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Maturing in Trials  試練の中で成長する
I would like to start looking at the letter of James tonight. This letter is well-known for being “practical.” It has so much to say about what we should do and not do, and less explicit doctrine (theology) than the writings of Paul typically do. It also may seem to us very disjointed at places. It sometimes feels like a series of unrelated sayings and warnings, and often sounds like the pithy Proverbs in the Old Testament. Even more dominant is the influence of Jesus’ teaching upon James. We will see connections to Jesus’ teaching and to the Proverbs as we go through this letter.
Though James speaks much of the practical acts and words of daily life, this letter is vitally tied to the truths of the whole Bible. It presents more than just a “do this, don’t do that” kind of moralism. In fact, as some Christians have commented, the healthy Christian life needs “head”—right understanding; “heart”—true affection for God; and “hands”—practical living in accordance with the truth, all together. James has all of these, and though we will might notice the practice portion most, James will be very concerned what our hearts love most and what basis in truth we have for our actions and words. Ultimately, James is how He has revealed His will to us for living, in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. James names Jesus surprisingly few times, but the identity, life, works, and teaching of Jesus Christ permeate this book.  
Today we look at the first four verses of this letter. Here we will learn the basic questions for the book: who wrote it, who first read it and what was their context, and ultimately, why this book was written. God gave the church this book to show our goal of maturity and growing close to God in what we believe, love, and say and do. First let’s look at the basic background of this letter and James’ greeting in verse 1. Secondly, we will consider James’s first exhortation in verses 2-4. Thirdly, let’s ask how we actually grow more mature through the Lord Jesus Christ.
I. James’ Greeting
First, as we read the greeting, let’s consider James’ identity and his view of Jesus and his audience. “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:  Greetings.
From this brief greeting, let’s note a couple of things that are important for reading a letter properly.
First, who is the author of this letter
? James (Jacob) was a common name around the first century AD. There are about four Jameses mentioned in the New Testament. Among these, however, one in particular has been believed to be the writer of this letter we have: the younger brother of Jesus Christ Himself. This James probably heard much directly from his older Brother. Though his writings may reflect more broad Jewish teaching as well, Jesus of Nazareth is the dominant influence. For example, while reading through James it would be helpful to read Jesus’ teaching such as in Matthew chapter 5-7.
This James later appears in Acts 15 as a believer in Jesus, even an influential leader in the church’s major meeting some years after Jesus returned from earth to heaven. He apparently focused on the church among Jews and worked in Jerusalem, primarily. His writing in the letter gets passionate. He clearly cares for his hearers, even while he gives them sharp warnings.
Secondly, who were the recipients
of this letter and what is the setting
? It is not written to non-believers, though it gives much wisdom to those who do not yet trust in Jesus Christ as well as to those who do. Judging by the close ties of the content of the book to Jesus’ and Jewish teaching, and limited mention of Jesus, it presumably was for people who already had a Jewish background and a solid knowledge basis regarding who Jesus Christ is and what He had done. The social challenges mentioned here and there later in the letter, combined with James’ greeting to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion,” also give us hints about the readers. Probably most or all of the original hearers were Christians with Jewish backgrounds who had been forced to move out of their homeland into “dispersion,” for economic, political, and/or religious reasons. Likely the time was in the forties, about fifteen years after Jesus had spent time on earth.
In addition to these basic who-and-what questions, I want to ask what we can learn from this greeting itself
. Let’s pay attention to who it says Jesus is
. For us used to the Apostles’ Creed and Christian teaching after centuries, it is relatively easy to say, “I believe in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Yet for James to say this was miraculous! Probably as a boy he grew up with Jesus and watched Him work as a carpenter and then even a prophet. However, he saw Him as merely another Jewish man, a strange but good one (as you can see in John 7). Yet through observing Jesus teach, suffer, love, die, and rise again, James came to call “brother Jesus” “the Lord Jesus Christ”! In other words, James is calling Jesus the Lord ruling over the whole universe, equal with God the Father. And he is attributing to Him the name “Christ,” or “Messiah” for Jews, that He is the one sent and chosen by God to save His people from the punishment they deserve for rebelling against God! What grace this is!
Finally, in this greeting James gives his identity as slave
of Jesus. Jesus Christ is the greatest Servant who gave His life to buy life for rebellious people like us. So even as a leader of the Christians, James imitates Jesus’ humility. He is simply “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Can we say the same? We are also slaves/servants of something—we are controlled by what our hearts love, as this letter will show us later. If Jesus has become Christ, Savior, and Lord to you, then rejoice! This letter is directed to you, even if your outward circumstances differ from the original audience’s. And if you are not yet ready to call Jesus your Lord yet, I pray that as you keep hearing God’s Word speak, you will come to that conclusion.
II. Rejoice in Difficulties (Trials), Hoping to Mature
Let’s read the first section of the letter following the greeting.
