Boast! James 1:9-11

James 1:9-11

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

James continues to give his readers encouragement and instruction in their suffering. We have seen the joy that we can, and will have in trial. We have seen the warning concerning doubt in suffering and have been reminded about the wisdom of God.

James now encourages and challenges the believers with truth about the temporal nature of our lives and riches here on earth and turns our focus to the eternal work that God has done in us.

James speaks to two different kinds of people; the lowly and the rich. He tells each of them to do the same thing; to BOAST – but in different directions; the lowly in his EXALTATION and the rich in his HUMILIATION.

What is James getting at here? What does he mean by telling the lowly to boast in their exaltation and the rich to boast in their humiliation? Doesn’t Scripture tell us that we are only supposed to boast in Christ?

as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor. 1:31

I think the answer is found in asking another question.

WHO has exalted the lowly, and WHO has humiliated the rich?

Answer: God.

I find it interesting that James doesn’t use the word “poor” here in contrast to the rich but he uses the word “lowly” which makes me think James isn’t just talking about material riches or poverty (although I think he is making a point about those things as well). He is getting at something deeper.

As believers, and James is speaking to believers, God reaches down and takes us where we are at, lowly or proud, poor or rich; poor and proud, rich and proud, rich and depressed, poor and happy, rich and happy, poor and depressed; wherever we find ourselves, and appropriately brings our hearts and spirits to a place that can and does understand and trust the gospel.

God takes the lowly, the poor, the depressed, the self-hating, and he shows them the gospel, and the gospel gives them an identity, an adoption, and an inheritance that lifts them out of their lowliness (whether material or in spirit), and gives them worth in Christ and promises them spiritual wealth this side of heaven and spiritual and material wealth in eternity. This is how God exalts the lowly and the lowly can boast in how God has exalted their position in Christ.

James also tells the rich to boast, but not in their exaltation rather in their humiliation. James here contrasts the rich with the lowly which I think warrants the interpretation that James isn’t just speaking about those with material wealth, he is speaking about those who think they can make it in this life and the next depending on their own resources, intellect, money, wit, fame, or power- riches of many kinds. The concept is one of self-dependence, pride, and an inflated view of ones own worth, (whether financial or any other way) apart from God. So… lest you think, “I’m not rich… this verse is not about me,” think again, it might be.

Physical riches are relative. I don’t consider myself a rich person, and most people who live in the United States would NOT come to my house or look at my bank account balance and say, “wow she is rich.” At the same time there are MANY around the world who WOULD walk into my house and be blown away by the riches and comforts they see, and there are many around the world who could live for years, in their country, with what I have in my bank account. So my point is, riches are relative and you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to find your heart wrapped up in your earthly possessions, pursuits, life goals, intellect, or experiences. If you are self-dependent and trusting in your own resources (whatever those resources are), you fall into the “rich” category no matter how big or small your account or house.

So when God saves the rich (or the rich at heart/rich in spirit/ self-dependent in spirit) he takes their inflated and proud view of their riches and self-dependence and he makes them see their utter worthlessness apart from Christ. He humiliates the rich and self-dependent so that they can see the gospel and know their desperate need for a Savior. So… the rich are to BOAST in their humiliation because it has led to their salvation in Christ.

To sum up, the testimony of the rich is that they needed Christ… and the testimony of the lowly, is that they too needed Christ. And God has brought both of their hearts to where they needed to be in order to show them the glory of Christ and the glory of the gospel so that they could each BOAST in what God has done for them.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

What James says next confirms this idea that both the lowly and the rich need the same thing. James gives a singular reason that the lowly and the rich are to boast in what God has done in their lives: What’s the reason? “because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.”

Both the lowly and the rich need Christ because both, will pass away like the grass. James is turning our attention to the temporary nature of our lives here on earth and calling both the rich and the lowly to boast in the eternal work that God has done, whether a lifting up or a merciful humbling (and for most people both), because our lives here on earth are temporary.

The lowly need not wallow in self-pity, the rich need not perish in their arrogance because the state of both: the state of having nothing in this world and the state of having everything in this world is temporary because this world, this life, our lives in this world are temporary…like the grass.

