Monday, January 5, 2015

Growing Faith. Alive Student Ministry 1/4/15

Alive Student Ministry just started a 6 week study in the book of James. 
Mature faith develops from overcoming circumstances that challenge dependence and trust in God. A believer’s faith is not simply a characteristic given at the time of salvation but is grown and cultivated throughout the life of a Christian. As a person grows into a more complete faith, he or she is able to remain steady and secure in the face of testing and temptation. Maturing faith affects each part of a person’s life and causes a believer to put action to his or her faith in Christ.

James 1:2-17 (ESV)
Testing of Your Faith
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.
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.
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.
12 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. 13 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. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 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.

Supporting Passages would be 
John 14:1-16:36, 1 Peter 1:6-9, Romans 5:3-4 and Colossians 1:9-12

Faith is not static. It is either nurtured toward life or it succumbs to death. James did not describe faith as a one-time event or decision. He described faith using more process-oriented language that indicates that faith becomes stronger and matures through times of trials.

1. Trials test the sincerity of our faith and build perseverance (Jas. 1:2–4, 1:12).

James described trials in a positive light. He indicated that trials help to mature a weak faith into a strong faith. As trials come about, true and sincere faith perseveres through them, which makes faith stronger and more steadfast. A farmer doesn’t plant the seeds of a garden and then leave them alone. The new plants must be tended in order to produce a crop. If the farmer neglects the plants, weeds will take over, and insects and drought can kill the crops. But if the farmer tends the plants through these trials, the garden will produce fresh crops all season long. The same is true of our faith. In order for our faith to grow, we must tend to it during the trials that we endure. Our faith will grow stronger as a result. Trials will let us know if our faith in Christ is sincere. When trials and struggles come, we will persevere through them with genuine faith. However, persevering through trials and temptations in order for faith to grow is an intentional process that requires hard work. It does not happen on it’s own. Every day we are faced with decisions about whether to remain faithful to Christ or not. In our walk with Christ, our faith and perseverance will grow stronger as we allow trials to shape us into faithful followers of Christ.

2. God allows trials to mature our faith but never tempts us to do evil (Jas. 1:13–15).

James reminded his readers that God is not evil and is not tempted by evil. Therefore, He does not tempt His children to do evil things. James indicated that trials and struggles become temptation when one’s own sinful nature gives way to evil desires. When these desires go unchecked, they give way to evil actions. Trials can serve as a test of faith in the sense that genuine faith emerges from the struggle, but God never tests His children in a way that would tempt them to engage in evil. "God made me this way." You may have used this phrase to justify a wide range of sins. The truth is that we are born full of sinful desires that lead to sinful actions—not of God's doing but our own. So instead of blaming God for the temptations that we endure, we should pray for the faith to persevere. It takes purposeful action to grow faith. It is much easier to succumb to temptation.

3. God remains good even in the midst of our difficulties (Jas. 1:16–17).

James clearly stated that God is not the author of temptation but of every good and perfect gift. He is not the instigator of sin and death but of faith and life. He is good, and that truth will never change—no matter what happens in our circumstances. Because God is good, even trials can be considered a good gift from Him because they help His children to become more like Christ. Think of it this way - Why wouldn’t good coaches let their teams practice however they want? Coaches know that teamwork, skill, discipline, and unity come from an organized and intentional approach to practicing. Players often don’t enjoy the rigors of complicated drills or difficult practices. But these are what strengthen each team member and help the team achieve its goals. We can kind of see God in a similar way. He knows what is best for His children. He knows what will help them become more like Him. Even though we may not enjoy the difficult process, we can trust that He is good and is working to bring about the best for us. Because God is the giver of all good things, you can trust Him to look after you and help you persevere through any trial or temptation that comes your way.

So what's the big idea of the passage? 

Faith develops through circumstances in life that teach us to depend on God without hesitation. Faith matures through intentional perseverance of trials and temptations. If we persevere in faith, our faith will increase. When we continually learn to depend on God through all circumstances and seek His righteousness in our lives, we can have great faith in His goodness and continually build trust in Him.

