Tag Archives: james

Weekend Reflections: Public Confession and Inviting People to Church

Public Confession & Repentance

We had an interesting experience at church a few Sundays ago, and it’s caused me to do a little reflection of my own. We had a member to come before the church and openly confess their sin. I’ve never seen this done before in my 4 years of serving at this church. It was during the invitation time, where anyone is invited to come forward to pray, have prayer, join the church, or receive Christ as their Savior. Theologically speaking, our church understands that this is not the only time God is at work, but we recognize the importance of the invitation because it is a time to respond to what we’ve just heard preached from God’s word. This person came forward, convicted by the Spirit through the preaching of the word, and confessed openly before us what they had recently done. Now, for confidentiality reasons I cannot reveal any more than this. But what this individual did really had me thinking, Is openly confessing sin like this biblical? Is it biblical or even helpful to publicly repent the way they did?

From Scripture, I am familiar with the command to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16a). But this verse seems to advocate for a type of confession that is more personal in nature – one that is more along the lines of “man-to-man” confession. In other words, the kind of confession James is talking about is confession of sin “to one another.”  It supports more of a personal confession to possibly one or two people.

At the same time, I think there are times when public confession and repentance are necessary. I think it all depends on how serious the committed sin really is. Here’s the principle I think we should use when determining whether a sin should be confessed publicly before the church:

“But as for confession, I think the principle is that the extent of the confession should match the extent of the sin.” ¹

That’s John Piper quoted above. He was asked the question, “When should we confess sins publicly?” I believe that Piper is on target. If a sin committed is very great, the repentance and confession should also be very great. This is where public confession and repentance comes in.

Not all sins carry the same consequences. There’s a world of difference in the extent of sin, when for example, a leader in the church uses foul language or decides to commit adultery. To the Lord, the sins are equally as offensive; to others, the consequences vary. jimmy-swaggart-crying-sinnedThe consequences of a leader who curses the door upon which he stubbed his toe are far less than the consequences of a leader who lives in an adulterous relationship. You may recall that this exact thing happened with the famous evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. 

So with that in mind, as I’ve studied and pondered this unique experience, I want to say first that it took a lot of courage to do what they did. It’s more courage than I can say that I have. And I think there are times and instances where it is helpful and biblical to publicly repent before the whole church, but other times I think that we should not. I think this particular occasion was very appropriate for public repentance – and I believe that it was biblical and helpful. The particular sin they confessed was one that is far-reaching and has terrible consequences – and I believe they did the right thing. The extent of their sin was very great, so they made sure their public confession and repentance was very great as well. And as an aside, they even demonstrated true restoration the next Sunday – the expected results of publicly repenting before the church. It was truly beautiful to witness firsthand.

If only the rest of us could have godly sorrow and repentance like they did over the sins in our lives. We need repentance and godly sorrow like they demonstrated for every sin in our lives – whether the consequences are great or small. I commend them for their courage and for not harboring sin in their lives, but confessing it openly before us. We’re all broken in different ways – God gives us grace to be restored, and we help each other along in the church. The church is a hospital for sinners – a place where we “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Regularly Inviting People to Church

On this same Sunday, we had a special occasion at our church where we invited at least one friend to church with us. Lately, our church attendance has been down, and our pastor has challenged us to be more evangelistically-focused. Particularly in the area of inviting people to church. Now, clearly inviting people to church is not evangelism, nor is it a substitute for it. But inviting people to church is a practical component for faithful evangelism. It’s part of the way we build relationships with those we evangelize – and relationships are essential to discipleship.

We got on board with a program known as Invite Your One, directed and founded by Thom Rainer², the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. invite-your-oneIt’s a church-wide campaign that focuses on inviting at least one person to church with you on a designated Sunday. It’s a practical way to get church members to be more evangelistic and regularly share Christ with people, and invite them to worship at their church. Needless to say, our church was loaded that day – and all of the guests present were friends or relatives of those who invited them. What is truly praiseworthy is that many of the guests returned the following Sunday.

This experience was memorable and it confirmed a belief that I have deeply held for a number of years: building relationships with those we invite to church nearly guarantees they will come. I truly believe that if we will befriend people, saved or unsaved, the likelihood of their church attendance at our churches will increase greatly. People don’t stumble in to churches by random choice these days. In fact, it’s likely quite trustworthy to say that the reason a person goes to one church and not another is because they were invited and welcomed by a friend or relative. They know they will see you when they come – you are the bridge they’ll cross in order to come to your church. They won’t cross a bridge they don’t know.

