(image courtesy clker.com)
By Spencer D Gear PhD
Pollster George Barna in the USA ‘was commissioned to inquire of people what one question they would ask of God if they had the opportunity. By an overwhelming margin, the most urgent question was: Why is there so much suffering in the world?’
Amongst some Christians I’ve heard comments like: If you are an obedient, growing and sanctified Christian who seeks to do the will of God, you will not experience horrible suffering. But I ask: What happened to Job, John the Baptist, and the apostle Paul? If bad things happened to them, why can’t they happen to you and me? Ron Rhodes tells the story of a Christian leader who was sledding and ran into a barbed wire fence he didn’t see. He was decapitated. A pastor got into his car and backed over his infant son on the driveway, killing him instantly. A Christian woman saw her husband and child killed when hit by a car. Surely these examples tell us that Christians are experience some of the tragedies of the world around us.
As I was finishing preparation of this message, I received an email from a friend in the UK. He didn’t know I was preparing a sermon on this topic and he said that he had had a disagreement with his wife a few days ago and asked, ‘Why are relationships so difficult?’
Have you ever asked?
(image courtesy lookseekblog.com)
Now let’s read for some answers.
James 1:1-4 (NASB)
Testing Your Faith
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
Consider it all joy, my brethren [brothers and sisters], 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.
A. Sit up & take notice: This must sink in
We could miss this emphasis in the biblical text, because our English translations begin James 1:2 with something like this: ‘Consider it’ (NIV, NLT, NASB, NET); or ‘Count it’ (KJV, ESV).
This word is addressing these Christians as a group (2nd person plural) with point action for themselves. But what does it mean? Arndt and Gingrich’s Greek lexicon says that the verb means to ‘think, consider, regard, deem it’. Kittel’s Greek word study says it means ‘to regard as particularly important’.
So, in down-to-earth Aussie lingo the Greek means: ‘Sit up & take notice. You must think about it to the point where it must sink in daily’. I ask you to sit up and take notice of what will bring you the greatest maturity in your Christian life now and in succeeding years.
What must we think about? The Greeks put the most important part of the sentence at the beginning.
The NASB starts, ‘Consider it all joy’. The Greek word order literally states, ‘All joy you consider (it)’.
B. Think on all the joy or the pure joy it brings
Is this saying you are to have all kinds of happiness when the Broncos beat the Bulldogs in footie or the Aussies beat the South Africans in cricket?
Is this happiness when the bank balance is comfortable and there are not too many bills to pay? Is James 1:2 talking about being happy when your health is good or manageable and the kids are behaving themselves?
What on earth is joy in a world of strife in Ukraine and Crimea? What about being a Christian in Syria or the South Sudan today? How can there be joy when a large aeroplane is lost on a flight and we don’t know its whereabouts?
What about being a Christian in the midst of the Holocaust, Soviet Gulag, the persecution of Nero? How about with a husband or wife who abuses you? Children who are rebels? Bullies on the job?
What does it mean to have ‘joy’ in the midst of those kinds of circumstance? This is chara in the Greek and related to the verb ‘to rejoice’.
Joy is more than a matter of mood because 1 Thess 3:9 asks: ‘How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?’ (NIV) We know that joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22. It is fruit that the Spirit grows in believers.
It’s a paradox: The idea of joy in suffering came from Judaism. Take a read of the Book of Job. See also 1 Peter 2:20-24 and 4:12-14 where suffering is given a Christological perspective. These latter verses read:
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV).
Paul regularly reminded his readers of the source of joy. Its source was beyond human happiness or human joy. It is ‘in the Lord, and therefore outside of ourselves’. That’s why Paul reminded his readers of the origin of joy and exhorted them to manifest it. In Phil 3:1 he said, ‘Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice [i.e. have joy] in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you’ (NIV).
Happiness is based on good outward circumstances. Joy is based on your inner relationship with the Lord and He causes joy to grow in you in your contentment in your relationship with Jesus.
We need to make something clear before we proceed:
C. Ladies: You are not let off the hook
In many translations, James 1:2 in English is addressed to ‘brothers’ or ‘brethren’. Does this exempt the ladies? Is the Book of James sexist and only addressed to blokes and the women can tune out and nod off for the next half hour?
