Friday, 15 October 2010
Authentic Faith is Tested Faith: James 1:1-18
We’re hungry for authentic faith, in us and in the world around us.
James takes our hunger seriously. That’s why his letter starts by talking about trials. An authentic faith is a tested faith; untested faith may or not be the real thing.
Just ask Adam. Or James.
Jesus’ Kid Brother
The man who wrote the New Testament book of James is widely believed to be James, the leader of the Jerusalem church. He also happened to be Jesus’ younger brother. What would it be like to grow up in Jesus’ shadow? Looking up to him, trying to be like him? Picking fights with him, trying to get him to be like you?
We don’t have any detail on their early home life, but we can imagine James in the background when Mary and Joseph were frantic over Jesus the day he went missing at the age of 12 (Luke 2:41-51). He might have been worried, too. But when his parents left him to look for Jesus, he might have felt jealous. And when Jesus finally turned up, safe and sound and seemingly unconcerned about the trouble he had caused, James might have gotten mad. Really mad.
When Jesus went public with his teaching ministry, James had other reactions that are recorded for us. At first he thought Jesus was crazy–deserting the family and going off on some kind of Messiah quest. James was there with his mother when they tried a family intervention (Mark 3:31-35). But Jesus ignored them.
Later James joined his other brothers in taunting Jesus because he wasn’t going to the feast in Jerusalem with them. They thought he was staying away because he was a phony and his miracles weren’t real (John 7:3-5).
Clearly, James didn’t believe in Jesus. For years he had no faith.
Seeing Is Believing
Then when did James go from feisty kid brother to respected church leader? When did he finally believe that his older brother was actually the Son of God?
Imagine the scenes. Was he in the crowds waving palm branches? Or was he part of the mob shouting “crucify him”? Was he at his mother’s elbow at the crucifixion? Or was he spitting and mocking? We aren’t told what part James played in the crucifixion. But we are told this:
The he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 1 Corinthians 15:7
Jesus appeared to James after the resurrection. He singled him out. James saw Jesus, risen and real and still bearing his wounds. If he hadn’t believed yet, he did now. Great, you and I might think, I wish Jesus would appear to me like that. That would make my faith real.
Visions don’t guarantee that our faith is authentic, tests do. They show us what we really value. They bring our sins to the surface. They expose the hidden doubt that crouches behind our faith–the serpent’s hiss–God isn’t good. He’s a fake and a liar.
James didn’t want to be deceived and he doesn’t want us to be either. He needed trials to prove his faith genuine and so do we. That’s why he writes these words, in the power of the Holy Spirit, for us, so he can help us:
- see ourselves differently–what we lack, what we doubt, what we want
- see God differently–that he is good and intends only good for us, that his end game is our blessing
- see our trials differently–as God’s most effective tool for accomplishing what we want most, a real faith that’s becoming complete
Jems wants us to have joy, not just later but now. Joy in trials isn’t some kind phony smile we paste on our faces, it’s an authentic response to seeing differently.
Question: What’s hard about the circumstances you’re in right now? What part of this passage is most helpful to you?