Keep going - James 1:12-17
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
One of my least enjoyable trips into town is when I have to go to the dentist. I think my dentist does a great job but if I suddenly had some free time and had the choice of either sitting in Starbucks reading a book or sitting in my dentist’s chair, then let me say that the overpriced coffee shop would win every time.
And yet I do go to the dentist on regular occasions. I don’t look forward to it but I know these visits are good for my teeth.
I don’t have perfect teeth and so in the past I’ve had a number of fillings. And so on many occasions I’ve had to lie down on the chair, stare up at the bright light and listen to the inspiration sounds of the drill getting closer to my mouth.
Now in those moments there is part of me that wants to whip off the cool sunglasses they give you to wear and run for the door. But instead I decide to stay put. I trust that the temporary discomfort will give me a better future and so I don’t move. I choose to remain in the same position.
Now if you look at verse 12 you’ll see that Christians are told to persevere under trial.
We saw last week that our trials are multi-coloured. That is, they will come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and situations. We need to get our expectations right. Christians we are not immune from tough scenarios.
But here’s what we are to do when they hit us – we are to preserve. And if you want an image to help you work out what that really means then think about sitting in a dentist’s chair.
Perseverance is all about remaining in the same position. It is all about keeping going by staying put. It is about not moving away from trusting in the goodness and greatest of God.
In fact, the Greek word that gets translated in our bibles as ‘perseverance’ literally means ‘remaining under’.
Whatever the form of the trial we are to face it with faith.
Why? Why stay put? Why not make a dash for the door of unbelief? Look at the reason given in verse 12. “…because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
When we hear the word ‘crown’ we typically think of golden crowns placed on the heads of kings and queens.
But in the 1st century crowns of flowers were given to winning athletes in competitions. This is the image James has in mind.
We are to picture our earthly existence as a race – if we get to the end with our faith in tact then we are given the victor’s crown.
The difference is that
there is more than one crown to give out.
What is this crown of life? The crown that is life. The prize is life forever with the source of life – the eternal joyful God.
This is what God has promised to those who love him. How do we know if we truly love God? We preserve to the end through all the trials.
That’s why the person is called blessed. He or she may or may not be able to smile. There will certainly be deeper joy within. But this person is in a truly privileged position.
Persevering is possible but it isn’t easy. Along the way there will come the temptation to give up.
I have recently started to jog. On many occasions I have an internal desire to stop.
It is normal to feel the same desire as a Christian. We need to learn what to do in those situations. And wonderfully the next few verses tell us exactly what we need to know.
Look at vs 13. Read vs 13.
One of the things I discovered in my preparation for this sermon is that the word translated in our Bibles as tempted is exactly the same Greek word that has already been translated as trials. The same external event or circumstance can result in us feeling internal temptation. The trial is certainly an opportunity for our faith to be tested, for it to be strengthened and refined. That is God’s purpose.
But we need to realise that the same trial that should test our faith can also result in us experiencing inner temptation. That is, we will feel internal pressure to sin in some specific way .The question is what should we do when we feel this inner compulsion?
Let me tell you first what not to do. According to verse 13, we are not to say that because we feel the temptation to sin, it must be okay to sin. I think this is the sentiment that lies behind the statement, “God is tempting me.” It seems that some might argue that because God brought the trial into our lives and because we now feel an inner compulsion to sin then it must be God’s intention that we do sin.
James says in no uncertain terms – no! Don’t say such nonsense. For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Or in other words, sin is so against the very nature of God that he never desires to do anything wrong – ever – and so he would certainly never want his creatures to sin either.
We can definitely say that God sends the trial but we must never say that God sends the temptation.
So where does that come from? Look at verse 14. Read vs 14.
Here’s how this works. A trial comes our way. God intends it for the testing of our faith. But because of how we are constructed as humans, we will feel tempted to sin. This could be to disobey God in some way or even to damage his reputation by speaking ill of him.
It’s worth saying that the desire in itself is not sinful. To feel tempted is not sinful.
We know from Hebrews 4:15 that Jesus himself was tempted and yet did not sin.
But that desire can certainly lead to sinful deeds and if those can lead someone to experience eternal death. Or in the words of verse 15, “Then, after desire, has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
A human birth is normally a very happy time for the parents and those who like or love the family.
But this birth event mentioned in vs 15 is a much more somber affair. Desire gives birth to sin. And sin gives birth to death.
This is a very vivid way of saying that temptation left unchecked can lead someone to experience hell forever.
James is not saying that it’s one sin and you’re out of heaven. Not at all. But he is saying that what starts off as an internal desire to sin can lead to an ongoing habit of sinful deeds that lead a person far from Jesus and so straight to eternal death.
If that’s what we are not to do, what are we to do? Look at verse 16. Read verses 16 and 17.
When trials come our way, we are to make sure we are thinking clearly about God. That God only wants the best for us. Even trials are his good gift to us to help us find greater joy in him.
Bad things are not good. But God is so great that he brings much good out of the bad.
He is your Father. You are his child.
He doesn’t change. So the God you read about in the past is still the same today. As you look up to the sky and see all the changeable things, realise that God isn’t like that.
And this is what I believe will keep us preserving with Jesus. Or to bring you back to my original image, it is keeping this view of God at the centre of our thinking that will keep us sitting in the chair.
You will feel tempted to make a dash for the door. But if you remember who it is who brings the trial then you will stay put.
And if you stay put with Jesus then you will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
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