Once again, this doesn’t replace evangelism – we should preach the gospel relationship or not. But people are more receptive to the gospel when they see it’s transforming power in the life of a friend or relative. And those same people are more receptive to invitations to church services when they are in the life of a friend or relative. So who will you befriend this week? Who is God laying on your heart to evangelize? Who is coming to church with you on Sunday?


  1. Piper, John. “When Should We Confess Sins Publicly?” Desiring God,  19th of May 2008. Accessed 26th of September 2016.

  2. Thom Rainer has a plethora of resources on church growth. Check out his blog here.
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War of the Soul: Sin’s Greatest Weapon (James 1:13-15)

Introduction: Something Small Can Be Deadly

How many of you have ever wanted a snake as a pet? Probably not many of you. Most of us do not like snakes because we recognize how deadly they are, don’t we? Not very long ago, I was researching the world’s most deadliest snakes, and I came across many of the familiar ones: the rattlesnake, the viper, and finally the black mamba. 

The feared Black Mamba is found throughout many parts of the African continent. They are known to be highly aggressive, and strike with deadly precision. They are also the fastest land snake in the world, capable of reaching speeds of up to 12 mph. These fearsome snakes can strike up to 12 times in a row. A single bite is capable of killing anywhere from 10-25 adults. The venom is a fast acting neurotoxin. The victim experiences a tingling sensation in the mouth and extremities, double vision, tunnel vision, severe confusion, fever, foaming at the mouth and nose, and depending on the nature of the bite, death can result at any time between 15 minutes and 3 hours.¹

But they are so small. People who die from their bites are not expecting to die from their bites. People go into areas their not supposed to, and unknowingly, BAM! They get bitten. It’s ironic how something so small can be so deadly. In our passage tonight, James the brother of Jesus, warns us about something very small that can be very deadly—our own desires. We probably don’t think about our desires very often, but it is our very desires that cause our temptations. Our desires are the source of our temptations, and if nothing is done about them, there are deadly consequences.

The Text: James 1:13-15, ESV

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

I. The Goodness of God During Temptations (v. 13)

You’ve probably noticed that I have not included verse 12 in with this passage. In your translation, it is likely that v. 12 is part of the paragraph containing verses 13-15 also.  I haven’t included it in this part of the passage because it is a verse that serves as a pause or reflection on James’ previous thought. He had just finished talking about enduring trials (1:2-11), and now he is beginning to talk about temptation and personal sin. So for this sermon, it is better to start where James starts his new thought, and that is in v. 13.

I want us to notice first that James talks about the goodness of God during our temptations in v. 13. And the idea here is that God cannot be responsible for our temptations because He is a good God. James writes first a word of warning and of comfort: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

James presents a scenario of a man who is being tempted and blames God for his temptation. But James says that nobody has the right to say that, or to blame God for temptation because “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” God cannot tempt and entice you to sin because He Himself cannot be tempted with evil—He doesn’t face temptations. He doesn’t have the impulse or desire to sin, He’s perfect and completely holy. So then, James says, because God is good and cannot be tempted with evil, “he himself tempts no one.”

Not once have your temptations ever come from God. Not a single time in the history of humanity has God ever tempted any person to sin. All that comes from God is completely and entirely good, because He is good. James writes about that in the next passage: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (vv. 16-17).

God cannot be tempted with evil and tempts no one because He is a holy God. The Scriptures testify:

“For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45)

“Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!” (Psalm 99:9)

“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)

I think we realize at this point that God is good, but why would James feel like it’s necessary to tell us that God is good? Why does James feel the need to remind us that we can’t blame God for our temptations because He is a good God? I think he has a twofold purpose in mind:

1) So that we understand who is truly responsible for temptations. He is going to spell out later in this passage that we are ultimately responsible for the temptations that we face. But notice how James is eliminating the possibilities of who could be responsible for temptation. Already, he has excluded Satan—he’s not even listed. And he has just said that God cannot be responsible for them. This serves a great purpose: the only one left on the list for being responsible for sin is us.

2) So that we understand that God is good—He wants to help us through temptation, not cause us to stumble into them. Adam tried blaming God and refusing to take responsibility didn’t he? God inquired of Adam and Eve for why they ate from the tree which God commanded them not to—and their response? “The main said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (v. 12). Adam blamed the woman. Listen to Eve’s excuse: “The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (v. 13). Eve blamed Satan. For once in the history of the universe a woman was wrong, can you believe that? I saw a sign once that said “ALL MEN GO TO THE LEFT, BECAUSE THE WOMEN ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.” Just joking of course, but only a little.

