These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the book of James. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
There was a man named Craig Randall, who drove a garbage truck in Peabody, Massachusetts. In a garbage container one day, he noticed a Wendy’s soft drink cup bearing a contest sticker. Having won a chicken sandwich the week before, Craig checked it out, hoping for some free French fries or a free drink. Instead, he peeled a sticker worth $200,000 toward the construction of a new home.
I’m convinced that what we often get out of life is often determined by how we see life. If you all you see in your life is trash, garbage, troubles, trials, and problems you are going to struggle throughout life. However, if within the trash of life you see the blessings of God, the provisions of God, those little stickers from God that demonstrate His grace and love and protection and guidance in your life, you will discover that within the garbage around you God has blessing waiting for you.
But here is the thing, in order to see some of those blessings your faith will need to be tested and when it’s tested you will be able to see and experience incredible blessings within your trials and troubles. That’s what God, through James, is trying to teach us.
With that said, let’s look at James 1:2-4, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (NLT). From those three verses we see three important reasons why God allows troubles and how He uses these trials in your life. These are so important we are going to spend some focused time on each one. Today we will look at the first one.
Why does God allow problems and how does God use trials and troubles in your life? God uses them to develop your faith, to develop your trust in Him. James tells you straight up “your faith” will be “tested” every time you go through problems and troubles.
Three Levels of Faith
Let’s think about the phrase “your faith” for a minute. Every believer in here has faith to a point. Every believer has saving faith, this means you trusted Jesus to save you, forgive you, and you believed that what Jesus did on the cross was for you. You have saving faith. Now, as a follower of Jesus you will find yourself at one of three levels of faith. Let me introduce to you these three levels of faith.
- Weak Faith
The first level is called weak faith. Weak faith has a hard time believing the freedom we have in Christ. Weak faith struggles with believing the benefits we have in Christ. Wrong and unhealthy Bible teaching causes weak faith. They still struggle with what they have been told by people about right and wrong, rather than what God’s Word says.
In Bible days some people were taught that it was a sin to eat certain foods. They could have been taught this by their parents or by other religions. Either way, they believed that certain foods were sinful to eat. They avoid these foods in their life. Then they become a Christian, they are born again and are correctly taught that those foods they believed were sinful… are not sinful. Because they believed something so strongly for so long, it’s hard for them to believe the truth. With that said listen to what Paul says about this in Romans 14:1-3, “Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2 For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3 Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them” (NLT). Weak faith believes that something is a sin when the Bible says it’s not. Over the years I’ve encountered believers with weak faith in others areas. For example, weak faith believes it is sinful to have a deck of cards in your home. Weak faith believes that if he doesn’t read a chapter in the Bible a day he has sinned against God. Weak faith believes that if he doesn’t pray through his prayer list every day God will somehow punish him. Weak faith believes there is only one true inspired English translation from God. Weak faith believes it dishonors God to dress casual for church.
Weak faith is a strong faith in the wrong things.
- Little Faith
A second level of faith is called little faith. Little faith trust God in little things, but not the major things. Those with little faith will experience a lot of anxiety and fear about many things. People with little faith have a tendency to worry a lot. Little faith becomes diluted by emotional immaturity.
So one day, Jesus was talking to some people who struggled with trusting God with basic things like food, water, and clothing. These people were so concerned about these material things that they would save as much as they could in barns and worry over losing it or not having it. So Jesus points to some flowers in a nearby field and says, “And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” (Matthew 6:30, NLT). Little faith struggles with trusting God with the basic things in life.
Later on Jesus would say something similar to his disciples when they were in a boat caught up in a storm. Jesus was sleeping and the disciples woke Him up because they thought they were going to die. They were letting their fear control them. Jesus said to them, “’Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!’” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:26, NLT). Little faith struggles with trusting God with the normal things in life, like storms… we all go through them.
- Great Faith
A third level of faith is called great faith. Great faith is marked by great expectations. Great faith can simply hear God’s Word and they will fully believe it. People with great faith have an incredible high level of freedom in their faith in God.
