"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow." James 1:2-3
Christians over the past 100 years in America have been exceptional.
How have we been exceptional?
In our evangelistic zeal? Not really.
In our holiness? Uh, no.
In the health and size of our churches? There have been some great ones!
In our impact on our culture? I am afraid not.
In the love and unity among believers across denominations? No.
By the quality of our music and our books and our media creations? Maybe, in the media aspect since we are the first generation to have those capabilities. But our music and our writings - don't think so.
How then are we exceptional in our faith?
We are the first generations of the Church who have not had to suffer for our faith. Now be sure that there have been plenty of believers who have suffered and been martyred - but not in the American Church. That is exceptional. We have had it exceptionally easy.
Knowing that helps explain why we struggle to relate to some of the things that James writes in his epistle. James was writing these words of encouragement and perspective to Christians who had scattered through the region because of persecution. Keep in mind as we study James that it is written to suffering Christians. When he writes, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds...." they knew exactly what he meant.
But from our experience as Twenty-First Century American Christians we think. "Say what? Count it a joy to suffer? Are you kidding me? How does that work?" We are pretty clueless to get our minds around that one.
We will be examining that his month as we tackle the Book of James.
Let me give you the truth behind this thought that helps it make some sense. Here is what these First Century believers understood - "EITHER BELIEVERS SUFFER FOR THE FAITH OR THE FAITH SUFFERS BECAUSE OF BELIEVERS."
One of those two things will be true but both of them cannot be true. These believers James wrote to were taking joy in the knowledge that the things they were suffering because they stood true in their faith! The suffering they endured was advancing the faith they loved.
Since they were the first generation of Believers and the first demonstration of what the Church of Jesus Christ was supposed to look like, there was tremendous pressure for them to do it right! We are having this conversation this morning as a testimony that they did get it. Two thousand years later we stand on their sacrifices.
Let me ask you to think about a few things today. Is the faith suffering because of you? Is your unwillingness to suffer rejection or to live a disciplined life hurting the cause of Christ? Do you stand firm and take the heat in the face of rejection or persecution because you follow Christ? Or do you reject your faith when threatened with suffering?
The stakes were high for this First Generation of Christians at the beginning of the Church. It is very possible you could be in the last generation of Christians in the Church. How should you live in the light of that knowledge?