The Temporal and Eternal in the Context of Suffering

Just for a second here I want to take a step back and look at these two verses in the context of suffering. We can’t forget these verses are sandwhiched in the middle of James speaking about trial and suffering. Two verses down (vs. 12) James is going to speak again directly about suffering and point us directly to eternal rewards for our persevering through trial.

So how does this passage help a believer going through suffering and trial?

James is emphasizing the temporal nature of our earthly lives. No doubt many of these scattered believers had lost their material and temporal riches and James is skillfully bringing their attention back to the riches they have in their salvation. He is saying, “look at what God has done, look at how he has saved you, exalted you from a lowly position, humbled you from your self-exalted position and brought you into life eternal….boast in that!”

We boast in what we value and we boast in what we are sure of, and in the midst of suffering, and change, and trial, the thing we as believers are the most sure of and should bring our full attention to, is what God has done for us in Christ. Our salvation (who is Christ) is our solid rock in changing times, that is our hope in painful suffering…that is our boast; Christ.

Back to Verse 11

James continues with his analogy illustrating the temporary nature of our lives and this time he directly compares it to the rich man fading away in the midst of his pursuits.

Verse 11 :

For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.\

In verses 9 and 10 James speaks to both the lowly and the rich and says both will pass away. Now he turns his gaze more directly to the rich man and his pursuits. James doesn’t rebuke the rich man for being rich, he simply, once again points to the temporary nature of earthly PURSUITS for riches. This has more of an emphasis on the direction of the heart rather than a counting of ones possession to see if one might be considered “rich.”

Again, the question isn’t, “am I rich?” or “should I feel guilty for my possessions?” or “should I quit my job so I don’t get richer?” the question is, “is my heart wrapped up in pursuits of temporary riches and am I dependent upon those pursuits and riches for my life, my salvation, my comfort, my meaning, my purpose, my joy?” Or…. do I understand that whatever earthly comfort I have will fade away along with my own life here on earth and do I then, out of that belief, place my heart and its dependence solidly upon the Lord and the eternal riches that HE offers.

I think we might tend to see this passage as simply a rebuke to the rich for being rich!

I think this passage can and does serve as a rebuke for those wrapped up in earthly temporary pursuits. But I think this passage is more than a rebuke but also serves as a comfort and reminder for those brothers and sisters whose riches may have been stripped from them for the sake of Christ.

Imagine if you were a rich believer in the days of the early church and you were being persecuted and scattered, and in all that persecution your riches, and maybe even your livelihood, were stripped from you. To that person, this passage is no rebuke, but a gentle comforting reminder to focus on and boast in the eternal things God has done in them, as well as a reminder that all they had worked for materially was going to fade away in the end anyways (So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.) They have really lost nothing, and have gained everything! What a comforting reminder that would be!

So whatever boat you find yourself in today, lowly or rich or somewhere in between, BOAST in CHRIST! Boast in how he has humiliated you. Boast in how he has exalted you. If you are a child of the King, he has done BOTH for you!

Let the Redeemed of the Lord say so! Psalm 107

I want to end with Psalm 107

In Psalm 107 the author describes different kinds of people coming from different places whom God has gathered together from all direction- from the east, west, north and south- to be his people.

The author opens the Psalm with a command for those who have been redeemed to declare their story of redemption. To BOAST! To boast in what God has done for them.

The writer tells 4 of their stories. He tell how God brought them from places of lowly despair, of haughty rebellion, of foolish ignorance, of pursuing business and riches, and brought each of them to the same place- crying to Lord in their trouble. And for each of them God does the same thing, he delivers them from their distress, because of his steadfast love; He redeems them.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down, with none to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
and burst their bonds apart.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron.

17 Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.[
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters[
c] were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

33 He turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
34 a fruitful land into a salty waste,
because of the evil of its inhabitants.
35 He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.
36 And there he lets the hungry dwell,
and they establish a city to live in;
37 they sow fields and plant vineyards
and get a fruitful yield.
38 By his blessing they multiply greatly,
and he does not let their livestock diminish.

39 When they are diminished and brought low
through oppression, evil, and sorrow,
40 he pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
41 but he raises up the needy out of affliction
and makes their families like flocks.
42 The upright see it and are glad,
and all wickedness shuts its mouth.

