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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.