We are starting a short series for our Sunday evenings in January called Authentic. The purpose of this series is to see how the scriptures picture how we can have a real faith and be real disciples. Now if you think about books in God’s word that give pictures of what faith looks like, James is one of the books that rises to the top. We can sometimes oversimplify the book of James so that the point is missed. We talk about how James tells us that true faith does work. We see this point made in James 2. This is a very important truth. But the point of the book is not to convince us that true faith has action. I believe the point of the book is to show us what faith does. What does true faith look like? To be a little more precise, what does true faith do during times of hardship and suffering? What does faith do when suffering? So what I would like to do is spend five lessons looking at first chapter of James and look carefully at what faith does when encountering trials and suffering.
If you have grown up in the pews you have probably heard the introduction to the book of James many times. “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Unfortunately, it is easy to misuse this teaching. James does not tell us that you just need to have joy when you experience various trials. James is not telling us to go around telling other people when they are in trials that they should have joy in their trials. Trials are not joyful experiences. Trials are painful experiences. The sufferings of life are hard. We see this in Jesus. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says about Jesus.
During his earthly life, he offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (Hebrews 5:7 CSB)
We are told that Jesus experienced trials and made his appeals to God with loud cries and tears. Trials hurt. James writes to help people with faith when experiencing various trials. I would like for you to underline a few words in verse 2. Depending on your translation, the end of verse 2 reads, “trials of many kinds” or “trials of various kinds.” There are varying degrees of hardship and pain and trials come for a variety of reasons. There are various kinds of trials and at any given point in life you are going to be on the scale of 1 to 10 of trial hardships. So whether your present trial or past trial or future trial is a one or a two in degree of difficulty or whether it is a ten, James is writing for you. So let’s listen to what he says and make a few careful observations.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2–4 NIV)
Now I want you to notice something that James said and did not say. James did not say that trials and sufferings automatically produce perseverance and that is why you should count trials with joy. I think it is really important to see that James does not say this. James does not say that every trial will give you what you need for life. There is a very important command that James says in verse 4 that we need to reflect on for a few moments.
Let Perseverance Finish Its Work
Notice that James says that there is something we need to do during our trials. We must let perseverance finish its work. We must let steadfastness have its full effect (ESV). We need to let endurance complete its work (NRSVue). Trials bring endurance if we let the trial have its full effect. Look at verse 4 again. Letting perseverance finish its work is the way for you to be mature and complete, not lacking anything. The trial is the tool to make us spiritually complete but you must let endurance have its full effect or finish its work.
Trials do not automatically make us better. You might know this from your own life or from the lives of others. How many times have you seen people made bitter by trials, not better? How many times have you seen people made more hostile than holy from their trials? I am not referring to people in the world. I am speaking about people who claim to be Christians. How many times have you seen people become angry at God from their trials, not awestruck of God? It happens all the time. This is what James is saying. James says that we must let perseverance have its full effect. Endurance needs to complete its work in us.
Why is it so important to let endurance have its full effect? Let me illustrate the idea. A long time ago I used to work at a gas station/convenience store. It rented videos, sold sandwiches, sold Godfather’s pizza, and was a convenience store. Even though I was a cashier, we had to be trained on how to make sub sandwiches and how to make pizzas. They had an oven like you see in chain pizza places today. Once the pizza is made, the pizza is set on a conveyor that moves the pizza very slowly through the oven so that it is evenly cooked. There was a big rule. Do not take the pizza out early. Even when you can see half of the pizza coming out the other side, do not remove the pizza until it has fully reached the end of the conveyor and has cleared the oven. If you do not, the pizza will not be fully cooked. Or to say this another way, the oven will not have its full effect. You will have a pizza that is half cooked and not half cooked. Being the impatient person that I can be, I didn’t listen one time. I made myself a pizza for my dinner break and I needed it to hurry so I would have enough time to eat it on my 30 minute break. So when the pizza peaked out the other side, I grabbed it out so I could eat it. This was a big mistake and a waste of a pizza.