43 Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.


Doubt Part 2: Description of a Doubter

Hello Friends,

This post is a continuation of my last post on doubting; a part 2 of sorts so if you haven’t read part one I would suggest going back and reading part 1.

James 1:5-8

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James describes what a doubter is like. He gives three descriptions.

  1. A doubter is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind

A doubter is not controlled by the wisdom of God but rather by his own emotions, by what those close to him say, and by popular opinion.

I don’t know if this is what James had in mind when he uses this simile of a doubting man and a wave of the sea, but it reminds of a story in Matthew 14:28-33.

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind,  he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I love this story because in it you see the mixed emotions and struggling faith of Peter. Peter had faith enough to ask Jesus to command him to come into the water but his faith dissipated when we was right in the middle of the storm and he starts to sink. This is an incredible picture of what the life of a doubting believer in the middle of a storm of suffering looks like. And when Peter is sinking what does he do? He desperately sees his need, even in the midst of his doubt and cries out for his Lord to save him. And Jesus IMMEDIATELY reaches out and took hold of him and saves him.

But while Jesus is saving Peter he gives, what I imagine to be, a gentle rebuke along with a soul searching question. First he says, “O you of little faith.” Jesus points out Peter’s lack of faith and then asks him to evaluate the root cause of his little faith by asking him “why did you doubt?”

This is an incredibly good question for doubters struggling in their faith. I think sometimes we focus on the little faith part of it, and ask “what can I do to have a stronger faith?” and we try to believe harder, read the right passages, search for better more emotionally satisfying answers for the problem of our pain and suffering, or the problem of hell, or the problem of sovereignty and human will or whatever problem your doubting seems to revolve around.

Instead what many of us should be doing is examining our sin of doubting and asking ourselves, “why do I doubt God?” And at its root we will almost certainly find pride, fear, and/or, anger. As long as those sins remain our faith will always be “little”. The first step to strengthening our faith is facing our doubting and the sins of pride, fear, or anger that often lurk beneath our doubt.

Now I don’t want to miss the point if this story. Because the main point of this story isn’t Peters faith and doubting, although I think we can learn about faith and doubting in it. The point of the story is that Jesus is who he says he is and can be trusted! He is the Son of God! He is God! All wise. All powerful. And as we see in this story, ever gracious to those of  us who see their desperate need for Him in the midst of our doubting, and call upon him to save us not just from the storms of life destroying us, but from our own doubting within those storms.

  1. A doubter is double-minded.

When we ask God for wisdom, but doubt that God is wise or doubt that he is wise enough to keep his promise to grant us wisdom we are double-minded. It’s a very literal description of what’s going on in the mind and heart of a “believing-doubter.”

James uses this word “double-minded” again in chapter 4.

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

I will not take the time to break-down this whole passage right now, but I want to draw your attention to verse 6 where James says that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. After he makes this truth statement he gives a list of what we are therefore supposed to do in light of this truth and the last thing on his list is for the double-minded to purify their hearts. This is part of where I get the biblical connection between pride and doubting- which is double-mindedness. If God opposes the proud and we are therefore supposed to purify our doubting hearts and minds it would make sense that pride and doubting are connected and each feeds the other.

And so how do we purify our hearts from our double-mindedness? The answer is in verse 6 and vs. 9-10….we humble ourselves before God in repentance (we become wretched and mourn and weep; a picture of what we become and what our response should be when God gives us a glimpse of the heaviness and seriousness of our sin and pride against a holy God) And when we do this, when we humble ourselves in repentance, His immeasurable grace is poured out upon us, and in his grace HE provides the faith we need to reject our doubting.

  1. A doubter is unstable in all his ways.

The nature of a doubter is that he is driven NOT by the solid, stabilizing, unchanging truth of God and his character, but rather by his own emotions and thoughts, and by the thoughts of those he might deem as being wiser than God (scientists, Hollywood, friends, false teachers etc.). People change, our emotions can wildly change, and when we doubt God we become unstable, tossed by the winds of suffering, tossed by the winds of current popular opinion, and tossed by the winds of our own shifting emotions. When our minds, beliefs, and allegiances are unstable, our actions and attitudes and all our ways, will reflect that instability.

