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 (Manna 76: Commission)
Overcoming Trials and Temptations (II): The Joy of Trials
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Aun-Quek Chin—Singapore

In their walk of faith, Christians have to handle trials and temptations. In the first part of this series, we looked at Elder James’ guide on how to distinguish between trials and temptations. In this second part, we hone in on what the world would consider a strange joy—the joy of trials.

THE JOY OF TRIALS

The epistle of James was specially written to the twelve tribes who were scattered abroad (Jas 1:1). From the perspective of the church, these twelve tribes fell into two groups—those who believed in Christ, and those who opposed Christ. Amongst the twelve, only a small segment of the Jews were believers, who were persecuted by the anti-Christian majority. The apostle Paul was once one of the most zealous persecutors who went around threatening and imprisoning Christians. By God’s marvellous grace, this fierce anti-Christian became a believer of Christ.

Despite the conversion of this influential Pharisee, believers continued to be persecuted. The decision to believe in Christ almost automatically led to the loss of peace in their lives and a multiplication of turmoil. It would be understandable for Christians in such circumstances to grumble. Evildoers have no choice but to accept their consequent suffering. Yet anyone finding themselves afflicted with various trials because they chose to believe in Christ would find little cause for joy, and may well become resentful.

Thus James wrote to encourage them and correct their erroneous perception of trials. He told them that it should be considered all joy, not misfortune, to fall into various trials (Jas 1:2). Some may conclude that James was indulging in sophistry or self-deception. However, this is not self-consolation, but the spirit of faith that will help us to overcome trials.

The apostle Peter echoed James’ definition of the spirit of faith (1 Pet 4:12–16). We should not be alarmed by trials, but instead rejoice in them because they allow us to have a part with the sufferings of Christ. When Christ comes, we will rejoice with Him. To man, our suffering is calamity and shame, but to God, it is a blessing and glory. Those who reproach us for the name of Christ (1 Pet 4:14) have no such spirit of faith. As a result, what they see is misfortune and suffering. They cannot see the glorious Spirit of God abiding with those in suffering.

In summary, the two apostles teach us the right concept of faith. James teaches us to count it all joy when we go through various trials because the Spirit of the Lord rests upon us and we partake of Christ’s sufferings. Peter reinforces this by contrasting the suffering of evildoers and of Christians. The former deserve their suffering and the shame of it as a consequence of violating the law. However, the latter are not being punished, and instead will reap eternal joy and glory for their willingness to suffer with Christ.

UNDERSTANDING THE BENEFITS OF TRIALS

Trials Ascertain Faith

Every Christian knows the importance of having faith. But how do we gain a pure faith? Just as gold is purified through fire, and gold medals are won through relentless and rigorous training, pure faith is gained through patient endurance of various trials (1 Pet 1:6–7).

Great heroes of faith in both the Old and New Testaments understood this. Job willingly accepted and overcame his great trial (Job 23:10) because he knew he was being refined. The apostles urged the believers to rejoice during trials for these would prove the genuineness of their faith. In fact, faith refined through trials is even more precious than gold. 

Those who have converted to Christianity despite severe opposition from their family may feel that this is sufficient evidence of the sincerity of their faith. They may balk at the thought of more affliction and trials. However, the process of refining gold is not just to ascertain its genuineness but to purify it. Refinement is critical because the purer the gold, the higher its value.

In the refinement process, gold is heated to its melting point and liquefied. Impurities in the gold rise to the surface and are removed. The smelting is repeated so that more deeply-embedded impurities can surface and be eliminated. Traditionally, gold must be refined seven times before it is considered pure gold. The purification of silver is the same (Ps 12:6).

Analogously, our faith may be true, but is it pure? Job appeared to have very pure faith since he was more God-fearing than anyone else around him. But God knew that impurities still existed in Job’s faith. Hence He permitted the testing of Job.

God knows that our faith is true but may be impure. The only way for us to rid ourselves of these impurities is through the fiery refinement of trials. Thus God tries us till we become perfect and without blemish. When the Divine Refiner says, “It is complete,” He will be the first to rejoice at the level of our purity.

Trials Produce Patience

The testing of faith produces patience (Jas 1:3) but this is no ordinary patience. Undeniably, those who are patient by nature can generally endure more than those who are born impatient.  However, this inborn endurance is still unlikely to stand the test of a more prolonged or intense affliction. In contrast, the patience produced by the testing of faith is durable, unyielding, non-compromising and indefatigable. It is manifested by a refusal to give up. Trials of increasing intensity cannot erode such patience. A believer with such patience perseveres till the very end and he is perfect (Jas 1:4).

Acquiring this extraordinary perseverance is critical. A race partially run earns the runner nothing. Similarly, all prior effort, time and suffering are wasted if the believer throws in the towel midway through the trial. There would be no subsequent benefit for his life or faith. Trials are thus necessary to ensure that we gain that extraordinary perseverance which is sustained to the very end.

