Master of Multiplication, Part 4

We serve a God who gives and gives and gives. He never stops giving to His people. And His gifts to us are “magical.” Without exception, every gift God gives us grows – multiplies – before our very eyes! So far in this series, we’ve looked at these things that God has given us:

• Life and breath to everything, meeting every need. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and satisfies every need there is. (Acts 17:25b | TLB)
• Opportunities of service in which He multiplies the good that we do. The person who does the planting or watering isn’t very important, but God is important because He is the one who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:7 | TLB)
• Victory in this life; victory of death, hell, and the grave, just like Jesus. How we thank God for all of this! It is he who makes us victorious through Jesus Christ our Lord! (1 Corinthians 15:57 | TLB)

This time, we’ll look at something else that God gives Christians. It goes without saying that all the gifts God gives people are given to HIS people only, not just anybody.

If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. (James 1:5 | TLB)

God gives His people wisdom. The Living Bible describes God’s blessing of wisdom as “bountiful,” and that’s a good way to describe the way God blesses His people. God never gives His people “just enough” of anything, but always a “bountiful supply,” and in this case, the blessing is a bountiful supply of wisdom. But there’s a catch. So before you start thinking you’re wiser than anybody else just because you’re a Christian, let’s take a look at what James was really saying.

James and his letter

This letter is a little different than other New Testament letters, but it is still a letter even though at times it feels like a sermon transcript. It is a letter, and it was written to Jews who had been scattered all over the world.

From: James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To: Jewish Christians scattered everywhere. Greetings! (James 1:1 | TLB)

These Jewish Christians were “scattered everywhere” after Stephen’s death when the Jerusalem church was scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, and as far away as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. It was leave town quickly and strike out to destinations unknown or stay in Jerusalem and face the same fate that Stephen faced: martyrdom. Many of the recipients of this letter were living in poverty or barely scraping by. Some of them were merchants and businessmen, but all the readers of James’ letter were facing hardship of varying degrees.

Though the New Testament names a number of men named “James,” many scholars believe that the James who wrote this letter was James, the half brother of Jesus. If this was the case, James was late to the party. He wasn’t a believer until Jesus appeared to him after the Resurrection. He doesn’t refer to himself as Jesus’ brother, but a servant. We don’t why he didn’t. Perhaps it was an act of humility. Or perhaps James regarded his primary relationship to Jesus as spiritual, not physical. Regardless of the reason, when we read his letter, James’ authority comes out clearly and his status as a church leader is unmistakable and undeniable.

Testing of your faith

Dear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete. (James 1:2 – 4 | TLB)

James wrote this letter to Jewish Christians who had fled their homes, who had been driven from their jobs and possessions and all they knew. They had become “strangers in a strange land,” many exploited by the rich, dragged into court, and slandered against just because they believed in and professed the name of Jesus.

To these people, the answer to James’ opening question was obvious: Of course! Of course their lives were full of difficulties and temptations! What a question to ask. And if James were to ask you that question, no doubt you’d answer the same, incredulous way. When have Christians not felt the pressures of the world closing in around them? When you feel those pressures, what do you do? Try to escape them? When you can’t control the incidents in your life, how do you cope? James, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, may have addressed persecuted Jews of his time, but in reality he is reaching out to all believers throughout the centuries.

His advice when the pressure cooker of your life gets turned up: “be happy.” Yes, it’s counterintuitive, but it is inspired advice and we’d be wise to heed it. Other translations put it this way: “consider it pure joy” when the tough times come. Strange advice, especially coming from a man who is safe and sound back in his church. Was James out touch with real life? Was he that ignorant of what real life is like for these people? Was he like the typical pastor who writes his sermons all day unaware of the suffering people are enduring?

