Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Christian's Response to Trials--James 1:2-12 (Part 1)

It has been said that one is either in trouble, just gotten out of trouble, or headed for trouble. Trials are common to humanity (e.g., job loss, chronic health issues, aging parents, parental struggles, marital strife, death of loved one, etc.). Sometimes, however, we may encounter trials directly because of our faith in Christ. It’s easy to be a Christian when all is going well, but what are we supposed to do when trouble knocks at our own door? When life hits you with a staggering blow?

It’s clear from Scripture that receiving Christ brings about fundamental changes in one’s life. It follows, then, that a Christian’s response to trials/suffering should be fundamentally different from that of the non-Christian. So, how should we respond? What response will bring glory to God?

The apostle James outlines for us three ways Christians must respond to life’s inevitable trials if we are to truly glorify God and demonstrate to the world the superior value of knowing the Lord Jesus.

REJOICE (1:2-4)

“Count it all joy”, writes James, “when you meet trials of various kinds.” By “trials of various kinds”, James means not only the suffering and persecution that Christians will face because of their faith in Christ Jesus, but also the hardships and difficulties that are the common lot of all people, Christian and non-Christian alike. And how are we to face these trials of life? James tells us, “Count it all joy”.

This response is so counter-intuitive, so contrary to human nature and common sense, yet this is what we’re instructed to do, this is what we must do. This word, “count” (ESV, KJV) or “consider” (NIV, NASB), means to think or reckon or evaluate. To “count” or “consider” means, therefore, to make a conscious choice, and James says we are to make a conscious choice to rejoice “when [we] meet trials of various kinds”—to consider these painful experiences “all joy” or “wholly joyful” (Amp.).

However, what reasons do we have for rejoicing in our trials and suffering?

First of all, because “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness”.

In other words, we are to “count it all joy”—we are to rejoice—because of an anticipated outcome: steadfastness (or NIV, “perseverance”). To be “steadfast”, according to Webster (New World College Dictionary), is to be “firm, fixed, settled, or established; not changing…or wavering; constant.” As Christians, it is this quality of firmness, stability and constancy that should characterize our faith. To not be steadfast is to be wavering, wilting and weak. How do we know whether our faith is stable or weak? We have to go through something. We must experience trials. This is why James calls our experiences of trial and suffering “the testing of [our] faith”.

The apostle Paul sounded a similar note in Romans 5:3-4:

"We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character…"

Let’s be honest: we have a lot of “junk” in our lives. We live in a country where carrying the name, “Christian”, generally speaking, presents no difficulties. As long as we mind our own business, we can live quite comfortably with no fear of persecution and no threats to our lives. In a safe environment like this, it’s easy for faith to develop in spiritually unhealthy ways. You see, its possible to bear the name Christian, and yet possess a faith that is shallow, weak and immature. Even more tragic: it is possible to profess Christianity, attend a Christian church, live a moral life, look and act the part of a Christian, and yet, never actually be a Christian, in the biblical sense of knowing Christ (all while unaware that you aren’t a Christian).

This is why our faith must be tested. Like gold is purified by fire, so our faith is purified by trials and suffering. Dr. Douglas Moo writes (Tyndale New Testament Commentary), “Suffering is a means by which faith, tested in the fires of adversity, can be purified of any dross and thereby strengthened.” My friends, if our faith is to grow, it must be tested. In fact, I only know of three ways our faith can be strengthened:

1) Through the Word of God (i.e., through reading, studying and meditating upon Scripture);

2) Through prayer: (Jude 20) “But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit”; and

3) Through trials or suffering.

Rejoice, because trials make you strong in the faith.

Secondly, we should rejoice with God’s end in mind.

James goes on (Verse 4): “And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”. The word “complete” means to be “whole; having all its parts; sound. It expresses the perfection of mankind before the Fall”—before sin entered the picture. To put it another way, God is working toward the goal of restoring His image in humanity or, as Paul puts it, conforming us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers."

And the apostle John elaborates on this point (1 John 3:2):

"Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is."

Like John, James is, here in verse 4, speaking eschatologically—he’s speaking about the end of this age—for we will not be sinless or perfectly like Christ until we see Him face to face at His return. But, until then, God is working in our lives to perfect us, to fill up what is lacking in us because of sin, and this happens as we cooperate with God to “let steadfastness have its full effect” (Amp., “have full play and do a thorough work.”).

We should rejoice, then, because it means God is doing a good work in us. You see, behind our rejoicing must be the realization that our good God is sovereign—He’s in control—and He is working for our good in our trials. Listen carefully to that oft-repeated word from the apostle Paul to the Romans Christians (Romans 8:28 NASB):

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

I know our trials can be painful. God knows. But, you must believe God: it will be for good. We may never know fully know the answer to the question, “Why?” But we can be sure that God is good, He knows what He’s doing and, in the end, we’ll be more like Jesus.

The apostles had the right idea. We read in the book of Acts that on one occasion, they were brought before the Jewish authorities for preaching in the name of Jesus. The Scripture records (Acts 5:40-41):

"And when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name."

And then, we have this word from the apostle Peter (1 Peter 1:6-7):

"In this [salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

The apostle Paul picks up that same thought (Romans 8:18):

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

And then Paul gives that great testimony of his (in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18):

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

So, my brothers and sisters, “Count it all joy.” Rejoice!
(To be continued...)


Anonymous said...

I praise my Father for your post/blog on the Christian's response to trials. I'm in a heavy trial right now and this has greatly encouraged me. I thank God for never leaving me to myself, He has his children ministering to the depressed saints.
Two months ago, my husband left us for a woman he works with. He was a deacon and has been ex-communicated from the church. He loves his sin and is unwilling to change.
I've been struggling with doubting God, like the father who had the demon-possessed son (Mark 9:24) said to Jesus, Lord I believe; help my unbelief.
I have been able to rejoice that I have an unshakable foundation to see me through this trial. The human part of me is always rearing its ugly head and causing me to doubt God. Thank you for reminding me of the fact that if I doubt then I'm calling my Father a lier. I know he has been my all even before I was saved and has proven to me that He still is. Thank you again for your blog for I too am a debtor to mercy.

wwdunc said...

Dear "Anonymous",

My heart goes out to you and your children. I am so sorry. I encourage you, please, lean hard upon God.

The word says, "[Cast] all your anxieties on [God], because he cares for you."

And He really does!

It goes on to say, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith" (1 Peter 5:7-9).

Stand firm upon God's truth that you already know. Resist the devil. God won't fail you.

I trust you are receiving support from your church. If you have not already, please find some godly women in your church, whom you can trust, to walk with you and your children through this terrible ordeal. You and the children need the Body of Christ, at a time like this, as never before.

And, I will pray, along with you, that our Lord would see fit to turn your husband back from the error of his ways.