In the NT, ‘adelphos’ can refer to a male brother. But Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives examples of how the plural form ‘can also mean brothers and sisters’. In Matt 12:50, Jesus said, ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’. We have examples of the plural term ‘adelphoi’ (brothers) being ‘used by Christians in their relations with each other’ – see Acts 6:3; 9:30; 10:23; Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 5:11; Eph 6:23; 1 Tim 6:2; Rev 1:9; and 12:10.
So for the book of James, you ladies are not left off the hook. James is addressed to ‘brothers’ who are male and female. That doesn’t sound too good in English. But in the Greek we can say that all Christians, male and female, can be addressed as adelphoi.
What happens to the Christian? You are living the daily Christian life and
D. Trash – the horrible stuff – comes into your life
Is this like joining an ‘encounter group’ from the 1960s, 70s to deal with the trials and tribulations of life? These groups were gatherings of about 10-20 people where there was an opportunity to open up and share the emotional side of what was going on in your life as you experienced it with other group members. There was open sharing – and some had very emotionally charged encounters. It was hoped people would get in touch with their feelings, receive support from others and become more aware of the feelings of others.
Is this what James is talking about? Those groups were a place where many secular and some Christian people went to encounter others and try to gain healing for their emotional ills. Is that what James is dealing with? I hardly think so.
‘Encounter’ or ‘meet’ or ‘face’ or ‘fall into’ is from the verb, peripipt? which means to ‘become involved in’ or ‘to come on something accidentally … to be innocently involved in something … In James 1:2, … we have the figurative … emphasis on the swift and unexpected way in which [people] can be involved in temptation’.
Because it is the subjunctive mood, in general, according to Greek guru, John Wenham, it ‘is the mood of doubtful assertion. In nearly all its uses there is some element of indefiniteness in the sentence’. This means that it may happen or may not. This is accentuated by the use of ‘when’ or ‘whenever’ (hotan), which is a conjunction of uncertainty. And because it is the aorist tense it may happen suddenly – point action.
Has this happened to you? Difficulties in your life have come with no notice. It is doubtful and not certain when they come and they can come on you suddenly? That’s what James is communicating to us with that simple verb, ‘encounter’ or ‘fall into’.
Would you agree with Job’s friend, Eliphaz?
Job 5:7 states, ‘Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward’ (NIV)
Job said in Job 14:1, ‘Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble” (NIV)
We have lots of examples of evil and suffering in the Bible.
- Job lost his family & all of his possessions;
- David was pursued and persecuted by the jealous and angry Saul for a long time (1 Sam. 20:33; 21:10; 23:8);
- The wife of Hosea was unfaithful to him (Hosea 1:2; 2:2, 4);
- Joseph in the OT was badly treated by his brothers and sold into slavery (Gen. 37:27-28);
- Herod’s step-daughter asked for and got the head of John the Baptist on a plate (Matt. 14:6-10);
- Paul, the apostle, was jailed several times, was shipwrecked, beaten and left for dead (2 Cor. 11:25). According to 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul wrote: ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed’ (ESV);
These examples show that those who obey God and seek to be faithful believers still may experience horrible suffering. This is suffering for God’s purpose in their lives!
But what are you encountering? The NASB calls them, ‘trials’.
1. Are you experiencing all kinds of life’s ‘garbage’?
I’ve heard Christians say to me, ‘I wish God wouldn’t send all of this junk into my life. It’s garbage and I want to get rid of it. I hate it’.
‘Trials of many kinds’ is the NIV translation. NKJV agrees with the NASB and calls them ‘various trials’. The ESV reads, ‘trials of various kinds’. Would you agree that the trials you experience in your life are just like that – many and varied? And they can come on you suddenly?
I was in the midst of preparing this message in November 2013 when I had another job to do and climbed a ladder in an attempt to clean the leaves from my house gutters, leaves from my neighbour’s trees. But the ladder collapsed and the back of my head slammed onto the concrete at our front door. I became concussed and ended up in Redcliffe hospital. Two weeks later I collapsed with a heart issue when taking a walk and landed head first into the gravel and into hospital and had an ICD implanted in my chest to regulate my heart rhythm. Two weeks later in the early morning while sleeping, I had a grand mal seizure and then into hospital. Talk about trials of various kinds happening suddenly.
