Wednesday after Invocabit - James 1:2-15 - February 17, 2016
Office of Matins - pg. 32Hymn #447 Fight the Good Fight
O Lord, mercifully hear our prayer and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to defend us from them that rise up against us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Sermon on the Epistle Lesson
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
1) “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” When trials come upon us, or as James says, when we fall into various trials, we are to rejoice. James is calling us to rejoice in hardship, especially in spiritual hardship. The word translated “trials” is peirasmoi/j, which is translated “temptation” a few verses later in verse 12. Trials and temptations, however you wish to translate it, are bound to come in this life. Sunday we heard that the devil, having no shame and endless tenacity, even temps our Lord Jesus to sin. In today’s New Testament reading the same Jesus tells His disciples, “you are the those who have continued with me in my trials,” (Luke 22:28), in my peirasmoi/j. Those twelve men continued with Jesus in His temptations and trials, but they would face their own. Jesus tells Peter, “Simon, Simon! Indeed Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:32). If the devil cannot destroy the Christ with temptation and trial then he will most certainly do all he can to destroy the Christian with temptation and trial. His goal is not to prick but to mortally wound. His purpose is grind your faith down to a find dust, to chaff which the wind can blow away. He does this through the temptation to sin and the temptation to despair of God’s mercy once you realize your sin. The combination, when rightly used, is deadly. Luther was not using flowery language when he wrote, “The old evil foe now means deadly woe; deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight. On earth is not his equal.” When one considers just how dangerous temptation is, just how spiritually deadly it can be, James’ words don’t make all that much sense. “Count it all joy when you fall into various temptations.” It appears that instead of rejoicing in temptation we should do all we can do blockade temptation’s entrance into our hearts and minds lest it worm its way in and destroy us.
2) But the words of the Lord stands. “Count it all joy when you fall into various temptations.” Not, “when you fall into temptation,” as in, “when you find yourself sinning, but “rejoice when you are besieged by temptation, “when you fall into various trials.” You know what it’s like to fall into various trials. Jesus gives you a picture of it in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The man who is on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem “fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:30. That man fell, peripe,shte, and you are to count it all joy when you fall, perie,pesen, into various temptations. When temptation falls upon you it often feels like you are surrounded by thieves who strip off your clothing, wound you, then leave you half dead. The devil comes along and through temptation tries to trip you of the robe of Christ’s righteousness given to you have at baptism. He excites your flesh with desire so that you sin, often against your conscience, leaving you wounded, regretting what you’ve done. Once the temptation has run its course he then taunts you with the fact that you sinned, magnifying it in your own sight so that you feel as if you’re left for dead on the side of the road. James states the progression of how temptation works in verses 14-15. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
3) How is one to rejoice when he falls into trial and temptation when we know the strength of the adversary? How are we to rejoice whenever temptations come against us, knowing the weakness of our flesh, which itself is tainted with sin and wants to sin!? We are to rejoice because we also know “that the testing of your faith produces patience.” Patience might be slightly misleading. James writes u`pomonh,n, which is better translated “endurance” or “perseverance.” You can count it all joy when various temptations fall upon you because you know that this is how the Lord your God teaches you to endure and persevere. Trial and temptation are the Lord’s school for learning the strength and fortitude of faith. Perseverance will complete its work in you so hat you are whole and complete, lacking nothing.” Too often when we feel temptation we automatically hit the panic button. It is a good thing to flee temptation. It is a noble thing to be vigilant for it. But when it comes one must not simply panic that you are being tempted. Too often people assume that if they are being tempted that must mean they are weak in faith. You might reason to yourself, “If I were a stronger Christian I would not face this temptation anymore. If I had a stronger, more steadfast faith, I would be nonplused at this temptation, I wouldn’t even desire it.” But that’s not how it works. If you experience temptation in your flesh and in your mind then count yourself blessed, for all the saints of God were tempted by various things! Christ Himself was tempted by the devil, not just in the wilderness but all throughout the days of His humiliation, even on the cross when the Jews taunted Him to come down if He were really the Messiah. To feel temptation is not the same thing as to give in to the temptation. If we assume they are the same thing then at the first feeling of desire we must shrug our shoulders and jump right into the sin.
4) Instead the Lord wants you to fight temptation so that He may give you u`pomonh,n, endurance, perseverance, so that these might continue to perfect your faith and trust this side of heaven. When various trials and temptations befall you, you are not to shrug your shoulders and give in, assuming you have to. You are called to fight! You are called to endure up underneath the temptation. You are called to persevere through it, in many and manifold ways, until the temptation lets up and God drives the devil away. You can rejoice in temptations because you know that this is how God treats His sons. He led His Only-Begotten Son into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. So He leads His sons who He adopted through Holy Baptism into temptation as well, in order to test them and prove their faith, not to Himself, but to them. It takes wisdom to understand temptation in this way. This is why James writes that “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives all liberally and without reproach.” It takes wisdom to rejoice in trial and temptation because that is not how we, by nature, understand temptation. But the Lord promises to give wisdom to His baptized sons. Another part of this wisdom is understanding that the temptation will subside at some point and that the Lord will provide an escape. The escape hatch provided is the promise of perseverance and endurance. The escape hatch in temptation is knowing that Christ Himself prays for you just as He prayed for Peter during His passion, “that your faith should not fail.” Even when Peter failed and fell to temptation, denying Christ three times, his faith did not fail but returned him to Christ in penitential weeping and sorrow, the opposite of Judas’ worldly contrition which told him the answer was at the end of the rope.
5) To rejoice in various trials and temptations you must first remember that they are bound to come. More than that, you must remember that God your Father allows them to come so that He can conform you to the image of His Only-Begotten Son. Christ is the crucible into which He pours you to remove the dross of your own imagination and self-reliance. The second thing you must remember is that God the Father wills that you endure the temptation and stand fast by placing your trust in His sure and certain Word. Christ intercedes for you in the hour of temptation so that you do not succumb to temptation and that your faith does not fail in the trial. Christ gives you everything that is needed to overcome temptation in His promises. And when you do fall to temptation, when you give in, give up, or fall by the weakness of your flesh, do not despair. Your savior understands the weakness of the flesh and the power and pull of temptation, for He was tempted just as we are, yet was without sin. If Christ only had Christians who never fell into sin then Christ would not have any Christians at all. Even the great teacher of the Gentiles, St. Paul, confessed to all the world, “For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:15, 21-25). If St. Paul struggled against temptation and trial in his own flesh until the day of his death, you can take heart that you will be no better than the Apostle. And when you fall into sin, you can rejoice that you have the forgiveness of sins when you repent of your sins and believe the promise of the Gospel.
6) So rejoice when you fall into various trials and temptations. Pray that you may endure up underneath so heavy a cross. Pray that you might persevere under such attacks of the devil and your own flesh. Pray that you always remember that there is a difference between feeling temptation and agreeing to the temptation. Finally, give thanks that your Lord Jesus prays for you in your temptation just as He prayed for St. Peter, that your faith should not fail, no matter the outcome. You are a beloved child of God because Christ has baptized you. That means you will most certainly be tempted the devil. So it is for all the sons of the Father. But rejoice, in these trials and temptations He desires to impart heavenly wisdom, perseverance, and enduring faith to last you not only through one temptation but through all them unto life everlasting.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.