REJOICING IN MANIFOLD TEMPTATIONS
Psalters: 24, 161, 275, 204
Reading Sermon by Rev. Rodney Miersma
Preached in Lacombe PRC 2002
Looking at these opening words, let us remember that this is a letter, a letter written to these scattered tribes. We say what a remarkable way to begin a letter. It is the kind of greeting and opening that would characterize letters that we would write to one another or to someone. Nevertheless, a remarkable opening. And after a brief introduction, James immediately plunges into his subject, something which is very important to him. He first tells who he is. He is James. This particular James, servant of the Lord, is a servant of Jesus Christ. We are not talking about James the apostle. No we are talking about a James that is not an apostle. He is not Peter or Paul or John.
It is commonly thought that this particular James was an elder in Jerusalem. Refer to that in Acts 12:17. But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go show these things unto James and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place. So there we have one of the references to this particular James. If this be the case, James of this book, this letter, was likely a son of Joseph and Mary. Of course, if he is a son of Joseph and Mary, that would make him a brother of the Lord Jesus Christ. So he had learned to call his brother, My Lord. Thats how he addresses Him: The Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet in all of this we must remember that James is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so that not actually James, but Christ Himself is speaking to us through him. I think it is good for us to remember that with respect to all of the Word of God that we proclaim from this pulpit. That it is not just the words of such and such prophet, or such and such apostle, but the Word of God, the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ which he speaks through these men. So it is the Lord Jesus Christ that is writing to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.
When James so writes one might assume that he had in mind the unconverted Jews who were scattered among the nations ever since the ten tribes were banished from Canaan. Yet in that case, James would hardly speak of them later as believers who know the truth in Christ Jesus. It doesnt quite fit that pattern. There are others that believe that this might be James writing to converted Jews, who have become pilgrims and strangers in the midst of this present evil world, and thus calls them, My brethren, that is, My brethren in the Lord. Yet that makes us wonder why he would distinguish between Jew and Gentile in a time when the middle wall of separation had been broken down and all, both Jew and Gentile, are true sons of Abraham, representatives of what was once the twelve tribes and is now the church of Jesus Christ.
After having said this one can rest assured that James has in mind throughout this epistle the true children of God, emphasizing that these children of God are pilgrims and strangers in the world, spiritually separated from the world, often suffering as cross bearers, persecuted for righteousness sake. With that in our mind we look at these four verses, this text, under the theme
REJOICING IN MANIFOLD TEMPTATIONS
I. The Meaning
II. The Reason
III. The End
I. The Meaning
We look at ourselves and undoubtedly we know that there is among us, including ourselves, some more, some less, those that suffer affliction, who are being inflicted with physical infirmities. There are a number of those on this very day who are not here, either home sick or in the hospital, who suffer the infirmities of the flesh. There may be others who are here, but are not feeling so well, maybe some pain, maybe a headache, maybe stomach pain or back pain, leg cramps, toothache, but pain of one kind or another. There are those who are here but have loved ones at home caring for others, elderly, sometimes in nursing homes. So we look at all of these and we can say that for some even life here upon the earth is one long weary way of multiplied trials, one trial after another trial. They just dont seem to give up, but they come day after day and week after week. It seems like we are never rid of them. And if we ourselves are not suffering such we may know of others suffering this way. In the love of Christ one way or another we try to alleviate some of this suffering, to relieve them of their miseries.
There is yet another kind of grief. There is the loss of loved ones. We saw a notice of that just yet in last weeks bulletin. So this is what life is comprised of, suffering, affliction, grief and sorrow.
Then again we may suffer to one degree because of the faith that we have. As we go about our daily activities meeting various people, we may be reproached or put to shame because we believe as we believe. They may poke fun of that PR church here in the northwest corner of town. You have to bear the brunt of that. Yet another way of suffering for the sake of Christ.
So really it does not matter what the lot may be. The burdens weigh and they weigh heavily day and night. Troubles often multiply endlessly so that there seems to be no way out. You try to suppress it, saying Well, yes, this is today. But what about tomorrow or next week, or next year? If it isnt today then it is the future that concerns us. Our soul is troubled. We say, Why Lord? We question the wisdom of God. We voice a complaint against our Lord. Will God cast us off forever? And will He be favorable no more? as the Psalmist said in Psalm 77: 7. And oft times when we so suffer, we try to pray, but it would seem that our prayers die upon our lips. It appears as if heaven is closed to our cry. Then the worst of our sinful nature comes to manifestation.
Satan sees that. He says, Heres one down. Just like in the wilderness when the children of Israel were marching through the wilderness you had these Gentile nations, these heathens, looking for the stragglers. Same as what the wolves do in the wild when they are looking for something to eat. They are looking for the little ones. They are looking for the stray. They are looking for the one that is wounded, so that in that weakness they can pounce upon it. So it is with Satan. He looks for our weak moments. He looks for that moment when we are down. And he would add to our misery and to our fears.
