
• that meaning is preserved in the word “attempt”
◦ an effort to change something
• this is how James uses the word in verse 2, various trials
◦ it is also what Jesus meant by the request, “lead us not into temptation”
◦ protect us from calamity, hardship, trials
– the other meaning: a feeling of being compelled to do something we know is wrong
• James dissects that meaning in verses 12-15

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
Here the word for trials in verse 2 is translated trial in verse 12, but in verses 13 and 14 is translated tempted.

◦ an activity is a temptation only if it’s wrong and I desire it
• the source of this type of temptation is my own heart,
◦ even if it’s the serpent who dangles the apple in front of my eyes

In a 2003 movie, “The Recruit,” Colin Ferrell is a potential candidate for joining the CIA. During his training he is subjected to all kinds of stress-evoking challenges and at one point, he is kidnapped and tortured by terrorists. They continue to interrogate and threaten him, but he says, “I know this is a test.”  “The primary interrogator tells him, “This is not a test,” but Ferrell’s character shouts (quite passionately), “Everything’s a test!”

– it would not hurt to remember this line once in awhile
• every hardship, every temptation tests our faith
◦ not to give us a grade, but to reveal what is still lacking in our faith
• this is the process that brings us to wholeness

Here’s an idea; what if we eliminated trials from our lives?
– that’s not going to happen — it is not real life
• so which is better, to be knocked down by every new trial,
◦ or to have a plan for when we fall into various trials?
◦ a plan that prevents us from being diminished by trials
• what if we were able to use each trial to become more complete?

Conclusion: Several years ago, I had a brief debate with Nancy L.

I doubt she remembers it, but I do
– a friend of ours said contentment was freedom from desire
(this is found in Stoic philosophy and Buddhist teaching)
• I agreed with him, but Nancy disagreed
◦ “I don’t think that’s right,” she said, “We’re supposed to desire God, aren’t we?”
• I held my ground, but later when I gave it more thought
◦ I remembered something C. S. Lewis wrote

“. . . if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us . . . . We are far too easily pleased.”

– at any rate, I now agree with Nancy
• contentment isn’t the absence of desire, but the fulfillment of righteous desire

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Mt. 5:6)
… in [Christ] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete (Col. 2:9)

Last week I told you about my friend Tony, who lost his life that week body surfing. His service was on Friday, and afterward I looked for an opportunity to talk with his wife and sons. While standing at the exit, this lovely white-hair woman approached me, joined by several others. She took my hand and held it so tight that at first I thought she was using me to hold herself up. She told me that she appreciated what I had to say, that it was very meaningful to her. Then I realized that she was Tony’s mother. She began pulling on my hand, and again I thought she was trying to steady herself, but she was actually pulling me to her and as we came face to face, she placed her smooth dark cheek against my cheek.
I don’t know how to describe the way that felt. It was deeply moving. I was still feeling her touch that evening when Barbara got home from work, so I mentioned it to her.
“You know what she was doing, don’t you?” Barbara asked.
“What?” I replied
“She was touching that part of Tony that’s in you.”

When we become whole and content,
people around us will be touched
by that part of Jesus that is in us
This week, you do not go into the world empty or alone
the Lord is your shepherd
Keep close to him
and you will find you are lacking in nothing

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