J I Packer wrote a wonderful book, A Quest for Godliness, in it he stated: ‘Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings today, do not make for maturity; hardship and struggle however do’.
Many of you know what I’m talking about. God allows these various trials into our lives, but what’s the purpose of them?
Before we get to the purpose or reason for trials for the believer, we need to talk about what they are. Are they …
2. Trash, garbage or something else?
Many English translations call them ‘trials’ (NIV, NASB, ESV, NET, RSV, NRSV), ‘troubles’ (NLT, CEV), or ‘temptations’ (KJV, Douay-Rheims, ASV, RV).
But what are these trials, troubles or temptations? Peirasmos can mean a ‘test, trial’ or a ‘temptation, enticement to sin’. All of them can be involved. I know that you and I can give examples of what seems like trash through trials and temptations coming into our lives.
In this passage from James 1, God has something special to teach us about the trials of trash in our lives. They are:
E. Horrible stuff with a BIG purpose
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James 1:3 tells us exactly why God allows the trials and temptations into our lives. It is for the ‘testing of your faith’. Of what kind of stuff is your faith in God made?
How are diamonds formed? I read an article online from geology.com which stated,
The formation of natural diamonds requires very high temperatures and pressures. These conditions occur in limited zones of Earth’s mantle about 90 miles (150 kilometers) below the surface where temperatures are at least 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (1050 degrees Celsius).
Remember that precious diamonds are made through pressure and very high temperatures.
What about expensive pearls? Science from ‘How stuff works’ tells us that
the formation of a natural pearl begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritates the mantle. It’s kind of like the oyster getting a splinter. The oyster’s natural reaction is to cover up that irritant to protect itself. The mantle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create the shell. This eventually forms a pearl.
Precious and expensive pearls are caused by an irritant.
God uses a similar process in helping Christians grow to maturity in Christ. Let’s
F. Get in step with God’s plan for you & me
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How will the diamonds and pearls of sanctification come in our lives? Let’s follow these steps carefully to see how God brings you and me to maturity in the Christian life:
1. You need to know it (1:3)
Verse 3 begins, ‘for you know’ (ESV) or ‘knowing that’ (NASB). This is present continuing action of experiential knowledge. You need to have this knowledge as a continuing experience in your Christian life. Knowledge of what? You will not be able to count it all joy when trials come into our lives unless you continually know by experience what God is up to with your life.
What is God up to? Stay tuned because the reasons are about to unfold.
This is what God is up to in every Christian’s life by allowing trials and temptations to come into your life at ANY time. God is engaged in the task of
2. Refining rubbish (1:3)
It is trash with a purpose in every Christian’s life.
The language in the English translations is that God uses trials in ‘the testing of your faith’ (ESV, NIV, NASB, NET, NKJV, RSV, NRSV), ‘trying of your faith’ (KJV), ‘proving of your faith’ (ASV).
We know from an examination of the papyri that this word, to dikimion, is a noun that means ‘testing’ or ‘means of testing’.
How does that apply to trials as a ‘means of testing’ our faith? It is the …
3. Refining your faith (1:3)
How do you refine gold? Put it in a furnace. It is purified by the use of the fire of refining. To get purer gold, you put it through the fire of testing. This is the analogy James is using with this word. Your faith is like gold that stands the test of fire to examine its genuineness.
How genuine is your faith? You will know through the testing of the fire of trials.
Note God’s purpose for trials:
4. Trash that produces staying power (1:3)
The word ‘produces’ or ‘works’ is again continuing action in your life. It’s the middle voice, so it is referring to what happens for you. So trash is continuing to produce what?
Hupomon? is an old Greek noun that means ‘staying power’. Our English translations will use language such as ‘steadfastness’ (ESV), ‘perseverance’ (NIV), ‘endurance’ (NLT, NASB), ‘patience’ (KJV). But the meaning is stickability, staying power. Oh for people in the church who have staying power, even through the most difficult times? Are trials going to make you or devastate you? Do you know God’s purpose in trials is to refine your faith and produce staying power in your Christian life?
