“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1.12 ESV)
“Count it joy when you meet trials” is how he starts his letter. I can’t imagine what kind of trials he’s talking about that would be joyful.
When Stephan was stoned to death in Jerusalem, a great persecution began. Jewish believers were hounded and literally forced to scatter or be killed. Acts chapter 7 tells about Stephan’s preaching and his death at the hands of the Jewish court. Chapter 8 begins by telling us that this began a “great persecution” and dispersal of the church. When you consider how this great persecution began I can’t think of one thing to be joyful about. But that’s what James says, “Count it all joy.” I think about the trials I have suffered and they are nothing in comparison.
So I can’t imagine why he would say to be joyful. But then, in verse 3 James says, “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance (or endurance).” While this leads us to believe that we should expect more trials it also is something that we, as believers, should expect. Jesus said that in this world we would have trouble. It is a fact that the world, as a whole, doesn’t like Christians. In the US this may not be as blatant as in some other countries, but it’s here. Christians talk about how anti-Christian forces are growing, but they aren’t, really. They are just coming out of the closet. It’s okay to be anti-Christian now, so all of the devil’s forces are becoming bolder and more open.
So, endurance or perseverance is needed, or will be soon. Personally, I don’t want to go through trials. I don’t want to suffer or do without. I’m sure most of you would agree with me. So I guess we need a reason to endure these trials. Since we are looking at anti-Jesus forces causing the problems I can imagine that there will be an “escape clause” for those who choose to give in. You know the old “renounce Jesus or die” giving you the choice. But what is our choice; or maybe a better question, what is the reward for endurance? Let’s take a quick look at 1Peter 1 starting with verse 5. “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1Pe 1:5-9 ESV)
We see, through faith, the day when we meet Jesus. This is the reason that we endure, even if we are “grieved by various trials” because we wait for the day when we will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
James isn’t the only Bible writer who talks about rejoicing in suffering. Paul brings this up many times in his letters. One example is in Romans chapter 5. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:3-5 ESV) These trials purify our faith resulting in maturity. This maturity allows not only allows us to stand firm against the trials but also gives us the strength to help others who might not be as strong.
I want to be sure that you understand what the Bible writers are talking about when they say trials. Not all Christians will suffer the same. Some may actually have a fairly easy time. It could be a loss of job, maybe, or harassment at work because you don’t “fit in” with the others. But be assured that that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to persecution and suffering. The devil doesn’t want any of Jesus’ followers to endure to the end and will do whatever he can get away with to stop us.
The renounce Jesus or die type of trial is the obvious one. The outcome is plain when you have a gun held to your head. You either trust Jesus for your reward or you give in. I’m not trying to say that it’s easy or pleasant, but it is obvious. Then there are the more subtle trials. These are what we usually have to deal with on a daily basis. They are the daily choices that we all have to make. They are the choices about work, entertainment and living in general. How we respond to these choices make up our character and determine who we are. Christians should be very careful when making these daily decisions. No, we are not looking to please or impress pothers around us, but we are supposed to be examples of Christ to the world. St. Francis is supposed to have once said, “Preach Christ at all times and use words when necessary.” Our lives should preach Jesus to the world. Our daily actions should be a witness to unbelievers and an encouragement to other believers. This is something that I am better at now but I still have a long way to go. I think that all of us, as we become more Christ-like, we realize how much more we have to go to actually be like Him.
Trials help us to become more like Jesus. By not being like the world, by not following the ways of this world, we are becoming more like Jesus every day. Paul advises us to let God transform us. “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God.” (Rom. 12:2 GNB)
. ESV: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved
GNB: ‘Scriptures and additional materials quoted are from the Good News Bible © 1994 published by the Bible Societies/HarperCollins Publishers Ltd UK, Good News Bible© American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992. Used with permission.’