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Being Steadfast During Trials (1:2-4)

Welcome back to another episode of the Net Cast podcast. This is season 5 episode 2 and we are going to explore James 1:2-4 in a message that I have titled, “Being Steadfast During Trials”. Your willingness to take a moment out of your day today to study from God’s word is commendable. I appreciate that you are spending the next few moments with me and I hope you find this very uplifting.

We started this series in the book of James with an introductory lesson, looking at the life of James. We pointed out that James was the half brother of our Lord. He wrote this letter to Christians that he once served in ministry and they were now scattered away from the Jerusalem church due to various trials stemming from persecution. He wrote these words by inspiration of the Holy Spirit in hopes that while they were dispersed, they were still dedicated to the Lord. That is why we titled this series, “Dispersed & Dedicated”. The hope is that we would draw encouragement from this study as we emerge from the pandemic and some of the challenges associated with the limitations placed upon us as God’s people.

We examined the ministry of James, how he was so prayerful that others called him “ole camel knees” because he had worn a callous on both knees from worship and prayer. Even though he was a devout man of God, he faced his own trials, persecutions, and even martyrdom. We mentioned that James was killed for his service to Jesus after being thrown down from the temple peak, stoned, and then hit in the head with a fullers hook while praying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing!”. These are the same words that his older brother Jesus, the Son of God prayed when he suffered death at the hand of sinners but also for sinners as the Savior of the world. Perhaps this is exactly where James gets his faith to endure trials and even death for the sake of Jesus. What James will say next certainly leads us to believe that he understood trials and how to handle them very well. Stay with me to learn more.

Remembering the death of this martyr James and also the death of our Savior, Jesus will help us to understand the message today where we read in James 1:2-4,

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

It is during difficult times that we often question God or at least wonder why God would allow good people or Christian people to undergo such harsh circumstances. For example, what if a young man or young woman, who is a Christian, dies in a car accident at 16 years of age? What if a young child, develops an inoperable incurable cancer that takes their life before the age of 3? How do we explain when a tornado or a fire destroys the house of a godly couple and all of their belongings are lost? Is God still in control? Does the Lord care? How can a loving, all-powerful, sovereign, and good God not step in and stop these things from happening? Do these events have anything to do with the Lord? Is this God’s “plan” and can we use passages like, “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” or can we use common phrases like, “the Lord took them home and it is His perfect will”? How do we make sense of the things that “good people” have to go through in this life? Perhaps we should echo more often these words of Job, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? In all of this (various trials) Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10) Oddly enough, no matter whether you are a Christian or not, not one person can be called “good”. Only God is good. But how do we see His goodness in the midst of the hardships in life and continue to have joy in our hearts?

James addresses the issues perfectly. Here are the facts. God created all things “very good” at the beginning (Gen. 1:31) and death and suffering were not a part of the original design. No evil exists in God’s nature and therefore He only wants what is good for us, hence the original paradise of Eden. God walked with mankind there and we had all that our hearts could desire. God even watered the ground and caused the garden to grow and flourish. God told the man how to make the most of this special place.

The problems that we experience today come from choices made according to free will which God gave us. He didn’t force us to serve Him or preprogram us to only do what He desired. He let us choose between His will and our own selfish desires. When Satan was cast out of heaven he came to the Garden of Eden to entice and tempt man into sin. Mankind chose to set in motion the current status of this world’s order or should we say disorder. Things that are good (every good and perfect gift), are from God. If something is evil, it traces back to another source. Satan brought temptation to mankind and we chose to rebel from God in sin. The results and consequences of this sin became a curse on mankind, which involved the physical world being cursed as well. This brought about not only death but a whole list of undesirable and difficult consequences. Thorns and thistles would grow and man would sweat during his work until he returned to the dust of the ground in death from which he was taken. Women would have increased pain in bearing children and their desire would now be for their husband. Satan would go about on his belly and he is told that one day the Lord would crush his head in victory over sin. The fall of man was not God’s desire, although in His infinite wisdom He did have a plan through which He would redeem the world from sin. Since He is just, the various trials that we are presented with are a direct result of our turning away from God. This is not the teaching of karmic religions where one bad deed comes back to us as another bad experience, but rather that this world is full of wickedness as a result of sin and it shows no partiality. Sickness, crying, pain, hardship, death, etc. are all consequences that we will not escape until all things are fully restored in God’s new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells.

