Trials are various, they are inevitable, and on top of that, they are unexpected. We just need to look around us at the havoc the pandemic has caused. And yet God, through James, demands that we rejoice. What do we make of such a God?
[In case you missed Part 1 of this series, you can find it here.]
Thanks be to God for conjunctions—specifically the conjunctions in His Word. Most specifically, the conjunction at the start of James 1:3; the conjunction “for”.
God cares enough to tell us His reasons. In other words, God is not merely commanding us to “rejoice”. He is telling us why we ought to, and in doing so, we also understand how to do so. He is showing us the vantage point to view trials from.
James says we ought to account our trials as profitable and thus, occasions for great joy because we know something. In other words, he is laying out a basic financial principle: right accounting stems from right knowledge. Right knowledge is the basis for right accounting. But knowledge about what?
God wants us to know the immediate result of the trials that accost us. And this can be developed further:
Knowing that trials are perfecting our faith is the first step to seeing them as occasions for joy
So what is so great about endurance? What is so valuable about long lasting faith? Why would knowing that I will endure be a matter of joy? The short answer is that it is only genuine saving faith, genuine faith that endures to the end. In the parable of the sower/soils, Jesus portrays four kinds of people, and there is one kind of person that Jesus regards as the opposite of enduring. “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, (observe) but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:20–21).
Biblically, if I do not endure or I fall away, I was never saved. If I do endure, if I abide in Christ, the true Vine, there is much fruit. The writer to the Hebrews repeatedly shouts out: “You have need of endurance…so that you do not fall away!” Enduring faith is truly worth it because with endurance, we don’t flicker out; we don’t fall away.
If you and I want to endure in our faith, we need our faith-muscles strengthened and our stamina stretched
Several men in our church have biceps that make my arms look like matchsticks. How do they get there? They heap weights on those hands of theirs. They force their arms to resist more and more and more. Repeated trials, again and again, are brought on those arms. And over time, their arms get stronger. And so, if you could imagine, at a gym, while I will be pumping the incredible weight of two kilograms, with sweat pouring from my forehead, my beloved brothers will be playing with a pair of twenty five kilogram dumb-bells to warm up. Why? Because they have endurance after all the trials they put their arms through. And if you and I want to endure in our faith, we need our faith-muscles strengthened and our stamina stretched.
Often in suffering, we have eyes only for what our trials take away from us. We watch as the fire swallows up so much that we desired and dreamed of. But underneath what we see, we need to know that our trials are producing something of tremendous value. Trials are worth it precisely because testing…produces endurance. If we will trust, if we put our faith in our God and His promise, we see our trials will give us far more than they take away—a purified faith that does not perish like hay in the fire, but endures like gold. We lose a little, we gain much—i.e. profit. So we can account for our trials as worth it because we know that these trials involve a purifying of faith and a production of endurance.
Do we, then, trust God’s promise in the midst of our trials? Are we content with losing some of our petty plans and pointless pleasures for the sake of permanent perseverance? Do we want to finish our race of faith and bear much fruit, however unseen?
Allow me put it in accounting terms: Is enduring, genuine, refined faith truly profitable to me? Is the immediate result of enduring faith worth it?
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