“Consider it all joy, my brothers, whenever you encounter various trials”
Now why would James write that? The subject crossed my mind when I was recently hospitalized for a raging infection. I had plenty of time while I lay in bed with nothing really to do but read a Gideon Bible and an interesting book titled Pilgrim Echoes, a compilation of the sermons of a minister little known outside my own group, the Bible Students, whose ministry as a travelling minister was kind of short, with him finishing his course after ten years, and think. None of those sermons directly addressed our theme verse, but it got me thinking about the nature of trials and their purpose since he did speak on them in several of the sermons I read.
The word James used for “trials” is πειρασμός (G3986) and the root for this noun is the verb πειράζω (G3985) which Thayer’s gives a meaning of “to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quantity, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself.” James uses the verb later in verse thirteen twice when telling the brethren that God does not tempt us with evil. Since the noun and verb both refer to a testing in a good or bad way we’re clued in by the later verse as to which way James means it. That is that the testing is done in a good way, with approval as its end.
But how can that be? After all, trials are hard things, as if we were going through fire! Well, aside from the fact that it isn’t always the case, please hold that thought a moment and continue on. We find a fascinating passage addressed to Israel in the last book of the Old Testament in which the thought of fire in the same sense God permits trials is used. That would be Malachi 3:1-3, where we read:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye desire, behold, he cometh, saith Jehovah of hosts. But who can abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap: and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer unto Jehovah offerings in righteousness.” (Mal 3:1-3)
I underlined the appropriate sections where our master is portrayed as a refiner using fire to refine the tribe of Levi that they may be pure and able present offerings on the behalf of their brethren. While it may be possible he will refine the tribe of Levi here on the earth, I think I’m on safe ground to say that this really refers to the Church, who are both priests and kings to our God (Rom. 8:14-17; Rev. 20:4-6). So God is purifying the Church, and he does so through trials.
So how do trials accomplish this? Well, it really goes back to the purpose of trials as implied through the word James used. Does God really need to test us to find out if we measure up? Who would we be kidding with that question? God already knows the answer. So the testing must be for somebody else’s benefit. Could it be for our own?
Refiner’s fire first reveals impurities and then burns them away. In a similar fashion, my dear friends, trials reveal to us our own weaknesses and give us the opportunity to work on them if we fail the testing the first time around. This thought is implicit in James’s words when he explained to his brethren that God does not try us with evil:
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man: but each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is fullgrown, bringeth forth death.”
God allows the fire of trials to come upon us to allow us to see where we are weak and to purify us that we will be like fine gold fit for his plan for us. But it also strengthens us much like subjecting fine steel to heating up and rapid cooling hardens it to a fine temper making it stronger. So far from being something to avoid, trials are something to desire as they are a sign that God is dealing with us as his adopted sons and heirs (Heb. 12: 5-13). Then we can be reassured by James’ words at James 1:3 and 4:
“Knowing that the proving of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.”