When the Bible says God will one day wipe away all tears from our eyes and there will be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away, He is talking about Christians being delivered from all of these earthly troubles. This should inform us that God doesn’t expect us to be immune or invincible from trials and pain. We are told in advance that we will suffer and have troubles, but Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). Paul wrote that when Jesus returns He is coming to give rest to us who have been troubled by trials and afflictions when He comes to punish wickedness (II Thess. 1:5-10). Until then the evil and good exist together.

We know that God will allow us to be tempted and face trials but he does not tempt anyone nor can He be tempted. We know that God will permit Satan to bring terrible affliction such as sickness, pain, and loss (see the book of Job) but God is not the source of these maladies. He sets limits to our affliction and provides a way of escape when we are in these temptations. He does not change His all-powerful, sovereign, faithful, loving, and good nature. He is a just and holy God and must punish unrighteousness with appropriate consequences. The question then arises, are these consequences only for those that live a sinful life? No. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.

In other words, there is no partiality with God. Likewise, in this world, God is not going to step in and alleviate any unfortunate event from occurring. We are all sinners, no one is righteous or good, not one of us (Rom. 3:10). Therefore we are all under the curse, and even after we come to faith in the Lord, we are still living in a fallen and sinful world. No one is excused from facing the trials of this life.

The events that befall us, that we find dissatisfying and disheartening, are merely a part of living in a world disturbed by sin and our fall into its disorder and chaos. Consider what Jesus said in Luke 13 when He was questioned about tragic events that occurred during His lifetime. The Galileans who had been slaughtered and their blood mingled with sacrifices and the people on whom the tower of Siloam fell was horrific. Jesus simply asks, do you suppose that these Galileans or the 18 people on whom the tower fell were worse sinners than others around them? His reply was,

“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

The point is that their personal sin had nothing to do with the unfortunate events that unfolded. This is why it was wrong for Job’s friends to assume that he was sinning and that is why he was suffering so greatly. The Bible said that he was an upright man that turned away from evil and there was no one like him. Job suffered because of Satan, who is pure evil, always looking for ways to test our faith with his schemes. There are some scenarios where we suffer, that God will use to be glorified. When a young man was born blind, the question was asked, who sinned, the boy or his parents? The response was neither, this happened so that God could heal him and be glorified. Others were not healed during the ministry of Jesus, but nevertheless, their weaknesses were used by God for the greater good. We have to remember in all of this that God’s wisdom and foreknowledge are so far above our thoughts that we cannot question what He is doing in our life. It is our task to remain dedicated.

The world is marred by sin. The Bible says the earth is groaning and longs to be restored. Paul wrote in Romans 8:18-25, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” This world is not what it was intended to be and it is not God’s fault. God is in control, but His control is also seen in His ability to stand by and allow us continue to choose Him or our selfish ways. God is unwilling to deny His righteousness, holiness and faithfulness and He must be just and He will allow this crisis that we see every day to continue in hopes that we would learn about the plan of salvation that He unfolded for us in His Son, Jesus. Truly, without the troubles of this world, we would not long for the peace of eternal rest. Without sorrow, we would not eagerly look forward to unending joy of heaven. Without death, we would never have a desire for everlasting life. In fact, the best way to understand the suffering of this life is to look to Jesus. Peter wrote, “if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When he was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.”