“2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
First, James calls his audience “brothers” or “my beloved brothers” fourteen times in this letter. He is emphasizing that the members of the church—men and women—are siblings. We are brothers and sisters! We will need to remember that as James rebukes us sometimes, he does this because he loves his brothers and sisters in God’s family.
We need that encouragement, because James starts off by telling us to do what is impossible. How in the world can we treat all painful things we encounter as reason to rejoice? We all have “trials,” which mean those uncomfortable or painful things that draw out our reactions and show what is in our hearts. When we react to trials, what we do and say hint at what is really in us. Trials can be suffering for being Christians, or simply suffering because we are in a broken world. Trials can even include temptations to sin. We will find plenty of circumstances James describes in this letter which are trials that show what is in our hearts and minds.
I think we are often tempted to react to trials with anger, dread, self-pity, and frantic action. Yet James urges us to rejoice! How can such uncomfortable things cause us joy? The answer is already here—“for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Here is a key truth for our heads and then our hearts to receive. Trials do not only show us our weakness, need, and even sinfulness. They also are God’s furnace to make us more like Himself.
Have you driven on a steel bridge or walked by a skyscraper lately? Almost certainly, that immensely strong structure stan ds and can support countless tons of weight because the original ore holding iron in it was heated at incredible temperatures to remove all that was weak and keep the strong elements, making steel. Our hearts undergo this, too, when we are God’s children. When we go through trials, we feel pressure and frustration because we are weak and poor. Yet our doubts go away as we realize that God was faithful to lead us closer to Himself and to provide for what we really need. Our responsibility is not to force ourselves by willpower, but to hope in God and rejoice that He will take us through the suffering.
Verse 4 takes us to the end goal. If we had only the goal of v. 3, to have more steadfastness, we would still get worn out. But we hear, “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Our long-term goal is not only to endure like some religious person under a waterfall, but to become more mature (as the Japanese says). The Japanese says “Fully work out that steadfastness,” but the verb is a third-person command, more like “let that steadfastness be worked out.” Our work is not to complete ourselves. God is the one who works in us so that we become mature and even “complete.” Furthermore, the Greek here is pretty firm that our goal is completeness, but we could take it as “mature” as in the Japanese. “Complete” does not mean that we become perfectly sinless in this life, but that we come as close as possible to God, more like Him. Yet, Jesus Himself said in Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How can we reach such a high standard!?
III. Progressing Toward Completeness—in Jesus Christ
As we read James’ letter, we will find so many ways we fail to be complete or mature. Our trials show how self-centered we are by our actions and words. We will learn how far we are from mature or perfect and complete. And James will later show in chapter 4 that his intention is for the church to be intimate with God, but He is holy and perfect. The gap between God and us creatures is so great that we have no hope of enjoying His presence and love without His making a relationship with us (cf. WCF 7:1). That relationship has come to us in Jesus Christ.
Jesus experienced deep weakness and suffering. Doubted by siblings like James, hated by leaders of His day, and tempted by Satan himself, Jesus Christ passed all the tests God gave to Him and showed His total purity. And then at the cross, He faced the judgment of God for sins He had not done, but in the place of those He would call brothers and sisters. What was His purpose in doing that? Hebrews 5:8-9 tells us that “he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” We can be saved eternally through Him, by obeying Him. And what obeying does God require from us for us to receive that eternal salvation? We are called simply to trust in Him and follow Him. This is what James does in chapter 1 verse 1.
First, Jesus is our Lord. He has all authority and power. He is worthy of our complete and joyful submission. We face many trials—human sins, natural disasters, sickness, shame, and more. Jesus is Lord who can bring good even out of these. So let us look to Jesus as Lord and entrust ourselves to His care and salvation. By knowing this, we also can count trials as reason to rejoice.
Second, Jesus is not only Lord, He is also Savior, or Christ
. He went to the cross and suffered to remove the record of our sins from God’s judgment by paying the penalty for us. He also lived perfectly to give us a record of perfect righteousness as a gift. His record is imputed, or accounted, to us if we turn from our sins toward God and ask to be accepted because of Jesus’ work.
We cannot save ourselves or make ourselves perfect and mature. However, God works through trials and works perseverance, to bring us closer to Himself while He protects us. All the while, by trusting in Jesus Christ, we are already declared to be clean and perfect in God’s sight. With this confidence, we can rejoice even in suffering and weakness because God will surely use our trials to bring about good (as Paul says in Romans 8:28).
So in conclusion, James wrote this beginning to his letter to encourage us to rejoice in suffering because we will grow closer to God. We are often tempted to be angry or self-pitying in our trials. Yet the Lord
Jesus brings good out of trials. Jesus Christ
saves us from the results of our imperfection by His work. May we look to Him for joy as God’s children every day
of our lives. And may we hope for the even greater completed joy when Jesus comes again and ends all trials. We start James’ letter today with the goal in mind: to be perfect, mature, and close to God. This all is our blessing as we depend upon Jesus Christ.