Monday Sermon Workshop:
Joy in the Midst of Tribulation (James 1:1-4)
By Craig Price, Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek, occupying the Bob Hamblin Chair of New Testament Exposition, and Associate Dean of Online Learning at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
SBC Today will offer three step-by-step expositions by Dr. Price to assist pastors and other church leaders in developing sermon ideas or Bible studies for their ministries.
Reasons to Be Joyful in the Middle of Trials (James 1:1-4)
The little book of James has been one of the most encouraging letters in the New Testament for believers going through trials and tribulations. In this series of lessons, we will examine the letter from a different perspective. We will use William Mounce’s technique of “phrasing” in order to derive the outline for the text. These lessons will serve more as “starter” lessons for busy pastors and teachers to get a jump-start on the upcoming sermon or lesson.
The Text: James 1:1-4 (HSCB)
1 James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion. Greetings. 2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
Comments on the Text
The introduction of this letter goes straight to the heart of the suffering saint. After the initial customary salutation and greeting, James goes straight to his message of encouragement. To get at James’ intended message, we will perform “phrasing” upon the passage. Phrasing is a technique developed by William Mounce in order to teach Bible students how to get at the author’s intended meaning in the text. The rules are very simple and may be performed in English or in Greek.
Rules for Phrasing the Text
1) The main idea of the text is placed to the left of the page
2) All subordinate or modifying ideas are place under the main idea, but indented to the right (usually a tab)
3) Parallel ideas are placed equal indention under the thought they modify
So, let’s experiment with this passage and see how it breaks down.
Step 1: Break the passage into “phrases.”
(Hint: look for the punctuation marks by the editors as a guide).
1 James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ:
To the 12 tribes in the Dispersion.
2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers,
whenever you experience various trials,
3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
4 But endurance must do its complete work,
so that you may be mature and complete,
Step 2: Leave the author’s main thoughts to the left and indent the secondary (modifying) thoughts to the right. (Hint: Letter salutations—important as they are—usually are equal and stay to the left. It helps to place a description of each part).
James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: (author)To the 12 tribes in the Dispersion. (recipients)Greetings. (greeting)2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, (command—main idea)whenever you experience various trials,3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.4 But endurance must do its complete work, (command—main idea)so that you may be mature and complete,lacking nothing.
For purposes of phrasing, the preacher or teacher may be as detailed as is warranted by the text. The introduction to the letter shows a very simple structure of author, recipient, and greeting. The letter’s introduction may seem a bit bland, but upon closer examination, it gives an important clue to the reason for the letter. Note that James is writing to Jews of every tribe who have been dispersed. Why were they dispersed? No doubt, they were fleeing persecution because of their faith.
Next, we see that there are two commands. Each should remain to the left. Note that each command has two modifying ideas (phrases).
The first command tells the believer to be very joyful. When? When he/she goes through trials! Now this idea is not a natural response. After all, who likes trials? James, however, explains why the believer must assume this frame of thinking in the next phrase: “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”
Now we have a reason for putting forth the effort to be joyous in the midst of trials! Trials always test our faith and tested faith produces mature endurance. Have you ever thought of trials and tribulations from this perspective? After all, when does the believer tend to grow the most in his/her faith? Most likely, it is during times of trial and difficulty. It is during these times we tend to lean more heavily upon the Lord.
The second command tells the believer that this time of growth in faith must culminate in a very specific end. Completion carries the idea of reaching a maturity or intended purpose. The modifying ideas give further definition to this completion: maturity and completion. Mature faith lacks nothing!
The teacher or preacher will expand on each of these ideas in context of the message. Appropriate illustrations will illumine the text. So, lets now take each of our phrases and re-word them into an English statement of what James is trying to help us understand.
Step 3: Develop the Sermon Outline
Reasons to Be Joyful in the Middle of Trials James 1:1-4
- The Author, Recipients, and a Greeting (v 1)
- James – Half brother of our Lord
- Recipients—Jews who trusted Christ and are now scattered
- Greeting—the Greek idea of “grace”
- Count Your Blessings through Trials (vs 2-3)
- Reality of life is that we will encounter a variety of trials (v 2)
- God can use the means of a trial to build endurance (v 3)
- Continue to Allow God to Grow You through Trials (v 4)
- Endurance fortifies you (v 4)
- Endurance completes you (v 4)
D. L. Moody used to say that the preacher ought to preach like there was a hurting heart in every pew . . . because there is! Preach the message of James to every congregation and Sunday School class so they will know there is purpose in suffering and trials.
For more exposition of James such as this, see Dr. Price’s workbook on the book of James — Biblical Exegesis of New Testament Greek: James (Cascade Books, 2008).