Saturday, October 19, 2013

Remain Steadfast

"Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 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. (v.9-11)"

God is all about upending our worldly notions.  "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. 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; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." (1Cor1:26-29) So it is little wonder that God would exalt the lowly and then call the lowly to boast in the source of his exaltation (namely, God). But why call the rich to boast in humiliation? We usually don't like being humiliated, it hurts our inflated notions of self worth. V.11 says that the rich man will fade away IN THE MIDST OF HIS PURSUITS. ie, pursue riches that fade away and you will also fade away.  But to give up that worldly richness, to be humbled in the eyes of the world, that is worth boasting in, because you then gain true riches.  "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, 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." (Jer9:23-24)" Even those who are not rich, me included, still have the temptation to follow hard after those things that do not last, that do not satisfy, and that will ultimately fade.  So how do you not fade?

"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (v12-15)" 

"Remaining steadfast under trial" seems to be James's recurring theme here.  Verse 5 was a trial of need.  Verses 6-8 was a trial of doubting. Verse 9 was a trial of poverty. Verses 10-11 was a trial of riches. Verses 13-15 are trials of sin and temptation sandwiched on both sides with the doctrine of God's promises. Verse 12 is a glorious reminder that for those who endure, who remain, there is a crown of life! God promises great reward to those who faithfully cling to Him. Just look at the Beatitudes of Matthew 5: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (v.3-12)" Blessing on top of blessing, promise on top of promise, reward on top of reward awaits for those who endure in the faith.  

And this is a good reminder, for here comes the biggest, longest, ongoing trial of the Christian life: temptation to sin.  Other trials, (need, doubt, poverty, riches) are usually brief and, in and of themselves, not necessarily bad or crippling things.  But add to them the pervasive effects of sin, and you've got yourself a bang-up trial.  We cannot blame sin on anyone but us.  God does not lure us into sin. God does not command us into sin. God does not create sin in us. And God even actively works to eradicate sin FROM us.  Our insidious sin nature breeds more sin and sin breeds more death and we would be forever caught in this death spiral were it not for the kind intervention of God.  

"Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (v.16-18)" 

The last verse shows how God stops our sin from killing us.  By the word of truth (the Gospel), God calls us His firstfruits, which is the offering holy unto The Lord.  God uses the gospel to pull us out of the death spiral of sin. He uses the gospel to cleanse us. He uses the gospel to keep us. He uses the gospel to help us endure. In Jesus, the trials that would have once destroyed us, now refine us. Saving faith in Jesus Christ removes the penalty of our sin, covers us in the righteousness that makes us acceptable to God, brings us back into relationship with God, and enables all the promises of God (even the ones that were conditional on our righteous deeds) to be Yes! and Amen!  Faith digs deep into Jesus and draws up:
  • Access to God's Fatherly heart to meet our earthly needs
  • Assurance that we are fully and completely saved and will never be cast out to fight our doubts. 
  • A promise of inheritance that overshadows the wealth of this world so we can be content with very little
  • A call to drown the fading treasures of this life in the endless ocean of the soul-satisfying joy of having Jesus
  • Freedom from the tyrannical slavery of sin 
  • Hope of eternal life that kills the fear of death
  • Fellowship with the Father of Lights, who does not change
And a thousand thousand more promises of grace! This is our fuel for endurance.  This is what strengthens our faith.  This is what God offers us in the midst of trial. This is why trials become joys and why we are content with sufferings.  

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil3:8)"

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