The Testings Of The Christian Life John Phillips November 1, 2004 James 1:2-4 James addresses himself to half a dozen basic issues of the Christian life. He discusses the Christian and his battles (1:2-16), the Christian and his Bible (1:17-27), the Christian and his brethren (2:1-13), the Christian and his beliefs (2:14-26), the Christian and his behavior (3:1-4:12), the Christian and his boasting (4:13-5:6), and the Christian and his burdens (5:7-20). He begins with the testings and temptations that assail the godly. As to our temptations, they are for a purpose (1:2-11) and for our profit (1:12). James could see three reasons why God allowed His people to be tested: for our enlargement (1:2-4), for our enlightenment (1:5-8), and for our ennoblement (1:9-11). They are for our enlargement. They are intended, for instance, to move us: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (1:2). Testings jolt us out of the comfortable ruts into which we tend to settle. They provoke a reaction. The way we respond to testings tells us a great deal about our spiritual condition. The word translated “temptations” refers primarily here to trials. The word pictures an assayer who puts gold in the fire to test its purity. James has in mind the external trials that overtake us on our journey home. He sees “divers” or “manifold” trials. The word for “manifold” denotes “many-colored” or variegated trials – trials of all sorts. The classic Old Testament example of a saint being tested by all kinds of adversities is Job. In a series of inexplicable disasters, he lost his wealth and his health, his family, the sympathy and fellowship of his wife, and the goodwill of his friends. Job came out of his trials a wiser and better man. James does not urge his readers to react positively if they fall into trials but when they fall into trials. Trials are not electives in God’s school; they are required courses. Sooner or later, testings will come. They are not intended to give God an opportunity to see how we are doing but to let us see how far we have come – or failed to come. Moreover, testings are designed to mellow us: “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (1:3). That is why James tells us to “count it all joy” when these testings come. They are not mindless, senseless woes unleashed upon us by a cold and impersonal fate. They are permitted by a wise and loving heavenly Father, who is too caring to be unkind and too wise to make any mistakes. Satan was not allowed to touch job at any time or in any way apart from God’s express permission. Moreover, each time he obtained permission to attack God’s beloved servant, God drew the line in the sand beyond which Satan could not go. One great objective that God has in mind in allowing us to face the trials of life is to teach us patience. The word for “trying” can be translated “proof.” The idea behind the word is that of something being put in the crucible. It also carries the thought of a yoke of oxen being put to the test (Luke 14:19). This “trying of our faith” works “patience.” The word used here for “patience” means literally “to abide under” something. We find it very hard to remain quiet under adverse circumstances, but God expects us to endure them cheerfully. No one knew how to do this better than Paul. When he and Silas were flogged at Philippi, then jailed, and then subjected to the torture of the stocks, they sang! Indeed, they sang to such effect that their influence and testimony not only held their fellow prisoners enthralled but also led to the conversion of their jailer (Acts 16:19-31). James knew that Hebrew Christians were frequently being persecuted for their faith. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews (presumably the apostle Paul) encouraged Hebrew Christians not to give up their boldness. He reminded them that they “took joyfully the spoiling of your goods” (Heb. 10:34). To this day, Jewish Christians often pay a high price for their confession of faith. It is not uncommon for other Jews to ostracize them. Sometimes they are counted as already dead and are treated accordingly: a dead person cannot be married, cannot own property, and cannot hold a job. He is dead. The key to survival under such testing is patience. The third purpose of testing is to mature us: “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (1:4). Testing is a process. It has to go on and on until full maturity is reached and we become people of demonstrable Christian character. The word for “perfect” is teleios. It indicates something that has reached its end, something that is finished. It carries the idea of being fully developed, of being complete, or of being initiated. The word was applied to people who were fully instructed in something in contrast to those who were mere novices. Paul used the word when writing to carnal and immature Corinthians to describe a believer who had advanced beyond the need of elementary teaching (1 Cor. 2:67). James has in mind patience leading to perfection in performance – a “perfect work.” The word for “entire” is holokleros. Paul used the word when he wrote to the Thessalonians. He told them that, in view of the coming rapture, they should be whole in spirit, soul, and body. The idea is that every grace present in Christ should be manifested in the believer. Or, as James puts it, “wanting [lacking] nothing.” Patience is a farmer’s word. The farmer plows and plants his field, but then he has to wait patiently for the harvest. Patience is a photographer’s word. We see him as he goes into the wilds to get videos of a cuckoo putting its eggs in another bird’s nest or of a crocodile tenderly picking up its newly hatched young in her mouth. He has to find the right spot, build his blind, set up his cameras – and then settle down to wait. Patience is an astronomer’s word. His calculations tell him of the impending visit of a comet or the coming of an eclipse. In no way can he hurry the process. If he wants to see the comet or the eclipse, he must wait. Patience is nature’s word. A time exists in the ripening process of a peach or an orange when it has all of its various parts. It is as much a peach or an orange as it is ever going to be, but it is not yet ripe. If the fruit is picked at that stage, it will be hard and bitter. Much fruit that is sold today is like that. The tomatoes are red and round and ripe – or so they seem. The peaches are beautiful in color, shape, and texture, but they have been forced in the growing process, and they have been picked too soon. The result is disappointing. The tomatoes are hard and dry, the oranges are sour, and the peaches are tasteless. They have been picked before they are ripe. Impatience has spoiled the process. Patience is God’s word. God is never in a hurry. God’s word to us is “Wait!” It takes time for the earth to complete its journey around the sun. It takes time for the tide to come in. It takes time for a child to grow into a man or a woman. And it takes time to bring a person to full maturity in Christ. We live in the day of fast-food restaurants, instant news, and instant entertainment. We try to carry all of this hurry over into spiritual life. A celebrity professes to be saved. He is lionized, promoted, hurried from place to place to give his testimony, and applauded on every hand. A young man shows promise as a preacher. He is invited here, there, and everywhere to preach his half-a-dozen borrowed sermons. He gets on the conference circuit and ascends the pulpits of the megachurches. Then, crash! Down he goes. God’s word on all of this hurry is “Wait!” He says, “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (I Tim. 3:6). Patience! _____________________ Adapted from Exploring the Epistle of James: An Expository Commentary by John Phillips. Used by permission of Kregel Publications. The John Phillips Commentary Series from Kregel is available at your local or online Christian bookseller, or contact Kregel at (800) 733-2607. _____________________ John Phillips is a popular preacher and Bible study leader who now resides in Bowling Green, KY. Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.