A reason we may not have been able to build up such perseverance, despite our best intentions, is our unwillingness to undergo trials under normal circumstances. When we encounter problems, we complain. Whenever we meet with obstacles, we give up. Jesus once spoke of such people:

But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. (Mt 13:20–21)

Some people receive and immediately accept the word of God with joy, knowing that this word can save their souls. But when tribulation or persecution appear, these believers fall away. They only delight in the beginning and the end of their journey of faith, and would rather not face any tests along the way. It seems easier for them to give up on their faith, thinking these trials will disappear. A true and genuine faith can only develop through tests. In short, “no pain, no gain.”

Enduring Trials Leads to Blessing

Elder James declared that the man who endures temptation is blessed (Jas 1:12). However, the Greek word for “temptation” (πειρασμόν, peirasmon) in the original text means “trials” (cf. Jas 1:2). In other words, the man who endures trials is blessed.

No one wants to suffer for nothing. The willingness to endure suffering is dependent on whether a blessing awaits us at the end of the affliction, and whether the blessing is valuable enough to make the suffering worthwhile. James assures us that the reward for enduring the trials of faith is no ordinary blessing; what awaits us is the crown of life.

What is the crown of life? The crown symbolizes glory. So wherein lies the glory of life? There are many self-made men and women whose success has brought glory to their family and to themselves. But how long does such glory last? And will their wealth eventually be a source of worry? 

The Scriptures tell us that Judas betrayed the Lord and Demas deserted Him because of their love of the world. While they may have gained temporary wealth, they earned the scorn and condemnation of generations of Christians. On the other hand, mention Peter or Paul to a believer, and the response is generally that of profound respect. Although the two apostles had suffered much physically, they have gained true and great glory. They have received honor from both believers and the Lord for their sacrifices.

One of the messages in Revelation was addressed to the church in Smyrna. The Smyrna Christians had undergone so much tribulation for so long that they had begun to weaken and fear had crept in. At this point, the Lord comforted them, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer” (Rev 2:10a). However, this could be considered cold comfort because the Lord went on to warn them that some of them would be imprisoned, and worse, their tribulation would last ten days. In other words, their suffering was not going to end any time soon!

The perception of the passage of time is subjective. Time appears to fly when we are enjoying ourselves or rejoicing, but in affliction, time slows to a crawl. For the believers in Smyrna, who had been trying to patiently endure persecution for the Lord’s sake, who could blame them for wondering why God had to prolong their suffering for another ten days?

Additionally, the Lord urged them to be faithful until death. What is the point of enduring and continuing to endure if the outcome is still death? Any ordinary person would be in total despair at this point. Yet, the believers in Smyrna were greatly comforted because they highly valued the promised reward—they would be given the crown of life.

The church in Smyrna also drew comfort from the example of their predecessors, the apostles. These saints persevered because they knew that after the temporary suffering, they would enjoy eternal glory. They remembered the parable that Jesus had told concerning the rich man and Lazarus. They were comforted that, one day, they too would be in the bosom of Abraham. For those who persevere in their faithful labor, death is not a frightening abyss, but a blessed rest, for their works follow them (Rev 14:13).

If we understand the glory of the crown of life and the blessings we will receive, then we will not fear when we undergo sufferings and trials. Fear arises from our suspicion that Jesus has forsaken us. We weaken because it seems that He no longer abides with us and even allows our enemies to trample on us. We wonder why He allows us to suffer such agony and humiliation if He loves us.

We often hear and declare that God our heavenly Father abides with us. But when we see His grace upon other people, while He seems impervious to our affliction, we may erroneously conclude that He only values certain people. In these cases, our omniscient God has additional comfort for us, proclaimed through the prophet Isaiah. 

Zion—which is the children of God—once concluded that the Lord had forsaken them because He had permitted the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem (Isa 49:14). But God’s answer was emphatic. Even if the near-impossible could happen—a mother forgetting to nurse her child—He would never forget the Israelites because they were His most precious treasure (Isa 49:15–16). We are not just held, but inscribed on the palms of His hands. Jesus will never forsake us because He truly loves us. His birth, suffering and death were all for our sakes. We can only love because He first loved us.  

When God allows us to suffer trials, it is as if He is no longer holding our hands. But letting go is not desertion. Even though He is not holding on to us, His eyes still intently and unceasingly watch over us. Parents know this well. They start off holding the hands of the toddler who is learning to walk, but they eventually let go so that the child can be independent. And although they are not holding the toddler, their eyes are intently fixed on them. The moment the child stumbles, the parents immediately reach out to offer support.

Likewise, our heavenly Father allows us to walk independently. This is a trial for us to learn to grow to maturity. But God continually watches over us. However, we occasionally look elsewhere. Like Peter, we fear because we only see the dark clouds and raging waves. At such moments, we ought to turn our eyes back to Jesus, and He will stretch out His hand to help us (Mt 14:28–31).

