“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” a quote by German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is one of those quotes or platitudes that sounds great, but in reality, it isn’t that simple and depends on how we react to the trials and tribulations of life. While what doesn’t kill us has the potential to make us stronger. The act of getting stronger doesn’t happen automatically or without effort. Nietzsche’s quote implies that we not only survive what doesn’t kill us, but that it also makes us stronger or even better than we were before. Remember the opening line in the introduction to the “6 Million Dollar Man” TV Series? “We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.”
According to James 1:2-4, the “trials of many kinds” and the “testing of our faith” can produce something that has the potential to make us better and stronger all the way around spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, etc. if we’re willing to apply it. The first “something” that James shares with us to make us stronger is “perseverance” or an ability to “do something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success”. If perseverance is present, then we have a shot at becoming stronger or as James says, ”mature and complete, not lacking anything.” It is kind of like the energy behind it or engine that drives it.
This act of perseverance or “doing” is what this series (Just Do It) is all about. While James emphasizes the “testing of our faith” from a spiritual perspective and more importantly how it applies to our relationship with God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), he’s also going to show us how it can be directly applied to every area of our lives because that’s how God wants it to be. He wants us to be ”mature and complete, not lacking anything” in all respects, to be “holy as He (God) is holy”, so that we will not only “receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him”, but also have a greater impact on those around us, our neighbors that we are called to love. Essentially, James is giving further instruction on how to obey, carry out, or live the “Greatest Commandment” in Matthew 22:36-40, to love God and others in practical terms, just like Paul and other Biblical writers do.
Okay, so in order to be ”mature and complete, not lacking anything”, to love God and others with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength we know that perseverance is required, but what else? According to James 1, we need:
- Wisdom: Which is more than just knowledge, but the ability to make not only god decisions, but godly decisions. If we are lacking in that department, James tells us that we can ask God for it, who will give it to us generously. (James 1:5) Where do we get Godly wisdom primarily? From the “spiritual disciplines” as John Wesley (Founder of the Methodist Movement) calls them, which include studying the Bible or word of God, prayer, worship, sacraments, etc.
- Belief or Faith: Believing is a “must” according to James 1:6. In fact, believing is the first requirement for salvation according to Jesus in John 3:16. It’s not number one in importance, but it is step number 1. If we want to be ”mature and complete, not lacking anything”, it starts with belief and grows into a love for God that we will talk about at the end of today’s devotion.
There is also a caveat or condition in this verse. In order to be “mature and complete, not lacking anything”, we have to believe without doubting. Without any doubt whatsoever? What if we have moments like doubting Thomas and Peter? Does that mean we can’t be mature and complete, not lacking anything?
The Greek word for doubt in this verse is διακρινόμενος (diakrinomenos) which means to “separate thoroughly or withdraw from, to oppose, discriminate against, or hesitate”. This would be a complete or thorough change of mind, as in no longer believing in Jesus, renouncing, removing, or withdrawing from faith or believing. James compares these doubts to waves in sea being blown back and forth by the wind. It represents an inability to decide one way or the other. James adds in verse 8 that such a person is “double-minded and unstable in all they do”. Therefore, they “should not expect to receive anything from the Lord”. (James 1:7 NIV) We aren’t talking about a believer who is struggling with the temporary trials and difficulties of life like Thomas and Peter. Even though both were lacking in faith, or it was small and weak at a particular time of testing, they were able to bounce back. What happened to Peter after he denied Jesus three times could have shipwrecked his faith, but it didn’t. He recovered and maintained his faith. This is referring to people that are constantly back and forth, erratic, and unstable where there is no foundation of faith. We can still believe in God/Jesus and have doubts relating to our current circumstances. I may have doubts or question what God is doing with my life, but I don’t stop believing. (That’s a Journey song, sorry I put that in your head)
This is similar to a passage in Ephesians 4:14 that refers to being “tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” Again, it’s those who can’t make up their mind about anything. They keep bouncing from one thing to another. This is especially true today. There is so much information and false teaching floating around today that it’s a wonder that anyone comes to true faith in Jesus Christ, and the devil loves it that way. Remember his craftiness from our last series that deceived Adam and Eve? (Genesis 3)
- Humility: James 1:9-11 is a little bit confusing because it sounds like James is saying that those who are humble should brag when they are exalted to high positions of power for example, but it’s really closer to what Jesus meant when He said “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” in Matthew 20:16. Either way humility is an important ingredient in our quest to be “mature and complete, not lacking anything”.
- Love for God: If you’ll notice, there is a requirement in this statement from James 1:12 on who can receive a “crown of life”. Anyone who studies the Bible/word of God seriously knows that there is a cost for following God/Jesus. Only those who love God or “love him” can receive a “crown of life”.
Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength is hard. It requires perseverance. We can’t quit even when the “trials” of life and “testing of our faith” feel like they’re killing us. We persevere or “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” as the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:12. We can grow stronger and grow into maturity or completeness because God promises to help us get there. He does not want us to “lack anything”. He wants us to be perfect, complete, finished, and whole like Jesus. It’s more than just being well-rounded. He wants us to be the total package heart, soul, mind and body.
James is a great resource for us to know how to get there, so we’ll continue with the list next week.
Have a great weekend! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC