But what we cannot miss in all of this, is that these men did not arrive at this kind of maturity at the moment of conversion.
My ultimate desire as I walk through these verses this morning is to help you be obedient to the first four words of verse two. The reason I say that is because verse two is a breathtaking command. The Lord is commanding us, through the Apostle James, to look at the various trials we meet with in this life and to, “Count it all joy.”
Now you know as well as I know that being obedient to that command isn’t natural. Nobody naturally encounters trials in this life and immediately counts them as joy! That simply does not happen.
- Exodus 16:2-3 “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
- Exodus 17:3 “But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
- We are a people that have been redeemed
- Who have the Spirit of Christ in them
- Who have been adopted into the family of God
- And who can now cry out “Abba Father” to the God of heaven and earth.
- We are a spiritual people who have the eyes of faith to see things that the natural man cannot see!
- And since all this is true, we are also a spiritual people that can, “Count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds.”
- You see this in our directly in the text that we are in today.
- You see this a couple of times in 1 Peter:
- 1 Peter 1:6-7 “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 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.”
- 1 Peter 4:12 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
- And you see this in Proverbs:
- Proverbs 17:3 “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.”
The Nature of Trials
And the first aspect of trials that James informs his readers about is that they are inevitable. Notice how James does not say, “Count it all joy, my brothers, if you happen to meet various trials in this life.” That would not be good pastoral wisdom from James if he was to say that!
- Remember when the wise men approached Herod regarding the birth of the one who was called, “King of the Jews.”
- Herod, not wanting his kingship to be usurped, questioned the chief priest and the scribes to determine were the Messianic King was to be born.
- As soon as they informed King Herod that the King of the Jews was to be born in Bethlehem, he immediately sent people out in order to put Jesus to death.
- Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13)
- For it is there that you see one of his disciples betray him
- You see the religious leaders falsely accuse him
- And you see his other disciples abandon him.
- Then you see him beaten, mocked, scourged, spit on, and crucified.
- Luke 10:30 “Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.”
- The Good Samaritan was not out there looking for robbers. It was unexpected. He was walking down to Jerusalem and before he knew it he was among robbers!
- Mt 4:24 “So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains,”
- So our Lord was healing people with diseases of all kinds.
- Titus 3:3 “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”
- And is that not an accurate depiction of our sinful nature before faith in Christ. We were not enslaved to one passion, but to all kinds of passions and pleasures….to greed, envy, jealousy, anger, rage, pride, and sensuality. All kinds!
- First off, they are Christians of Jewish lineage!
- That meant they were persecuted by both Jews and Gentiles!
- Secondly, they were being oppressed by rich people.
- James 2:6 “Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?”
- And Thirdly, some of them were undoubtedly enduring suffering and sickness.
- James 5:13-14 “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
- The Bible informs us numerous times that we are going to go through trials for Christ’s name sake.
- Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
- John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
- The Scripture also informs us of trials that are not necessarily from persecution for Christ’s name sake, but simply because we live in a fallen world.
- We are going to endure trials such as afflictions, ailments, poverty, and death of loved ones.
- And if you simply look throughout the Scripture, you see Adam and Eve suffer the loss of their son Abel; Abraham and Sarah suffering through infertility; Jacob being lied to by his sons; Joseph being betrayed by his brothers; Moses leading a rebellious Israel, Ruth becoming a widow at a young age, and David having his life sought after by his son Absalom.
- And as we mentioned earlier, you have the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son, completely without sin, but he most certainly was not without various trials.
- You see him being reviled, dealing with a hardheaded group of disciples, being betrayed, falsely accused, scourged, and then nailed to a cross.
And though James may not be casting his net as wide as I am about to, I think it is helpful not to limit trials to painful and hurtful things. I think they are even more diverse than that!
- Regarding this, Charles Spurgeon said, “All providences are doors to trials. Even our mercies, like roses, have their thorns. Men may be drowned in seas of prosperity as well as in rivers of affliction.”
- You see being rich is a trial just as much as poverty is.
- Proverbs 30:8-9 “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”
- You see, the trial of poverty will examine whether you will trust God’s goodness in a time of need, and the trial of riches will examine whether you will completely depend on the Lord in a time of abundance.
- Popularity is a trial. It will try and examine your faith just as assuredly as being cursed and reviled will.
- One of my favorite preachers in Church history is George Whitefield. His earnest prayer as a young man was that the Lord would not thrust him out into the vineyard yet. He did not believe that he was ready to enter into the preaching ministry. However, him remaining on the sidelines was not what God desired. Therefore, the Lord thrust him into the vineyard at a young age. People had never heard anything like this young man preaching the great truths of the gospel. They praised him. They applauded him. They gave him more and more opportunities to preach and he became more and more popular at a very young age.
