Is it hard to be a Christian in N. Korea / Cuba / Somalia / etc? Is it easy to be a Christian in USA? If answer yes to both questions, understanding of what it means to be a Christian or what represents a trial needs to be adjusted, or perhaps we’re just numbing it! Think for a minute: we’re supposed to be living right-side up in an upside-down world, way harder than being left-handed in right-handed world. Natural man, way of world is to pervert (turn upside-down) truth, biblical principles, things of God – exact opposite of the Christian way. Majority of Christians today need more Bible and less world in their thinking.
Now, what about trials? What do they look and feel like? Which ones are easy to endure, which are hard? Is that right way to think about trials? We talk/think about brothers and sisters in other places, how hard they have it, their overpowering need for God’s help to sustain and strengthen them in their trials. We don’t usually talk that way about our own experiences. Usually think about trials as things that are difficult, hard/harsh, painful, etc.; basically negative uncomfortable stuff. Think it can’t be a trial if we’re not suffering in some way.
And how about temptations? Typical take on temptation: something we really like but shouldn’t have comes within reach, we have to resist. Usually has implied label, frame around it, flashing neon, warning us about what it is. Tend to think that temptations more prevalent when there is plenty, trials more obvious when there is poverty/want. James in three short verses takes those stereotypes, shakes them up, and gives entirely different perspective.
James did not write social justice manifesto, economic program for Democrats, requiring raising status of poor at expense of humbling the rich. Issues at stake far more than economic ones. For one thing, economics are relative. For example: half world lives on < $2.50 per day; $3650 per year, family of 4. US poverty level: $15.30 per day; $22,350 per year, family of 4. James is concerned with life of believer as a whole; would of course include economic factors but many other things as well. Big piece of James’ message centers on attitude: how Christian views/thinks about circumstances, life goals, what God is up to in life of believer.
A. nature of trials
poverty vs plenty – James picks extremes of station or means. “brother of humble circumstances” vs the “brother with ample means”. Gives some context to his description of trials as multi-colored (2). Both are brothers, nowhere does James indicate that there is to be transfer of wealth from one to the other. He doesn’t advocate either for or against a change in circumstances; he does instruct that we must have proper attitude about circumstances.
everything on the spectrum between – experiences we have, trials that are our lot: not random, not simply result of other circumstances. They are explicit components of full life experience designed by God for us individually to fit us for heaven. Since we live on a spectrum, grow in godliness on a spectrum, trials are designed to move us along on that spectrum.
trials not necessarily painful – remember their purpose: try/test the character of our faith, tempt us to exercise faith in wrong object. Anything that fits that definition counts as a trial. Combining James’ instruction with that of Jesus makes strong case that trials that go with humble circumstances are much less difficult and dangerous than those accompanying greater means and higher position.
And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”(Matt. 19:24)
Consider also the condition of the church throughout history and world: when little resistance to operation of the church, gets flabby and ineffective. When church has little clout, few resources, must struggle for existence, it is most vibrant and evangelistic. Compare church today: Western Europe & North America vs Far East and Africa – contrasts are many and obvious. Is likely that if James were to grade Western church on her performance under trial, he would have to give a failing mark. Attitudes and ways of thinking must change if church is going to move forward rather than retreat in face of cultural pressures.
B. trial of poverty v.9
starts with obvious circumstance where trials are a given – poverty or humble means. Tendency is to think those who have fewer means than we are suffering trials and hardships. Don’t as often think of how reduced means provide opportunities to recognize and testify of God’s provision. Constant awareness of dependence, continually seeking God’s help means: living with heightened awareness of his presence and provision. Greater views of God’s glory and greatness demonstrated to his children, obvious to them because of their closeness to him.
when supply line is short, dependence on supplier much more intense.
“We recently received an update from our field staff in Pakistan regarding Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy against Muhammad. Asia has been in prison for more than two years, separated from her husband and daughters. Because of threats against her, Asia is held in a secure cell, separated from the general prison population.
“Asia’s husband also shared some encouraging news. One of Asia’s guards is a Christian and has consistently been kind to her. Asia has her Bible, and she receives encouragement and blessings from God’s Word each day. In spite of her challenging situation, she testified that God has been faithful in encouraging and sustaining her. “God is with me,” she told her husband. “I feel strong and protected.” VOM email
short supply easily viewed as hindrance to service to others. It’s not all testing, there’s temptation too. Trap to be avoided: focus on circumstances rather than what God is doing and expecting in those circumstances. Easy to blame/find fault with God and his lack of provision or providing wrong thing. If God did a better job for us, we could do better job for him – just the opposite of attitude demonstrated by Macedonian Christians.
2 Cor. 8:1-4 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia:During a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity.I testify that, on their own, according to their ability and beyond their ability,they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints. HCSB
Because of how they responded to circumstances/testing, their eager desire to be used by God in service to others, Macedonians received far greater blessing and honor than many who served from position of plenty. They understood for the Christian spiritual dividends are far more important BOTH now AND in eternity. Those dividends are available to believers without regard for station in life.
C. trial of plenty v.10-11
Poor believer is to rejoice that he is clear object of God’s rich provision in midst of poverty; wealthy believer is to rejoice that he stands every bit as much in need of God’s rich provision despite his means. Both are to rejoice in their standing before God, that their conscious and continual dependence on God will be rewarded as God meets their needs.
when supply line is fat and stretchy, role of supplier much easier to overlook. Tend to get caught up with the gift and not consider the giver; much greater temptation to focus on temporal instead of eternal. We think of God’s “blessing” of material abundance as good thing, to be readily accepted with little consideration. Goal is often to reach end of life with good-sized bank account or its equivalent to pass on to the kids. Intent really ought to be to leave life having accumulated spiritual treasure and using the rest up for sake of Christ’s kingdom.
Those of means are to rejoice especially when they are brought to same position as their “poor” brothers and sisters, what ultimately happens at death. Nothing material accumulated in this life gets transported to the next. Rather than rejoice that he has accumulated, should rejoice that he has lost. Why? Rich person has succeeded in two ways: has enjoyed God’s abundant provision while holding it loosely, has passed the final test and is in God’s estimation as prepared for heaven as this life can accomplish.
Bottom line goal for Christian – live each moment with attitude of dependent service. Absolutely and consciously dependent moment by moment on God for his provision, protection and direction. Determined to use all within our means, time-talents-treasure, whether large or small, to serve God by serving others. We should see every situation, interaction, decision as test: who will we trust, who will we follow. Christians shouldn’t have “bucket lists”, lists of “gotta do” things before we kick the bucket. “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Paul
Means the one thing on list should be: pass the test with a perfect score, ready and anxious to meet our Teacher without notice. Our essential means to that end: not our own genius but prayer for wisdom offered in confident faith (5-6).