Count It All Joy: Support for Suffering Saints part 2

THE REFINER’S FIRE


Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4) 

Don’t miss the crucial connection James makes between knowing and feeling. Joy in trials is the result of knowledge. ‘Count it all joy… for you know…’ something. Right thinking leads to right feeling.

What should we know? Answer: The testing of your faith (which happens in trials) produces steadfastness.



When you read the word test, don’t think ‘exam’. James is not identifying trials as examinations through which your faith receives a pass or a fail. The Greek word for ‘testing’ refers to the process of refining gold or silver. In James’ mind, trials are a fiery furnace, and your faith is a nugget of impure gold. Without the heat of trial, your faith remains tainted. But through testing, your faith will become more and more steadfast.

As Douglas Moo says, ‘Like a muscle that becomes strong when it faces resistance, so Christians learn to remain faithful to God over the long haul only when they face difficulty.’[1]

Steadfast faith is great, but it doesn't end there. Read James’ words again. The testing of your faith produces steadfastness. What does steadfastness produce?

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

Romans 5:3-4, a very close parallel to James, sheds some light on the meaning of being perfect and complete.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance (same Greek word as steadfastness), and endurance produces character… (Romans 5:3-4)

James: Trials --> Steadfastness --> Perfect and complete

Romans: Sufferings --> Endurance --> Character

When James uses the words perfect and complete, he is speaking in terms of moral character; a character that is fully Christ-like, lacking in nothing. The purpose of trials is to form in us this perfect and complete Christ-like character.

Gold is passive during the refining process. This is where the faith refining analogy breaks down. James anticipates our active engagement for this process to bring about its intended end.

Consider James’ words again. Do you see our responsibility to be actively engaged in this refining process?

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  

We are responsible to use steadfastness to hold our confidence in God firm until the end. When that happens, steadfastness of faith will slowly change us so that we become perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. This will only happen if we actively let steadfastness have its full effect.

Douglas Moo says, ‘Testing… is intended to produce, when believers respond with confidence in God and determination to endure, a wholeness of Christian character that lacks nothing in the panoply of virtues that define Godly character.’[2]

The purpose of all trials in our lives is Christ-likeness. Knowing this, says James, ought to make us count trials as all joy. Stop and think about those statements. Does James’ flow of thought make sense to you?

There is a hugely important hidden assumption here that is needed to complete James’ syllogism. That assumption is the supreme worth of Christ-likeness. In other words, whatever we lose through our trials is far outweighed by what we gain. If we don't share this assumption, we will not count it all joy when we meet trials.

Allow me to summarise. In order to be joyful in the midst of trials, you must:

  1. Know the purpose of the trial. 
  2. Value the purpose of the trial more than what the trial takes away. 

Here are some questions to meditate on:

  • Do I want to be Christ-like? 
  • How much is being Christ-like worth to me? 
  • Is Christ-likeness worth more to me than my health or my relationships or my possessions or anything else? 


______
[1]Moo, D. J. The letter of James. The Pillar New Testament commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 55
[2]Moo, D. J. The letter of James, 56 [emphasis mine]


Support for Suffering Saints
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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