or, the Pathway to Spiritual Maturity (James 1:1-12)
It only has three words. But it’s a phrase that can make the toughest of men shudder. Women seem immune. Furthermore simply saying these three words to a man will usually result in nothing more than a tilt of the head and an accompanied look of curiosity. But have the average man read this short phrase on a pamphlet, box, or carton and you will almost immediately see his jaw tighten and large beads of sweat cover his forehead.
“What is the phrase?” You ask. “Some assembly required!” I am going to share with you a story that is deeply personal but common to those men, like myself, who are afflicted with an aversion to the before-mentioned phrase. This type of confession, however, is rarely shared in public and only in hushed tones, and usually reserved for conversations with only the closest of male friends.
Several years ago, my oldest daughter, Rachel, was given a small plastic tricycle for Christmas. It came in a small box and the picture on the side showed a smiling little girl on a little tricycle. I was expecting to open the box and remove a ready-to-ride tricycle. Then a short phrase in small print on the side of the box caught my eye. “Some assembly required.” With several relatives looking on, not to mention a little girl who was dying to ride her new toy, I determined to complete my mission. With the confidence of a master mechanic I tore the box open. I emptied the contents onto the floor and picked up the single page instruction sheet. Written in English but incomprehensible, translated by a computer I laid it to one side. In an impressively short time I had assembled the bike. I cautiously scanned the living room floor, checking for those annoying extraneous parts that some manufacturers insist on putting in their products. To my surprise and relief, there were none.
As I revelled in my victory I noticed that the finished product looked a bit strange. Then I noticed why. The handlebars were on backwards. My stomach knotted as I manipulated the little tricycle, all the while assuring the onlookers that it just needed a few minor adjustments. After several moments, I picked up the instructions, found my mistake, and conceded defeat. The finished product, of course, took twice as much time to build, not to mention the bruised knuckles and ego. If only I had read the instructions!
I’ve sub-titled this sermon series in James, “Some Assembly Required” because each of us is a work in process. Once we come to trust in Jesus Christ, we receive the free gift of salvation, we are grafted into the body of Christ, and have the assurance of eternal life can never be taken away. However our life in Christ has only just begun as the Lord makes us more and more Christ-like each day.
As we grow in our faith, there is some assembly required. There are so many things that we put together through the course of our lives—household items, garden equipment, Christmas presents—that we know we ought to read the instructions. Well, neither should we expect to put our lives in order without the maker’s instructions. The Book of James will show us how relevant God’s Word is and how necessary it is for us to follow it, step-by-step. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)
Do you feel you are lacking anything this morning? God’s will is that we not lack anything. His will is that we become his perfect or mature children, complete, lacking in nothing, ready for an eternity of service. And this short life of ours is the preparation. This morning we are going to begin exploring the pathway to spiritual maturity. As we examine these opening verses of the letter of James, I want us consider the question, “How do I follow the pathway to spiritual maturity?” There are three key sections and one word describes each. Slavery 1:1-2: Adversity 1:2-8: Perseverance 1:9-12.
1. Slavery – The Condition of Spiritual Maturity (James 1:1-2)
2. Adversity – The Catalyst to Spiritual Maturity (James 1:2-8)
3. Perseverance – The Evidence of Spiritual Maturity (James 1:9-12)
1. Slavery – The Condition of Spiritual Maturity
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:1-2)
1.1 To become spiritually mature we must begin by placing our faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord
Notice the way James begins this letter. “James a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He assumes a very wonderful relationship of dependence and trust. No one can grow into spiritual maturity who has not first been born into God’s family. There must be birth before there is growth. Let me ask you as we begin. How do you see Jesus? A good man? A wise teacher? The son of God? Do you see Jesus as the Lord Jesus Christ? For each word James uses is significant.
Lord = because He is God, eternally begotten not made, of one being with the Father. Jesus = because he is a real human being born into our world to be one of us.
