Here’s what I hope you discover today from James:
- Trials are not a time to gripe but grow!
- Trials are meant to produce endurance, or as I call it the virtue of clinging to God no matter what!
Last time we looked at James, we summarized what an ‘adequate’ or truly biblical view of suffering looked like. Here is what we summarized:
- Suffering is to be expected (as we learned then!)
- Suffering has a purpose (this we will learn today!)
- Suffering is to be received with joy (this we will learn next time!)
IN THE WORD
Let’s start today by reading 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.” (NASB)
So, according to James, what are the purposes of my trials and tough times?
- Trials are not a time to gripe but to grow!
Most Christians would have to admit, and I certainly do, that when tough times come, one of the first things we do is question God. We say things like, “Why God, why me?” and “I thought you loved me?”, and then complaints usually ensue. For a picture of this, you can see this demonstrated repeatedly in the Old Testament with the children of Israel: almost every time a challenge occurred during the Exodus event, the Israelites wailed at what was occurring, and griped at God, even at times wishing instead to return to the enslavement of Egypt! This is a natural response to tough times, but as Christians, James challenged us to live supernaturally by proclaiming our trials have a purpose!
James declares that the supernatural response is not to gripe, but to see the challenging times and trials as what they really are – a “means of testing” with a purpose. In other words, when tough times come, God is not mad at us, nor has he left us, but is seeking to determine how tough our faith really is. And the word that is used in this context also suggests that the testing will show your faith to be approved, as fine metals coming out of the fire prove their genuineness and value! So, along with 1 Corinthians 10:13, we actually can see God does not test us beyond what He knows we can handle!
- Trials are meant to produce Endurance!
Additionally, in order to have a supernatural response, James informs us the time of testing is also critical and needed for what it can produce in us, and that is ? . That question mark is not a typo, because it signifies the difficulties of translating James’ next word. Scholars have translated it in variety of ways – ‘endurance’ (NASB/NET/HCSB), ‘patience’ (KJV), or ‘perseverance’ (NIV). All of those are worthy translations, but still fall short of the intended meaning because the essence of the word is ‘to remain under’, ‘to abide’, and stresses a constancy no matter the circumstances! Consequently you can see the problem with trying to find one English word that describes all of that. In my humble opinion, I translate the word with a phrase – the testing of your faith produces or results in a willingness to cling to God no matter what! Think of it this way, when trials come, we either cling to anger, fear, or bitterness, or cling to God knowing there is a purpose and strength to be found in Him. And, as Paul in Romans 5:3 and 15:5 reminds us, this is not something that comes from us, but God gives it to us – again a supernatural experience, and further affirmation that we are never alone during our trials!
IN THE WORLD
Reflect on these questions:
- How would it change your view and attitude of trials and sufferings if you would undeniably acknowledge what you are facing has a purpose?
- Have you seen this “perseverance” or as I called it “a willingness to cling to God no matter what” as an outcome of your own trials? Describe its presence in your life.
- How have you been reassured by the book of James today that you are never alone during your trials?
Next time we will look at another purpose James has for our trials.
 If you remember from our previous lesson on James, the word for trials can mean both external sufferings and challenges (such as persecution, etc), but also the inner temptations we face (as James will discuss later in chapter 1). Although Paul uses the same word as James does in 1 Corinthians, to be contextually accurate, I do believe Paul is using the word more in reference to the temptations we face, but I still believe the promise holds true with either emphasis of the word.
 Craig L. Blomberg and Mariam J. Kamell, James: Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) p. 49. I like how they explain this word based on the RSV’s ‘steadfastness’ stating this is ‘not a passive virtue but a steady clinging to the truth within any situation.’ And Douglass Moo in The Letter of James: The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2000), p. 55 says the essence of the word usually translated ‘perseverance’ is best seen as “the picture of a person successfully carrying a heavy load for a long time.”