Sermon on James 1:2-12
The 2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Rejoice in Your Sufferings
Text: James 1:2-12
Seeing my bride walk down to the aisle. Watching my children being born. Hearing my son laugh. Holding my new daughter. Remembering my high school state-champion football team. Eating a Johnsonville brat. Walking into our new sanctuary. Webster might have over 450,000 words in his dictionary, but only one properly describes them all—joy.
You can’t describe it, but you know pure joy. It’s euphoric. It’s surreal. It’s a beaming smile from one ear to the other. It’s a life-long memory. It’s what makes you write E-mails and make phone calls to share stories with your friends. You can’t describe it, but you know pure joy.
But prepare yourself. This morning every fiber of your being will be tested. Every bit of data that your brain has ever processed will be challenged. The very mettle of your faith will be assailed. Are you ready? Listen to the Lord: Your suffering is a reason for joy, for pure joy.
This makes no sense. How can that be? How could you possibly place the feeling you get when you see a smile on your child’s face on the same level as suffering? How could you possibly equate euphoric happiness with suffering? How could you compare delightful memories with suffering? Yet listen to God speak through Jesus’ half-brother, the apostle James, in chapter one: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” It makes no sense. It shatters sound logic. It defies human reason. Yet God still says it: Rejoice in Your Sufferings.
What a year these last 12 months have been! They could certainly go down in history as a year to forget. From what I know of our church and Preschool family, and other friends and family, no one has escaped the last 12 months without some sort of problem and pain. There has been plenty of hurt and heartache to go around.
The problems in the world around us are not just in the world around us. They are creeping into and affecting us and our own lives. There have been marriage problems and family problems. There have been repeated, annoying illnesses and serious surgeries. There have been worries about money and concerns about just “making it.” There been lost friends, lost church members, lost babies, lost loved ones. There have been disappointments, pressures, worries, doubts, and many, many tears. Some in our extended church and school family have experienced several of those problems and pains. And just when it seems like one problem is over, the next one is right on its heels. When will it end?
The unfortunate answer is never. It will not end. We are reminded of this when Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” And it was the disciples who said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
This now is where your human logic and reason will attack you. This now is when your faith will be challenged: If following Jesus means taking up a cross, why bother? If getting to heaven means going through hardships, is it really worth it? If being a Christian means that I am going to suffer, maybe I shouldn’t be a Christian. Maybe I shouldn’t come to church. Maybe God really isn’t very loving.
That is logic and thinking that makes sense. But even though it makes sense, it is not accurate or correct. This is very important for struggling and suffering Christians to understand, so listen very carefully. Even if you were not a Christian, things would not be better!
Yes, following Jesus means carrying a cross. Yes, being a Christian means going through suffering and hardships. But the cause isn’t our faith. Don’t blame that. And the cause isn’t God. Don’t blame him. The real problem and the cause of all this suffering is sin.
God created this world and it was good. It was completely perfect and there was no such thing as problems and suffering. But Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord. They sinned. As a result, the perfection of creation was lost. Punishment entered this world in the form of pain and toil and suffering and death.
We might then want to blame Adam and Eve. What a terrible thing they did! If only they didn’t eat that fruit! If only they didn’t sin! It’s all their fault! That is also logic and thinking that makes sense. But even though it makes sense, that is not accurate or correct either. Adam and Eve weren’t the only ones to sin. Their children sinned. Their children’s children sinned. We have sinned. We also disobey the Lord. We do the things he forbids. We don’t do the things he commands. Adam and Eve were sinners who lost the perfection of God and we are sinners who can’t regain the perfection of God.
This is why there are sufferings and struggles and problems and pains in this world. It’s not your faith’s fault. It’s not God’s fault. It’s sin’s fault. It’s our fault. So even though we might feel like we shouldn’t suffer because we are Christian, or even if we might think that life might be easier if we didn’t carry the cross of Christ, that logic just isn’t correct. Suffering is part of this world whether you are a Christian or not because sin is a part of this world. There is simply no escaping suffering. Thus, we must understand suffering and we must embrace suffering.
Or rather, God says we can Rejoice in Sufferings. Listen to the Lord, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” The sad reality of life is that our sin and this world’s sin mean that there is suffering and pain in life. But in his wondrous wisdom God allows and uses these trials in our lives so that our faith might develop perseverance.
As we struggle with money, as we worry about making it, as we grieve over losses, as we endure sicknesses and surgeries, God is testing us. And this testing of our faith produces patience and endurance. This testing of our faith develops steadfastness and commitment. This testing of our faith develops a strengthening of our faith.
It’s much like the good old school days. Rare is the child who likes the math or science test. Rare is the teen who likes the exams. Rare is the college student who likes finals week. But those tests are important because they reinforce truths. They engrain facts. They help the students grow.
So it is also with the Lord. We cannot avoid suffering because there is sin in this world and because we are sinful. But as we suffer, we can rejoice because through it the Lord is developing and strengthening our faith with perseverance.
Have you ever been struck with awe as you witnessed the majesty and beauty of creation? Have you ever dissected an animal in school and seen the intricacies of living organisms? Have you ever witnessed the complex and incredible wonder of childbirth? All over we can see the manifold wisdom of our God.