Jesus lived a perfect sinless life and all throughout His life, from birth to His cruel death on the cross He ran through a gauntlet of trials and temptations. The Bible says that He was tempted in every way that you and I are tempted, yet He committed no sin. But even though they could find no fault in Him during His final trial before Pilate, they demanded that Jesus was crucified. Was this fair? No. Did Jesus feel abandoned by God? Yes, as He cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He even prayed that if it were possible to let the cup that He had to drink be passed from Him. But He was willing to put His will aside to do the will of God. Was He forsaken completely? No. He needed to go through the suffering so that He (God in the flesh) could relate to us, experience this world with its pains, losses, sorrow and hurt so that He could understand His brethren and what they were going through daily. He needed to endure every trial and maintain His trust in the real plan of God to save the world and exalt Him to His righteous right hand even if He had to face a grueling amount of torture and then suffer an excruciating and cruel death. Darkness settled over the cross as all of the sins of the world were laid on His shoulders and he died, saying, “Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit.” Likewise, when we feel like life is not fair, we have been left alone and God is nowhere to be found, the truth is God and a great cloud of witnesses that have endured exactly what we are trudging through and undergoing on a daily basis and they are cheering us on hoping that we too will keep the faith and be rewarded eternally for our steadfastness and willingness to overcome every obstacle placed in our path. God is not asking us to endure anything here that He Himself did not accomplish while in the flesh on earth. Don’t feel like God is expecting something from you that He doesn’t completely understand firsthand. He is asking us to trust Him with our entire being. Death itself has no victory because of Jesus, if only we will trust in Him! Our trials are a sharing in the suffering of Christ. We are filling up what was lacking in His sufferings as a part of His body, the church. Is it too much to ask that we would be willing to suffer for the cause of Christ after He redeemed us by His own blood? Certainly not! We should be willing to lose or at least renounce all things for the sake of gaining salvation and eternal life in the presence of God. God is for us! Who can be against us? If we lose our lives for His sake, we gain our lives. When someone asks, where was God when my son died? The answer could simply be, the same place that He was when His own Son died. God is sovereign over all, and faithful, but a part of that sovereignty and faithful love is that God must be true to His character. This means that if He is just, it would be improper for Him to step into every undesirable circumstance and somehow make it right. We are now being asked to trust in Christ as our Savior and God will make all things new someday in a restored paradise. Until then, we are being called by James, the brother of the Lord to keep the faith in spite of our trials. I hope this sheds some light and answers any questions about how we can view God as faithful even as we endure hardships in this life.

This preacher James practiced what he preached and he wants the saints to know that we can all benefit from counting all trials as a test for faith and that our perspective should be one of joy. James was there from the beginning of the church and he witnessed firsthand the efforts made to disband and destroy the church (Acts 1:14). It was only a short time after the inauguration of the church that the persecution began (Acts 4:1f). Eventually, James faced his own trial of persecution and lost his earthly life, only to gain the everlasting life that was promised to the faithful. Through it all, he had developed a faith that could not be shaken. He is trying to help other Christians to comprehend how to go through trials and remain dedicated and explain to them why it is important that we count them a blessing and express joy in the face of suffering, sorrows, sickness, and seasons of grief.

Esteem Every Trial Joyously Brethren (vs 2)

Counting or Esteeming Trials with Joy

This is one of the hardest truths that can ever be presented in our teaching or preaching from God’s word. To ask someone to consider being joyous, delighting in, or being glad under circumstances that are generally met with much different physical and emotional responses seems to contradict our human nature. It is hard to be positive when nothing but negativity surrounds us.

But what if the encounters that we view and experience physically as negative, brings about or produces a positive outcome spiritually at the end of the trial and ultimately at the end of life on earth? The word used here for “consider” or “count” (depending on your version of the Bible) is the word “esteem”. It is the word used for how we would esteem a governor or leader, one who is held in high esteem. We are to hold up or honor our trials, not because they are pleasant at the moment, but because they serve a purpose that is spiritual. From a physical standpoint, trials feel absolutely unnecessary, counterproductive, and absurd. We are being asked to think of ourselves as fortunate to encounter or find ourselves in diverse afflictions. Then as we move through them, we are to maintain a spirit of rejoicing. On the surface, this seems impossible and incomprehensible but when viewed with spiritual eyes, we see the outcome as rewarding and ultimately a way to bring our Savior and God glory.

My Brethren

James, who was a half-brother to the Lord, does not use the word brothers (brethren) in the physical blood family sense. He actually referred to himself as a servant of Jesus. He is not using the word brothers generically to refer to others of a common Jewish heritage, who were often referred to as brethren. He speaks here of those that have been washed in the blood of Jesus through obedience to the gospel (See James 1:16, 19; 2:1). We are a part of the family of God and therefore brothers and sisters in a spiritual family, the body of Christ, the church. The royal blood of Christ now flows through our veins as he was the firstborn among many brethren. We are in line for an eternal inheritance, but we also inherit the trials of our faith.

