Before You Give Up – James 1: 1-4 (Mar 15-16)

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Synopsis of the Sermon

Rich began by highlighting his admiration for people who consistently and dependably show up to lead in some capacity. In a culture and world where we “collapse so easily” under the stress of things, it is important for us to concentrate on and practice the virtue of perseverance. Rich begins by giving the context for James 1, from Acts 8:1-3. He explains that James is writing this during the time that Stephen has been martyred and Saul is leading a campaign of persecution against the early church.
And so, here we consider the “trials we face”. It is the case that life is not supposed to be pain- or struggle-free. The Bible affirms the adage “when it rains it pours”. “… [T]rial of many kinds” in James 1 literally means “many colored, diverse, variegated” trials. That is, a multicolored rainbow of trials. It is normal and to be expected that things will break down or not work. It is normal that we cannot afford everything we want, and we do not have conflict free-relationships or ideal jobs. 1 Peter 4:12 (MSG) says “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job.  Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process with glory just around the corner.”
There are essentially four major reasons for the myriad of trials we can face in life. The first of these reasons is “because we have forgotten Jesus.” So often we rely on our own wisdom or understanding to make choices in our lives. Proverbs 14:22 tells us “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end leads to death”. It is so important that we practice inquiring of the Lord the decisions we make in our lives. Listening for and yielding to the will of God can often prevent us from a great deal of self-imposed trials.
The second reason for our trials is “because we have forsaken Jesus”. When we break ranks with Jesus, when we live unwisely, our lives become complicated and convoluted. Trials come when we suffer the consequences of our missteps and failures. The third reason for our trials is “because we have followed Jesus.” Matthew 5:11 quotes Jesus saying “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”. When we are incorrectly and unfairly put into the box of being narrow, stupid, or bigoted simply because we are Christians, these are things that we can rejoice in, knowing that we are following a God that did not wish to conform to the broken expectations of the world.
Finally, we experience trials “even as we followed Jesus”. Part of living in a world that is not yet fully the Kingdom is that sometimes we are sailing along and our boat simply runs into a cliff. We sometimes face trials for no other reason than that we are part of this world where brokenness lives. We face illness, conflict, financial hardship, and disappointment.
Which brings us to the choice we face: The bad choice of quitting, throwing in the towel and buying into the lie that simply because you’re struggling there must be a problem. Or, the good choice: Joyful perseverance. Rich points to Matthew 5 and also to Romans 5:3, which tells us that Joy and Pain/Suffering are connected. Rom 5:3 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance…” God employs a process of maturing us.
In closing, God uses the method of trial to allow us to check our own faith. We are given the chance to quit or to say “I’ve made a decision to follow a crucified Messiah, and I’m going to keep doing so, walking forward even when I did not see clearly the path that is in front of me.”

In 5 minutes or less, briefly give a synopsis of this week’s sermon.  What insight, principle, or observation from this weekend’s message did you find to be most helpful, eye-opening, or troubling?  Explain.

Getting the Conversation Started
These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.

•    What are some of the consequences we face when people are fickle, easily derailed, or non-committed?
•    When you encounter trials in your life or the lives of others, do you usually assume they are for one particular reason, or do you generally operate under the premise that there are a many reasons and circumstances under which we face trials?

Scripture Study
Remember that Observation questions can be found right in the text, Interpretation questions have several potential answers and it’s our chance to learn from each other and try to understand the text together. We’ll make some suggestions for these answers but you or your group members may have other thoughts to add. Finally, Application questions are where we begin to apply the text to our own lives and we have time to share more personally.

Read: Hebrews 12

4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

1.      What does God use hardship for? (observation) (discipline)
2.      We often consider discipline as a negative experience, but how does this passage show us the positive and loving aspect of discipline? (interpretation – Disciplines are a part of any healthy life, we set alarms, we brush our teeth, we clean our homes. God is using trials to condition us into rhythms of relying on Him, Scripture, community, etc.)
3.      What are some ways in which God disciplines us, His children? How can we live a life where we are aware of the discipline of God and what are some ways we can appropriately respond to those instances? (application)

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.

4.      How is Paul asking the Hebrew church to respond to discipline by way of hardship? (observation) (endure)
5.      What does it mean to endure hardship?  (interpretation – we are being asked not to throw in the towel but rather to lean into the strength of God and finish the race that we started as spoken of in 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”)
6.      What is at stake when we do not endure through hardship but rather fold under the pressures of life? (observation/interpretation – you remain undisciplined and are not legitimate sons and daughters of God. In our world, the results of quitting are the loss of confidence others have in us and, ultimately, a weak or absent faith and dependence in God.)
7.      Where are places in our lives that we can learn and practice perseverance for the sake of strengthening our faith and dependence in God? (application)

Ministry Application
Below you’ll see some options for ministry time with your group. We always encourage you to reserve time in your group to pray for one another and wait on the Holy Spirit.
•      Take some time to corporately listen to what God may want to communicate to you in the area of perseverance. Listen for words God might have you share with the group to encourage them as they meet trials.
•      For those currently facing trials, consider praying the prayer Rich suggested this weekend: “Help me not to quit. Give me staying power. Help me not to throw in the towel. Give me endurance. Grant me the grace of perseverance so that I become mature and complete in this life. And I’m given the crown of eternal life next.”
•      Break into groups of 2-3. Share with each other where you currently stand in terms of the difficulties of this life. Share what you are up against right now, and where Jesus might be in that struggle. Pray for each other that you would be able to persevere together and for the sake of true faith.