Meditations in James: 3 : Joyful Testing
Jas 1:2,3 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
Living in the West in the early part of the twenty-first century, we are more affluent and have more technology than any people who have ever existed before us. Life should, therefore, be easy and pleasant, but so often it isn’t. If you asked most people, they would pause, reflect and then say something like, “Life is tough!” Why is that? It is, I suggest, because we live in a Fallen World where sin prevails and therefore things go wrong and people are nasty. As a dispersed people (see yesterday) we are out there in the world, largely alone, having to learn to cope with the less-than-perfect life that rolls out before us. A lot of the time it may be humdrum, ordinary with no particular problems, but then suddenly something happens, something goes wrong and we are in conflict or stress and anxiety, or we are struggling with illness or infirmity. That’s what life in this Fallen World is like. The staggeringly wonderful news for Christians, of course, is that we are not alone; we have the Lord with us. Moses was able to encourage Israel with, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6) and the writer to the Hebrews was able to take that and apply it to us when he wrote, “be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:5,6).
So the first thing to note from our verses today is that we live in a world where things go wrong, things that James calls ‘trials’. The second thing to keep in mind, which isn’t in this verse, is that whatever happens the Lord is with us in it. Perhaps we would to well to remember a third thing, that however difficult the trial seems to be, the Lord will be there seeking to bring good out of it for us: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28). Bear those two things in mind: the Lord is with us and He will be working to bring good out of what otherwise might be a bad situation!
But then James says something about what is going on. He says God is testing your faith. Our education system, at the government’s direction, seems paranoid about testing. Our children constantly seem to be getting tested. Why do the government want teachers to do this? They do it because they want to check a child’s progress and ensure that they are learning. That is exactly why God tests us. There is a clear indication in Scripture that God expects us to mature – we’ll see that tomorrow. The writer to the Hebrews chided them saying, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:12-14).
There he indicates he expects us to grow up, understand the truth and live it. God’s testing, however, doesn’t merely monitor our position; it acts like a work-out in the gym and strengthens us. Whereas a physical workout brings strength to our muscles, God’s work-out develops perseverance in us, that ability to just plug on when life seems difficult. Yes, there are times when life seems glorious and wonderful and easy, and at those times you don’t need any special resources, (and that is a danger for we forget our need of the Lord), but we’ve been saying that in this Fallen World life is sometimes difficult and the enemy would want us to give up on our faith, and so perseverance is something the Lord builds in to us. How does He do that? By allowing us trying times!
It’s not only James; Paul says the same thing: “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance” (Rom 5:2,3). It’s not only James and Paul; Peter says the same thing: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6,7)
So there it is; these trials, these tests, work to bring perseverance which we need to handle the dark side of life, and as we do, our faith is seen to be genuine and all the angels looking on give a mighty applause because they see it is the work of Jesus and so when he returns, and every knee bows to acknowledge his wonder, this will be part of the reason for all the praise he receives. Our lives have the means of glorifying Jesus!
Which brings us to the first part of the verse that most Christians struggle with and focus upon: “Count it pure joy” when these things happen to you. Why? For the reasons we have been seeing: because we are taking part in God’s strategy which strengthens us, reveals us for who we are, encourages us as we realise that we can cope with His grace. It also brings great glory to Jesus as we triumph as he, standing alongside us is working out the Father’s purposes and bringing good out of every situation for us. Wow! Rejoicing in whatever life is holding for you at the moment? Go for it!