Suffering In Community
James writes his short letter to the twelve tribes dispersed abroad. So his primary audience is Jews who’ve been scattered around the world because of the persecution that we see the book of Acts. They’d given their lives to Jesus, just like James, but now they’re refugees, trying to follow Jesus and figure out what life’s about now. And James is gonna tell these individual Christians how to follow Jesus and grow in their faith. BUT everything he’s gonna tell them will need to be lived out in community with other people. James is telling them all throughout this letter that even though they’re scattered, the only way to put all the pieces of life together now that you’re following Jesus is by LIVING IN COMMUNITY. Because community is good for more than just a sense of belonging, or having some people to help when you move, community is one of God’s gifts to you to for your and other’s spiritual health. Jesus saved us to live in community together now, and forever.
And look at the first thing he brings up in verse 2: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials.” What amazing words. Our lives are usually consumed with making sure that we avoid trials, right? We don’t want the trial of dealing with traffic, so we have apps to tell us when there’s heavy traffic. We don’t want the trials that come along with having responsibilities in life, so we don’t make commitments. We don’t want the trials that children, so we use contraceptives. We’re so bent toward avoiding trials at all costs because we don’t like to suffer, right? We don’t want our days to be filled with suffering, so we push it out of our lives as much as possible. But James jumps right into talking about the life of a Jesus follower by saying that we should consider it great joy WHEN we experience trials and therefore suffering. Not IF. In James’ mind, we WILL suffer, various kinds of suffering, he says, coming at us from so many angles in life.
Some scholars believe that many of the Jews that James was writing to had landlords who were just fleecing them on rent, treating them maybe even worse because they were disciples of Jesus. So they were going through financial suffering, spiritual suffering, probably relational suffering in the marriages and with their kids and neighbors because when money’s tight it leads to stress and fights, right?
So these disciples wanted to know, what they should do? Should they break our leases? Should they form an angry mob? Should they become political and push for new legislation that makes it impossible for their landlords to commit this sin? Should they try not to think about it and watch Parks and Rec through one more time? Should they post a passive aggressive facebook message hoping that their landlord will see his wrong and repent in dust and ashes?
James says, nope. Consider it great joy that you’re suffering…probably not the answer they were looking for, but definitely the answer they needed. I don’t know all the different ways that you or your family might be experiencing real trials and suffering right now. I’m sure there’s physical suffering, relational suffering, emotional suffering, spiritual suffering. As we read on in this letter we see that James audience were experiencing poverty, injustice, conflict, sickness, and grief. And what James says here can sound…so…trite when you’re in the middle of suffering. But this isn’t your friend who tells you to just spin your situation and look at it a different way. This isn’t a “put on a happy face,” or “act like your suffering is fun,” as if followers of Jesus can never be or look upset. There really is some upsetting, terrible junk in this world that should deeply trouble us.
And James isn’t telling us to deny our emotions, but he IS telling us how we should think. Consider. If you’re gonna consider something, you have to stop and give it some thought, right? James is telling us to slow down, instead of jumping quick to blame others, or the system, or try to get out of it, (all things we’re prone to do) stop and think about your suffering differently now that you’re a follower of Jesus. Think of it as an opportunity for great joy. Great joy. One author defined joy as “an unnatural reaction of deep, steady and unadulterated thankful trust in God.” It’s something that’s deep, deep down in us that’s fixed, settled. It’s something that’s been produced, created in us.
Why should we consider suffering to be a time for thankful trust in God?
James tells us why in verse 3: “…because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” Suffering is gonna test our faith, make us question if we really should be followers of Jesus. ESPECIALLY in a culture where people can hang around Jesus, even experience some of the blessings of Jesus, and live their best lives now without trials and suffering. Those who’ve sold out and given Jesus their lives but are now suffering could see their faith start to waver. But James says, hold on. That suffering is actually gonna produce the endurance in your faith. And that endurance will grow up in your life to make you mature and complete as you follow Jesus.
But that process of maturity and completion starts with suffering. When you meet a disciple of Jesus who had deep faith, loves Jesus, is just so steady, don’t ask them what they’ve been reading. Ask them what they’ve been through. Because suffering is what produces that kind of disciple.
In other words, as a follower of Jesus your suffering isn’t wasted. God’s using it to produce something in you that wouldn’t and couldn’t exist otherwise.
That’s why James tells us to think about suffering differently. Because God’s doing something different with it in our lives. But you know when the hardest time is to think rightly about our suffering? When we’re in the middle of it. When it’s attacking us from every angle, we’re just desperate, fighting to survive.
And that’s why we need to suffer in community. We need to SUFFER IN COMMUNITY. Because we need other people to constantly be reminding us of this, praying this over us. We need people who’ve committed to doing what Galatians 6 says: “Carry one another burdens.” A commitment to our community of the church is a commitment to suffer together. Because in God’s kingdom Christian community exists for times of suffering.
But temptation is to withdraw, not burden other people with our problems and suffering. But the way of Jesus is exactly opposite of that natural tendency. The way of Jesus is for the suffer to openly suffer in community. To feel the hurt and pain in the open. And the way of Jesus is for that community to support the sufferer, too feel the hurt and pain with them, and to help them think rightly about their suffering.
Have you been hiding your suffering? Maybe God’s calling you to suffer in the light, with a community of people who He’s gonna use to support you and strengthen your faith.
Have you been running away from people who are suffering? Maybe you’re supposed to be the answer to their prayers.