And so we make ourselves guilty of sinful thoughts and sinful words. We are tempted to commit sinful deeds. That is the picture.
It is in this type of situation that James here comes to us with this word of God. In these circumstances he says to us, Now count it all joy. It is as if he comes to our very homes, stands before us, maybe even beside our bed. He sees us in our misery and he asks us, Arent you happy? Cant you find any reason to be happy? Is there no reason to rejoice? Having asked the question he will say, You should. Thats right. You should have reason to rejoice, even in the midst of your afflictions.
We have a tendency in those circumstances, with someone speaking to us like that, to be offended. We might even respond in disgust. You dont understand. You have not been in my position. What was said in the introduction? Who is really speaking here? Is it James? No, it is the Lord Jesus Christ. And if we are to respond thus, we are saying to our Lord, to our Savior, we are saying to the Son of God, Thou dost not understand. Thou hast never been in my position. We are replying against our Lord. He is our Highpriest in the heavens.
So yes, when a man would speak, then perhaps we would raise an objection. But when it is God that is speaking, then do we not of necessity lend an ear? That is right. We must give an attentive ear. We must do as Samuel did. The Lord God appeared to him several times in the night, Samuel, Samuel. He had never heard the voice of the Lord before. Finally under the tutelage of the aged Eli, Samuel, when you hear that voice again, say Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth. That is what we should do.
We suffer afflictions. The Lord visits us. We say that. We dont rebel. We say, Speak Lord. Im listening. Thy servant heareth. So we hear the word of the Lord. He says to us, Rejoice. Count it pure joy.
II. The Reason
The question still is there. Why? Why can we count it pure joy when we suffer afflictions? Because we find ourselves fallen into all sorts of temptations? That is not why we rejoice. The Word of God does not say that here either. We do not rejoice because of these temptations. Oh, temptations expose the weakness of our sinful flesh. Temptations are the very work of Satan, who wants to destroy us. Even as Satan through Jobs wife said to him, Curse God and die. No we do not rejoice because of that.
Oh, we are not told to rejoice because we fall into temptation, but rather when we find that to be our bitter and weary lot. In the midst of severest temptations, those temptations that seem to undermine our spiritual life, those temptations which bring out the worst in us and set us wide open for the lures and the attacks of Satan, we still have reason to rejoice. Actually, it is stronger than that in our text: to count this bitter hour a reason for purest joy. Do we then succumb under our misery? Do we give up? No. Rejoice? Yes. That is the word of God. Therefore we must listen. We must listen to the instruction of Christ.
He says, Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. There is a keen distinction here that may not be overlooked. From our point of view our present sufferings are temptations. From Gods point of view they are trials. God is trying us, and He tries us as silver is tried by fire. The point is that when one subjects silver to the fire, or the ore in which there is silver to be found, then that fire burns away the dross, causes that purest silver to flow forth, so that the silver can be separated from the dross. Those are the trials of God. They come from a good source.
Temptations come from an evil source, such as Satan. Temptations do not have as their purpose to save and to purify. But temptations, as coming from Satan, have one purpose: to destroy us.
Trials come from God, and that with the very good purpose to sanctify and to bless. Thats why we read here, The trial of your faith. This is the Word of God as He comes to us and speaks to us with respect to your and my faith. We are reminded that we have been called out of death into life. That has been done by the wonder of Gods grace. We have been made aware of our sin and misery. That is the first part of the knowledge that we have as children of God: to know that we are sinners, and to know that that is why we are miserable. But by Gods grace, He also gives us the knowledge of the power of the blood of the cross. For therein we see the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of Gods love that makes us heirs unto eternal life.
Yet that faith because that is what faith is now isnt it? A certain knowledge? That is how the catechism puts it. Faith is a certain knowledge, a living bond. That faith whereby we are united to Jesus Christ, is often severely tried even as by fire. And we say, Why? Why does it have to be such? Why does that connection to Christ have to be so severely tried? The answer is given that God is casting us into the fire of affliction to make us conscious of our own wretchedness, our utter helplessness, our deep dependence upon Him and His mercies.
Is not true then you are flat on your back, sick, miserable, wretched, or filled with sorrow, because of the sickness of someone, or the death of someone, that it is then that you turn to the Lord? Otherwise day after day goes by as every other day, and you simply go about your normal activities. Oh yes, you read and you pray, but no real serious thought put into it. But when the Lord places His finger upon you and you feel the pressure of that finger, then we know and say, Yes, I am helpless. I cannot stand by myself. I am dependent upon the Lord my God. And thus quite often the Lord places us flat on our backs, so that flat on our back we are looking straight up to where we should be looking: to the Lord our God. The Lord tries us. His heavy hand causes us to reach out, to cry for Him. So the faith that comes forth out of the fiery trial comes forth richer, fuller, stronger than it was before.