A Promised Crown after Trials

A farmer braves the elements to sow, then waits patiently for the harvest. He does this willingly because he knows that the coming harvest will be worth it. Confidence in God’s promised blessing allows us to endure trials. However, many Christians in the midst of trials and sufferings start to doubt the veracity of these promises. They start wondering whether the gospel truly leads to salvation and whether the church really has the right interpretation of doctrine.

Why are we so sure His promises will all be fulfilled? For the answer, we can turn to Paul. Once the feared persecutor who put scores of Christians to death, Paul converted to Christianity, giving up everything to take on trials and sufferings (2 Cor 11:2327). He did this without a second thought because he knew that all the promises of God were true (2 Cor 1:20).

Paul tells us we can be assured of God’s promises because of the Holy Spirit and the truth.   Two-thousand years ago, the promised Holy Spirit came upon the apostolic church, and upon receiving the Holy Spirit the believers spoke in tongues and preached what the Lord Jesus told them to preach. Two-thousand years later, in our era, the same Holy Spirit descends upon us as well. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13), the truth that had been lost has re-emerged in the true church. What the true church preaches today is indeed what the apostles preached. There are many in Christendom today who do not believe that receiving the Holy Spirit is essential for salvation, or that it is evidenced by tongue speaking. Unfortunately, this erroneous teaching has also crept into the true church today, leading some to downplay the role of the Holy Spirit. We must not compromise on this essential tenet of our faith. 

The Holy Spirit received today in the True Jesus Church, evidenced by speaking in tongues, reaffirms that He is the same promised Holy Spirit that God poured down on the apostles. He is an irrefutable witness, testifying to the resurrection of Jesus, and confirming that what is preached in the true church is the truth. He is the Spirit who seals us and acts as the guarantee that all the promises of the Lord are true and will be fulfilled. Therefore, we must persevere to the very end.

There is another reason—more theological in nature—underlying our confidence in God’s promises. In Hebrews 6:13, it is recorded that God swore a promise by Himself. A person who makes an oath and swears by himself is not credible because humans are fickle and unreliable. But God, by definition, is the Being with infinite and ultimate authority, power and accountability. His swearing by Himself is the greatest guarantee of His promise.

Persevere in Love

The crown of life is promised to those who love God (Jas 1:12). In the midst of trials, will we continue to love the Lord? If the affliction is not too intense, many are still able to continue to love the Lord. Job’s wife is one example. She was stoic when Job lost his possessions. She remained calm even when all her children were killed. But when sores plagued Job's body, her restraint broke. She told Job, "Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9b). She thought it futile to continue holding on to faith and loving a God who permitted a relentless barrage of trials to afflict them. Her lack of perseverance prevented her from gaining what the Lord had promised.

The Lord’s promise is to those who are steadfast in their love for Him even through the most severe trials. To some, it is too difficult, perhaps even unfair, to be put through unceasing suffering. It is incessant tribulation that will differentiate those who truly fear and love the Lord from the fair-weather believer. The former love the Lord regardless of circumstances, while the latter want to receive blessings but are unwilling to suffer with Him.

John chapter 20 tells us of the events after Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. When Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty, she quickly informed the disciples. The apostles ran over to take a look; the linen cloths that bound Jesus were there but the body was indeed gone. There seemed to be nothing more for them to see, so the disciples went off to their own homes. But Mary stayed behind and looked into the tomb (Jn 20:11).

During Jesus’ ministry, there were many Jews who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Some believed in Jesus but left after a while; others followed a little longer but still left when He died. However, Mary stayed. And although it was empty, she still wanted to look into the tomb. Why did Mary remain? Why stare into an empty tomb? Mary was not just staring vacantly. The tomb was empty but her love for the Lord was intact, and the Lord knew of Mary’s love for Him.

The love of others for the Lord waxed and waned, but Mary’s love for Jesus remained strong. She wept as she stooped and looked into the tomb because she truly loved the Lord. Her effort in looking was rewarded when the resurrected Lord appeared to her. It was not to Peter, who had been given the keys to the gates of heaven, nor John, the disciple whom He loved, nor His mother Mary. The first person to whom Jesus revealed Himself after resurrection was Mary Magdalene because of her immense love for Him—a love which was unchanged and unforsaken despite her great agony at His death.

Some claim to love Jesus, but are selective about which of His commands they want to obey.   If our love were as unwavering as Mary Magdalene’s, we would obey all of His commandments, and doubt none (Jn 14:21). Then, when our Lord Jesus comes again, we shall be like Mary, filled with joy and pleasant surprise. But if we are fickle or lukewarm in our love, we will be like Judas, filled with fear and shame.

CONCLUSION—GAINING THE BENEFITS OF TRIALS

Let us learn from the examples of Job, Mary Magdalene and Paul. We ought to understand the Father’s heart and trust His will. Refinement through various trials rids us of impure thoughts, and helps us become like Christ. We are then truly God’s children who can share in His glory.   No matter what sufferings assault our faith, we should not leave or stop loving the Lord. Instead, cling to the promises of the Lord Jesus to those who love Him. His promises are true because He is the true God. Let our love towards Him be true.

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Author: Aun-Quek Chin
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