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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
THE BENEFITS OF TRIALS
Trials Ascertain Faith
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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).
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” (pe??asµ??
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?
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!
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
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.
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).
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.
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
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).
Crown After Trials
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 11:23–27). He did this without a second thought because he
knew that all the promises of God were true (2 Cor 1:20).
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.