Christ = because he is the Messiah, the saviour who came to die in our place on the cross, and take upon Himself the punishment that we deserve, so that by His wounds we are healed, by His death we are forgiven, by His resurrection we are born again into a new and living hope of eternal life.
He is the Lord Jesus Christ, and we must receive Him if we are to enter God’s family and become spiritually mature.
1.2 To become spiritually mature we must recognise our family relationships and responsibilities.
James addressed his letter to “my brothers and sisters”. Not only was James himself a child of God, but he wrote to other children of God, all over the known world, “scattered among the nations” who were therefore his brothers and sisters in God’s family. That is why James speaks so strongly in verses 9-11 about how important it is that we show one another equal respect no matter what our social standing. There is no such thing as an orphan Christian, or the lone ranger who attends church services but isn’t interested in building deep and meaningful relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Nor is there a privileged place for those who by the worlds standards are wealthy or influential. So when we use the word “family” at Christ Church, we mean the extended family of the church made up of all, young and old, single, married and widowed, which is part of the world-wide family of God.
To become spiritually mature we must recognise our family relationships and take the initiative to know and love and serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.
On the first Sunday in December each year we have a Pledge Sunday. We invite everyone to pledge their financial support for the year ahead. In July we are going to have another Pledge Sunday, but this will be a pledge of our time and talents. We will be inviting everyone to commit to join one or more of our serving teams for the year ahead. We believe this will better enable each of us to become spiritually mature and build Christ’s church, as we serve one another according to our time and talents as well as treasure. An elderly lady was on a plane journey. As the plane took off, she began to share with the people on either side about her wonderful grandchildren. She produced a fold-out photo album tracing their every move from birth. After talking for three hours she realised that she had dominated the conversation. “Oh, I’m so sorry”, she said, “I’ve done all the talking… I know you must have something to say. Please tell me what you think about my grandchildren?” Are you as excited about the Lord Jesus and the new family he has given you? If we would become spiritually mature we must place our faith in Christ as Lord and saviour. Secondly we must recognise our place in the family of God, and share our family privileges and responsibilities.
1.3 To become spiritually mature we must recognise that our role is that of a slave, serving God through the church to His world.
With the exception of Jude, James is the only NT writer to introduce himself in this way without qualification. The writer could have said “James, the brother of the Lord Jesus” or “James, Bishop of Jerusalem……” Think of the opportunities for name dropping at clergy cocktail parties. “That man over there, who is he?” “Don’t you know? he’s the Lords brother, we made him archbishop of Jerusalem, well we had to, didn’t we?” That’s not the status James accepted. “There are only two things you need to know about me. My name is James and I am a slave of Jesus Christ.” Having emphasised the deity of Jesus Christ, James chose to introduce himself as a slave. A slave. Do you think of yourself as a slave? James describes himself by the only title he considers worth using. This was his only claim to fame. Content to be known as the slave of Christ. What does it mean to be a slave of Christ?
Slavery means total obedience
A slave knows no law but the masters word. The slave has no rights of his own. He is the absolute possession of his master. He is bound in a relationship of unquestioning obedience.
Slavery means absolute humility
To voluntarily describe himself as a slave is the mark of a person who thinks not of his privileges but his duties, not of his rights but his obligations. There is nothing lower in the social scale than a slave. A slave of Christ is a person who has lost himself in the service of God, and no longer cares what any one else may think of him. Total obedience, absolute humility.
Slavery means unquestioning loyalty
To see oneself as a slave describe a life totally dedicated to God. What we do, we do for the Lord. Our own preferences, our own desires, our own profit should not enter our calculations.
Total obedience, absolute humility, unquestioning loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we have the brother of our Lord, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem calling himself a slave.
