It has only been two weeks since we entered the New Year 2018. Do we sometimes wonder what lies ahead of us? What trials and testings will we face? Will we be called upon to face unexpected hardships like a debilitating illness, disappointments, losses or persecution? How will we cope with the uncertainties of life?
As Christians, we thank the Lord that He has not left us to manage life’s problems on our own. God’s Word has much to teach us on how to respond rightly to adversities. One such exhortation is found in the epistle of James.
In the very first chapter, James dealt with the subject of trials and testings. Who was James and why did he write this epistle? James, the oldest half-brother of Jesus, wrote to “the diaspora” or Jewish believers who had fled Jerusalem due to persecution that had followed the death of Stephen (v 1; cf. Acts 11: 19). Facing severe hardships, these scattered Christians were in danger of falling into despair and murmuring against God: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (Jas 1: 13). James wrote to encourage these persecuted believers in their sufferings.
What practical lessons can we learn from James’ epistle?
1. Attitude to trials (1: 2)
o Rejoice when facing trials
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (1: 2)
The term, “temptations” refers to difficulties that come from without, such as sickness, poverty, persecutions and other calamities. “These cannot be said to be direct inducements or allurements to sin, but they try the faith, and they show whether he who is tried is disposed to adhere to his faith in God, or whether he will apostatise” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).
Our natural response to such trials is to sink into discouragement and despair. But James exhorts us to “count it all joy”, not because the afflictions are joyous in themselves but because of the sweet fruits that accompany a persevering and patient spirit (v 3).
2. Purpose of trials (1: 3-4)
o To cultivate patience
“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (1: 3)
The believer is able to rejoice in his trials because he knows that the sovereign God has a purpose for his suffering – “the trying of your faith worketh patience”. The word, “patience” (“hupomonen” in Greek) has the idea of “persevering endurance”. The trials and temptations are sent not to defeat us, but to prove our faith and encourage us to remain steadfast in our afflictions. This truth is reiterated by the apostle Paul in Romans 5: 3: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience.” Let us therefore look at our trials not as burdens to be endured, but as opportunities to build up our faith and increase our patience.
o To perfect our faith
“But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (1: 4)
We are to let patience “have its full scope: if one affliction come upon the heels of another, and a train of them are drawn upon us, yet let patience go on till its work is perfected. When we bear all that God appoints, and as long as he appoints, and with a humble obedient eye to him, and when we not only bear troubles, but rejoice in them, then patience hath its perfect work” (Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary).
Thus, when patience has done “her perfect work”, the believer lacks nothing to complete his Christian character. Fully instructed in the ways of God through the trials of his faith, he will “be perfect and entire, wanting nothing”.
Brethren, we may not know what trials and testings we will face in the remaining days of 2018. But we do know that our sovereign God has a purpose for our suffering. Let us therefore not faint or falter but rejoice in our afflictions (v 2). As we wait upon the Lord, He will sanctify us so that we will “be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (v 4). May the Lord keep us steadfast in our faith until the very end. (… to be continued)