III. The End
How? How does that take place? How can such bitter and worrisome trials ever prove to be to our advantage, even to the strengthening of our faith? The answer is here. The trial of your faith worketh patience. Patience is really perseverance, that is, the ability to bear under heavy trials. Patience is not natural, a natural proficiency which one may possess in a richer measure than another. We may sometimes say of ourselves, Oh yes, I am a patient sort of soul. When these afflictions come upon me, whether sicknesses or reproach, yes, Im able to take it. Im no coward. Im not a complainer. When these afflictions come every day and they become greater and greater, we become weary under that heavy load. The burden seems to get greater. And then we begin to rethink our position. Maybe Im not so patient after all. Maybe this is not something I can do in my own strength. Oh the Lord is pressing out of us the acknowledgment that we can only stand by His grace.
Do you know why that is? We know that faith is the gift of God. So is patience. You dont have patience naturally. It is not something with which you are born. No. Patience is a gift of God. Because patience is nothing less than faith in action at a time when we need it the most. What was that faith? The gift of God. Patience is the working of that faith when we need it. Faith from that perspective is like a small mustard seed: strong, strong enough to move mountains. Faith is that which stands firm when everything else fails. Faith endures and triumphs in the end. That is all possible because faith is Gods gift to us. Faith in action is the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit, preserving and sanctifying us. That is exactly the purpose of God in putting us under these fiery trials.
He knows who we are. He knows of what we consist. He knows our weaknesses and our infirmities. He knows when and where to apply the heat, when and where to apply the pressure, so under that heat and that pressure we are made strong. Those that work with metals know that. We do not have too many blacksmiths around anymore today. But there were those who were very skillful in that art. When they were making their forks and when they were making there tools, they, of course, would put the iron to the heat. They would fashion various things. Many times, after it was fashioned, it was put in certain solutions, sometimes water, sometimes acids, then it was put to the fire. Not too much. Just the right amount to temper it, to make it strong. It was the heat that gave it its strength. Otherwise that piece of iron would be malleable. You could bend it. But when it was fired it became hard and would hold an edge. So the Lord is dealing with us. He puts us under the heat, not to destroy us, but to strengthen us, to purify us.
Another example is that of a tree. A tree will sink and drive its roots deeper and deeper into the soil when the winds howl. So the winds that we have experienced in the past days in their own way have served to strengthen the trees that are about us. As the tree has its roots in the soil, and when its put to test on top, it is going to drive those roots ever deeper, so that it will not be blown over. So the Lord in His own particular way gives us a picture before our very eyes. Thus gold is refined by fire. So God, Who begins a good work, never forsakes it, but carries it through to the finish.
You and I both know that. But the problem is that we do not always remember that. Oft times under these particular situations we tend to forget who the Lord is and what He does. But James now wants to remind us of that. That is the purpose of God writing His word. Knowing that the trial of your faith worketh patience. So we are reminded once again, God is God. We are reminded that nothing befalls us apart from His will. We know that He never changes. We know that He has given unto us His Son, so that He would die on the cross. Thus He assures us of forgiveness in His blood.
And that is the other aspect of faith a certain knowledge, but also a hearty confidence, assurance. God having done that all, He stills loves us. He has not forgotten us. He has not abandoned or forsaken us. Therefore, if God be for us that is if God is fighting on our side all the powers of hell, sin, and death cannot prevail against us. Who can be against us, if God be for us? So hear the Word of God.
Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing that is lacking nothing. It is not the plant that was raised in the greenhouse that withstands the storms. The plant in the greenhouse has no wind, has no ups and downs in the temperatures. It has ideal growing conditions, so it does not toughen up, does not send its roots down. And again, it is not the raw recruit, that is the brand new soldier, that goes out to meet the enemy with no fear or flinching. No, if you want to send one before the enemy, you are going to send a tried and true soldier, one who will stand firm when he sees the enemy coming, one who will not run away when the battle is engaged. You see, this man has matured as a fighter.
The Lord wants us to be mature. He wants us to be strong in the faith. He wants to equip us with the whole armor of God that we may stand the severer trials still to come. That may sound ominous. We do not know what tomorrow brings, or next week, or next year. We do not know what lies ahead in the future. We may think that the trials we are undergoing now are hard and difficult, but there may very well be far greater trials ahead. And the only way we are going to be able to stand those far greater trials is if we are now being prepared for them by the lesser trials. That is how we grow. That is how we mature. So God, through this particular way prepares us for our place in heavenly glory.