We may be children of God by adoption and yet the only greatness to which we can ever inspire is, like James, the greatness of being known as a slave of Jesus Christ. There is no contradiction between sonship and slavery. For to be a slave of God is to experience perfect freedom. If we would become spiritually mature we must begin by placing our faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord, we must recognise our family relationships and responsibilities, and we must serve God in His world willingly and joyfully as His slaves. Slavery – the condition of spiritual maturity.
2. Adversity – the Catalyst to Spiritual Maturity
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
We will never fully understand this principle which is why James says we must pray for wisdom to see the world God’s way.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
Pray for wisdom so see meaning and purpose in the will of God.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son….” (Romans 8:28-29)
Adversity is God’s catalyst, his springboard, the means by which we become like Christ. With that in mind, James tells us:
2.1 Not only expect adversity but welcome it
This does not mean we should seek out trials but instead rejoice when they come, because God has a purpose behind them.
2.2 Accept that adversity will often come suddenly
The word for “face trials” can mean turning a corner and coming face to face with someone. You cannot always prepare for it.
2.3 Appreciate that adversity will be varied
There are “trials of many kinds”. They may be physical, touch our emotions, our health, or involve our family or possessions. Anything and everything can and is a tool in the hands of God.
2.4 Realise that adversity has a God-given purpose
We must not lose heart and think it is a sign that God no longer loves us, or that he is punishing us. Discipline may be part of his purposes, but we rest in the hands of a skilful surgeon who fashions our souls according to his perfect will.
2.5 Accept that adversity will last a life time
Verse 4 could be translated “Let the process go on until the work is complete.” If you are looking for a quick fix, or transporter that will beam you up to the seventh heaven without pain, then forget it. You are not only wasting your time but actually delaying your progress. There are no short cuts. It is a life-long process. Slavery – the condition of maturity Adversity – the catalyst to maturity,
3. Perseverance – The Evidence of Spiritual Maturity
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
When we meet trials in the right way there is great blessing. That little phrase “stood the test” is rich in meaning. It was used to describe the way a metal is purified through great heat. In the same way our character is purified through the heat of the adversity. When I left school I went to work in East London for DSS. I was 18, naive, inexperienced, immature, straight from school. I remember vividly a month after I had arrived being called to see my HEO, on the top floor of this government tower block, looking out over East London. “What do you think of this place?” he asked. “Oh its just like Lowestoft”, I said, “only bigger….” “No, its not…” he replied, and over the next couple of years, I discovered what he meant. The pressure of dealing with the problems related to inner city poverty, unemployment, the criminal fraternity, the prostitutes, the homeless, children taken into care, felt like I was in a refiners fire. My child-like faith was tested, and I came out of it knowing both I and they needed Jesus, because I couldn’t provide for their deepest needs with Government hand-outs.
What is the object of testing? Why do aircraft manufacturers invest millions on prototypes and test flights? Why do automobile manufacturers invest so much money in R&D, making concept cars that never end up in the showrooms, demolishing brand new cars full of dummies driven into brick walls? To improve them, to make them safer. That is how God uses adversities, difficulties, the trials of life, in order to make us mature in Christ. So what do we look forward to then? We look forward, says James, verse 1:12, to “the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” God promises each of us, our very own stephanos! In 1st Century Palestine the word was used in four different ways.
1. The crown of flowers were a sign of joy at a wedding.
2. The crown of jewels was a mark of royalty and authority.
3. The crown of leaves was a sign of victory at the games.
4. The crown of honour was a mark of wisdom and dignity.
Which is James describing here? All of them! The wonderful thing is we don’t have to choose. The crown of life we are promised is a sign of joy that no one can take away; a sign of royalty for we are adopted children of God; a sign of victory that in Christ we have overcome the evil one; and a sign of dignity and honour for we serve as God’s ambassadors. For us to receive the crown of life, Jesus needed first to wear the crown of thorns. This morning we have realised that slavery is the condition, adversity the catalyst and perseverance the evidence of spiritual maturity. And when you feel you have some way to go, remember that further assembly is required. Lets pray.