Compassion and Wisdom

I want to close out this discussion of doubting with a few passages that speak of God’s inscrutable wisdom as well as his compassion and grace to restore his children who doubt. I will not comment on these passages, I want to simply let them speak for themselves and pray that God would use his Word to convict, teach, and speak grace to you.

Romans 11:33-36

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Isaiah 28:29

This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
he is wonderful in counsel
and excellent in wisdom

Isaiah 33:5-6

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
and he will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.

Psalm 94:8-15

Understand, O dullest of the people!
Fools, when will you be wise?
He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?
10 He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke?
He who teaches man knowledge—
11     the Lord—knows the thoughts of man,
that they are but a breath.

12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
and whom you teach out of your law,
13 to give him rest from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

Isaiah 10:12-13

12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. 13 For he says:

“By the strength of my hand I have done it,
and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I remove the boundaries of peoples,
and plunder their treasures;
like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.

Micah 7:14-20

Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock of your inheritance,
who dwell alone in a forest
in the midst of a garden land;
let them graze in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
15 As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
I will show them marvelous things.
16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;
they shall lay their hands on their mouths;
their ears shall be deaf;
17 they shall lick the dust like a serpent,
like the crawling things of the earth;
they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;
they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God,
and they shall be in fear of you.

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
19 He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old.

Isaiah 55:6-13

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 “For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Jude 1:17-25

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Colossians 2:1-5  

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

I Corinthians 1:18-31

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

II Corinthians 2:6-16

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Doubt: James 1:5-8

Been thinking through James 1:5-8 this week.

James 1:5-8

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James continues to give instruction and encouragement for those in trial and suffering.

The natural human emotional reaction to suffering and trial is fear, anxiety, anger, and depression which often then leads to a desperate attempt to relieve those emotions through a dozen different sinful avenues which usually only leads to more pain and suffering. Suffering can also bring about situations that call for difficult decision to be made. James knows that walking through trials in a godly way and dealing with these natural human emotions to suffering, will take wisdom. And so he exhorts these believers to ask for wisdom in the midst of their suffering.

James tells us that if we lack wisdom we should ask God for it, and he follows this up with a promise based on God’s character; that God gives his wisdom generously, without disapproval or scorn. This picture of God giving wisdom to his children feels like a tender one to me. He sees the pain, he sees the difficulty and he isn’t going to kick you when your down because you don’t know how to handle a situation. He is going to walk through it with you, patiently, tenderly, and kindly.

But…there is a caveat to this verse; James tells his readers who are asking for wisdom to ask with faith and with no doubting, and then he says, for the doubting man must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord.

At first glance this passage almost looks like God is speaking out of two sides of his mouth. He first says that he gives to all liberally and without reproach, but then seems to change his tune and says, but not to doubters. Why not to doubters? Don’t those struggling with doubt need the wisdom of God the most?

These questions led me to ask myself, what is it that the doubter is doubting?

The obvious answer is that he is doubting that God will give him the wisdom he is asking for. He thinks maybe he will ask God for wisdom and God will leave him high and dry. God would have us ask with faith and not doubting that God will indeed keep his promise to give us the wisdom we ask for. I think this is true; I think that God would have us believe that he will keep his promise and that James is telling us to not doubt God’s promise of provision here.

But I think there is another way in which we can doubt God when we ask him for wisdom and it’s what hinders us from being able to receive God’s wisdom. What the doubter is doubting is that God is actually wise in his words, designs, plans, and decrees. He doubts the character and wisdom of God himself. The one who asks for wisdom but doubts that God is wise must not suppose he will receive wisdom from God because he isn’t in the position to hear God’s wisdom.

When a person doubts God’s wisdom they hear God’s words and they consider whether their own emotions or thoughts are better than God’s. This is very easy to do when suffering hits, and remember James is speaking to a people who know suffering. When suffering hits we are tempted to question God’s wisdom in bringing suffering to our lives or the lives of those we love. When a believer begins to doubt God’s wisdom and they remain in that place of doubting and questioning, pride and often anger are what creep into that person’s heart. They become a proud fool and this is why God says, a doubter must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord; because a proud fool cannot receive the wisdom of God because the nature of a fool is that his own way is better than anyone else’s, even God’s.

