Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Trials to Maturity

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

What would hinder you from serving the Lord as considered in the verse 1? Trials! As soon as tough times come our way, the automatic response is, 'WHY?' Why do you face trials? 
Undoubtedly we all are enduring some trials – you may be feeling very frustrated with your husband or perhaps you are very annoyed with your children. Or it could be that you are going through a season of serious financial challenges with unending demand for more. Or you are emotionally drained, lonely and depressed – you would like to be married but no one is coming your way. It could be that your friend has betrayed you.  It may be that you’ve been jobless for long; or it might be you just lost your job or that your contract is about to come to an end. It may be you are battling a chronic illness, or you can’t have more children. It could be that you are dealing with what may look like unsolvable problem. This passage calls all these, trials of various kinds.
These and many other trials is what James is talking about when he writes of trials of various kinds. ‘Various kinds of trials’ means that they are ‘many-coloured, variegated… diversified, complex, intricate’, to describe. That is, ‘any and every kind’[1]. Trials are sent by God in order to make a person stand. However the word used here carries both that positive meaning but it can also be translated ‘temptations’ – those trials that are sent by Satan to make a person fall. For this sermon we will use the positive sense but James employs the same Word in verses 12, 13 which is translated temptation. Faced with all sort of trials, the question that seem to fill your mind is, “WHY GOD?” In these three verses, the Lord God, our loving heavenly Father provides us with the answer.
 How are we to respond to trials?
Before James answers the WHY question, he addresses the HOW to face to trials question. It is noteworthy that this is where he begins with, for our problem is not that we lack the answers to the WHY question. Our great need is not lack of knowledge, our need is right response.
Our greatest need is HOW we are respond. It is of primary importance that we respond Biblically and not simply emotionally. We more often than not simply respond as per the dictates of emotion – yet the two, emotion and Biblical objectivity are not mutually exclusive. Because the Biblical response here is both emotional and objective!
a)      Respond with joy
When trials of any and every kind come, and they shall come, you should count it all joy. ‘Count’ refers to the importance which we give something - it is a well worked calculation. It is to consider and render a careful rational judgment. The significance and rational judgment of all kinds of trials by biblical standards is joy. A few examples here of how the Apostles of the Lord uses this word ‘count’ in comparing the significance of one thing to another – Peter encourages us to count the seeming delay of Christ’s return as the Lord’s patience that leads to salvation (2 Peter 3:15). Paul counts everything as loss in comparison to the excellence of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:7-8). In the same breath, you should appraise any and every loss, any and every pain, any and every frustration, any and every calamity, any and every pressure, any and every distress as pure joy! In other words, do not waste any trial, any cancer, any sleepless night, any frustration. This is what our Master did – who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross (Heb. 12:2).
All is joy is pure joy. James is emphasizing that Christians must consider their trials as wholly, completely, entirely and utterly joyful… it should not have even a drop of sadness mixed in their libation of joy.[2] It is not to say that you just smile or employ worldly, temporal happiness, or administer the so called ‘holy laughter’ or other religiously coated worldly methods. On the other hand James is not calling us to seek and pray for trials as a means for our joy. Neither is James encouraging us to celebrate in our trials – something like what Kent Hughes describes:
James was not commending that we exult upon hearing that our career position has been given to our secretary, or that the neighbour’s children have leukemia, or that one’s spouse has become adulterous.[3]
Instead, James is calling us to a spiritual, enduring and complete joy in the Lord who is sovereign over all things. It is to trust His Word that He is working out all things for good (Rom. 8:28) including all types of trials. This means you look at the trials in light of their eternal value for your life and that of someone else. We are to consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the eternal weight of glory that will be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). We can only have joy in the midst of pain and loss when we know that God has not only ordained it but is in it! Yes, Mr. Selvaggio is right when says,
The tears of our trials are part of the divine ink God uses to write the glorious redemptive story of our lives. Our trials are evidence that He is working on us in His heavenly workshop.[4]
Is this the way we respond when different types of trials come? I think, because we expect pleasant experiences only in life, we fail to appraise the experiences with the correct dose of joy. But we must never forget the wise counsel of John Calvin,
We certainly dread diseases, and want, and exile, and prison, and reproach, and death, because we regard them as evils; but when we understand that they are turned through God’s kindness unto helps and aids to our salvation, it is ingratitude to murmur, and not willingly to submit to be thus paternally dealt with.[5]
Clearly, our gracious and loving heavenly Father is using our temporal earthly trials to make us meet for our heavenly home and so we rejoice with joy inexpressible! Yes, we rejoice and are glad even in the midst of severe persecution because we have an assurance from our Lord and Saviour that "great is our reward in heaven!" (Matt. 5:11-12). This is what the disciples did in Acts 5:21: Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. May the Lord help us so that like Paul we may say, ”In all our affliction, we may be overflowing with joy”. (2Co 7:4)

