(Write “Joy,” “Trials,” “Testing,” and “Temptation” on the board.)
One of these is not like the other. Which one seems to be different, at least on the surface?
Very few people would consider going through a test, a trial or enduring a strong temptation to do wrong to be a positive experience, much less a great joy. Yet, that is exactly what James, the writer of this letter, tells his readers to do!
Read the opening paragraph on page 73 of the PSG.
1. In what situations have you found yourself forced to decide whether to persevere?
2. What motivated you to keep going?
In 2 Cor. 5:14 Paul says, “For the love of Christ constrains us…” In the context Paul is talking about sharing the gospel, but I think we could use that same phrase to say, “For the love of Christ constrains us…” to keep on keeping on for the sake of Christ’s love for us and the debt we owe but can never repay!
James wasn’t writing to a group of people who might someday face a trial. He was writing to people who were in the midst of trials—in this case, persecution—just as he was himself.
Read James 1:1. He was writing to the Christians dispersed throughout the known world. This letter was most likely written in the 40s after the persecution of the Christians started in earnest!
Joy Over Progress! Read James 1:2-4
1. Why do you think James wasn’t specific when he wrote about “various trials”?
2. What might someone’s response be if James had named a specific trial?
What James commanded them, and us, to do is not easy. James said “whenever” you face trials, not “if.”
3. How many people do you know who would naturally consider facing hardships to be joyful?
This is a battle of the mind. This joy is not optional, and it originates in the mind rather than the emotions.
4. Why is it important to win the battle in the mind when facing trials?
5. How can trials strengthen a person’s character?
6. In what ways do trials move a person toward maturity? (Someone training to run a marathon would not start running the entire 26.2 mile. You start with shorter distances and build up your endurance to your ultimate goal. The same is true in our spiritual walk. We will undergo trials and testing to help us grow spiritually to be more like Jesus.)
Notice the trials and testing is not the same for every person. God knows exactly what each one needs and is there with them through it all!
7. What signals a mature faith? (As Christians, we strive for sanctification, to become more like Christ—producing the fruit of the Spirit!)
Some of the most mature Christians I know have been through many trials and tests! They are generally soft spoken and wise!
Read Romans 5:3-4!
Confidence in Him! Read James 1:5-8
1. What promise do we find in these verses? (We will receive wisdom if we ask God for it.)
2. What condition do we find here as well? (We must ask in faith, without doubting.)
Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. God may not give us the knowledge of why we are enduring a trial, but He will give us wisdom for enduring it.
3. Look closely at verse 5. To whom does God give wisdom?
4. How does He give it?
5. Which part of the promise is most encouraging to you?
Has anyone been out on the sea during a strong storm? I’m sure we have all seen movies depicting a ship or fishing boat is caught in a strong storm. The boat is at the mercy of the sea. It is tossed about at the mercy of the waves. The Perfect Storm is a movie that gives a great example of such a situation.
6. What life problems can spiritual doubt cause?
7. What deceptions can lead to doubts during trials? (James warns us not to be double-minded doubters when we ask for wisdom.)
8. Why do you think people often question the goodness of God when facing trials?
I don’t pretend to know why we undergo such horrific trials and testing! But, when we ask God for guidance, we need to be willing to follow through in obedience, trusting His goodness however He responds. I can’t help but think of Job when we talk about trials and testing. When God was silent His faith remained strong!
Remember, James is writing to believers who had been scattered because of persecution.
Focus on the Crown! Read James 1:9-12
1. How does the gospel give those in humble situations a reason to find contentment? (No matter how humble your current situation, you are an heir of God the Father, a co-heir with Christ for eternity.)
2. How does the gospel remind those in rich situations to be humble? (No matter how high or low your current position, Christians remember that their true standing with God is one of total dependence on Christ and His grace.)
3. How do these verses encourage believers to persevere through trials? (The things of this world are temporary, whether good or bad. The crown of eternal life with our loving Father is all that matters.)
4. How do trials cause us to refocus and redefine his or her goals?
5. How does the promise of eternal life give hope when facing trials? (No matter how difficult or long our trials are in this life, they are only temporary!)
Guard Against Sin! Read James 1:13-15
Notice the life cycle of sin—conception to birth to fully grown to death.
1. Where is sin conceived? (It is in our mind.)
2. How do we stop sin at its very beginning in our mind? (Phil. 4:6-9.)
3. What temptations might we face in the middle of trials? (Giving in to our own evil desires is not inevitable. There is always another choice.)
4. Compare the life cycle in verses 3-4 with that in 13-15. How are the two similar? How are they different?
5. Why do people often try to blame God for their sin?
6. What does the birth process James described say to us about the way we should respond to evil desires in our lives?
7. Why is it important to recognize the true source of sin in our life? (Humanity has been blaming others and God for sin since the Garden of Eden. We may blame God for the way He made us, our genetics, our upbringing, or our surroundings. In order to break free from sin, we must recognize that it is our own evil desires enticing us to sin. We cannot overcome temptation if we are too busy pointing our finger at other people or God!)
We must take responsibility for our thoughts and actions and see God’s help to escape temptation.
Summarize and Challenge!
· God uses the trials of life to mature our faith.
· Believers can confidently ask God to provide them with His wisdom.
· Believers can endure the trials of this life, knowing that eternal life with our loving Father awaits them.
· Believers must guard against allowing life’s trials to entice them into sin.
How have trials pressed you toward spiritual maturity in your life?
Identify some tests you are facing. Think of potential ways these tests can move you toward maturity.
Pray, thanking God for the crown He has promised to those who persevere.