James is telling us that the trial is meant to produce endurance but endurance needs to finish its work. Otherwise the trial is wasted and you are not going to experience growth in your endurance and maturity. So we need to talk about how we can let it have its full effect and how we stop it from completing its work.
James tells us that we need to let endurance have its full effect. So how do we not allow endurance to finish its work? Before I give some answers, I just want you to think about your own life for a moment. Are there ways where you did not let the trial accomplish is full effect? Here are some ways that we do not let steadfastness complete its work.
Blame. We blame our suffering on the actions of other people. Now it can be absolutely true that the reason we are suffering is because of the actions of other people. Much of the suffering that happens is because of other people’s sinful decisions. But just because someone has caused our affliction does not mean that we do not need the trial. We can fail to let a trial change us and do its perfecting work in us because we are so angry at what someone has done to us and how it has forever changed our lives. I have that story in my life. Other people’s sins forever changed my childhood and the trajectory of my life. You can spend so much time blaming the offenders, pointing the finger at them, and experiencing all kinds of emotions and not learn anything from the trial because you are so focused on the other person. The book of Job tells us that God is in control of trials. So even if we want to blame Satan and blame others, at the end of it all we need to look for what God is teaching us through the trial so that it can have its full effect.
Disobedience. One way we often handle our suffering is sinning. We use sin to dull the pain of our suffering. We are upset, angry, and anxious and we use these emotions to go into sexual immorality, drug use, drunkenness, explode with anger, or any other number of options. We sabotage endurance and do not let it have its perfect work when we dive into sin when trials endure in our lives.
Quitting or Impatience. Rather than letting the trial produce endurance and letting it finish its work in us, we quit. We become impatient because the trial is too long or too painful or too unexpected. We didn’t expect death to hit so close so we quit on God. We did not think the trial would last years and years and so we quit on God. We did not think that life would hurt this bad and so we quit on God. What is interesting about this decision in our trials is that this is the very thing that God is trying accomplish in us. James tells us that God is producing endurance and perseverance. We railroad this effort through impatience. We are impatient with God, impatient with others, and impatient with life. Rather than letting God transform our impatience, we give into our impatience.
Not Reflecting. There are probably many other ways that we sabotage God bringing endurance to completion. But let me give you one more to consider. We sabotage endurance by not reflecting and learning from the trial. We do not pay attention to what the trial is showing in us. Is the trial showing that we are impatient people? Is the trial showing that we are angry people? Is the trial showing that we are lustful people? Is the trial showing that we are materialistic people? Is the trial showing that we put our hope and trust on someone else rather than completely on God?
Let Endurance Have Its Full Impact
James tells us that we need to let the trial produce endurance and let endurance have its full impact in our lives. Trials tell us something that we know but easily forget. We are not spiritually complete. We are not done being made spiritually mature. There is more work that needs to be done and we must let God do that work through the suffering of trials. We need to have the humility to let God do his work, letting the trial have its full impact so that we can lack nothing.
So we must let perseverance finish its work. We do this by not sabotaging the work. We also do this by surrendering our way and our will. God is not destroying you but showing you a blind spot in your life. James will make that point more clearly later in this chapter. We trust that God is showing us the blind spot and we surrender to his way and will. Let me give an example of how we need to do this. Too often we do not let endurance have its full effect because we are busy looking in the rear view mirror. We want the way things they used to be and fight to bring it back rather than to submitting to the trial and the direction God is taking us. This is so hard to do. We feel like we have lost something and we are trying to regain it. But God is moving us a new direction and we must let the trial have its work.
So let us come back to the first four verses of James 1. James tells us that when we are experiencing various trials we need to consider this time as nothing but joy. Why? Why is this so important? We must do this because joy is the only way we will let the trial work. Joy is the only way that we will let endurance have its full effect. If our perspective of a trial is depression, anger, bitterness, or hatred, then we will not let the trial have its perfect work. The trial will be wasted and we will not become spiritually mature as perseverance finishes its work. You can look at the trial and know it will be okay, no matter what you lost, because you know God is at work. Let him rebuild you to be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.