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“Persevering to Perfection”

James 1:1-12
Tim Rask
May 30, 2010

Key Sentence

Persevere in trials by seeking God’s wisdom and rejoicing in the hope of future perfection.


I. The Process of Growing to Perfection (James 1:1-4)
    a. Command #1 - Consider it all Joy (James 1:2-3)
    b. Command #2 - Let Endurance Perfect You (James 1:4)
II. The Key to Letting Endurance Perfect You - Sincerely Seeking (James 1:5-8)
III. The Key to Joy - An Eternal Perspective (James 1:9-12)


Opening Illustration

On May 10th, 1916 three ragged figures staggered to the whaling station called Stromness, on the remote island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic ocean. The three men were Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsely and Tom Crean. It had been a year and a half since these men had last seen the whaling station, and although they recognized some of the whalers, they were in such bad condition that the whalers did not immediately recognize them. They were at the end of a long and perilous adventure, and when they reached the whaling station they had boats sent out as soon as possible to rescue the rest of their party, 22 of whom were stranded on Elephant Island, 800 miles away, and 3 of whom were just on the other side of South Georgia Island. By the grace of God, all the men were eventually rescued. But the journey leading up to that rescue was monstrously difficult.

Shackleton’s goal had been to cross the continent of Antarctica. But from the beginning, the expedition was beset with difficulties. Their adventure began with the ship, the Endurance, and it’s 28 men being trapped in pack-ice in the Weddell Sea. After spending ten months frozen in place, the ship was finally crushed by the shifting pack and the men were forced to camp on the ice for several more months. During this time they attempted to drag their lifeboats over the ice. But progress was exhausting and pitifully slow, and they eventually had to give up. Then, on April 9th, 1916 their ice floe broke into two, opening a channel to the sea. Shackleton ordered the crew to get into the lifeboats, and head for the nearest land. After five harrowing days at sea the exhausted men landed their three lifeboats on Elephant Island. This was the first time they had stood on solid ground for 497 days.

Elephant Island was an inhospitable place, far from any shipping routes. So Shackleton decided to risk the 800 mile journey back to the South Georgia whaling station, in a 20-foot lifeboat named the James Caird. He chose 5 companions, and on April 24th, 1916 they put out to sea. “The James Caird made progress at the rate of around 60-70 miles per day though the sea conditions were rough. The sea constantly came in and made everything including the sleeping bags wet, it was difficult to find any warmth at all. . .As the temperature dropped, ice formed on the outside of the boat from frozen sea spray, up to 15 inches deep on the deck. This made the boat much heavier and affected the trim. . . the men also tried as far as they could to chip away the accumulated ice with any tools that they could improvise. . .They began to throw items overboard in order to save weight.”

The treacherous situation reached a climax on May 5th, the eleventh day at sea. Shackleton writes, “I called to the other men that the sky was clearing, and then a moment later I realized that what I had seen was not a rift in the clouds but the white crest of an enormous wave.

During twenty-six years' experience of the ocean in all its moods I had not encountered a wave so gigantic. It was a mighty upheaval of the ocean, a thing quite apart from the big white-capped seas that had been our tireless enemies for many days . . . We felt our boat lifted and flung forward like a cork in breaking surf. We were in a seething chaos of tortured water; but somehow the boat lived through it, half full of water, sagging to the dead weight and shuddering under the blow. We baled with the energy of men fighting for life, flinging the water over the sides with every receptacle that came to our hands, and after ten minutes of uncertainty we felt the boat renew her life beneath us.”


Well of course they eventually made it, and everybody got rescued. But there’s something ironic about that final journey of 800 miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia. It only took them 15 days. They had originally expected it to take a lot longer, but the powerful winds that caused them so much trouble, the very winds that nearly killed them, were mostly coming from behind, pushing them to their final destination much more quickly than they had anticipated.