“James the Just,” or James, the brother of Jesus Christ, is believed to be the author of the epistle bearing his name. James was believed to have been a Nazirite from birth (Lockyer, 171) and was a “bulwark” for his people. He was often found in the Temple praying on his knees for the forgiveness of the Jews (Bruce, 1534), thus giving him the nickname “Camel Knees.” James was the half-brother of Christ (the biological son of Mary and Joseph). Although he did not grow up believing his brother to be the Messiah, Jesus appeared to him after His resurrection (1 Cor.15:7) (Lockyer, 171). James believed and later became the leader of the Church at Jerusalem (Acts 12:17, 15:4-34, 21:18-19; Gal.2:1-10).
Some scholars argue that James could not have written the letter because the Greek is too polished, while others believe that James had every opportunity to learn Greek because of the Hellenistic communities in the Galilee region. James noted that his letter was written to the Twelve Tribes (or Jews) of the dispersion (James 1:1). This statement provides specific information about the letter. First, the letter was written to Jews, most likely Christian Jews. Second, the dispersion likely refers to the period of persecution, which followed the execution of Stephen in Acts 8:1-4. If James wrote the letter not long after the stoning of Stephen, then it would have been one of the earliest epistles of the New Testament, having been written sometime between A.D 40–50 and before James’ own martyrdom in A.D. 62 (Bruce, 1535). Many scholars believe the epistle’s writing was around A.D. 42.
James was known for his sound wisdom and judgment. His message to the Jewish Christians around the known world was that faith was not expressed in knowledge alone but was to be shared through their works and actions toward others. This came in response to news that factions were arising in new churches. James wanted these new Jewish believers to realize that although their practice had always been to study the Law, it was now time to put their knowledge of God in Christ (the fulfillment of the Law) into practice (James 1:22).
In John 14–16, Jesus shared with His disciples concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit. He told them that He would not leave them alone in this world but would send the “Helper,” the indwelling “Spirit of Truth” or the Holy Spirit (John 14:16). He would lead every follower of Christ to “abide” or remain—this is the Greek word meno, from the same root word as perseverance—in Christ (John 15:4) by keeping His commandments. Thus His joy would be made manifest in us (John 15:11, 16:20-24).
This is the same joy that James mentioned when he spoke of when Christians face trials (James 1:2). Just as such trials mature into the fruit of steadfastness, Jesus said, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It is because He is in us and we are in Him that we are able to move through the tests, trials, and temptations of this life, maturing into sound and enduring faith.
James 1:2-3 The fact that James addressed those to whom he wrote as "brothers" (Greek adelphoi) indicates that these were not only his fellow Jews but brothers and sisters in Christ (Bruce, 1537). The term brother would not have been used loosely in that day, particularly among Jews.
James called on those who followed Jesus Christ in faith to consider the end result of perseverance in the face of trials. It was a given that they would have to face difficult conditions and circumstances; many of James’ readers experienced persecution frequently. Rather than allowing themselves to become bitter, James instructed them to find joy in the middle of this suffering because their trials produced perseverance. Peter said that the result of perseverance would be a value much greater than gold, for it would reveal Christ in all of His glory (1 Peter 1:6-8).
James 1:4 James identified that there are two outcomes of perseverance: maturity and completeness. “Mature” denotes excellence (Gen. 6:9), while “complete” denotes fruit without defect (Acts 3:16, 1 Thess.5:23). Thus, faith tested by trial would prove itself to be perfect, fully developed, and missing nothing.
James 1:12 The crown to which James referred was not a jeweled crown but a laurel wreath, which was the reward presented to athletes at the end of a competition or to the emperor of Rome (1 Cor. 9:25). Those who persevere through trials as part of God’s family prove their true faith in God; they receive the crown of eternal life.
James 1:13-15 Verses 12–13 shows a distinction between tests and [temptation]. Though both may be categorized technically as [trials]. tests (Greek peirazao) are that which measure the character of a person. Temptations entice a person to enter into evil or commit sin. Testing leads to blessing, joy, and ultimately eternal life, while temptation leads to heartache and death (ESV, 2392).
Temptation, the darker side of trials, is not of God. Because God does not condone nor inhabit any part of sin, He does not entice His children to sin. James emphasized that it is our own predisposition toward sin and evil that combines with the enemy’s temptation and drags or lures us away into sin (v. 14). James noted that temptation and sin progress in the following way: Evil desire gives way to sin, and sin gives way to death. Trials, which test the measure of our faith, give way to perseverance and are rewarded with eternal life. Temptation gives way to sin, which grows and matures into death.
James 1:16-17 James’ admonishment of “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers” (v. 16) warned his readers to know the differences in their trials. The word good (Greek dosis) denotes the good giving of every perfect (Greek dorema) gift (v. 17) (Bruce, 1538). In other words, there is no gift that God gives that is not perfect. Therefore, we can consider trials to be “good gifts” because God uses them to increase the maturity of our faith. God’s character is unchanging—unlike the light of the sun and moon, which move through the progression of the day with “shifting shadows.” God does not shift or change but rather remains constant. This includes the constant giving of good gifts to His people.
Today’s world is full of enticements afforded by technology. We have Internet, texting, smart phones, and movie screens. All of this can add to the enticement of our already corrupt and sinful flesh in an effort to lure us away into sinful acts. Are we aware of those trials that produce endurance and perseverance and lead to life as well as those that lead to sin and death? Has the world watered down your ability to distinguish the trials that you are facing, or are you able to recognize those trials that produce joy instead of sorrow?
What about struggles and trials? Often the first reaction to trials in our lives is to question or blame God for disrupting our comfortable life. However, James tells us that we should see these times as opportunities for our faith to grow and mature. Have we ever reacted to difficult circumstances with joy—not happiness—but joy that our hope and faith is securely founded upon Christ? Who will teach students the differences between the trials and temptations that they face so that they will learn that one leads to life while the other leads to death? How will they grow in their faith as they daily make the decisions to turn away from the enticements of sin?

Small Group Questions:

  • What should our attitude be toward trials?
  • What are some trials and temptations that teenagers face today?
  • How might students respond to those trials and temptations in ways that encourage perseverance and mature their faith?
  • Why is it hard to persevere through trials?


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