James 1:2-4 (NIV) - Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Trials test faith. The idea of “trials of many kinds” suggests that there is also faith of many kinds too, or at least faith applied in different areas of life and yielding different results.
Romans 14:1-4 (NIV) - Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One person’s faith holds him/her to stricter standards, another’s faith gives more latitude. I find it interesting that even Paul refused to specify one as better than another. If he doesn’t hold up one as higher or stronger than the other, why should we?
Back to the topic of trials – the purpose of trials is to bring maturity, and that requires perseverance. That finally started making sense to me, since any virtue is flawed unless it has perseverance to back it up. For example, compassion is weak if it cannot continue in the face of adversity. Humility in degrading situations has to persevere, or else it is unable to bear fruit.
Sounds good in theory. But in real life, when trials hit, we usually don’t know what they are for and how we ought to handle them. Sometimes trials require us to use our faith, to express our faith with specific works, in order that we may achieve the outcomes God desires for us.
James 1:5-8 (NIV) - If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
Here we see the most basic application of faith – to ask for and receive wisdom. We can even say that without wisdom, we are unable to achieve the purpose of any trial, because we’d just be groping in the dark about what is happening and what to do to overcome that specific trial.
This tells me that one of the first areas a new believer has to be established in (after the Fatherhood of God and forgiveness of sin) is divine wisdom. The new believer has to be taught that God’s wisdom is above that of this world, he desires to impart wisdom to us, and what we, on our part, have to do to receive it in order to act upon it.
James 1:9-11 (NIV) - The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.
This passage has had me stumped for ages – humble circumstances are a high position? Riches are a low position? But it is starting to make sense to me these days. When we are in humble circumstances, the only high position we have is NOT of this world, it is in the eyes of God.
Ephesians 2:6-7 (NIV) - And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
It is when we are in humble circumstances that we most need to remind ourselves of how highly God has lifted us up in the heavenly realms. Problem is, the heavenly realms aren’t perceived by our earthly senses, they can be perceived only through faith. Hence the need for both faith to be tested (James 1:2) and for us to set our minds and hearts on things above (Colossians 3:1-2), as I said in my previous post.
And when we are rich we should take pride in our low position. In what way are riches a low position? Earthly riches are so transient, they can fade away so quickly.
Proverbs 23:4-5 (NKJV) - Do not overwork to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease. Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.
Earthly riches are transient, they can be lost so quickly. Every rich man knows that, anyone who has slogged for his or her millions knows how precarious that position is, that he or she is usually just one bad decision or one financial calamity away from losing everything. You don’t need the Bible to tell you that, life tells you that quickly enough! But the Bible goes a step further and tells is to take pride in it.
The Greek word translated as “take pride” (Kauchaomai, Strongs’ #2744) has the idea of boasting. When a rich person boasts of how precarious his wealth status is, that tells everyone not to look to him for help, to not envy him but to look beyond earthly wealth. And that means looking unto the LORD, maker of heaven and earth.
Maybe this explains what happened to David in Psalm 30. Could it be that he got caught up in his wealth and success and thought that they were secure even apart from God’s sustenance?
Psalm 30:6-7 (NIV) - When I felt secure, I said, "I will never be shaken." O LORD, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.
I suspect this is what God wants me to learn this season, that in the midst of my trials I have an exalted position in Christ, and even when my trials are over, any earthly success or reward I might get is transient, so fragile and able to fade away quickly. But earthly rewards are not all that I will receive when I make it through this season.
James 1:12 (NIV) - Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
There is a crown of life waiting for me. I don’t understand what it means, what it looks like, or if it is something I will receive in some way here on earth or only at the final judgment. All I know is that thinking about it makes my heart beat faster in anticipation and courage to arise again within me. That passage also tells me the secret to persevering under trial: love God. Keep loving God and that will ensure you make it through!
That is my prayer for myself now, that God will keep that crown of life on my heart and strengthen my love for him even during this season. Is that your prayer too? I would to God that be so!