Since we are brothers and sisters in Christ, we share in His suffering (I Peter 4:12-14). We are also told that we should not think it “strange” that we encounter various trials as though some “strange this is happening to us” but to “rejoice” as we have become partakers of Christ’s sufferings. When we share in Christ’s sufferings as a part of His body, the church, we are preparing ourselves for the day when He is revealed from heaven in glory, when we will experience supreme gladness and exceeding joy since we will also share in His glory. By saying “brethren”, he expresses that they are all in this together. Family sticks together and when one suffers we all suffer with them. When one rejoices, we all rejoice. In I Peter 5:9, this is exactly what Peter meant when he wrote,

“But resist him (devil), firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.”

What encourages me and you to endure trials and temptations, remaining unmoved in our faith is the fact that your brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world have to experience the same struggles and difficulties. By knowing this truth, I have the courage and boldness to stand firm.

Another point that needs to be established here is that as a family, we are all heirs of the same eternal relationship with the Lord and an everlasting reward (inheritance). Only those who are children of God by faith can confidently face trials with the hope that on the other side, they will have a warm welcome into heaven by a loving Father, and our brother Jesus, the Son of God. This teaching from James is an echo of what Jesus taught His disciples (Matthew 5:10-12). If we are persecuted for righteousness sake we are blessed and to us will belong the kingdom of heaven. Those who follow Jesus were told in advance of the opposition they would encounter. If Jesus had to endure them, then so would we if we followed Him (Acts 14:22). We will endure "much" tribulation in order to enter God's kingdom in heaven.

Endurance is the Outcome of the Examinations (vs 3)

Every Trial is a Test of Faith

When we view trials as a test of the genuineness of our faith, we might prepare and put forth more effort to make the grade. Tests are never enjoyable because they evaluate what we know (belief). Here James states that you must “know” that every trial is a test of faith. If you know that, then when you face a challenging time, you don’t have to question what is occurring, but rather you need to pass with the highest mark. Don’t question God! Question yourself as to how you plan to handle yourself as you undergo this difficulty. That’s it!

Paul said,

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you— unless indeed you failed the test?” (II Cor. 13:5)

The words test and examination are used interchangeably here. To fail the test is to abandon faith on account of life’s hardships. To pass the test, we must call to mind in these moments that Jesus Christ is in us through the Holy Spirit and that we cannot "miss the mark" (commit a sin). Another word for test is “proof” meaning that our response to each test is proof of our faith in the Lord (I Peter 1:6-9).

The Examination of our Faith Produces Endurance

When we face a challenge our first question is often, “why me, God?” Yet, if we viewed every trial as God tells us to and responded accordingly with joy, we would find a treasure in every trial. The treasure that initially comes from each test is referred to here as endurance. We are more durable in our faith and purified in our soul when placed under fiery trials. A precious metal is placed in a furnace to remove impurities and make it more precious and of greater value. The same process is used to strengthen steel. The correct rendering of this word for endurance is “remain under”. Can you “remain” faithful “under” trials? Can you be steadfast and unmoved by difficult circumstances? Will you demonstrate constancy and perseverance in times of persecution? These are the questions that we must be able to answer!

We cannot esteem just one trial and then lose heart with the rest. That is not endurance. We are being asked to view all of our trials of varying types as a whole in terms of each individual encounter. So when Paul says, “rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice” (Phil. 4:4), this literally means always, even in trials. He repeats this same teaching in I Thessalonians 5:16-18, when he says,

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.