Because look at verse 5: “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God — who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly — and it will be given to him.” Maybe God wants to use you to give wisdom to someone who’s suffering. Because as you follow Jesus in community, God will give you wisdom if you ask Him for it. This is so massive for me. Because the further along in life I get, the more I get this verse. I used to think it meant that whenever my wisdom runs out, God will make up the difference for what I need. But I’m starting to realize more and more that I actually don’t have any wisdom. I don’t know what I’m doing in this life, like ever! I constantly feel so in over my head in marriage, and now parenting, in my work in my relationships, when friends come to me and they’r struggling. I almost never have any idea how to handle anything! But God promises here that He’ll give me wisdom. And I think he wants to give it to me through many of you.
As you all know His Word.
As you all show up in my life.
As you all pray for me.
As we do those things for each other, God will use each of us to give each other wisdom as we follow Jesus.
So why suffer in community? Because SUFFERING IN COMMUNITY BRINGS WISDOM.
God wants us to believe that that’s how he works. Because look verse 6: “But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord, being double-minded and unstable in all his ways.” James here isn’t talking about having perfect faith that never doubts. None of us have that. What he’s talking about the person who comes to God for wisdom, but then also looks other places for wisdom. Like, yeah, I wanna know what God has to say, but if in my suffering I find something out there that I like better than God’s way, I’m going that direction. James is talking about someone with split loyalties. Someone who goes to their pastor or community group for advice, but then ends up taking the advice of a friend who isn’t a follower of Jesus. Why? Because that advice is usually easier. James says that that person is super unstable.
So go all in on pursuing God’s wisdom. Go all in on getting the wisdom that he wants to give you in the community of the church. He’s promised to give it to you, generously and ungrudgingly.
Are you investing in relationships to a degree that you can do this? No one wants or needs a professor with all the answers. We all want and need friends who love us unconditionally and therefore become family and from that position can speak wisdom into our lives. Are you invested in that way in this community?
God’s given it as a gift for our mutual maturity, faith, and growth.
And here’s another way we’ll grow together as we suffer together. Look at verse 9: “Let the brother of humble circumstances boast in his exaltation, but let the rich boast in his humiliation because he will pass away like a flower of the field. For the sun rises and, together with the scorching wind, dries up the grass; its flower falls off, and its beautiful appearance perishes. In the same way, the rich person will wither away while pursuing his activities.” James is talking about two different kinds of people who exist in the same community. The person of humble circumstances, that’s the person who doesn’t have much, maybe is poor financially or just feels humbled by life, like he’s a failure. And the rich, who are typically viewed as the winners of life, who have it all figured out. And what James is pointing out in these verses is that as we suffer together we’ll realize something extremely profound: we’re all the same. Whether you’re rich and successful by this world’s standards, or poor and unsuccessful, we all need to trust Jesus completely.
The poor person needs to boast in how she was exalted: Jesus. Why boast if you’re poor? Because even the poorest person in God’s family is magnificently someone. The poorest person in God’s family is as lifted up and exalted as they could possibly be.
The rich person needs to boast in what humiliated her: Jesus. No matter how successful you become in this world, you need the same savior that the most unsuccessful person needs. You need the same work on the cross for how bankrupt you were spiritually.
Because eventually, we’re all gonna wither and fade the same way. The rich and poor have the same earthly end: death. And the rich and poor both only have one way to have hope in light of their death: Jesus.
The playing field is leveled in terms of worth and value in the Christian community. The rich are welcome to come and boast in Jesus. The poor are welcome to come and boast in Jesus. And they are welcome to kneel on the same ground before the cross. Both of you: take pride in your spiritual position, not your financial position. Because SUFFERING IN COMMUNITY BRINGS UNITY. Shared suffering is a massively powerful unifier.
And we need that unity in community, because during suffering we’re all gonna be tempted the same way. Look at verse 13: “No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God,” since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone.” We’re all gonna be tempted in some way to blame God for our suffering. We’re gonna be tempted to think that he doesn’t love us, isn’t in control of our lives, isn’t being good to us. James wants us to know that that’s where suffering will lead us. We’re gonna be tempted to sin in the way we think about God, holding him responsible for our suffering. Blaming him for the way our life turned out.
And look what’ll happen on that path in verse 14: “But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.” Blaming God for your suffering will give birth to something that has a life of it’s own. You can name it resentment, or bitterness, or doubt, or rebellion. But when it grows up, it’ll be called death. Suffering in this life could drive us totally away from God and his goodness, into a life that blames God for our suffering and rejects him completely.
That’s why James says in verse 16: “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.” Don’t be deceived. Don’t think wrongly about God during your suffering. Don’t blame him, resent him, be bitter at him or reject him.
Instead, verse 17, recognize that… “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. By his own choice, he gave us birth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Instead recognize that your God is good and perfect and has gifted you with everything that you have. He gave you life through Jesus. And that life that you have in Jesus can produce more and more fruit in this world. Because as you suffer in community and cling to Jesus, you’ll influence others to do the same. You’ll be the a first of many fruits to come after you of people who follow Jesus well during suffering. Guys that’s why we need to suffer in community. We need to see people suffer and still trust in God’s goodness, so that we can learn how to do the same. SUFFERING IN COMMUNITY BRING INFLUENCE.
Your community needs to be influenced by people who believe the promise of verse 12, which holds this whole section together: “Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” Your church community needs to be influenced by people whose lives have been radically transformed by this truth. People who believe that out of the greatest suffering comes the greatest joy. People who have been transformed by Jesus and his suffering on the cross, which led to their joy and everlasting life.