Well today we’re going to study James chapter 1, verses 1-12. And we’re going to discover that the difficulties we encounter in life are not just random bad things that happen for no reason. Just as the gale force winds that tormented the men aboard the James Caird were at the same time bringing them closer to their final destination, so James tells us that the purpose of all our suffering is that we will grow closer and closer to our final destination of perfection in Christ. Though it may seem to us like our trials are only negative, the truth is that God is both sovereign and loving, and therefore the things that He allows, especially the bad things, He allows for a purpose. As we study James 1 this morning we will discover that we must persevere in trials by seeking God’s wisdom, and by rejoicing in the hope of future perfection. Let’s begin by reading verses 1-4. I’m reading from the New American Standard Bible:

1James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. 2Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

I. The Process of Growing to Perfection (1-4)

a. Command #1 - Consider it all Joy

In these verses James presents us with a brief overview of the process of growing to perfection. And he tells us that there are two commands that we have to follow in order for this process to reach it’s conclusion. The first command tells how we should think about our situation. Look at verse 2, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” He says we should, consider it all joy. I think the reason he says it this way instead of simply commanding us to rejoice, is because he recognizes that when you’re in the middle of a trial, the situation itself is not joyful, it’s unpleasant. So this command does not mean that it is somehow sinful to be sad when something sad happens. James is not telling us that we have to put on a mask and pretend like we’re not really sad when we actually are. But he is telling us that in the midst of our grief and in the midst of our struggles we must not allow ourselves to become morbidly obsessed with the fact that we’re struggling. We must not give in to self-pity. Nor can we allow ourselves to just go totally numb and pretend like we don’t care. No, instead we must make the conscious decision to look beyond the negativity of the situation itself to the greater good that the situation has the potential to produce in us.

Now, in order to look beyond the negativity of our circumstances to the greater good that those circumstances have the potential to produce, we have to believe that God is the one who is ultimately in control. Otherwise we would have no guarantee that our situation was going to produce anything good. But if God is really sovereign, then we must conclude that whatever He ordains is right. And He has ordained that our faith should be tested, so that it’s genuineness may be demonstrated. That word translated, “testing” in verse 3 is dokivmion, which refers to, “The process or means of determining the genuineness of something.” So when we go through trials, our faith is being tested to see if it’s genuine or not.

Before we go any further we have to talk a little bit about the way James constructs his arguments in this letter. It’s sort of complicated. Every topic in the book of James is introduced in some way in chapter 1, and then as he progresses through the book he relates each individual topic to every other topic, so by the time you get to the end, you can see how all these subjects that seemed disconnected at first, are actually related to each other in fairly interesting and complex ways. Well, this statement about the testing of our faith is the introduction of one of James’s biggest concerns - the issue of what faith is, and how to tell the difference between someone who has real faith and someone who’s faking. So as we move through the text today we’re going to see this issue pop up several times, and we’ll see how it relates to the idea of perseverance. For now we can say that God causes us to go through difficult trials so that those with genuine faith may be distinguished from fakers, and so that those with genuine faith will grow stronger in their ability to exercise that faith. That’s what verse 4 is all about.

b. Command #2 - Let Endurance Perfect You

He gives us another command here, he says, “Let endurance have it’s perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Some translations say “mature” in verse 4 instead of perfect, and “mature” is one legitimate way you can translate the Greek adjective teleioV. But I like the word “perfect” best, because in our everyday English usage we often talk about people who are mature, and we don’t mean that they are 100% sin-free, we just mean that they’re a little further down the path than the rest of us. But that’s not what teleioV means here. In this context, as we shall see when we get to verse 12, he is talking about our ultimate destination, our ultimate state of maturity when we will be perfected forever. And while it is true that this final state of perfection will not be fully realized until the resurrection, nevertheless it says here that this state of perfection is something that we are supposed to be growing into bit by bit. We do that by allowing endurance to do its work in us.