For example… One day a Roman soldier came up to Jesus and told Him about one of his servants who was lying in bed, paralyzed, and in terrible pain. Jesus told the soldier that He would come with him to his house to heal the servant. But then the Roman soldier said something that amazed Jesus. Listen to this encounter in Matthew 8:8-10, “Lord,” the centurion replied, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” 10 Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith” (CSB). This Roman soldier demonstrated a whole new level of faith that Jesus hadn’t seen yet in anyone in Israel. Great faith is marked by great understanding and great expectations of Jesus.
Everyone in this room is somewhere in the midst of these levels of faith. You may have weak faith in one area of your life and great faith in another area, but you area always somewhere in the midst of these three levels of faith. Regardless of what level of faith you have, “your faith” will be “tested.”
Let’s go back to James. God, through James, tells says in verse 2, “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested….” Let’s stop right here and focus on this word “tested” (dokimion). This word “tested” has two aspects to its meaning. It’s important that you understand this so that you have a better understanding of what’s happening within your test.
- To be “tested” is to be proved
First of all, to be “tested” is to be proved. The word “tested” (dokimion) has the basic idea of testing something in order to prove its genuineness. You have knowledge, but when your knowledge is tested at school you find out how much knowledge you have. You have physical strength, but when your physical strength is tested by the coach you discover how much strength you have. You have faith, but when your faith is tested by problems, you realize how much faith you have. God utilizes problems to prove or test your faith so you can find out where you are in your walk of faith. This testing is not about verifying how little faith you have, but verifying how much faith you have.
- To be “tested” is to be improved
Secondly, to be “tested” is to be improved. This testing of your faith is also similar to when gold is refined by fire; it is not only being proved, but improved. The gold already exist, the fire helps to determine the quality of that gold while at the same time improving the gold’s quality. When you are going through a problem… when you are going through a personal fire, . . . God is using that trial to prove your faith and to improve your faith at the same time. In the fire, you will be challenged to trust God in some areas and you will be stretched by God in other areas. That problem you are facing is an opportunity to demonstrate how genuine your faith is, while God is making your faith even stronger.
Look at what 1 Peter 1:7 says about this, “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (NLT).
Job understood this proving and improving our faith when he said about God in Job 23:10, “But he knows where I am going. And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold” (NLT).
Four Common Tests
Back to James again, James tells you that “your faith is” going to be “tested.” These tests will come in all shapes, sizes, and intensities. I want to introduce you to four tests that you should expect and it should be no surprise when it happens.
- The Pressure Test
The first test is the pressure test. The pressure test asks the question, “How will you handle stress?” Will you depend on yourself, or will you depend on God? Look at what God says in Psalm 50:15, “Call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory” (NLT). When you are in trouble, when the pressure is on, God says to you “call on me” and let me intervene and invite me into your trouble.
- The People Test
The second test is the people test. The people test asks the question, “How will you handle disappointment?” God allows people to be people. That means your life is going to be stretched by their weaknesses, frustrated by their brokenness, hurt by their selfishness, and disappointed by their sin. One of the reasons why we get disappointed by people is because we expect them to meet a need that only God himself can meet… and there is the test.
Look closely at Jeremiah 17:7 which says, “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence” (NLT). What happens if you trust in the Lord? Look at God’s promise in Isaiah 49:23, “Those who hope in me will not be disappointed” (NIV). People will often disappoint you, but for those who hope in God will not be disappointed.
- The Persistence Test
A third test is the persistence test. The persistence test asks the question, “How will you handle your commitments?” Life is about making commitments. The problem we have today is that most people are half committed to two dozen things instead of being totally committed to the one or two things in life that really matter for now and eternity. You will be tested in your persistence in the things that really matter. Ephesians 6:18 reminds us, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (NLT). Your commitment, determination, and persistence will be tested. The devil is trying to get you to do one thing: quit. He wants you to quit. The devil wants you to quit praying, quit on that relationship, quit giving, quit reading God’s Word, quit going to church, quit forgiving, quit being patient. The devil does not want you to be persistent about anything that is good or honors God. Your persistence will be tested.
- The Priorities Test
A fourth test is the priorities test. The priorities test asks the question, “How will you handle what’s really important?” Is God really first in your life or not? Where does your money go first? Where does your time go first? Where does your thoughts go first? The most important thing in your life is your relationship with God. How do you handle what’s really important? That priority relationship will be tested. Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (NLT).
Before we end I want you to hear James 1:2-4 paraphrased in The Message (on your screen there is a different translation), “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (Msg).