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Trials and Temptations July 28, 2015

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on James 1:2-18.

Summary: James begins by exhorting his readers to esteem it as a matter of chief joy when they are suddenly attacked with afflictions from pagans and non-believing Jews. This stems from the fact that they have been taught by the Spirit – and experience – that afflictions exercise the grace of faith and perfect patience. Moreover, patience must be perfected so that the whole image of Christ would be completed in them. Now when they lack wisdom for bearing afflictions, they should direct serious and earnest prayers to God, who gives bountifully and indefatigably to those who pray earnestly to Him. Yet they must place their confidence in Him at those times – instead of entertaining uncertain thoughts like wicked men. Indeed, those who entertain uncertain thoughts about God can expect nothing from Christ, as they have no constancy of soul.

James then asserts that a Christian who has been made low – on account of opposition for being religious – should boast in his sublimity. On the other hand, those who are noble and honorable should boast in having lowly minds – since they will pass away, just as the flower of the field fades. To establish this point, he notes that the rich eventually lose their wealth even while they pursue it.

Now James asserts that believers who patiently and constantly endure afflictions are blessed, because when they are found approved, God will freely give them heavenly glory; indeed, He has promised heavenly glory to those who suffer for Him.

James then tells his readers that when they are tempted to sin, they should neither say nor think that God is forcing them into evil; this stems from the following truths:

  • God cannot be drawn into evil
  • God does not seduce anyone.

Instead, their corrupt nature seduces them, triggering the following sequence of events:

  • they are drawn into evil
  • actual sin is brought to effect in them
  • actual sin settles into a habit in them
  • their souls are handed over to damnation.

Now James lovingly reminds his readers to refrain from wandering by believing that God forces them into evil. To assist them in this regard, he asserts that all special blessings come from heaven; indeed, they come from God – who is like the Sun that gives out its light to all the planets – and He always remains the same. James concludes by citing the following example of a special blessing from heaven: according to God’s will, they have been born again through the Gospel message – showing their dignity and their prerogative.

Thoughts: In verse 2, James exhorts his readers to esteem afflictions as matters of chief joy. Manton offers some insights on this point:

But you may object, does not the Scripture allow us a sense of our condition? How can we rejoice in what is evil…I answer (1) Do not rejoice in evil: that is so far from being a fruit of grace that it is against nature. There is a natural abhorrence of what is painful, as we see in Christ himself… (2) Their joy is from the happy consequences of their sufferings…To be called to such special service is an act of God’s special favor. Far from being a matter of discouragement, it is a ground for thanksgiving…

I recently discussed the problem of evil and suffering with a friend; at that time, I cited the example of Job, who, after losing his family and his possessions, gave praise to God. My friend remarked that it would be rather unnatural for anyone to immediately praise God after experiencing such a traumatic sequence of events. That is a good point, and it leads to the first point in Manton’s quote. Whenever believers face difficulties in this life, I believe that God allows them to experience feelings of sorrow and disappointment, as that constitutes a natural and reasonable response to their circumstances. Believers, though, must not allow those feelings to master them; instead, they must (often painfully) shift to a long-term focus and consider how God can be glorified in the midst of their sorrow and disappointment. I certainly need to improve in this regard; while it is relatively easy for me to recall previous trials and give praise to God for working in the midst of those difficulties, I need to be able to praise God in the midst of future trials.

In verses 10 and 11, James exhorts prosperous believers to boast in having a lowly mind, as they – and their possessions – will pass away. Manton offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 10:

This includes the noble, the honorable, those who have outward excellence, and especially those who remain untouched by persecution…A rich person’s humility is his glory…You are not better than others because of your possessions but because of your meekness…If we want to be made low in the middle of worldly enjoyments, we should think about how uncertain they are…It is mad to be proud about what may perish before we perish, just as it is the worst of miseries to outlive our own happiness.

I am fairly certain that Manton would place me in the category of “the rich” – as opposed to the category of “believers in humble circumstances,” especially since I live in a country where I am not being persecuted for my faith. Thus, I should view this passage as a challenge for my Christian walk. My thought on the topic of “the proper attitude for a ‘rich’ Christian” is that it is closely related to the topic of how believers should spend their time. Do we allow our material wealth to dictate how we spend our time, or do we allow God to dictate our daily activities? How can we maximize our productivity for God in this life? Do we need to follow the example of Paul, who often went without food, clothing and shelter as he preached the Gospel message? I constantly struggle with this topic, as I can participate in a panoply of relatively unimportant – yet tempting – activities on a daily basis. I do pray that God would enable me to use my time more wisely for Him, where I know that I am being productive for Him.

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