Enduring Trials


Blessedness

"Blessed is the man." James echoes the language of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, where He pronounces nine blessings on those who seek God and a life of godliness (Matt. 5:3-11). As used by Jesus and His younger brother, the term "blessed" is not equivalent to our word "happy," which has become almost meaningless through overuse. We say we are happy whenever some little thing makes us feel good. But to be blessed is a far greater benefit. It is to receive favor from God, and His favor is not confined to a single kindness. Rather, His favor introduces us to a life where every experience, large or small, is guided by a loving hand, and where every moment fits into a larger plan to enrich us with good things. So, whereas happiness is to feel good in the present moment, blessedness is to experience nothing but good forever.

The classic picture of the blessed man is, of course, in Psalm 1. He is blessed because, in forming his own opinions, values, and goals, he has turned away from the world’s influence and taken guidance from the Word of God (Ps. 1:1-2). God’s thoughts are so important to him that he meditates upon them day and night. They are his foundation for life.


Job's example

Turning back to the Epistle of James, we find that a special blessing comes to "the man that endureth temptation." Here again the temptation James intends is not the kind that offers opportunity to sin, but the kind that subjects a man to hardship and loss. To endure means not just to get through the trial. A man can survive yet fail to endure. "Endure" means to stand firm in faith and testimony. The prime example was Job. His trial was perhaps the most severe any man has suffered. He lost his possessions and family and finally his good health. The devil took everything but his wife, and he left his wife so she could tempt Job. Her faith collapsed under the weight of her anger against God. She urged Job to curse God and die (Job 2:9).

We should not deny her our pity, however. We remember Job’s sufferings, but we may not remember that his wife suffered nearly as much. Yet although her faith faltered, it was later restored. How do we know that? Because God blessed her by making her the mother of another family.

Earlier, when she turned against God, Job did not follow her example. In fact, he declared, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15). The steadfastness of his faith brought him the blessing that James says will come to any man who endures temptation. At the end of Job’s sufferings, God repaid him double for everything taken away (Job 42:12-13).

As we go through a trial, the promise of blessing helps us endure, for whatever we lose, we know that God will, in His own good time, whether in this world or the next, give us compensation. Not only will we receive blessings, but blessings with greater value than anything we lost.


The crown of life

Some distort the Epistle of James by claiming that he teaches works salvation. One text they offer to prove their interpretation is this: "For when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life." The idea they find here is that a man must earn eternal life by enduring temptation. But we can say emphatically that James is teaching no such thing. The word "tried" suggests the testing of a precious metal to see whether it is genuine. Thus, the purpose of trials is not to make someone a Christian, but to show that someone is a real Christian already. Before the visible world of men and the unseen world of angels and demons, they put his faith on display and bring glory to God, for a steadfast faith in the heart of a mortal, sinful man must be a divine work.

The reward for enduring is a crown of life. "Crown" here is the usual word stephanos, which can refer to a victor’s crown or a king’s crown. James evidently views it as a token of victory. He could be referring to an actual crown, but more likely the meaning is figurative. That is, is merely saying that after we have completed our passage through this vale of tears, God will bestow upon us eternal life, a reward priceless and beautiful like a crown. Eternal life is what God has promised to those who love Him.


Love as our motive

The crown of life is promised to them that love God. James brings in the concept of love at the right moment to show the importance of love in God’s program. Love is the reason we are willing to endure trials. Except for our love of God, we would never accept the suffering that He permits in our lives. Instead, we would be consumed by resentment and hate. What enables a child to accept a spanking from his parents? Love for the parents. What enables a parent to put up with his child’s foolishness? Love for the child. Likewise, love of God is what motivates us to obey God and to keep a sweet confidence in His goodness despite all the troubles of life. Indeed, these troubles make us love God even more, for each time we choose to praise Him instead of complain, our love grows stronger.

So now I will state a principle that is one of the most important I will ever teach you. If you can grasp it, it will help you make sense of the hardest moments in your life. It will give you a foundation for faith to build on, and it will protect you from corrosive doubt and despair. It is this. The whole scheme of life in this world is designed to produce creatures who will give God a measure of love that He finds satisfying. The basic reason He puts us through suffering is therefore to build our love for Him.

God created us because He wanted to receive love in return for His love. His love was so great that God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, died a horrible death to save us from sin. Our love for God is naturally weak by comparison and needs strengthening. Even the hardest trial is a strengthening tool if we choose by faith to believe that God has intended it for our good.