- This was such a trying time for him that he would account popularity and the praise of men as one of the most difficult trials that he ever endured. He wrote in a letter in 1739 saying, “It is difficult, I believe, to go through the fiery trial of popularity and applause untainted.”
- Look at James 1:5. James knows that counting trials as altogether joy is difficult and that it takes the wisdom of God to do it. Therefore he says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
- So the basis for us approaching God for wisdom is this, God is incredibly generous, and that he gives to all His children without reproach.
- Look at James 1:6-9. James is going to give us wisdom for two trials in this life…both poverty and riches. He says, “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.”
- The very basis for the poor man boasting and the rich man being humble is to refrain from viewing themselves in an earthly perspective, and rather to view themselves from a heavenly perspective….as they will appear before God at death.
- Then look at James 1:13-15. James knows that trials often lead to temptations to sin. And to make sure that we do not blame God for the temptations that arise out of the trials that we endure, James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
- So the grounds for us not laying any charge against God for our temptations is that God has no deficiency in and of himself whereby He could even be tempted with evil, and also that God tempts no one. The root of temptation is found in our own sinful hearts!
- Then James goes even further into Christian doctrine to drive home the point that God will most certainly try and test us, but will by no means tempt us when he says in verses 16-18 “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
- God would never tempt you. He would never do anything for your spiritual harm! Rather, every good and perfect gift that we have comes from Him. He never changes! He has always been and always will be immeasurably good. A perfect proof of this is that, according to His own will, through the preaching of the gospel, he caused us to be born again (He saved us), so that we might be His treasured possession. A God that is that good to you would never do anything for your spiritual harm!
The Purpose of Trials
- The first way to understand this testing is to regard it as a test that would prove whether you genuinely have faith or not.
- So the Lord dispenses afflictions, suffering, persecutions, difficulties and other hardships to test the genuineness of our faith…to see if it is a living faith in the Lord Jesus or a dead faith!
- While I think this is biblically true, I do not think that that is the way James is using testing here!
- Psalm 66:10 “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried”
- Proverbs 17:3 “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts”
- Zacheriah 13:9 “And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested.”
- Isaiah 48:9-11 “For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
So the image here is the cleansing process of unrefined silver or gold. In order to cleanse the silver and gold from its dross (or scum), you would heat a furnace. Then, when the furnace is heated to the right temperature, you would stick the silver or gold in there. The dross would then rise to the surface. Once it did, you would scrape it off. And now that the dross is removed, you have pure silver and gold!
- Many of our graces likewise cannot thrive or shew themselves to advantage without trials; such as resignation, patience, meekness, long-suffering. I observe some of the London porters(somebody appointed to carry something) do not appear to be very strong men; yet they will trudge along under a burden which some stouter people could not carry so well: the reason is, that they are accustomed to carrying burdens, and by continual exercise their shoulders acquire a strength suited to their work. It is so in the Christian life: activity and strength of grace is not ordinarily acquired by those who sit still and live at ease, but by those who frequently meet with something which requires a full exertion of what power the Lord has given them.
- One way that we respond is seek to rid ourselves of the trial. We do not want to make the most of it. Rather, we want to be rid of it. We do not seek to make the trial our slave and use it for the most possible spiritual good that we can. Rather, we want to escape it.
- The other way that we usually respond to trials is to grow weary in the midst of it. We set our hearts and our minds on enduring the trial, but then after a period of time, we give up. We maintain spiritual fervor and zeal for a little while, but then self-pity, disappointment, despair, and discouragement set in.
This is how we usually respond in the midst of a trial. So James, in light of this truth, is telling us to actively endure the trial. Let it remain on your back. Continue to stay under it until it completes the work that it is supposed to complete! And if you should choose to crumble under the weight of the trial, or throw it aside, then your faith will not be strengthened as God intended for it to be strengthened.
- Throughout Christ’s entire life, He fixed His eyes on His Father in heaven and sought to be obedient to His will.
- In the wilderness, Christ perfectly wielded the sword of truth in order to combat the temptations of the devil.
- He hungered and thirsted for righteousness every day of His life.
- He had no sin, impurity, or deficiency in His person.
- We learn that he commands legions of angels to be obedient to His will, and also that he is gentle in all of his dealings with widows, prostitutes, small children, and lepers.
- He had authority to command the winds and waves to obey him, and also a meekness that patiently endured all the evil that was done to Him.
- His earnest desire was not to be served, but to serve.
- Not to have His feet washed, but to wash the feet of his followers.
- He summed up his earthly ministry by saying that He came to seek and save those who were lost.
- We see Him so set on the salvation of His people that He endured the agonizing and cruel death of crucifixion.