But did you know that God’s infinite wisdom can be seen in your suffering, too? Listen as James explains: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” It’s amazing to begin with that God can turn our sufferings and trials into good by developing a perseverance of our faith. But he takes our testing one step further. He uses that perseverance which develops to work a spiritual maturity in us.
What is this maturity? Spiritual maturity is first of all understanding who you are. It is knowing that you are a sinner. It is knowing your guilt. It is knowing that you have completely and utterly failed to match up to God’s standards. It is knowing that lying and cursing and taking God’s name are not acceptable. It is knowing that God expects us to give him our very best in our time, talents, and treasures but that we don’t always do that. It is knowing that my entire life’s body of work is clouded and tainted by the wrongs I have done. That is spiritual maturity.
But spiritual maturity is not just understanding who we are—sinners—but it is also understanding what God has done. It is knowing that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. It is knowing that Jesus came to this world and never once failed to do what God commands as he lived the perfect life we fail to live. It is knowing that Jesus went to the cross to carry the full weight of our guilt and sin. It is knowing that both God and man suffered hell and died on the cross to pay for what we have done. It is knowing that through his blood we are washed clean. It is knowing that we are forgiven and on our way to heaven. That is spiritual maturity.
Spiritual maturity doesn’t end there. First we understand who we are (sinners). Then we understand what God has done (saved us). Finally, spiritual maturity understands why God does what he does. Spiritual maturity trusts that God has a plan in mind. Spiritual maturity believes that God is God and that he knows what is for our good. Spiritual maturity knows that God will work all things for our good. And it is suffering that works this kind of maturity.
Listen to James, starting in verse 5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” We Floridians know wind and we know waves. We know what it means to be tossed back and forth by the wind and the waves. Then we Floridian Christians should understand all the more what James is saying. When we doubt God, when we question what he is doing and wonder why he allows suffering in our lives, it is like we are being tossed back forth by the sea. We don’t know where we are going or what we are doing. We are confused and perplexed. We are sad and depressed.
But you see, this is the very reason that God allows suffering in our lives! God doesn’t want you to be confused and perplexed or sad and depressed. God doesn’t want you to be angry with him and disappointed in your Christian faith. Just the opposite! God allows suffering because he wants you to develop maturity. He wants you to understand the sin of this world and your own sin. He wants you to understand the limitless love of your Savior. He wants you to understand that he is most important and that he knows what is best. So Rejoice in Your Suffering because it develops spiritual perseverance and spiritual maturity.
Sometimes it just seems like it’s a losing battle, doesn’t it? Every day we get older. Every day there are more aches and more pains. Every day there are more worries and more concerns. As time passes we just experience more sicknesses and more surgeries. We have more problems and more worries. We have more concerns and more anxieties. We shed more tears and more tears and more tears. Is it really worth it? Is this life really worth it? Is following Christ really worth it? Is loving God really worth it? Things aren’t getting better. It’s just one big losing battle!
It makes no sense. It shatters sound logic. It defies human reason. But actually, just the opposite is true. Listen to James and look at verse 12: “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.” This is part of the perseverance and the spiritual maturity that develops in our sufferings. By all worldly standards and measures, it seems like we are losing. It seems like Christianity and faith are pointless. But our mature Christian faith knows and believes that just the opposite is true.
This is why the theme for our worship today is We Live By Faith and Not By Sight. It is our faith which knows and believes that nothing in this world really matters. It is our faith which knows and believes that suffering is only temporary. It is our faith which knows and believes that we don’t need money and we don’t need health and we don’t need all our problems to go away. There is only one thing that we need—Jesus. And God has given us that.
Thus, we can rejoice in our trials and troubles and problems and persecutions and sufferings and sorrows in this life. We Rejoice in Our Sufferings because we know that when the test of this life is complete, we will win. In fact, we already have won. The crown of life and salvation that James mentions is waiting for us in heaven. God has promised the crown of life, God has promised victory, to those who believe. And God keeps his promises. So Rejoice in Your Suffering. Know that you have already won. Know that when the tests and trials of this life are complete you will receive the crown of life in heaven.
We all have our share of sufferings and sorrows. But perhaps at this present moment, none of us is being tested as our dear sister here at Christ the King Lisa. She gave me permission to mention her today. Her family has faced all the common struggles that the rest of us our facing with the economy and money and work. She has two growing and rambunctious boys. There were plenty of tests in Lisa’s in life. But God is so wise. He knows that Lisa’s faith is like that of Abraham, and Job, and the apostle Paul. So he has put her strong faith to the test. Three weeks ago he allowed the death of her only brother. Yet her testing is not yet finished. Now her dear grandmother appears to be near the end as well.
God isn’t mad at Lisa’s family. God isn’t mean. God isn’t ignoring her. These problems exist because sin exists. But God is using these trials to test. And let me tell you, Lisa is persevering. She has shown a maturity of faith that even I envy. She turned to her friends. She has turned to her pastor and her church family. She has turned to her loving Savior.
Be like Abraham. Be like Job. Be like the apostle Paul. Be like Lisa. We all can Rejoice in Our Sufferings because our faith is developing perseverance, God is growing us in spiritual maturity, and we are learning that the only thing that matters is our Savior and his salvation. No one wants to suffer. No one likes to suffer. But we can embrace and love our sufferings, for through them we learn that we can only live by faith alone and in Christ alone.
If you would like to view a copy of this sermon to print or share, click here.