Self-Test


1. Am I looking for fleeting happiness rather than true blessedness?


The happiness afforded by the things of this world can never satisfy for more than a few measly moments. Watching a football game on TV or browsing at the mall may not be wrong in themselves, but they will never make you blessed. Only the blessedness attained by pleasing God will give satisfaction forever. So, examine how you spend your resources and energy. Do a time study of your life. Find what percent is transient in its impact and what percent is eternal. The things of lasting value include good works, attending church and supporting its ministries, Christian service, reading the Bible, prayer, and wholesome family life.


2. In pursuit of happiness, how much time do I spend indulging and entertaining the flesh?


Giving mastery to the flesh will not only waste your life on what is transient, but also entangle you in sin. Several years ago my son went through great soul-searching as he pondered whether his family should be watching videos. The problem is that after you buy the best and least objectionable, you eventually get tired of them. So you must replace them with others, which are usually less desirable. As you acquire more and more videos, your standards tend to slip, and you begin looking at entertainment that you would not have tolerated in the beginning. My son decided that his family would cut back video-watching and develop other activities in its place, and these have proved to be both profitable and enjoyable.


3. Do I serve God first and let Him add to my life such comforts and pleasures as He deems good for me?


The navy’s slogan, "Join the navy and see the world," resembles Jesus’ promise to the warriors for His kingdom. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33). Do you enjoy sight-seeing? Join God’s service and He will give you a traveling ministry. Do you enjoy exotic food? He will send you to the mission field. Do you enjoy sports and games? He will put you in youth work. Do you like people? He will give you as many opportunities to minister to people as you can handle. Do you like to talk? He will make you a preacher or teacher.


4. To know what will please God and gain His blessing, do I, like the man in Psalm 1, meditate upon His Word day and night (Ps. 1:2)? Or do I relegate the Bible to the coffee table and leave it there to gather dust?


Sometimes when I teach a Bible class, I feel that many sitting in front of me have not been digging into the Word. Perhaps they have been reading short texts for devotions, but they have not been taking time to master the content and doctrine of the Bible. Let the Bible be your meditation day and night. Believe me, it will surgically remove the cancerous growths in your heart, dig out the weeds in your mind, and jump-start your conscience.


5. Do I respond to trials as Job did, with a refusal to complain against God? Do I trust Him even as He is taking away what is dear to me?


Whenever you undergo a painful loss—death of a loved one, being fired from your job, a serious illness—you should view it as a test of your faith. Remember the last great loss in your life and consider whether you handled it correctly. When my sister’s husband died, I was angry at God for what He did to her. He left her a widow with four children, the youngest little more than a year old. It was a hard blow, especially for a woman who had lost her own mother when she was a girl. The dark night my sister had to endure was one of my excuses for turning my back on God for several years. She, on the other hand, submitted to God’s will and nourished her faith. As a result, her life evolved into a beautiful thing, harmonious in all its parts, whereas my life unraveled. I did not find a worthwhile direction again until I decided to let God be God.


6. Do I think of my faith as being on display?


If you do, and if you love God, you will strive to maintain a strong faith even when you are passing through tribulation. Especially then, you will want to protect God’s honor and bring credit to His name. When you find fault with God, you unwittingly lend support to the devil’s age-old contention that man does not deserve God’s love and grace (Job 4:15-21).


7. Do I keep my eyes on the reward for endurance—eternal life with my beloved Savior? Am I heavenly minded? Or do my thoughts dwell solely on life in this world?


Again, examine your thoughts. How much time do you actually give to thinking about your future life with God? As a result of becoming enthralled with the prospects of love, marriage, children, and career, some young people in the church actually hope that Christ will not return soon. They do not understand how glorious our life with Him will be. It will be a life so satisfying that we will never for a moment regret anything we missed in this world. If given the chance to come back and pursue unfulfilled dreams, we would never take it. We would say, in the equivalent language of heaven, are you crazy?


8. Do I understand how important my love is to God?


You should look upon obedience to His will as an opportunity to show your love. You should look upon endurance through trial in the same way.


9. Do I tell God that I love Him?


Do you say, "I love you," to your spouse, children, parents? You should. But say it every day to the Lord also when you meet with Him.

Study Questions

  1. What is the difference between the terms "blessed" and "happy"?
  2. Where do we find the classic picture of a blessed man?
  3. To whom does James promise blessing?
  4. What is meant by "temptation," by "endureth"?
  5. Does James mean that enduring is required for salvation?
  6. What is the reward for enduring?
  7. What should be our motive for enduring trials?
  8. What is the secret to gaining a stronger love for God?
  9. What is God’s purpose for putting us through life in a difficult world?

Further Reading


If you have found this lesson helpful, you might want to obtain Ed Rickard's commentary on the whole Epistle of James. For a brief description and for information on how to obtain it, click here.