II. The Key to Letting Endurance Perfect Us - Sincerely Seeking (5-8)

The question that naturally arises is, “How do we do that?” In verses 5-8 James explains how we participate in the process of letting endurance perfect us. And he tells us that the key is to sincerely seek God’s wisdom. He says, 5But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” At the end of verse 4 he said that the one who is perfect lacks nothing, and here he says that if you lack wisdom you should ask of God. This repetition of the word “lack” is James’s way of connecting the two sections, to let us know that he’s still on the same general subject of persevering to perfection. He hasn’t changed topics. Actually verses 5-8 together provide us with an explanation of how to carry out the command in verse 4, to let endurance have its perfect result.

Here’s the connection. When we ask God for wisdom, we express our dependence. It’s an open acknowledgment that I can’t handle this thing on my own, I’m admitting that I need help. And that’s what endurance in faith is. It’s about relying on Him. So when we are in the middle of various trials we need God’s wisdom. We need wisdom for decision making. We need wisdom in the way we relate to other people and in the way we try to resolve conflict. We need wisdom for everything we do. But for James what’s almost more important than just the fact that we need wisdom, is the fact that we rely specifically on God for the wisdom that we need. Notice that in this little section of verses 5-8, wisdom itself is only mentioned in verse 5. He is much more concerned with the attitude of the person asking for wisdom, than he is with the need for wisdom itself.

He says we, “must ask in faith without any doubting for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” The difference between someone who develops endurance that grows him to perfection, and someone who does not, is in the sincerity of his seeking. What is it exactly that the double-minded man doubts? He doubts the generosity of God. It says here that God gives generously to all without finding fault. God is not going to blame you for your lack of wisdom, He already knows you’re a fool, He wants you to ask Him for stuff so that He can give it to you. He wants us to succeed in living godly lives. He wants us to succeed in growing to perfection. So if the all-powerful God of the universe wants you to succeed, and you want to succeed in that same thing and you ask Him for help, what do you think He’s gonna do? He’s going to supply what you need. He’s going to give you the wisdom and strength that you need in order to face the trial that you’re in because He wants you to succeed..

But He won’t give to the person who doubts. Now why would that be? Because the person who doubts demonstrates that his heart is divided. His loyalties are divided. He wants wisdom from God if it will restore his personal comfort and get him out of a tough spot. But the primary concern of his life is still that he wants to please himself. He is not primarily concerned with knowing and loving God. And so he’s unstable in all his ways because he’s attracted to religion when he hears about the blessings that go along with following God, but because his ultimate desire is to serve self and not God, he is only interested in those aspects of religion that serve his selfish ends. And so when his faith is put to the test, it is demonstrated not to be genuine.

You see, James is setting us up here to understand his argument in chapter 2, which is not really what we’re discussing today, but the basic point is, there is such a thing as a false profession of faith, and the way you can tell the difference between a false profession of faith and a real profession of faith is that the one who is genuine will have good works backing up his claim of belief.

So how do we obey the command of verse 4, to “let endurance have it’s perfect result”? We seek God’s wisdom with a sincere heart. And if we see that our hearts are not sincere when we ask God for wisdom; if we realize that actually, we still have some sin that we are intending to return to even as we are confessing and asking for forgiveness; if we see that we pray for things but don’t really expect God to do anything in response to our prayers - we’re double-minded. We’re playing the religious game, but we’re fake. And in the time of testing, it will be revealed if our alleged faith is genuine or not.

III. The Key to Joy - An Eternal Perspective (v. 9-12)

Well in verses 9-12, James cycles back around to the original topic of rejoicing. He gives us the key to being able to rejoice in the midst of trials. Let’s read 9-12:

But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.11For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.12Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

James likes to tell his readers to respond to their situation in whatever way is opposite from normal. Back at the beginning, he told us to consider it all joy when we face trials, and now in this part he turns his attention to the rich and the poor, and he tells both of them to do the opposite of what comes naturally to us. He tells the poor man to glory, or rejoice in his high position. And he tells the rich man to glory in his humiliation because he’s going to pass away like a wildflower. At first glance it seems awfully strange that he tells both rich and poor to rejoice. Even though they are in opposite situations, they’re both supposed to rejoice.