Paul also told the saints in Rome, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” This short verse ties together our joy because of our hope, our patience while going through the affliction, and the faithfulness that is demonstrated by remaining connected to God in prayer. We remain faithful when we prayerfully and patiently endure (remain under) trials with joy because of the hope that awaits us. We are told to follow the example of Jesus in Hebrews 12:2-3,

“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

This is why Paul was contented in whatever circumstance he found himself. Paul had a thorn in the flesh, which seems to be some physical disability or ailment and even though he asked God to remove it several times, God replied that His grace was sufficient. God’s strength was demonstrated in Paul’s weakness. Paul made an extensive list of all of the things that he had to endure for the faith of Christ. This list included beatings, shipwreck, robberies, false accusations, pain, hunger, thirst, being poorly clothed, among other things. Being contented and maintaining our joy in trials is connected by knowing how to enjoy periods of good and plenty, but also being willing to trust when the times are tough and desperate.

We are taught that joy is a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). So is faithfulness which is equal to endurance. This means that we develop a character that is based on joy in the Lord that comes from the Spirit who helps us in our weaknesses. This doesn’t mean that we are desensitized to trials and can somehow disconnect from the pains and sorrows associated with these calamities. Christians will still have troubles, weep, experience grief, go through infirmities, lose loved ones, have to forfeit earthly possessions, and go through very dark times in life. We are to produce this fruit of the Spirit in order to get through the onslaught of evil that awaits us. This fruit of the Spirit is contrasted with the works of the flesh which are practiced by the world living in sin. Jesus said that no one would be able to steal our joy (John 15:11; 16:22). The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Peter tells us,

“Though you do not see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”

Do you have an inexpressible joy as you endure each day?

Endurance Leads to Perfect Completeness (vs. 4)

Steadfastness Makes Us Mature (Perfectly Complete)

Once we have persevered through various trials and have remained faithful, we gain a level of maturity. The definition of perfect (complete) here, speaks to maturing. Our goal is to be conformed to the image of Christ. He learned obedience by the things that He suffered and through that suffering was made perfect or complete (Hebrews 5:8-9). He then became the source of eternal salvation to all that obey Him, which includes going through various trials faithfully.

Anytime we see the word “perfect” we immediately say something to the effect of, “I cannot be perfect”. Yet, we are admonished to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48). The key is understanding that perfection is defined as being whole, being mature, being complete. This happens for us when we allow endurance through trials to strengthen our resolve to remain true to God and to the call of the gospel of Christ. In the Western world, people see the ideal life as an existence free from trials. In most other cultures and world religions (especially far eastern), people value their most challenging circumstances, because in them they find an opportunity for deepening faith and strengthening their commitment. They know the outcome is going to make them better. Most people in the United States feel a sense of entitlement to a trouble-free life. Then when sickness, sorrow, or some trial comes along, they act like it’s a major upset to their happy little life. The fact is, we are promised a life full of various encounters that if we handle them with eyes of faith, we can become something more than what we currently are. We eventually become perfect. So let patience have its perfect outcome unobstructed by our complaining but rather met with joy. Demonstrate faith and trust by remaining patient and faithful under every trial.

We Will Lack Nothing

Part of the completeness or perfection that comes from enduring hard times is that we will reach a point where we lack nothing. We reach a place of being “entire” or “full”. Suffering helps us to put things into perspective and realize that every blessing that we enjoy is truly from the hand of God. We are driven to gratitude in every circumstance and we appreciate the simple things in life with contentment.

We will not come up short when we reach this place of maturity and every encounter is faced with joy, realizing that the end result of even the direst events in life hold a reward for our faith.

The summary of all that we have said is this: We live in a fallen world because of sin. God has prepared us for deliverance from sin. He has told us that we will face various trials in this world. In the same breathe we are told that Jesus died to overcome the world and redeem us from sin. Our calling is to come to Jesus, be freed from our past sins, and live the remainder of our life faithfully enduring the challenges that we face with joy. We know that every trial is a hidden blessing to making us mature and conformed into the image of the Son and the perfection of our Father in heaven, lacking in nothing.

Can I assist you with becoming a child of God today? Many people turn against God when hard times come, not realizing that He is not the cause, but rather the cure. Won’t you begin your walk of faith today?

If you are in Christ, but you haven’t handled the variety of trials and temptations that have come your way in a proper manner, but rather giving in and not remaining faithful. We serve a loving God who only asks that you repent and confess your shortcomings and He is willing, faithful, and righteous to forgive.

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