Summary: When trials come, as trials do come into each life, how shall the godly person respond?
WHAT TRIALS MAY COME
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
One truth is undeniable—trials come into each life. When trials come into your life, for trials do come to each of us, how do you respond? What is your first response when disappointment grips your soul and threatens happiness? The letter James wrote is, if nothing else, practical. The brother of our Lord speaks pointedly to fellow believers who share in the trials of this world. Join me in exploring the teaching of the Word as we equip ourselves to respond to trials of various kinds.
TRIALS ARE INEVITABLE — James recognises that trials are inevitable. In the Greek language, “trials” [peirasmós] may refer either to external adversities or to internal temptations that come into the life of an individual. In VERSES 13 and 14, the word refers to temptations. Here in our text, and for our contemplation this day, the word speaks of those external events that try us, exhausting us and even threatening physical life.
Christians to whom James was writing were under extreme pressure because of their faith that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Among the trials we recognise were executions [ACTS 7:57-60], physical mistreatment and imprisonment [ACTS 8:1; 22:4], impoverishment and deprivation of the basic necessities for life [JAMES 2:2-6; 5:1-4], and sickness and attendant discouragement [JAMES 5:13, 14]. The author of the Letter to the Hebrew Christians also writes of their trials. “Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” [HEBREWS 10:32-34].
Other trials were less apparent as trials. James speaks of the temptation to become casual about the Faith of Jesus the Lord. He spoke of the temptation to be religious without being transformed—of going through the motions of worship without worshipping [JAMES 1:22-25]. He spoke of the temptation to show partiality toward fellow believers [JAMES 2:1-6]. He also spoke of the temptation to selectively do what the Lord commands—to apply faith in a selective fashion [JAMES 2:14-17], to say what you are really thinking without thought of the consequences of your speech [JAMES 3:1-12], and to exercise worldly wisdom without recognising heavenly wisdom [JAMES 3:13-18]. The ever present danger of becoming worldly in one’s thinking and in one’s actions [JAMES 4:1-12], and boasting in our own strength [JAMES 4:13-17], are temptations that James recognises as dangerous for those who would honour the Lord Jesus. He also warns against depending upon what one has, instead of depending upon the Master [JAMES 5:1-6].
What should be evident as we review this letter is that the Christians to whom James wrote were tested and tempted by essentially the same things that test and try us. Certainly, trials and hurt come to all of us, and temptations abound for each Christian. James is not merely telling that this will happen, but he equips us to grow through trials.
I am not suggesting that Christians in Canada are imprisoned because of their Faith. Certainly, they are not being murdered because they are Christians at the present time, nor are they debarred from work because they believe in the Lord Jesus. However, such things have happened in the recent past, and the threat is always there. Baptists were imprisoned in Quebec during the 50s and 60s for the high crime of preaching the message of life in Jesus the Lord. I have personally known people blackballed by their union because they would not deny their Faith.
The current political climate, with the multiplication of “hate laws,” certainly threatens those who wish to speak of biblical morality. Indeed, people have been haled before “human rights tribunals in several provinces. Even a Roman Catholic Bishop has been threatened both by a provincial human rights tribunal and threatened through condemnation by parliamentarians and federal politicians. Physical and fiscal opposition is a very real possibility for the conscientious Christian in modern Canada.
If Christians in Malaysia, Indonesia, Iraq and Iran, India, Viet Nam and Mexico live under constant and intense threat of death and loss of property today, should we be surprised at the potential for such injury even in Canada? However, it seems to me that the pressure to conform to this present, dying world is far greater than is the threat of physical opposition. Paul urges Christians, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” ROMANS 12:1, 2].