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More Than Straw: Enduring Our Trials With Joy

April 19, 2012

Last night we started a four-week Bible study on James.  I chose this epistle for several reasons.  For one thing, I had a four-week block this time around, so using a longer biblical book wasn’t going to work.  But I was also drawn to James because I spend so little time in it.  After all, I’m Lutheran!  We have a longstanding tendency to view the Christian faith through the lens of Paul’s writings.  I continue to think this is appropriate, but the rest of the New Testament must be there for a reason, you know?

So we’ve turned our attention to what Martin Luther once described as an “epistle of straw” on account of the fact that James’ letter didn’t bear the promise of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.  It’s fair to say that this is true.  James only mentions his brother Jesus’ name twice in the whole.  He doesn’t talk much about the means of salvation.  He assumes it.  As such, James is addressing a different facet of faith than Paul spent most of his time addressing.  James asks the “now what?” or “so what?” questions of faith: Now that you have faith, what happens?

In general, then, James is no replacement for Paul.  He is not answering the same questions in different ways.  James does, however provide some wise saltiness for the message of the New Testament and we had a fantastic conversation around the opening verses of his epistle last night.

James doesn’t waste any time getting to important issues: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:2-4).  Consider your trials a joy?!

I think it’s important to note from the start what James is not saying.  James is not saying that God gives us trials to test us or better us.  He is not claiming that God inflicts torment upon us or those we love in order to make us better people.  How people find such notions comforting is beyond me.  James simply says that trials happen.  James is also not saying that everything happens for a reason, a saccharine assertion at best.  James is saying, however, that no matter how senseless a trial may be, God can use it for his good purposes.  We have much to endure in this lifetime, but in our trials God can turn our enduring (suffering, waiting) to endurance (strength, power).

In this, then, is joy.  James lifts up the promise that in faith we can endure our trials and know the presence of God who, after all, came with endurance to endure many of the same things that we suffer.  This becomes the antidote to the fear that stalks us in times of trial.  Fear causes us to shut down, board up the windows, and turn in upon ourselves.  But faith and love cast out fear to make room for joy – joy that can trust the presence of God even and especially in the midst of true suffering of even the most senseless variety.

Through all trials and, as James notes a bit later, temptations, God remains the source of “every generous act of giving” and “every perfect gift” (1:17).  May this wise promise from James’ epistle comfort you in the trials of this day.  God does not inflict trials upon us; in fact, Jesus comes to endure them so that such trials might be defeated.  Jesus’ enduring becomes the source of our endurance.  May you face your trials with endurance and, yes, joy today.

“In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”  James 1:18

From → Scripture

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