Alister Begg wrote a book, Made for His pleasure. In it he stated something that resonates with James 1, ‘The truth is that more spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than success and laughter’.
This staying power means, according to James 1:4, that
5. Trash brings the perfect result (1:4)
Notice how v. 4 puts it, ‘And let endurance [staying power] have its perfect result’. ‘Let’ is a present tense imperative – ‘let it keep on having’ what? It’s a ‘perfect result’ or ‘perfect work’. The thought is that trials, the trash in our lives, are to ‘carry on the work to the end or completion’, just like John 17:4, where Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and said that he had ‘accomplished the work that you gave me to do’ (ESV).
Here’s the issue that we have to keep on knowing in experience and acknowledging: To get to the end of life and accomplish God’s perfect result or work for us, we need trials to refine our faith.
For what purpose?
6. Trash brings the ultimate result: Maturity & completeness (1:4)
Here we have a purpose clause in the Greek, which is the goal of trials in your life. Trials are for the ultimate purpose of refining us, through staying power, and bringing us to being ‘perfect [or mature] and complete’ (ESV). Greek exegete A T Robertson put it so well: we will be ‘perfected at the end of the task (telos) and complete in all parts…. “perfected all over”’.
This will lead to …
7. Imagine it? Lacking in nothing (1:4)
What could this possibly mean that you are ‘lacking in nothing’ (1:4)? This is really a ‘negative statement of the preceding positive’ one. James uses this kind of technique where he makes a positive statement and then gives the negative side of it. You can see it in 1:6. To lack nothing is another way of saying we are mature and complete.
G. Practical responses for trials
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For Christians who are going through trials, there is a special ministry of the body of Christ that I want to emphasise as I draw to a close. It’s a dynamic that is missing from many churches in this country:
Romans 12:14-15 (ESV) puts it very clearly, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’.
This ‘one another’ ministry is so critical for other believers who are experiencing trials of various kinds:
‘Bearing with one another in love’ (Eph. 4:2);
Eph. 4:32 (ESV), ‘Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you’.
Eph. 5:20-21 (ESV), ‘Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ’.
Col. 3:13 (ESV), ‘bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive’.
1 Thess. 3:12 (ESV), ‘and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you’.
1 Thess. 5:11 (ESV),’Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing’.
Heb. 3:13 (ESV), ‘But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin’.
There is much more to this ‘one another’ ministry but we must be there with it for those experiencing trials. Those who are going through trials desperately need this. That’s enough for now, but I do find it in short supply in today’s evangelical church in this country. But it’s also a challenge to me to be more vigilant in this ministry to others.
There are times when I’ve thought: Lord, why did you allow me to have three horrific bouts of rheumatic fever when I was aged 6, 10, and 12 that left me with lifelong leaking heart valves and now 5 open-heart surgeries. Why, oh why, Lord do you allow for such suffering?
How do Christians get to become mature and complete in the Christian life? These are the steps that James gives that we must know and practice daily. It is not a politically correct message. It is not a message that goes down well with the heal-wealth false theology. In fact, many evangelical Christians have lost this perspective on the Christian life. These are God’s steps to maturity and completeness in the Christian life.
Consider it pure joy
Trials with a BIG purpose
Trials for refining faith
Trials for staying power
Trials for the perfect result
Trials for maturity & completeness
That’s the message of James 1:1-4. Will you receive it now and for the futuer?
- Material prosperity will not do it.
- Obedient, well-behaved children will not cause it to happen.
- Even good health is no guarantee more joy will be in your life.
- What will it be for you?
I read a story by Amy Anderson in Forbes magazine online that was titled, ‘Trials should make us better, not bitter’. It began with this story:
I heard a speech given by a 20-something young woman who had grown up without her sight or hearing. She underwent surgery in high school to have a cochlear implant, which partially restored her hearing and helped her to more effectively communicate her story. She is still totally blind. As she shared her life story with us, she asked us to close our eyes and to imagine a world where all we saw was darkness, no color, no light. She asked us to imagine how depressing that would feel. With eyes still closed, she asked that this time we imagine our world with color and light and joy. She then stated, “The second picture you imagined is what I choose to see every day.” Then she asked us to open our eyes. She proceeded to share with us that she had a choice in life, “to be sad and depressed and see only darkness, or to be happy and joyful and see color and light.” She stated that she was able to make the choice.