You perhaps also notice among people similar situations. While it is not the hot house plant that can withstand the storms, not the new recruit that can stand firm in the face of the enemy, have you ever noticed that a person who has had an easy way of life is not one that stands firm in the faith? Oh if you want to find a staunch believer look up someone who has been through flame and fire. Find someone who has weathered the storms and the deep waters. That is the person whom God has made perfect and entire, lacking nothing.
So James tells us, Let then patience have its perfect work. You say, Well I didnt know that patience worked. What work does patience do? In my experience nothing seems to happen. How can patience work? Remember what we said a while ago? Patience is faith in action. And that action is the work of Gods grace in us. So we can say, God works. And that work can never fail. So yes, by all means, let patience work, because patience feeds on the word of God. That is why it is so necessary for us to be here Sabbath day after Sabbath day, because God strengthens us, strengthens our faith by His word. This is the feeding trough of patience. Therefore we turn to Gods word.
We read such a passage as Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. You see, patience lacketh nothing. We have the picture before us of the shepherd leading the sheep to the green pastures and beside the still waters, and protecting the sheep from harm and from danger. What a wonderful Psalm. Patience feeds on that and other Psalms, such as 42 and 116. The Psalmist sings, When troubles round me swell, when fears and dangers throng, securely I will dwell in His pavilion strong; Within the covert of His tent He hides me till the storm is spent. That was Psalm 27 as we sing it in Psalter number 71. Also Psalm 42: 7. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. You can imagine that is how Jonah felt in the belly of the whale with the storms above him.
Those are just the Psalms. Having looked at those Psalms, we then turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. He suffered for the sins of His people. He suffered far more than we ever will or need to suffer. Were you spit upon? Christ was. He certainly was. Were you scourged with 40 lashes, less one? He was. Yes, we confess each Sabbath day that He was crucified, dead, and buried. There on the cross He was forsaken of God, forsaken that we should never be forsaken. He bore it all. And He did so in our place, in our stead.
Thus James, in this sense, is calling upon us to resort to prayer. Pour out your soul to God. Make all of your needs known to Him. It is God alone that understands. Oh yes, He cares, just like that shepherd cares for the welfare of his sheep. He knows them all by name. He is going to lead them so that they have plenty to eat, plenty to drink, and they are kept safe from harm and from danger. He cares.
There are going to be times in your and my life when we think, Well, I dont think He hears. I dont think He has heard my prayer. There are times that we are in the depths of despondency when we feel that way. But we continue to ask. We continue to seek. We continue to knock. Christ told us to do that. That is His encouragement to us. And even then, when it seems as if we cannot pray, cannot ask, cannot seek, and we cannot knock, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings which we can never utter. So our needs and our cares will be brought before the Lord our God.
So God hears our cry, the cry of His children as they suffer. See what God is doing? We said before that these afflictions are for our good, that they are for our strengthening. We said it before, but we can say it again. What God is doing is taking us who are uncut stones, and He is cutting away. He cuts a little here. He cuts a little there. He takes His hammer, His chisel, and He chisels a little bit here and a little bit there. All the time forming, shaping us, so that the end product is a precious stone for His temple in heaven. That is what God is doing in the course of this life time. Some day that spot where we fit will be ready for us in heaven. The Lord Jesus Christ is preparing that house with its many mansions. So there is a place being prepared for us.
And under the chiseling and cutting and polishing of God, we in the appointed time, will be ready for that place, a perfectly fitted stone in a perfectly prepared place. And we are placed there to serve the honor and the glory of God. Therefore, just at the right time, in the fullness of Gods time for us, just as there was a fullness of time for the coming of Jesus Christ, so there will be a fullness of time for us. God will reach down and fit us into that place for which He has prepared us. There we will praise Him to His eternal glory.
Yes, James says, Let patience work. That is the work of God. And you will see that our griefs are turned are turned to gladness, that our unrest will lead us to peace in God. That is why we can rejoice. We rejoice in God, the God of our salvation. We count it all joy when we have the precious knowledge that God turns all things unto our good. Just think of that for a moment. Every single thing that happens, including these afflictions, including that heavy hand, including all of those things that make life here upon this earth very unpleasant and difficult for us, under the hand and direction of God they work for our good. They work for our salvation. He is for us. So really, who can be against us? That is why we can sing along with the Psalmist, Oh God, how good thou art to all the pure of heart, though life seems vain; Burdened with anxious care, I groped in dark despair, til in thy house of prayer all was made plain. Oh the wonderful words of God. These are the words He gives to us so that in times of trial and tribulation we may turn to this word and we may sing them as the voice of joy, as the voice of happiness in Jesus Christ, in the Lord our God.
Yes, we will have an opportunity to sing that in a few minutes, Psalter number 204, a versification of Psalm 73: 16. Again this is Gods way of caring for us, is it not? He gives us what we need when we need it, in the proper portion, because He is that all-knowing, all-wise God. All that we need is in Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Yes, praise be to that God.