Lesson for October 4-10, 2014
The title of this week’s lesson is enough to make some of us feel uneasy. There’s that word “perfect” again. Who feels up to the task, when we’re talking about perfection.
But a more accurate title might be “the finishing of our faith”. James is talking about making sure our faith matures. How to cultivate faith and make it grow. Much as we “cultivate” our gardens, we don’t make the vegetables grow. But we want to make sure we do all we can to encourage a bountiful harvest by providing enough good soil, sunshine, water and yes, even by pulling up those unwanted weeds.
With the right “gardening” methods, we can grow a faith that will see us through. Because without faith in God, we feel and are defeated from the very start. Without this faith, our focus is on ourselves rather than on Him.
So let’s not get focused on whether we are good enough, or perfect enough. But on God’s perfection and goodness. Keeping our eyes on Jesus is what faith is all about.
Key Text: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” Hebrews 12:2 NIV
Sunday: Faith Lasts
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” James 1:2, 3 NKJV
If this were the only Biblical counsel that speaks of rejoicing when we’re experiencing trials in our life, we might think that James doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Surely, no one can be happy about going through hard times.
But this is a part of what Jesus said in the Beatitudes, when He said: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11, 12 NKJV
Peter also explains the reason for this rejoicing:
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” I Peter 4:12, 13 NKJV
Only through faith, by looking forward to when His glory is revealed, can we rejoice in our trials. Knowing that we are sharing in the sufferings of Jesus in order to glorify Him gives purpose to our trials, which makes them more bearable. When others see how we endure our hardships by looking to Jesus, their faith is built, and thus God is glorified.
And besides, as James said in verse 3, this testing produces patience in us as well.
Discussion Questions: Is it possible to have a strong faith and relationship with God without ever experiencing pain and suffering? Why or why not?
Is Jesus only talking about trials that relate to religious persecution in His Beatitudes? Read I Peter 1:6, 7. Verse 6 mentions “manifold temptations” and other versions say “various trials”, the same as James 1:2. How can any trial that comes upon us become a way to glorify God?
How can we truly rejoice, when rejoicing is the last thing we feel like doing? Read II Corinthians 4:17 (“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment…”).
Read again James 1:2-4, which presents a progression of our Christian journey:
- First we must have FAITH (even as small as a grain of mustard seed, Jesus told us).
- Then we experience testing of our FAITH through trials and suffering.
- This FAITH produces patience and perseverance, enabling us to make it to the finish line.
- And lastly our FAITH is mature, which is God’s goal for us–to be “complete, lacking nothing,” as James puts it in ch. 1, v. 4.
As you can see, the key ingredient for this growth is faith. The Holy Spirit works with us every step of the way until we can say with Paul in Philippians 2:13:
“for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” NKJV
Let’s keep in mind another statement of Paul, found in Philippians 3:13, 14:
“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” NKJV
Keeping God’s will in mind and letting Him take care of our past, present, and future will help us pass those faith tests that He allows to come around.
Discussion Questions: Read Philippians 3:12. Can we ever reach a point where we feel we have attained enough faith, that we have reached a state of perfection in our Christian character?
Consider the artist or an author. Seldom are they satisfied with their creative work. As a proofreader and writer, I find that no matter how many times I go over a manuscript, I find flaws or corrections to make. What other occupations might feel the same about their work?
How clean would you want your physical house to be, if Jesus were to physically pay you a visit some day? Can we ever have our “house”, or life, clean enough for Jesus? What instead should be our focus? How does the story of Mary and Martha fit in here? What kind of “cleanliness” is Jesus looking for?
Tuesday: Asking in Faith
Moving on to verses 5 and 6 of the first chapter of James we find:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” NKJV
Verse 5 is a very familiar verse, but the verse following it is vital. Surely, we can ask God for wisdom, but the second verse reminds us that we must ask in faith.
This is in agreement with King Solomon, thought to be the wisest man of his time, who said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10 To Solomon, faith in God was true wisdom.
There evidently is a difference between worldly wisdom and true wisdom that comes from God. James helps us discern the difference and acquire true wisdom for ourselves with passages like these:
- “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” James 1:19-21 NKJV
- (a wise man must be a good listener, one who doesn’t speak rashly, who doesn’t get mad easily, who has a clean lifestyle, who studies and applies God’s Word)
- “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” James 2:15, 16 NKJV
- (a wise man doesn’t just talk about having faith, he actually practices it by giving liberally to others, by taking care of their physical needs)
- “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.” James 3:13 NKJV
- (a wise man is humble and righteous in personal conduct and in fulfilling his responsibilities in life)
As we can see from these verses, James considered true wisdom as learning to reflect the character of Jesus. Living out our faith is what constitutes true wisdom. Paul also tied wisdom with Christ in I Corinthians 1:30 when he says that Christ Jesus “became for us wisdom from God”. Simply stated, being like Christ brings wisdom.