- We see Him, on the cross, look at those who pierced Him, and pray to His Father saying, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”
- We see him while He is enduring the agonies of the cross, look at a criminal that is being crucified along with him, and say, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
- There is no deficiency in the person of Christ. As you study His person, you will see that He is perfect and complete, not lacking anything.
- And for those of us who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as both Lord and Savior, we have a promise that our heavenly Father is going to conform us into the image of Jesus.
- For Paul says in Romans 8:29 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,”
- And in order to conform us into the image of Jesus, God is going to sovereignly use trials that test and strengthen our faith.
- Trials keep us from pride and produce Christlike humility
- 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
- Trials keep us from going astray, and produce Christlike obedience.
- Psalm 119:67 “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.”
- Trials keep us from neglecting the word, and cause us to seek a Christlike knowledge of it.
- Psalm 119:71 “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
- The more hardships, difficulties, afflictions, and persecutions you endure, the better you read and understand the Bible. Also, you begin delighting in the promises of God as never before!
- Trials keep us from hard heartedness, and teach us Christlike compassion toward our brothers and sisters in the faith.
- 2 Corinthians 1:6 “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation;”
- Charles Spurgeon Jr. said this regarding his father, “I know of no one who could, more sweetly than my dear father, impart comfort to bleeding hearts and sad spirits. As the crushing of the flower causes it to yield its aroma, so he, having endured in the long-continued illness of my beloved mother, and also constant pains in himself, was able to sympathize most tenderly with all sufferers.”
- Trials rid us of sin, and produce Christlike righteousness
- Hebrews 12:10-11 “For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
- Trials rid us of prayerlessness, and produce Christlike prayer.
- You see this all throughout the Psalms…a trial comes upon the Psalmist, and then he begins to pray fervently to Yahweh.
Count it all Joy!
- Philippians 3:4-8 “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
- Paul is speaking of his former life which is full of worldly glory. All that he was before Christ was something that was esteemed by men. It was pure worldly glory. This is what he is lifting up in his mind.
- Then, he lifts something else up in his mind. And it is His life since he has come to know, treasure, and esteem Christ.
- Then, in light of knowing Christ, he looks at his former life….the life filled with the glory of man….and counts it as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ!!!!
- Hebrews 12:2 “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame,
- There was nothing joyful about suffering under the wrath of God on a cross!
- But knowing that through His sacrificial death, He would secure the salvation of a people that number more than the sand of the seashore, be exalted to the heavens, and take His seat at the right hand of His Father, he endured the cross with joy!
- For unbelievers in here. I want you to notice the term, “my brothers,”in verse 2.
- Everything that I have said today is for Christians. I know, by the authority of God’s word, that trials are purposeful in the life of a Christian.
- But as for you, I am not sure what hardships, difficulties, and afflictions are doing in your life. I know that you are encountering them, but you have no hope in the midst of them!
- With that said, repent of your sin, and have faith in Jesus Christ. Then you will be able to endure trials in hope, knowing that God is working in and through them to make you look more like Christ!
- And for believers, we can begin to apply this by repenting of our sin.
- You see, if God’s sovereign purpose in trials is to actually further our salvation, then how great of a sin is it to complain, grumble, and murmur as we undergo trials of various kinds.
- Next, seek to gain a better understanding of trials.
- Look throughout the Bible, and seek to better understand how God uses trials in the life of His children.
- Do not stop at the Bible though, reflect on God’s providential use of trials in your own life.
- If you are young, and have not had to endure many trials, grab an older Christian and ask them about God’s providential use of trials in their life.
- All of this will help you to, “Count it all joy, when you meet trials of various kinds!”
- Read Christian Biography
- This will help you to understand how to, “let steadfastness have its full affect.”
- Saints like John Calvin, John Newton, George Whitefield, Spurgeon, Jim Elliot, Lottie Moon, Amy Carmichael, and Hannah Moore got the most out of their trials. The endured them well, and because they did, they looked a lot like Christ in their later years.
- Thank God for the trials that you have endured, or may be enduring right now.
- Seriously, right now, you have a sin nature that shows itself to be in opposition to the Spirit every-single-day. Trials help you in putting that sin nature to death, so that you can live for the glory of God.
- Reflecting on this, John Newton said, “I have reason to praise him for my trials, for, most probably, I should be ruined without them.”
- These trials are necessary…so we ought to thank God for them.
- Lastly, look forward in hope.
- One day, the Lord of Glory is going to come on the clouds of heaven and take us to be with Him, and so we will be with the Lord forever. We will have no more sin nature. We will not meet with trials of various kinds. And we will dwell with our Lord forever. And in His presence there is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forever more! Take great hope in that!