Actually, James was well-aware of what people were going through. He had witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen, after all, and was living in and with the believers who chose to stay behind in Jerusalem. He knew his job as a pastor – to speak (or write) words of encouragement based on spiritual principles. James wasn’t the only one to give this piece of particular pastoral advice to people experiencing unending and unpleasant stress:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us-they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. (Romans 5:3, 4 | TLB)

So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though the going is rough for a while down here. These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it-and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the test tube of fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return. (1 Peter 1:6, 7 | TLB)

Can you detect a pattern here? You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see how God wants His people to deal with the pressures of life. Don’t freak out. Don’t get angry. Don’t shout and stomp and blame your spouse/kids/car/job/co-workers/government. Instead, behave in a way totally opposite to the expected way! J.B. Phillips in his translation makes the pill James is asking you to swallow even bigger:

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends!

Treat your trials and temptations as “friends.” They aren’t your friends, but treat them as such because those things you hate so much are the very things God will use for your benefit, if you’ll let Him.

Talk about a tough assignment! But even though James wrote the words, this is really God’s counsel to us. The problems of the Christian life have a purpose. In ways we couldn’t possibly comprehend, they are the means by which we grow into the likeness of God. Just as an athlete can find joy in the rigor of his training as long as he keeps the winning of the race in view, so the Christian can find joy, even in trials, when he sees those trials as a means of achieving Christlikeness.

What we need the most

In the midst of life’s trying situations, the one thing we lack the most is the one thing God promises to give us if we’d only ask Him:

If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. (James 1:5 | TLB)

That’s the wisdom God promises to give: Wisdom to see with perfect perspective – crystal clarity – in the midst of trials. Rather than seeking to avoid those problems at all costs, ask God to show you what’s really going on! Ask God to tell you what you should do next. God won’t get annoyed with you; He knows what you lack and He’s ready to give you the wisdom you need. But, this is one of those blessings you have to ask for. Why ask? God wants His people to learn what it means to depend on Him.

Something significant about what James wrote here was NOT what he wrote. James did NOT advise his suffering readers to pray and ask God to remove the sources of persecution, but for wisdom in the midst of it. In other words, the norm for the believer is a life of difficulties. Really, that’s the norm for every human being. But Christians have an edge over their unsaved counterparts. God tells us “why” bad things are happening to us and “how” we are to cope with them. That’s a blessing of incredible proportions. And it’s a blessing only available to believers because this kind of wisdom doesn’t come from experiences or natural education. It comes from the Holy Spirit in the believer. Jesus talked about this:

You men who are fathers-if your boy asks for bread, do you give him a stone? If he asks for fish, do you give him a snake? If he asks for an egg, do you give him a scorpion? Of course not! “And if even sinful persons like yourselves give children what they need, don’t you realize that your heavenly Father will do at least as much, and give the Holy Spirit to those who ask for him?”. (Luke 11:11 – 13 | TLB)

That’s really what James is getting at here. This wisdom is part and parcel of the gift of the Holy Spirit. So, part of the catch involving this blessing of wisdom is that you have to ask God for it. And then there’s this:

But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you, for a doubtful mind will be as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind; and every decision you then make will be uncertain, as you turn first this way and then that. If you don’t ask with faith, don’t expect the Lord to give you any solid answer. (James 1:6 – 8 | TLB)

To me, those three verses are scary. Who has never doubted when they’ve prayed? But there’s an incident in Mark’s Gospel that puts this doubting issue into perspective:

Oh, have mercy on us and do something if you can.” “If I can?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if you have faith.” The father instantly replied, “I do have faith; oh, help me to have more!”. (Mark 9:22b – 24 | TLB)

Maybe that’s how most of us need to begin our prayers. Since we’re asking God for help, obviously we have some faith, otherwise we wouldn’t be asking in the first place! But we need more. The good news is God will give us the faith we need. He sees the earnestness of our hearts when we pray. He knows our weaknesses; our unsound minds. And He has made provision for those things. He gives us the faith to receive all the wisdom we need to make sense of what’s going on in our lives. All we have to is ask.

God, the Master of Multiplication, gives us all that we need to live, not under the circumstances of our lives, but on top of them.

 

 

 

 

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