The point is, since the beginning of humanity we have not taken responsibility for our sin—but listen: do not doubt the goodness of God during your temptations. He is a good God that is for you, not against you, and wants to provide the “way of escape that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

II. The Source of Our Temptation (v. 14)

We’ve seen that God is a good God who cannot be responsible for our temptations, so what is it that causes our temptations? Why are we always slipping up on the same old sins? Why are we being tempted to sin all the time as believers? And why are temptations so frequent? James answers: “[But] each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (v. 14).

The source of our temptation is our own desire. James tells his readers, instead of God being responsible for temptation, “each person is tempted . . . by his own desire.” It’s desire. Desire is the culprit. Desire is problem. Desire is the root and the source of our temptations. The problem is within us—it’s not on the outside, but buried within our innermost beings.

Notice James says that “each person is tempted,” meaning that everyone faces temptations. You can bank on that—you will face temptations. If you didn’t, there’d be no need for this passage of Scripture whatsoever. James uses a fishing metaphor to describe what happens in temptation. Notice the language he uses here: “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”

Desire is the problem, but what happens in temptation is that we are lured and enticed by our own desires. The Greek word for “lured” here is exelkó, literally meaning to be “dragged away.” It was used to describe when game (whether fishing or hunting) was lured away from its path to bait. So we have the picture of an animal that is dragged away from its usual path to bait that it thinks it needs. Similarly, the Greek word for “enticed” here means to “set a trap.”

So here you have these powerful Greek words that describe a man being dragged away and falling into the trap of sin. And why do we become lured into sin and fall into it’s trap? Well go back to the fishing metaphor that James is using. When you fish, you bait a hook. Before you drop the line in, you cover the hook with a jig and bait—it is so that the fish sees it as something he needs (food) and he goes after it, seeking satisfaction for his hunger. When he bites the bait, we jerk the pole and snag him—lift him out of the water where he dies and then he fries in fish grease so that we can eat him (if you like fried fish, that is).

It’s the same way with sin in our lives. It looks like something we need—it looks like something we need to satisfy us. Sin never appears to be dangerous, did you know that? Temptation never says, “Don’t do this. This will disgrace the name of God and hurt your witness. This will damage your relationship with God.” No, it sounds more like, “This will be fun! This won’t hurt! No one will ever know. Just do it.”

Our desires are deceptive, and it’s important to realize that our desires are the thing that pulls us in. It’s imperative to realize that the real problem is our own desires. Another Greek word for desire here is “lusts,” it is that passionate longing for sin that we sometimes experience. This is because we’ve been born into this world as sinners—naturally inclined to sinning against God. But if we’re born again, we have new natures and no excuse for continuing in the same sins.

But why has this been so important to know? Because we must recognize what the problem is before we can solve it or do anything about it. About a year ago, my office began to give off an awful odor. I looked everywhere for the source of smell. I cleaned the floors, took out the trash, and searched every corner—still nothing. Around this time we had recently been given a new puppy, and obviously he hadn’t been house trained, for I soon discovered the source of the smell. Behind a small guitar stand in my office lay a pile of hardened, old, dog droppings. That’s what the smell was! I cleaned it up, and soon my office was finally bearable. But you see, I couldn’t take care of the problem (the stench) without identifying it. And it is the same with our temptations—we can do nothing about our temptations until we discover what the real problem is: our own desires.

III. The Course of Our Temptations (v. 15)

We’ve already seen that God is a good God who doesn’t tempt us, and we’ve just seen what the source of our temptations are, but what’s the problem with letting our desires have their way? What is really at risk here, if anything? James answers again: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v. 15)
Our desires, if we welcome rather than resist them, lead to destruction. James uses another image here (as in v. 14) but one of birth. He pictures desire as conceiving and then giving birth, but then giving birth to death. Really, a horrifying image to think about. James has in mind the person who actively responds to his sinful desires. It is a person who has allowed his desires to conceive. And we understand this. It takes effort to conceive a child doesn’t it? It’s never, “Oops, how did that happen?” That’s what James has in mind here. He’s talking about somebody who does nothing about their desires. They welcome rather than resist those desires and then they conceive.

Once conception takes place, then what’s the next step? Birth. So follows James picture here. Once desire has had its way, it gives birth to sin. It doesn’t give birth to satisfaction like you think it does, it doesn’t give birth to pleasure, or prestige, or power—it gives birth to sin. Once birth takes place, then what? Growth and death. And so follows James’ image. He says that once sin has “fully grown,” once it has matured, it brings forth death. That’s where sin ultimately leads—that’s what James is warning us about (Rom. 6:23).

If you do nothing about sin, it will only get worse and worse and ultimately lead to death. Do you know how an avalanche works? What causes one? An avalanche occurs when the snowpack — or the layers of accumulated snow — on the side of a mountain is in some way disturbed, leading to a fracturing of the top layer and a downward torrent of a large mass of the snow. Snow builds over time—it’s not moved, it just builds on top of more snow. Once it gets too heavy, if falls, sometimes killing many people each year.