b)     Respond with patience
This will be considered later under chapter 5:7-11 but it is the second way in which we are to respond to trials. For now, I pray that trials will teach you more patience, and more patience as you wait a few more years for this passage to be considered!
Why do you face trials?
a)      To test your faith
The first reason why God sends us a package of trials constantly is to test our faith! Remember that as far as our spiritual lives are concerned, there is nothing more important than our FAITH. God has to keep on keeping it on check through trials.  And so James in this letter is very concerned that we may have a real, genuine, living faith. As much as testing is necessary to establish the quality of gold that perishes, so is the testing of our faith which is far more precious than gold so that this faith may be found to result in praise and glory of honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:7). Simply put, James is saying here that God will neither reduce nor remove the testing of your faith because He is interested in a glorious, praiseworthy and honourable faith – our faith must be proved genuine!
You have seen Christians who have gone through terrible times in their lives. Some have as a result of these trials ended up rejecting God and so shipwrecking their faith. Others have successfully waded through trials, and have endured to emerge even stronger Christians. The trials of Daniel left him a better servant of God and of men in three different governments. The trials of his three friends made the seeming power of idolatry nothing. The trials of Nehemiah left Jerusalem a better city. What legacy will your trials leave behind? 
Trials are a very effective means of testing our faith. When under trial our faith is somewhat shaped – so that our experiences confirm what God has said about Himself and His creation including ourselves in His Word. This is what Alec Motyer says,
“When circumstances seem to mock our creed, when the cruelty of life denies His Fatherliness, His silence calls in question His almightiness and the sheer, haphazard, meaningless jumble of events challenges the possibility of a Creator’s ordering hard. It is in this way that life’s trials test our faith for genuineness.”
b)      To cultivate your steadfastness
… the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Steadfastness is the same as endurance, fortitude or perseverance. The picture here is of a person successfully carrying a heavy load for a long time.[6] This is the intended fruit of trials. It is the very quality expected by God when He sends adversity our way.
 As one drinks from the cup of trials and eats the bread of adversity, growth is to be seen through the continued persistence and continuance in the faith. The progress in faith in the midst of calamity is a mark of tested faith and an improving faith. Faith that gives up on the way is no faith at all. The marathon of a believer running through His Christian life is the indication that there lives a faith, a genuine faith. So we are to run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us.
Imagine a pastor whose wife goes crazy. Surely, this is a terrible burden to bear for them both. The faithfulness of the pastor to care for his wife and to keep on doing it for as long as they are both alive is the mark of steadfastness. If the man gets tired on the last month of her life, and marries another woman to be his wife, he has fallen into sin and this disqualify him from the ministry!
Trials have a way of revealing what we are really made of. Are we vessels of honour or of dishonour? Trials will shortly reveal. They show us how weak or strong we are as we carry on. Trials show if our zeal is sloth after all. Trials reveal if our wisdom was only a wrapping over folly. How true that, “Innocence is best tried by iniquity” (Tertullian). You have to melt the rocks if you want the metal…the hard experiences actually stimulate a deeper commitment and a growing personal holiness. Perseverance is that willingness to keep running the race that is generated in the course of the race at precisely the moment when the muscles are hurting and the lungs are bursting.[7]
But as we carry on under the burden of trials in faithfulness, the richness of the grace of God in keeping and guarding the elect through faith is displayed. There is no doubt that the more weight of trials we have, the more we are trained to pray and to keep our focus on the Lord. This is how trials force us to depend on the Lord for grace, strength and wisdom in the midst of trials which is for our eternal good.
c)      To ripen our spiritual maturity
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (v.4). Perseverance is not the final goal of our trials but it is the bucket of milking more benefits from the trials. Clearly the benefits of trials can only come to the believers who respond appropriately to them. Steadfastness has to have its full effect, that is, it has to do all its intended work first. In other words, steadfastness has to perfect its work so that you become perfected or matured which is the ultimate goal of the trials. This is how Moo puts it,
“When endurance is allowed to run its course and attain its goal, believers will be mature and complete, not lacking anything… the word “complete” suggests the idea of wholeness of Christian character that lacks nothing in the panoply of virtues that define Godly character. This concern for spiritual integrity and wholeness lies at the heart of James’s concern, and he will come back to the matter again and again.”[8]
A mature, ripe Christian is one who, having gone through the diverse trials of life is proved to be meet for glory. Blanchard is right when he asserts that,
God’s desire for the Christian is not that he should stagger through life in a series of spiritual fits and starts, flashing out with the odd bright spot here and there and then sinking back into dullness and defeat. God’s desire for the Christian is nothing less than that expressed by Jesus: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48)[9].
 This means that our love for God is growing steadily as our faculties are constantly being tuned to conform to His holy will so that we love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength and we love the neighbours He brings our way as ourselves. But even more important, is that we be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29)

[1] A. Motyer, BST The Message of James, (Leicester England, IVP, 1985), pp.29-30
[2] A. Selvaggio, The 24/7 Christian,  (Darlington, Eng: EP, 2008), p.41
[3] R.K. Hughes, James:Faith that Works (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), p.18
[4] A. Selvaggio, The 24/7 Christian,  (Darlington, Eng: EP, 2008), p.42
[5] J. Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 22 (Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Books, 1989). Pp.279-280
[6] D. Moo, The Letter of James, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), p.55
[7] G. Keddie, The Practical Christian, (Darlington, Eng: EP, 1989), pp.28-29

[8] D. Moo, The Letter of James, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), p.56
[9] J. Blanchard, Truth For Life, (Darlington, Eng: EP, 1986), pp.24

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