James: Pure & Practical Wisdom (Week 2)

Wisdom in the midst of trials + temptation

James 1:2-18 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.

Life is full of pressure.  The question is then how is our faith impacted by the reality of lifes pressures?  In this section of scripture, James teaches about the reality of both trials and temptations and he teaches us the wise way to approach both of these realities.  When we face trials of various kinds, those things outside of us that exert pressure on us, James encourages us not to avoid them, ignore them, succumb to them but rather embrace them.  These trials are the means by which God is testing our faith and forging christian maturity within us.  They are therefore to be considered joyfully as opportunities for our growth.

Temptation on the other hand is not something we should embrace.  Temptations unlike trials are not pressure that comes from our external circumstances but rather comes from our inner being.  Though at our conversion we became a new creation the reality is that while we still live on this earth we have to deal with our sinful nature with it’s sinful desires. James calls us to not be naive about the reality of temptation and helpfully identifies for us the life cycle of sin.  v 14 He he starts by saying that it begins with our own evil desire. It begins unseen and unnoticed by the outside world; a thought, an intention, a hunger, a longing…The evil desire coupled with the opportunity (the enticement) gives birth to sin, which as James writes leads to death.  Spiritual death is our experience of shame, guilt and condemnation.    These are the things that push us away from enjoying intimacy with God.  James is warning us that temptation is not something to trifle with and if anything we should as christians seek to cut it off at the root before it even begins.  This involves meditating in the truth and speaking truth to the lie that starts in our mind.

As we face these pressures from within and without James reminds us that we have access to the God of all wisdom who so desperately wants to give us the wisdom we need to not just navigate this life with all it’s pressures but to actually flourish in this life. He says to ask without doubting.  If we doubt we cannot expect to recieve wisdom from God.  It is like we are attempting to put our eggs in several different baskets in order to secure ourselves rather than depending fully upon the only Wise God.

Listen to the full sermon and other sermons in this series here.

Questions to discuss in groups:

Why do you think it is important for our faith to be tested? 

Take a moment as a group to read out loud James 1:2-18

  • What kind of things do you notice that trials produce in us?
  • From what James is saying what is the difference between testing and temptation? What is God’s role in each?
  • What do you notice about the progression of sin? At what stage does temptation become sin?
  • Read Luke 4:1-13, what do you notice about the way the devil tries to tempt Jesus?  What do you notice about the way that Jesus combat’s the devils tempting?  What lessons could we learn from Jesus?
  • Share with your group a time when your faith has been tested?  What did God teach you in that time?
  • Why do you think it is the case that the person who doubts will not recieve what they ask for? 

For Personal Reflection:

  • In what ways could you change your attitude towards challenges/hardships and trials in your life?
  • In what area’s of your life do you need to ask God for wisdom in?  Do you really trust him to provide you with wisdom or is there doubt in your mind? What lays at the root of your doubt?
  • Think about your life right now, where are you susceptible to giving in to temptation?  In what ways could you stop temptation in it’s tracks from becoming sin?
James 1:5 if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

Wisdom for each day:

Monday: Do you know when not to quit?
I love the movie “unbroken” which retells the story of Louis Zamperini, the USA olympian who survived survived in a raft for 47 days after his bomber crash-landed in the ocean during World War 2 then was sent to a series of prisoner of war camps.  In one incredible scene Zamperini is forced to hold up a giant plank of wood and will be shot if he puts it down.  Zamperini somehow musters the strength keep the wood up until eventually he is allowed to place it down.  He refuses to give up.  Zamperini so values his life that he is determined to hold onto it. When James talks about perseverance, this is the kind of perseverance he is talking about.  This kind of perseverance that keeps in our minds eye what we are enduring hardship for.  The goal is to recieve the “crown of life.” The goal is to know Christ more…to love Christ more.  James 1:12, I wonder how determined are you to hold onto Christ for life?

Tuesday: Is christian maturity what you are aiming for in life?

Whilest the world would say to us avoid trials and troubles as much as you can in life, James says quite the opposite.  In fact he says for the christian, “bring on the trials!”  Why?  Because trials have a wonderful way of maturing us and shaping us spiritually.   And for James, our flourishing and maturing as believers is the measure of a successful life.  Of course we need to approach those trials as opportunities for growth rather than as obstacles that obstruct our happiness or else they will become cause for temptatioon rather than character forging moments.

“Our Father, when we long for life without trials and work, without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure. With stout hearts may we see in every calamity an opportunity and not give way to the pessimist that sees in every opportunity a calamity. Amen.”

Wednesday: How often do you think to ask?

James in the midst of his teaching on understanding trials and temptations encourages the reader to ask God for wisdom.   Wisdom to know what is happening and wisdom to know how to respond.  The wonderful promise is that the only wise God will give us wisdom without “finding fault” (NIV).  This, is an amazing truth.  God’s wisdom is poured out on us unconditionally when we genuinely ask for it.  We so desperately need it.  Are you in the habit of asking God for wisdom?

Thursday: what impact does money have on you?

More than any other teaching within the new testament is the teaching around money.  And James picks up on the exalted circumstances of the poor verses the humiliating circumstances of the wealthy.  What James recognizes is that money has the incredible danger of replacing God in our lives.   Jesus once warned about serving money over God. The comfort that money affords can limit trials that we have to face. We can freely access healthcare, feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, enjoy life’s luxuries without even having to think about it nor pray about where it comes from. James word on wealth is a real word for us today – to constantly be assessing what impact money is having on me?

Friday: where am I susceptible to temptation? 

1 John 2:16 describes three different area’s of tempation we might experience. The first is the “lust of the flesh” – our appetites + desires from within us that we think need to be fulfilled in order for us to be truly happy.  Secondly he describes the “lust of the eyes” – when we look to something outside of us to bring us ultimate satisfaction.  Finally he describes “the pride of life” – the need to be seen as successful, powerful and important in order to be satisfied.  What all of these things have in common is the pride in thinking that we can truly bring ourselves wholeness and happiness.  It is when we worship something other than God.  All of us will struggle with temptation, but there is a wise way and an unwise to deal with it.

Saturday: we are the firstfuits of all creation.

In verse 18 James describes as a kind of firstfruits of all he created.  This is an incredible thought.  God is making new people first and a new heaven and a new earth last. This is the opposite way around to Genesis.  God is getting us ready for the second creation.  He is recreating us, preparing us, maturing us.  Whatever God is doing in us now is in order to prepare us to be citizens ready to live in the new creation.  This is a wonderful reminder that we are not to be content in this world – we are being prepared for a new one.