That’s the way it is with our desires for sin. When our desires grow, when we do nothing about them and they just get worse and worse, then they give birth to sin and then sin brings “forth death.”

IV. How to Fight the Desires (selected Scriptures)

As we’ve unpacked this passage of Scripture verse by verse, James has taught us several things. First, God is a good God who cannot be responsible for our temptations. Second, our desires are—and always will be, the source of our temptations. Third, if our desires are welcomed rather than resisted, great destruction can take place—even death. But finally, I want us to look at a few practical ways we can fight those desires. If desires are the problem, then our desires need to change and they need to be fought. So how can we do this?

1) Study and know yourself. It’s good to take a long look in the mirror sometimes isn’t it? We need to know what desires we have a problem with and what situations or people cause us to enter into temptation. What desires do you have a problem with? Find out what situations, places, or people, cause you to have desires for sin. Study and know yourself well. Ask God to reveal that to you as well. Pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).

2) Avoid tempting situations. Keep yourself away from the situations that cause you to sin against God and fall into temptations. You know it does no good to pray, “Lord deliver me from evil,” if we thrust ourselves into it. I heard an old preacher say, “You can’t pray “Deliver me, Lord, from temptation,” if you thrust yourself thither!” Avoid the situations that cause temptations. Don’t park a freshly washed car under a tree full of birds. In other words, don’t try to be clean when you willingly go into areas that will make you dirty! The writer of Proverbs presents a picturesque warning for us concerning flirting around with sin, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27). Indeed not.

3) Submit to Christ. When we get saved, we make Jesus our Savior and Lord. He is our Savior because He saved us from death, hell, and the grave. He is our Lord because He takes control. But that’s the part that gets us sometimes. There may be areas of our heart that we haven’t submitted to Christ and made Him Lord over. But we must submit to His leadership and will and allow Him to take control of all the areas of our heart—including our desires. It is taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

4) Get satisfaction from God. Desires seek to be satisfied. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be desires. So since desire is the problem, then our desires need to change. How can that be done? By getting our satisfaction from God. If you don’t believe that God can satisfy you, David invites you to “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Similarly David says to “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). It’s like eating your favorite food—you keep eating it because of the satisfaction it brings your belly! When you get hungry, don’t you desire your favorite food? Of course you do, because you have a mental remembrance of the satisfaction it brings. It works in a similar way with God. If we will get our satisfaction from Him, we will inevitably begin to desire Him.

Conclusion: Enchanting But Deadly

For years, workers and visitors flocked to the sight of silvery dust flakes that floated to the floor in a mill where steel strips rolled over pads in a tall cooling tower. There was a steelworker, Joe Gutierrez who wrote about it. He says that “the snow danced in August.” It was beautiful and enchanting, but it was soon discovered that it was asbestos floating in the air. “Everybody breathed it,” Joe writes. He now suffers from the slow, choking grip of asbestosis, as do many plant workers.

“Can’t walk too far now. I get tired real fast, and it hurts when I breathe sometimes. And to think we used to fight over that job,” he says. Sin is enchanting, sin is pretty and attractive, but it can be a killer. Are you taking the steps necessary to overcoming these desires? Are you avoiding tempting situations? Are you submitting totally to Jesus Christ?


1. Iakhovas. “Top 10 Most Venomous Snakes.” List Verse. March 30, 2011. http://listverse.com/2011/03/30/top-10-most-venomous-snakes/

 

Having Coffee with Your Trials (James 1:2-4)

The following message was delivered at Harmony Baptist Church in West Paducah, KY on June 22, 2014:

Introduction

As an Associate Pastor, I’ve had the privilege to counsel with many teens and church members alike. About a year ago, I counseled a middle school girl whose baby sister passed away unexpectedly. I did the best I could to share with her the comfort and compassion of God from the Scriptures. Just recently, for hours I counseled a young man whose uncle passed away from a heroin overdose that no one ever knew about. I’ve counseled many hours with a woman who has a wayward daughter with a severe drug addiction.

We all face trials in our lives. Charles Spurgeon says, “Sometimes God sends His mercies in a black envelope.” As a concerned pastor, I always try to share with our members the best advice from the Scriptures during their time of need. In our New Testaments we have a letter from a very concerned pastor. This letter is often called the “Proverbs of the New Testament” because of its wisdom. It is the letter of James.