Discussion Questions: What are some reasons for our faith? Discuss how the story of Jesus, the prophecies in the Bible, and our own personal experiences help us get rid of the doubts that occasionally creep into our thinking about religion. What other steps can be taken to erase doubt and why is it sometimes hard to do so?
True wisdom seems to be not so much head knowledge as it is what we do in faith through Christ. Is God concerned with our knowledge of correct doctrines and prophetic understanding then? What is the value of head knowledge? Does it automatically bring wisdom?
Wednesday: The Flip Side of Faith
You’ve heard of a “mixed message”, a “mixed blessing”, or even a “mixed marriage”, but it seems that James spoke of a “mixed faith” in James 1:6-8. Let’s read what he had to say about this kind of faith:
“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” NKJV
Evidently it’s possible to mingle doubt with our faith, making our faith of no value. In fact, making us unstable, feeling tossed and turned around like the waves of the sea.
Jesus’ disciples were afraid on not having a strong enough faith. He had just told them how horrible it would be for someone to entice a child to sin, and that it was necessary to forgive their enemies every time they were offended. The disciples then begged their Lord to “increase our faith.” See Luke 17:1-5.
Jesus’ reply revealed a lot about the nature of faith. He said in the next verse, ” ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’ ”
Several times in the Gospels Jesus refers to a mustard seed, likening it to faith or to the kingdom of God. The intent of these verses seems to be that faith, that entity which brings us the kingdom of God, is something that grows within us, small as a mustard seed. But as the seed, it will grow. And so our faith, as it is nurtured and exercised, will grow to enormous heights, just like the mulberry tree.
Discussion Questions: What’s the difference between total doubt and unbelief in God, as an atheist might acclaim, and the mingling of doubt and faith that James says makes us double-minded? What are the results of each? And how do their remedies differ?
How do we keep the seeds of doubt away from our faith garden? [praying, trusting, obey what you know to be true, thinking of past blessings, seek the company of Christian friends, reading the Bible stories of faith “giants”, etc.]
What Bible characters do you find encouraging when you are going through trials? Why and how does their story inspire you?
Thursday: The Rich and the Poor
James’ remarks about the rich and the poor seem to point us to what Paul says in II Corinthians 4:18: “while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” NKJV
Keeping our eyes on eternal things is great advice for increasing faith and erasing doubt. So let’s look at some of James’ practical advice for the rich AND the poor, comparing it to those principles set up by Jesus Himself during His ministry. The early church did a fantastic job of uniting the rich and poor. Let’s see what inspired their unity, looking at the counsel of James and Jesus.
- “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes.” James 1:9-11 NKJV
- “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.” Luke 8:14 NKJV
- “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27 NKJV
- ” ‘Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?…And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “ Matthew 25:37, 40 NKJV
- “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:15, 16 NKJV
- “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Then Jesus answered and said: ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves…But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was…” Luke 10:29-37
- “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.” James 5:1-4 NKJV
- “Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’…But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’ “ Luke 12:16-21 NKJV
Discussion Questions: What counsel do these verses give to the rich AND the poor? How do the rich and poor relate to money differently? And how should they relate to it?
Who would you say is more prepared to endure trials and heartache, the rich or the poor? Explain your answer.
James shows us many ways to perfect our faith, to strengthen and purify it, to make us “complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4).
- He tells us that trials are sometimes used to give us patience. (James 1:2-4)
- He talks about true wisdom, which we have merely to ask God for. (James 1:5)
- He talks about how to erase doubt from our faith experience. (James 1:6-7)
- He talks about how worldly wealth can hinder our faith and spiritual development. (James 1:9-11)
- Think about one of the most trying times from your past. Look for:
- how God brought your through it–how did you cope?
- what was the final outcome of the event?
- what lesson(s) did you, or someone close to you, learn from the experience?
- Think of what is most difficult or stressful for you in your present situation. Look for:
- how God is helping you cope?
- what outcome are you looking forward to?
- what lesson(s) are you, or someone close to you, learning from your difficulties?
- Think of one trial that might be on the horizon of your future. Look for:
- how God will see you through it?
- what outcome are you looking forward to?
- what lesson(s) will make it worth the struggle?
Next week: Enduring Temptations
To read the original SS lesson quarterly, or find more resources about it, see www.ssnet.org