Consider a few of these passages that describe fools.

Proverbs 12:15

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Psalm 92:5-9

How great are your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep!
The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this:

A proud fool exalts his own way and does not accept that God’s thoughts and works are greater and deeper than he may ever be able to grasp or understand.

The opposite of being a doubter/proud fool is being a person who has within him the fear of the Lord. Proverbs speaks about how important the fear of the Lord is if we are to be wise and get wisdom.

Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 9:10

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Proverbs 3:7

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 15:33

The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.

Part of what fearing the Lord means is that we acknowledge that God is the greatest, wisest, and most important being. Greater than the opinion of others and greater than our own opinion and greater than our emotions. If we ask for wisdom, our hearts must be solidly convinced that God is infinitely more wise than we are, and that the God who brings suffering and discipline into the lives of his children does so in complete wisdom and goodness. When we doubt the wisdom of God, we do not fear God, and we cannot receive his wisdom, not because God is not genuinely offering it, but because our hearts will not and cannot receive it. And so James says, the doubter, the one who doubts that God is wise, must not suppose he will receive God’s wisdom.

So if you are a doubter, if you find yourself in a place where you are asking for God’s wisdom but your heart is doubting and questioning God’s character, what should you do?

Let me share my personal experience with this. I have often been a doubter. I have struggled much of my life with doubting the wisdom of God’s design for gender, marriage, and sexuality. I will not describe this struggle right now, but there are season in my life when this struggle has been heightened and this struggle always brings suffering. In my suffering and struggle I turn to God for wisdom, but often in my asking for wisdom, my sincere asking is also mixed and muddled with doubt; I doubt that God really knew what he was doing when he made me, and designed these things. I have doubted his wisdom and goodness.

So as I have approached God in this way; filled with doubting, God has mercifully revealed to me that when I doubt I become a proud fool who cannot receive his wisdom. He has tenderly whispered to my heart, “Why are you asking me for wisdom when you doubt that I am perfectly wise in all my doing and designs?” “Do you believe I am wise Melissa? Or do you think you are wise?”

So I have come to realize that as long as I hold onto my doubting and the pride that underlies my doubting, I will live in turmoil indefinitely, and will not be able to receive the wisdom and help from God that I need to live with my struggle and suffering this side of heaven, in a godly and peaceful way because in my doubting I have become a proud fool who cannot receive wisdom. I have come to realize that my ultimate wrestle is not with the remaining brokenness of my sexuality or gender, or the suffering that sometimes brings, but my ultimate wrestle is with the pride that underlies my doubting and hinders me from receiving wisdom from God so that I can live wisely and I might add, joyfully, in my struggle and suffering.

So if you find yourself asking for wisdom, but doubting, I would encourage you to turn to the Lord, admit to him your pride and ask him to grant you a heart of repentance. Do this often, do this daily, do this every time you get into his Word, do this every time you pray.

The good news is there is an abundance of grace for the doubter who will humble himself before God, fear Him, and begin his journey towards wisdom he desperately needs to live in this difficult world full of trial. James gives us this warning because he knows there is hope for the doubter who will see his doubting for what it is; pride, and humble himself before his gracious and kind God who desires to walk with us through our suffering and who desires to provide the wisdom and joy He knows we will need.

Counting the Joy; James 1:1-4

I am studying in James! I will be posting my thoughts on James as I work through this book. They will not be eloquent or polished or brilliantly organized…they will just be my thoughts. 🙂

James 1:1-4

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

A Better Home

James is writing to Jewish Christians who have a long history of persecution and being dispersed amongst the nations. Even after Christ’s death and the establishment of the church, God’s people, God’s church, continues to be a persecuted and scattered people. But God’s promise in Ezekiel of what he will do for his people stands!

Ezekiel 16:16-20

16 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’ 17 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ 18 And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

So we see Paul is speaking to a people who are no strangers to suffering, trials, and temptations but who also come from a heritage of people who knew that the countries where they sojourned were not their true homes and who had their sights set on a better country, a heavenly one.

Hebrews 11:13-16

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Believers today, all over the world, are also no strangers to various kinds of suffering and live as exiles who are looking forward to a better country! James is going to encourage and instruct these brothers, as well as us today, in how to face trials and temptations in a godly and hope-filled way.