The reason I have titled this message Having Coffee with Your Trials is because I would like you to picture yourself having a meeting with your trials. That’s the way our text presents trials to us: as a meeting. What are they? Financial, family, physical trials? Whatever they are, I want you to look them at them right in the face—look at them through the biblical perspective (as James presents) so that we can reap the full biblical benefit. As we delve into this pastoral advice from James’ pen, imagine yourself conversing with your trials about the truth from God’s Word.

The Text: James 1:2-4

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Trials are a very important thing to James as he is writing to this letter. If you’ve read your New Testaments for very long, you have probably seen that most authors of New Testament books or letters, introduce themselves and then express their thanksgiving for the believers (to whom they are writing) and offer up a prayer. But not so with James—he gets right down to what he think is most important—and that is telling his readers about the biblical perspective and the biblical response, and the biblical result of trials experienced by the Christian.

There are at least five observations to be seen here in this verse:

1. Trials Are to be Counted as Joy by Believers (v. 2a)

First, James dives right into exhorting his readers to do something: to count their trials as joy. However, before we can discover what James is saying by this, I think it is beneficial to discover what he is not saying: James does not say that joy is the only response to trials. He is not suggesting that Christians facing trials will never have any other response to them but joy. Christians have many different responses to trials—perhaps anger at God, shaking their fists at Him, begging to know: “Why did You let this happen?” Sadness is often a response to the trials Christians face. Exhaustion perhaps because of so many trials faced at one time. The response I have had so often to trials is just desiring to escape—I just wanted to get out. But James says that the response we are to have towards our trials is joy—we are to count them as joy. Further, James is not ordering all-encompassing joyful emotion during severe trials; nor is he demanding that his readers must enjoy their trials, or that trials are joy. Joy isn’t the only response, but it is the biblical response and you had better face regard your trials as joy if you are to reap the full benefits.

What he is saying is that trials should be an occasion for genuine rejoicing because we know that they produce perseverance in us. The Greek word for “count” here is a verb in the Greek; it is hegesasthe, and it is implying that an action be done. The word means to “consider, think, regard” your trials as joy. Now, joy is different than happiness. Joy depends on your relationship with God—while happiness depends on your circumstances. Happiness comes and goes, but joy remains. We are to have this “joy outlook,” on our trials.

Have you ever looked through a pair of 3D glasses? It’s alters your perspective. When you watch a movie, you see what seems to be real objects and real things happening to you in a theater. We need to put our biblical glasses on and view our trials through the lens of joy.

2. Trials Happen to Believers (v. 2b)

Not only does James say that we are to count our trials as joy, but he implies that trials happen to believers. Look at v. 2. To whom does he command to count it all joy? “My brothers.” This is James’ favorite address of his readers—he uses the word “brothers” 14 times in this letter. He was a concerned pastor of the Jerusalem church and loved his people. And he told them that trials happen to believers.

Many people believe that being a Christian means that you are immune to trials and difficulty. “Christians must really have it easy” they say, “Surely, as the children of God, nothing bad can ever happen to them. If God is truly their Father and He is filled with love and compassion, it must be true that all Christians live on easy street.” But that is the opposite of what James says here.

3. Trials Are Sure to Happen (v. 2c)

Trials are endured by both Christians and non-Christians. Jesus says, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). But even further to his point that Christians endure trials, James says that trials are sure to happen. Notice what a major difference one word makes in this text. Put the word “if” in place of “when.” “If you meet trials of various kinds. . .” But James doesn’t say that. He says “when you meet trials.”

God promises that trials will come. Not only here in James, but Christ Himself does: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Let me ask you a question: Do you believe that your salvation is secure in the hands of God? Do you believe Christ when He says of you, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29)? If salvation were in your hands—you’d lose it—but the holes in His hands are the proof that He’ll never drop you. You believe that promise with all your heart? Then you had better believe “In the world you will have tribulation” with the same assurance. It came from the same mouth.

Further, Paul writes, “But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” (2 Cor. 6:4-5).

4. Trials Occur Unexpectedly But Should be Expected (v. 2c)

James writes that trials happen when you least expect them. James says, “when you meet trials.” If trials are met, then they were not expected—but . . . we should expect them. The Greek word for “meet” here is peripipto, a verb that means “to fall into the hands of.” Now read it that way: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into the hands of trials.” Isn’t that how it happens folks? You fall into the hands of an unexpected bill . . . you fall into the hands of a cancer, disease, or sickness . . . you fall into the hands of death or maybe family problems and the like. We don’t know these things are coming so wouldn’t it be wise to place our faith and trust in the One who knows they are coming? The One who knows all things? God knows when our next trial is coming—we ought to be trusting Him to give us the strength to face it when it comes.

