October 5, 2014
“Persevering to Maturity”
How wonderful to see all of you today! This is a day to make connections and enjoy the company of all of God’s family. Praise God for those who have attained many years in faith, who are looking forward to the crown of life God has promised those who love him. We thank God for their wisdom and example of godly living.
Over the next few weeks I invite you to delve into James as he encourages his readers to become mature in faith. Today is the first of a series in the book of James, which is considered the earliest book in the New Testament. Scholars believe that James the brother of Jesus wrote it less than twenty years after Jesus’ crucifixion. He was writing to Jewish Christians who were living throughout the Mediterranean region.
James wanted believers to become mature in faith and to know and live out God’s truth. He wants them to be positive under pressure, and to trust God to gain wisdom and perspective. He wants them to cultivate a sensitivity in character that is quick to listen and slow to make demands, one who will welcome others no matter their income, and show mercy rather than favoritism. A mature person knows when it is better to keep quiet and keep from arguing about petty grievances. A mature believer is a peacemaker not a troublemaker, and a person of prayer.
James understood rightly that the Christian faith consists more than saying we believe Jesus is our savior. Yes, we are saved by grace, which is God’s gift to us. We did nothing to deserve faith, but we believe Christ chose to take the fall for us to bring us back home. At the moment when we say thank you, God, for the gift of Jesus, we are in a different place. Faith is a gift, but living faith is a response, a way of showing our gratitude.
It is not enough to simply say, “I believe,” and then do nothing to demonstrate faith in your relationships, your work environment, and within your family. What good is it to profess faith if we show no evidence of being a follower of Jesus Christ through what we do? Actions do not make us deserve salvation, but actions are how we show others that Christ’s spirit dwells within our hearts.
The book of James is a practical book on how to live out the Christian faith. James is not concerned with presenting a theological treatise. He is concerned that our behavior reflects faith. Actions are the rubber that hit the road and show faith is vital and real. We will be held accountable for how we help or hurt the Christian faith by the things we do and the words we say.
James wrote this letter to strengthen Jewish Christians who were suffering from persecution. They had their share of troubles that tested their faith, no different from us. We too suffer trials that make us question faith. We may be tested by external circumstances or internal temptations that threaten to overwhelm us. We wonder why life has to be so hard? Why does God allow tragedy and hardship? Why does a loved one have to suffer? Where is God when I am in mourning, when I am sick, if I lose my job or I’m worried about finances? Problems test our faith and can cause one to turn away from God, forgetting that it is God who helps us overcome our difficulties.
At first glance, it sounds crazy when James writes to consider it pure joy when facing trials. What? Is he kidding? No sane person welcomes pain and suffering, but when it comes, not if, how much better we will handle problems if we maintain a positive attitude! I’m sure you have a friend or family member who is undergoing treatment for a medical issue of some sort. I have been impressed by a woman I know who is beginning treatment for breast cancer. She is continuing to work, to maintain finances, of course, but also to keep pushing through because she is confident she will beat this diagnosis. Her positive attitude will get her through all the rough spots she is likely to encounter throughout treatment.
In the same way, James encourages us to take a longer view to see that character is shaped and strengthened by adversity. James says that the testing of our faith produces perseverance. As we persevere through difficulty, we become mature and complete, not lacking in spiritual resources. As we grow in our trust in the Lord, we receive the strength to greet each new day in hope.
Some of you have been believers for many years. You have learned to accept difficulty as it comes your way, and you have gained wisdom and perspective to see trials as momentary afflictions, rather than the total picture. You know God did not abandon you when you needed God most, and through your trials you learned to trust God more. That’s wisdom.
Wisdom is a good thing, but gaining wisdom is not an automatic process with the passing of years. Without a doubt, many of the world’s problems stem from people making foolish decisions, acting less than their age, and engaging their mouth before putting their brain into action. We need to grow up – as James puts it, to become mature and complete.
Some of us may look mature, and have the wrinkles and gray hair to show for it. But bulges and bifocals don’t necessarily add up to wisdom. Some of us have a face that looks dignified, and shall I say, saintly. Others of us could not look dignified if our life depended on it! Maturity is more than the look on our face.
Growing old is not the same as growing up, because the two don’t necessarily happen at the same time. God doesn’t call us mature because we have attained a certain standard of living or because we have been honored for achievements in our community or profession. Maturity is not gained from a good education, no matter how many degrees you have. There are those in their autumn years of life who enjoy great peace, while others battle depression with every downturn of vitality.
Instead, maturity is attitude. James says that in the testing of our faith we develop perseverance. We gain depth in our character when we are confronted with difficulties and learn to work through them. It’s easy to be pleasant when everything is going well, but it is a lot harder continuing to be kind to someone who has not treated us well. We learn maturity as we choose to let go of resentment or revenge. Maturity comes as we allow difficulties to provide opportunities for growth.
What do you do when it’s a tough day? How do you handle problems? Do you blow up, get upset, start grumbling, or lash out at someone in retaliation? No one is perfect, and we all fall down sometimes, but what keeps me going is having the means of getting back up again by faith. We are forgiven by the grace of our savior Jesus Christ and we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit to make better choices the next time.
James tells us to pray for wisdom, believing that God will grant us that gift. When God asked Solomon what gift he needed in order to lead his people, Solomon asked for wisdom. God was pleased, saying, “Since you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor, the death of your enemies nor a long life, but for wisdom to govern my people, wisdom and knowledge will be given you.” Ask without wavering, without any doubt; God is pleased to give us gifts that honor God in our living.
As we come to our time of communion, pray for wisdom and a mature attitude that honors God. Talk with the Lord about any trials you are facing and how to meet them with wisdom and grace. Know that the Lord is with you, and that together, nothing is impossible by faith. Persevere to maturity in our Lord Jesus Christ.