Counting It all Joy?

James tells these fellow believing brothers to “count it all joy” when they meet various trials and he tells them to do this because they know God us using these trials to give them a steadfast faith and to bring them to spiritual maturity.

At first glance this seems fairly straightforward, but when we are in the thick of pain, trial and loss, what does it actually look like to “count it all joy?”

First, I want to say what I DO NOT think James is telling us to do or be when he tells us to “count it all joy” here in this passage.

  • I do not think James is telling us to simply see the bright side of a situation.
  • I don’t think this is a call to be positive thinking optimists who see the glass as half full instead of half empty.
  • He isn’t telling us to produce or manufacture happy feelings about whatever emotionally or physically painful situation or persecution we are facing.
  • And James is not telling us to play some mind game by denying the real pain, sorrow and hard reality of a situation or persecution.

We aren’t masochists who invite or delight in pain, and we aren’t deluded into denying the very real difficulty of emotional and physical pain in this life.

So what DOES it look like for a believer to “count it all joy” when we face hard things? How do I “just be joyful” when I am in pain?

Romans 6:11 and Genesis 15:6 might shed some light on this concept of what it means to count something to be true even when it doesn’t always feel like it is true, or when we have not yet realized or experienced the full reality of what we are to count as true.

Counting our Various Present Realities

Sometimes when we “count” something to be a certain way, it doesn’t always feel or seem to be the way we are counting it as. For example, we, through Christ, are counted as being righteous. However, when we look at our present lives, it doesn’t always seem to fit the reality of what we are experiencing. We don’t often feel righteous because we all still experience the reality of indwelling sin in our lives. And yet in Romans 6:11 we are told to consider ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, through Christ Jesus. We are told to put on and live in that reality of the righteousness that Christ provides for us, over-against the also present reality that we still wrestle with indwelling sin as we see in Romans 7.

When Abraham believed in the Lord, the Lord, counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Was Abraham in his present reality righteous? Was he sinless? No, he wasn’t, but God counted his faith as righteousness for him.

We as believers are often called to live in between conflicting present realities.

So, when we are told to count something that feels like the opposite of joy, as joy, we aren’t being told to deny reality of the hard things, or to deny or ignore the pain of those hard things, any more than we are being told by Paul in Romans 6:11 to deny or ignore our remaining sin. In fact, John in his first epistle, warns against such deluded thinking (I John 1:8-2:2). Rather we are being told to set our sights on a co-existing but stronger reality of the joy that is to come; the same joy that we can taste and experience in part, right now, in much the same way that we taste and experience the freedom from sin and fruits of the Spirit in our lives, despite our continued wrestle with sin in this life.

As we continue in James we will see the reality of joy that comes to us from the work God is doing through our trials and temptation to produce steadfastness of faith, character, and spiritual maturity. James is telling us to count the reality of what God is doing through our trials, and the joy that comes with that, as greater than the reality of the pain of the trials themselves.

Counting our Future Reality:

As we have seen above we often live between two competing present realities as believers; imputed righteousness vs. remaining indwelling sin, the joy that God brings through his using trials in our lives vs. the pain and sorrow that we still experience in the midst of those trials. But we are told to count ourselves as righteous, and count the joy of what God is doing in us over-against the sin and pain we still experience. And one reason we are able to put on that righteousness and to put on that joy, is because of the future reality that God has promised. We see this future reality summed up by Paul in Romans 8:18-30.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,  for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Here we see the final redemption;  the final freedom from our sin natures, and the glory that is to be revealed to us. Part of that glory to be revealed, Paul tells us in vs. 30, is our own final perfection and glorification, and THIS is the joy we are to count; this is joy James speaks of in his epistle; the joy of God perfecting us and the glory of God to be revealed through that.

So let us count the joy! As we squarely face the pain and suffering of life let us set our final gaze on the joy of perfection and glory to come both through, and at the end of our sufferings on this earth. And as we count it all joy the Holy Spirit will indeed instill in us a joy from God that comes, and remains, and exists alongside our pain and suffering. This abiding joy the Spirit gives us is but a taste of the joy to come! So take heart! And count the joy!