How many of you have hit a deer with your vehicle before? Probably most of you. I’m sure you didn’t say, “Well, honey let’s go out tonight looking for a deer we can run over—oh and then we will take out a loan to get our car fixed because we totaled it.” No, every deer you’ve ever run over—it was unexpected. But since then, you are on the lookout for them every night. Driving slow in wooded areas because you know one of them might come out. Let’s have the same attitude about our trials—let’s expect them to come even when they are unexpected.

5. Trials Are Various: (v. 2c)

James also says that trials are of various kinds. The trials his readers were facing was most likely poverty and religious persecution. I say poverty because he makes clear that the majority of his readers are poor. One example: “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5). I say religious persecution because rich people at that time were persecuting the Christians by withholding from them their wages and pay: “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (James 5:4). But it’s interesting that James doesn’t explicitly say, “Count it all joy when you face trials of poverty and religious persecution,” because he could have. He was writing to a specific people with a specific purpose. But he was also writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. James casts the net widely including all of the many trials that Christians face simply by saying, “trials of various kinds.”
We face trials of all kinds: death of a family or friend, financial struggles (providing for your family, etc), dealing with disease or sickness, problems in the marriage, possibly your career is going down the drain. And to all of those, James says, “Count them all joy.”

What kind of response to you have towards your trials? Do you count them as a joy? Are you viewing your trials through the lens of joy?

You may say, “Alright, I want to regard my trials as joy, but why would I do that?” Why would you view your trials through the lens of joy? What reason is there to count your difficult trials as joy? James answers in v. 3: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

Other New Testament writers express this very same thing: Paul writes in Romans 5, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Similarly Peter says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,  so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

James gives his readers the reason for his seemingly irrational call to count their trials as joy. Here’s how it is possible to “count [your] trials as joy”: for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness/perseverance.

So there are two important observations to be made about v. 3 of our text:

1. Believers Ought to Know That Trials Are a Testing of Their Faith (v. 3a).

First of all, James assumes that his readers “know that the testing of [their] faith produces steadfastness.” It is on the basis of this knowing that they are able to count their trials as joy. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (vv. 2-3). They are able to count their trials as joy because of what God Almighty is doing in the midst of those.

You’re not alone in your trials! We serve a Christ who has been where we are: He suffered the same ways in which you have and the same ways in which you will suffer—in fact, He suffered much worse. God is faithful to those who are faithless, God is with us, God is in us, and God is for us. We have all we need in God alone and He is even working in our trials and difficulties: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). God is working in your trials and He is refining your faith—and James says that you need to come to the place where you know that this is God’s purpose in trials.

The Greek word for “know” here is ginosko: To illustrate the importance of the word “know” here, it is helpful to see how it is used by other biblical writers:

Peter writes, “Knowing (GK: ginosko) this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Peter is talking about the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, saying that nobody just came up with the Bible—it was penned by men of God under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When Peter says, “knowing,” it’s the same Greek term as used here in James. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the writing of Scripture is a conviction that is held by evangelicals, in fact, if you deny that the Word of God was inspired by the Holy Spirit, then you deny the fact that it is the Word of God. And Peter writes here that we should ginosko this first of all—that we should know this; understand this deeply. And in the same way, James writes, I believe that we need to come to a place of spiritual conviction that we know that our trials are a testing of our faith.

Normally when you test something, you are testing the genuineness of it. For example, computer companies put their laptops, tablets, through a series of tests to see if they are going to hold up under years of use—lots of space/memory used, etc. They see how much a computer can take and they work on it to make improvements. Most tests we think of are for reliability—“Is this product useful? Is it reliable?” But if a company really cares about the customers, they will work to improve their product. That is the idea that James has here. He is not saying that trials are a test to see whether or not you are a Christian. He cannot be saying that, for even non-Christians experience trials. Even more, the test of genuine faith in Christ is a life of holiness expressed in good works: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26).

James is saying that God uses trials to perfect our faith and to make us stronger Christians—to produce in us steadfastness.
Why should you know that? So you can count it all joy. But the full joy doesn’t come without also knowing the rest of it: James continues. . .

2. Trials, Which Are a Testing of Faith, Produce Perseverance (“steadfastness”) (v. 3b)

James states here that trials produce steadfastness. James is not simply identifying with Kelly Clarkson by saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” okay? James is saying that trials in life are intended by God to refine our faith: to get us so heated in the crucible of suffering so that impurities are refined away and so that we become pure and valuable before the Lord—trials are intended to purify the faith that we already have. Kent Hughes writes, “Here is how this works: we develop toughness or fortitude by repeatedly being tested and prevailing. The more tests we pass, the tougher we become. As a boxer engages in bout after bout, he toughens and becomes wiser and stronger. After a time he develops such fortitude, perseverance and staying power that he can take on the best. There is no way a fighter, or any of us, can develop toughness without testing!” (1

What kind of perseverance is this? The perseverance mentioned here is like “spiritual toughness,” it doesn’t mean that you are going to become prideful and full of yourself, but that you will gain true strength for trials—you will learn to remain faithful to God when the going gets tough. He tells his readers to count all their trials as joy because it is a testing of their faith that produces. Proverbs offers us similar wisdom: “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise” (Prov. 27:21).