The reason James talks this way, is because the natural human tendency is to put our trust in what we can see. And so, one of the biggest indicators of the genuineness of our faith is how we think about money and possessions. The point that he’s making is that your situation in this life, in terms of the wealth that you have, is totally irrelevant in the eternal perspective. And it is precisely the eternal perspective that James wants us to have. If you have an eternal perspective, then you don’t have to worry about being poor because you know that God has something better in store for you in the future. And if you’re rich, and you have an eternal perspective, then you will not be so distracted by your wealth that you worship it, because your eternal perspective will remind you constantly of the fact that all your material wealth is going to burn up one day and be lost forever. All of us, whether we are rich or poor, all of us need to rejoice, not in the fact that we have lots of stuff, but in what is eternal. That’s the key to being able to consider it all joy when we face trials.

Verse 12 picks up on the original theme of perseverance in trial. He says, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” That word, “approved” is almost exactly the same word that we saw back in verse 3 that got translated “testing,” only back there it was a noun that refers to the testing process, dokivmion, and here it’s an adjective, dovkimoV, that refers to a person who has been tested and found genuine. So that’s why I said earlier that when James talks about being perfected, or matured, he has our ultimate perfection in mind. He’s thinking about that great day when our trials will finally be over and our perseverance will pay off in the form of an eternal reward - the crown of life. Think about it: no more broken families, no more cancer, no more of these mysterious illnesses that doctors don’t seem to know how to treat, no more worries about losing your job, no more struggling with that same old sinful habit, no more death. All these burdens that occupy us now will seem like nothing on that day. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Ro 8:18)

James describes this moment as the time when we receive the crown of life. There’s a contrast that he sets up here between this verse and verse 7, where it says that the double-minded man, the one whose faith is not genuine, will not receive anything from the Lord. In contrast to that those whose faith is genuine will receive the crown of life. There’s some discussion about what this crown of life is. Probably the most likely interpretation is that it is the gift of eternal life. In other words it’s the crown of life in the sense that it is life.

There’s just one more thing I want to point out from James 1. It’s the key to the whole thing actually. Notice who it is that gets this crown of life, it’s those who love him. If you forget everything else that I said about faith and perseverance this morning, hang onto this one. Real faith, faith that perseveres through trials, faith that has the ability to rejoice in the midst of trials, is faith rooted in love. Unlike the double-minded man who receives nothing from the Lord because what he loves most of all is himself, the one whose faith is real loves God supremely. He loves God so much that even if he loses everything else that he has in this world he can still rejoice, because he still has God.

Most of you know that I roast coffee. The coffee we drink here on Sunday mornings is coffee that I roast. And while my primary motive for coffee-roasting is that I really like drinking fresh coffee, one of the side benefits is that it has a lot of great sermon illustration potential. There are huge parallels between the coffee-roasting process, and the way that God uses trials to perfect us. It works like this. Prior to being roasted, the coffee beans are green and hard, their like little rocks, they’re totally unusable, undrinkable. But when you put them in the roaster and begin to heat them up, changes happen. They swell up, and the color changes gradually from green, to yellow, to golden brown, to dark brown. But when the internal bean temperature reaches 415 degrees, it gets really interesting. You see, there is oil trapped inside the cell walls of the coffee bean. And that oil contain all the flavors, all the aroma, all the good stuff that we like about coffee, it’s all in there, and so when the beans hit 415, the oils that were trapped inside come bursting out and the beans make two cracks about a minute or two apart, the first on is a loud cracking sound kind of like popcorn, and the second crack is softer, more like rice crispies crackling. But the point is, that only when the beans have been roasted to the cracking point do they become drinkable. The trial of roasting is what brings out all the delicious flavors, all the beautiful aromas that we love about coffee.

The connection with our passage is obvious. God puts us through trials because He intends to make us into something greater than what we are. He is in the process of perfecting us. Our task is to persevere in trials by sincerely seeking God’s wisdom, and by rejoicing in the hope of future perfection.