The current lockdown situation has brought everyone into a trial, to some degree. The experiences are different for everyone but there are trials to be endured. Yet, in the contemporary western world, we seem to be programmed to avoid discomfort or unhappiness at almost any cost. The Bible reminds us that this is not the view the believer should adopt.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
You will have trials
Although we might think we do not need a reminder, Scripture does tell us that we will fall into various trials. It is not a question of “If” but of “When”. Life in a broken world brings trials of varying types and severity to all people. Death, disease, financial concerns, and family troubles are a few examples of these and Christians are not exempt from any of them.
Additionally, believers will experience trials that are due to their faith in the Lord Jesus and a desire to be obedient to Him. Persecution and pressure to conform to the prevailing culture are real trials undergone by all who desire to live a life pleasing to God. In the workplace, university, school and sometimes even in the home, pressure to compromise the faith is very real.
James does inform believers that, although trials will come upon us, they should not be sought. In the parable of the good Samaritan, we read that a man “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves” (Luke 10:30). Just as he did not go looking for thieves, so believers need not go searching for trials, but they will fall into them. As believers, we are not exhorted to have a “martyr’s complex” and search trials out.
In our lifetimes we will encounter a variety of trials with a range of lengths and depths. Most people are aware of others who have undergone severe trials but, for example, the level of persecution suffered by Richard Wurmbrand or the crippling injuries of Joni Eareckson Tada will not be the lot of many of us.
You are to count it joy when you meet trials
Our first reaction to a trial may be to worry or to ponder, “How can I get out of this?” or “‘What can I do to minimise any discomfort?” James tells us to think differently. He uses an accounting term that means we are to evaluate the trial, using all that we know about God’s purposes and promises, and reckon, or esteem, it “as pure joy”. Paul, uses the same word when he writes:
“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8a).
Paul reckoned that knowing the Lord Jesus was of far greater worth than all his earthly achievements and honours, in fact of more value than anything else. Warren Wiersbe, in his helpful commentary Be Mature - James: Growing Up in Christ, writes that “Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to "count it all joy." If we live only for the present and forget the future, then trials will make us bitter, not better.”
God’s purpose for believers is not necessarily for them to be physically healthy, materially wealthy, and free from discomfort but it is for them to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). He has promised that His purposes for His people will be accomplished (Philippians 1:6). So, although we would never invite the trial that has come upon us (after all who would welcome a diagnosis of cancer?), using our “Bible glasses” we can count it joy, as we know that a loving God has a purpose in it – it is for our eternal good and His glory.
You will become complete through trials
Trials are designed as the proving ground for faith, not that they produce faith but they test and strengthen our faith. Peter, in his first letter, writes that trials test the genuineness of faith, and he draws on the imagery of the furnace that is used for proving metals (1 Peter 1:6-7). His words echo the picture from the book of Proverbs:
“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts” (Proverbs 17:3).
If we endure them correctly, trials can remove earthly “idols” that we rely on, increase our trust in the Lord and develop our perseverance. The word that James uses for ‘patience’ is not passive, like the patience we might show waiting at a bus stop, but it is active like that shown by the long-distance runner. Patience, steadfastness, and perseverance all carry the idea of “keeping going”. The person who is running the marathon can easily avoid the physical pain and the mental agony they are feeling by giving up. Just so, in our trials there is often the fleshly cry, “Give up”, “Don’t carry on with this”, or “Take the easy way out and avoid the pain”.
However, James encourages us to not give up but patiently endure, that is, to remain under the pressure of the trial and not sinfully escape it. There is a purpose in it and there will be a reward for those who faithfully endure; we can know that the Lord is doing a “perfect work”, that we “may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing”. Successfully endured, trials mature us and bring us into greater conformity to the Lord Jesus.
James also brings a great promise that God, if we ask Him, will supply the needed wisdom to endure the trial (1:5-8). Paul wrote to the Corinthians and reminded them:
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
God has promised He will provide a way so that we can escape from sinful thoughts and behaviours whilst patiently enduring the trial.
“Most of us lack wisdom to view the pressures of life from God's standpoint. We adopt a short-range view, occupying ourselves with the immediate discomfort. We forget that God's unhurried purpose is to enlarge us through pressure” (W. McDonald, Believer's Bible Commentary).
As Christians, we will all encounter trials in our walk with God. How we react to them is critical if we are going to grow in spiritual maturity. We can, once again, reflect on the endurance of the long-distance runner, when we read “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1b).