Do you know that trials are a test of your faith or do you think that they are just “that old devil,” as some say? Do you count your trials as joy because you know they produce perseverance?

We have seen that trials happen to believers and are to be regarded as pure joy because we know that they are tests of our faith—and those tests produce perseverance. But James has yet more to say about this virtue of perseverance: “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v. 4)

As with the other verses we have looked at carefully, there are two observations to be made about what James writes in this verse:

1. Believers Ought to Allow Perseverance To Do Its Intended Work (v. 4a)

James writes to his readers: “Let perseverance do what it was intended to do! Let it have its full effect.” This is your response—let perseverance do it’s work in your test of faith. Matthew Henry writes, “Let us allow it to work, and it will do wonders in a time of trouble.” (2)

You need to regard your trials as joy because you know that they are a testing of your faith. That will produce spiritual toughness in you—but your response to all of it is this: Let perseverance have its full effect. Don’t hold back. Let God work in you. Why? What is the purpose of allowing perseverance to work in you?

2. Why Believers Ought to Let Perseverance Do Its Intended Work: Spiritual Maturity (v. 4b)

Testing, according to James, is intended to produce your Christian character—when you respond to your trials with confidence in God and determination to endure. Trials do not make you “perfect and complete,” it is allowing perseverance to do its intended work that makes you (eventually) perfect and complete.

Do you know how real pearls are made? When an irritating object, like a bit of sand, gets under the “mantle” of an oyster’s shell, he simply covers it with the most precious part of his being and makes of it a pearl. The irritation that it was causing is stopped by encrusting it with the pearly formation.

What seems like the worst thing you’ve been through in your life is actually an opportunity to grow in your dependence on God and allow Him to develop perseverance in you so that you will be like a pearl in your Christian walk—perfect and complete. That’s God’s ultimate goal for you—to make you perfect and complete like Jesus Christ. God is working in you every day to make you more and more like Jesus. Are you allowing Him to?

Are you allowing spiritual toughness to develop in you? Are you allowing perseverance to make you perfect and complete in your Christian walk?

Conclusion

We have seen today that trials are to be regarded as pure joy—and why? Because in them, God works perseverance in us to bring us to spiritual completion. We have also seen that trials are a testing of our faith that produces steadfastness. And in v. 4 we saw that we are to allow perseverance to have its full effect in us.

Are you viewing your trials through the lens of joy?
Do you really know that trials are a testing of your faith?
Are you allowing perseverance to be fully developed in you?

One of these days we will be free from this world of trials and sin—while we’re here, lets allow God to do what He wants with us during our trials. To quote C. H. Spurgeon, “It is true that we endure trials, but it is just as true that we are delivered out of them.”


1. Kent Hughes, James: Faith That Works (PTWC) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 19-20.
2. Matthew Henry, The New Matthew Henry Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 2211.

 

You’ve Got Questions: What’s the Problem with Cursing/Cussing?

You’ve Got Questions: What’s the Problem With Cussing?

The Scriptures explicitly command against swearing, cursing (cussing), or even unwholesome language. It is definitely a sin—the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Similarly, Peter writes, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit” (1 Peter 3:10, Peter quoting from Psalm 34:12-16). James 3:9-12 summarizes the issue: “With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water” (emphasis mine).

James makes it clear that the lives of Christians should not be characterized by evil speech. By making the analogy of both salt water and fresh water coming from the same spring (which is uncharacteristic of springs), he makes the point that it is uncharacteristic for a believer to have both praise and cursing come from his/her mouth. Nor is it characteristic for us to praise God on one hand and curse our brothers on the other. This, too, is uncharacteristic of a true believer.

Similarly, Jesus explained that what comes out of our mouths is that which fills our hearts. Sooner or later, the evil in the heart comes out through the mouth in curses and swearing. But when our hearts are filled with the goodness of God, praise for Him and love for others will pour forth. Our speech will always indicate what is in our hearts. “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Why is it a sin to swear/curse? Sin is a condition of the heart, the mind, and “the inner man” (Romans 7:22), which is manifested in our thoughts, actions and words. When we swear and curse, we are giving evidence of the polluting sin in our hearts that must be confessed and repented of. Thankfully, our great God is “faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When this happens, we receive a new nature from God (2 Corinthians 5:17), our hearts are transformed, and even our speech reflects the new nature God has created within us.