She acknowledged that many times it is easy in life to focus on our trials by saying, “I often think that many of us count our blessings on our fingers and toes, but count our trials with a calculator.” That statement is all too true. She shared that many of us spend our lives thinking “Why me? Why is my life hard? Why do I have to struggle? Why do I have to suffer loss? Why, why, why?”
I was totally caught off guard by the words that came out of her mouth next. “I too, wake up each day and ask ‘Why me? Why am I so lucky to have ten fingers and ten toes? Why am I so lucky to have people that love me? Why am I so lucky to be able to walk? Why am I so blessed?’” WOW! That was all I could think in that moment. Just wow! She closed her talk by reminding us that “all of us are given trials to make us better, not to make us bitter.”
Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(image courtesy ChristArt)
Anderson, A R 2013. Trials should make us better, not bitter. Forbes, 10 April. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/amyanderson/2013/04/10/why-me/ (Accessed 11 March 2014).
Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).
Begg, A 1998. What angels wish they knew. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Begg, A 1996, 2005. Made for his pleasure: Ten benchmarks of a vital faith. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Bennett, W H n.d. The general epistles, James, Peter, John, and Jude (The Century Bible: A modern commentary). H H Rowley & M Black (eds). London: Blackwood, Le Bas.
Beyreuther, E & Finkenrath, G 1976. ?????, in C Brown (ed), The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 2, 356-361. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.
Brown, C (ed) 1976, The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 2. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.
Büchsel, O 1964. Egeomai, in Kittel, G (ed). Tr by G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 2, 907-908. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Hiebert, D E 1979. The epistle of James: Tests of a living faith. Chicago: Moody Press.
Michaelis, W 1968. Peripiptw, in Friedrich, G (ed). Tr G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 6, 173. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Packer, J I 1990. A quest for godliness: The puritan vision of the Christian life. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.
Rhodes, R. 2004. Why Do Bad Things Happen If God Is Good? Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers.
Robertson, A T 1933. Word pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and the Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.
Ropes, J H 1916/1973. A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle of St. James. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Wenham, J W 1965. The elements of New Testament Greek. London/New York: Cambridge University Press.
 In Rhodes (2004:8). The footnote indicated: ‘Cited by Lee Strobel, “Why does God allow suffering?” Message delivered at Saddleback Valley Community Church, El Toro, California, February 26, 2000’ (Rhodes 2004:265, n. 1).
 Based on Rhodes (2004:12).
 Email received on 16 March 2014.
 2nd person plural.
 Aorist, middle, indicative.
 Arndt & Gingrich (1957:344).
 Büchsel (1964:907)
 This paragraph is based on information from Beyreuther & Finkenrath (1976:361).
 Arndt &Gingrich (1957:15-16).
 Based on ‘Psychology glossary’, AlleyDog.com, 1998-2014, available at: http://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Encounter+Groups (Accessed 9 March 2014).
 Peripes?te, 2nd person pl, aorist active subjunctive.
 Arndt & Gingrich 1957:655.
 Peripiptw (Michaelis 1968:173).
 Wenham (1965:160).
 These scriptural illustrations were suggested by Rhodes (2004:12).
 Packer (1990:22).
 Peirasmos (A&G 1957: 646).
 ‘How do oysters make pearls?’ 1998-2014. Science, How stuff works, available at: http://science.howstuffworks.com/zoology/question630.htm (Accessed 10 March 2014).
 ‘Knowing’ is ginwskontes, present active participle from ginwskw. For experiential knowledge, A T Robertson calls it ‘experimental knowledge’ (Robertson1933:12).
 Arndt & Gingrich (1957:202).
 Katergazetai, present middle indicative.
 Robertson (1933:12).
 Begg (1996:106).
 Robertson (1933:12).
 Robertson (1933:12).
 Anderson (2013), emphasis added.
 This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev and aug edn. 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).
 This is translated with additions and revisions from the German, Theologisches Begriffenslexikon zum Neuen Testament, original German 1971 (Brown 1976:3-4).
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 January 2018.