"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4)The book of James is one of my favorite books of the Bible because it is so immensely practical. The passage I cited above is one that God seems to be bringing me back to over and over again either (a) because I need to hear it or (b) I haven't learned how to properly apply it yet.
As I was studying this passage for my sermon this past Sunday at my church, God brought out three observations from this passage.
Observation #1: Trials are inevitable.
Notice in verse 2 that James uses the word "whenever" instead of “if”. It is a given that we will face trials of many kinds.
We live in a fallen world that hates us, attempts to marginalize us, and does not hold the same values that we do. We are criticized for who we are and what we profess. Sometimes that criticism will even come from within the body of Christ when we commit ourselves to applying God's word to every aspect of our lives.
Consider Jesus' encouraging words to his disciples:
"Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets." (Luke 6:22-23)
Jesus tells the disciples that trials are inevitable. As long as we profess to be followers of Christ we will face criticism for His sake. I believe that one way to tell whether we are doing what God wants us to do is by seeing whether we are being criticized for what we are doing.
Observation #2: Trials are necessary to developing faith.
Look at James 1:3 – “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”
God uses trials to develop faith and character in Christ. One of my favorite examples is Joseph. When we first meet him in Genesis 37, God had just revealed to him in a dream a glimpse of what God had in store for him. Although the Bible doesn't specifically say it, I've often thought that Joseph might have been bragging a little to his brothers about God speaking to him in his dream. I think that might have contributed to the anger that Joseph's brothers felt towards him.
Although God had a specific purpose for Joseph, he first had to endure a series of trials in order to be fully prepared that purpose. He was sold into slavery, wrongfully accused of a crime by Potiphar’s wife, and thrown into prison. God used all of these trials in Joseph’s life to shape his character and prepare him for his ultimate purpose.
God also allowed the nation of Israel to wander for 40 years in the wilderness in order to shape their character as a nation:
"You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not."
And of course, Jesus suffered many trials for our sakes.
"Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate." (Hebrews 13:12)
I once heard someone compare faith to muscle. If a muscle is not used it will atrophy, wither away and become useless. However, if you exercise a muscle it will grow stronger. The same applies to our faith.
When I was in high school, I tried out for our basketball team. Although I was the tallest player on the team, I didn't succeed because I couldn't make it through preseason conditioning that was necessary to get us in top physical shape. Conditioning was hard work. I didn't have what it took to perservere. As a result, I failed to develop as an athlete.
Right after I graduated from high school, I went to Europe for three weeks. One of my stops was in Venice which is known for hand blown glass. We went to a factory where the work was being done. In order for the glass to be ready to be shaped it first has to be subjected to great heat so that it can be pliable enough that when the glassblower starts to make the piece by blowing into the tube the glass will be easily formed into the desired shape. The trials we face are like that fire. They are necessary for God to be able to shape us into the person in Christ that He wants us to be.
Observation #3: Our response should be to rejoice and trust in the Lord.
Our response to trials should be to rejoice as God is using the trials to strengthen and shape us.
"And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)
The apostle Paul knew something about trials. He encountered numerous physical, emotional, and physical trials during his ministry.
Jesus had this to say during the Sermon on the Mount:
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way
they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)
We will all face trials during the course of our walk. Jesus himself told us to expect trials. God will use trials in our life to strengthen our faith and deepen our walk with him. Rather than become discouraged, we should rejoice in the middle of our difficulties knowing that God is with us.
There are great rewards for those who persevere:
"Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." (James 1:12)