You’ve Got Questions: Is Justification by Faith or by Works?

You’ve Got Questions: Does James’ Teaching About Faith and Works Contradict Paul’s Teaching About Faith and Works?

When climbing from lowlands to mountaintops, one must often pass through clouds. While ascending to the peak, sight soon becomes fogged. When you enter a layer of clouds, it helps to have a guide to help you avoid loose rocks that you can’t see as you try to get the best views of the mountaintop. I hope that this article will serve as a guide to clarification regarding the compatibility of the teachings of Paul and James about faith and works. If you’ve studied the Scriptures for long, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. We often receive questions along the lines of “Explain how these verses do not contradict!” or “Look, here is an error in the Bible!” If you are troubled in answering your skeptics or just desiring clarity from theses passages of Scripture, I pray that you are helped by the information presented here. I want you to get the best view of the mountaintop of truth that is evident in these passages.

The Obstacle in Our Journey

The obstacle that we have approached in our journey of Bible study is this: Does James’ teaching on faith and works contradict Paul’s teaching on faith and works? To answer this question it is important to understand that there are difficult passages of Scripture. There are verses that appear to contradict each other. We must remember that the Bible was written by approximately 40 different authors over a period of around 1500 years. Each writer wrote with a different style, from a different perspective, to a different audience, for a different purpose. We should expect some minor differences. However, a difference is not a contradiction. It is only an error if there is absolutely no conceivable way the verses or passages can be reconciled.

James writes in his letter “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24; out of context), while Paul writes to the Romans “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (3:28; also out of context). Some see an apparent contradiction by saying that Paul is teaching salvation by faith alone and James is teaching salvation by faith plus works. This apparent problem is solved just by examining the contexts of the passages.

The Clouds Dissipate

To begin, let’s look at an earlier verse where this concept began: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” (James 2:21 ESV). On the surface, James may seem to contradict Paul. Paul denies that Abraham was “justified by works” (Rom. 4:2), arguing from Genesis 15:6 that Abraham’s faith was “counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). However, James’ assertion in this verse (that “Abraham [was]. . . justified by works”) is based not on Genesis 15:6 but on Genesis 22:9-10, where (many years later) Abraham began to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Thus, James apparently has a different sense of the word “justify” in view here, as evidenced by the different Scripture passages, and the different events in Abraham’s life, to which James and Paul refer. The primary way in which Paul uses the word “justify” emphasizes the sense of being declared righteous by God through faith, on the basis of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:24–26), whereas the primary way that James uses the word “justify” here in James 2:21 seems to emphasize the way in which works demonstrate that someone has been justified, as evidenced by the good works that the person does (see Matt. 12:33–37).

With that biblical concept in mind, some clouds have hopefully dissipated as we now look at the verse in question. “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). James again seems at first to contradict Paul’s teaching that one is justified by faith alone (Rom. 3:28), but the two are compatible. For James, “faith alone” means a bogus kind of faith, a mere intellectual agreement without a genuine personal trust in Christ that bears fruit in one’s life. Recall how the “demons believe—and shudder” (2:19). He is arguing that simple mental assent to the Christian faith does not save anyone. The faith that saves, as both Paul and James both affirm, embraces the truth of the gospel and acts accordingly. Therefore, the conclusion drawn is that James, in agreement with Paul, argues that true faith is never alone: it always produces works (Eph. 2:10).

I have heard it said well before that Paul is emphasizing the purpose of faith: to bring salvation. While James is emphasizing the results of faith: a changed life. Paul expects just as much of a changed life as James does: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). James and Paul do not disagree in their teaching regarding salvation. They approach the same subject from different perspectives. Paul simply emphasized that justification is by faith alone while James put emphasis on the fact that genuine faith in Christ produces good works.

Keep Digging and Digging

The Bible is a book that is not merely for reading. It is a book for studying so that it can be applied. Through careful study in the contexts of our passages above, the answer is discovered. If vigorous study of the Word is neglected, then it is like swallowing food without chewing and then spitting it back out again—no nutritional value is gained by it. The Bible is God’s Word. As such, it is as binding as the laws of nature. We can ignore it, but we do so to our own detriment, just as we would if we ignored the law of gravity. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough just how important the Bible is to our lives! Studying the Bible can be compared to mining for gold. If we make little effort and merely “sift through the pebbles in a stream,” we will only find a little gold dust. But the more we make an effort to really dig into it, the more reward we will gain for our effort. “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:16).