Joy Under Trial

James 1:2-4

Four ways in which we need to see our trials.

  1. As a gift from God
  2. A joy in the making
  3. A perfecter of your faith
  4. A test you will pass

Trials are: Presently ~ now; Temporarily ~ for a little while; Necessarily ~ if need be; Unequally ~ various… given to us.

Good morning, Saylorville. If you brought a copy of Scripture with you this morning, you can find James chapter one as we continue in our series, Keeping it Real. James chapter one.

The title of the message this morning is Joy Under Fire,  and I purposely have titled the message such because that’ll come out as we carry on here. But James chapter one.

In 1862, a Scottish minister by the name of George Matheson was 20 years old, in love and engaged to be married. But he was also going blind,  and his fiancé realizing the prospect of a man who was progressively going toward blindness, she would have to guide the rest of her life, cut off the engagement. And his heart was broken. But he had a sister, a godly sister, who for the next 20 years would lead him, read for him, study the languages with him, guide him wherever he went. He was everything to George Matheson for the next 20 years. In fact, he became a famous preacher who was known as the blind preacher, Queen Victoria, even asked him to have an audience. So he could speak to her. But 20 years later, his sister also got married. And so overwhelmed by the prospect of losing this guide that he’d had for half of his life. He sat down and, in his words, “in five minutes,” wrote the following words.

“O love that will not let me go. I rest my weary soul in thee.

I give thee back the life I owe that in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.”

That great poem has become a song, a hymn, a praise the church has sung ever since then and we’ll sing it today. But it’s what we do in our trials.

Trials. We all have them. None of us want them. Amen? We certainly don’t pray for them. And what’s more, it’s sort of a human condition. And we’ve been saying that James is gonna get in to the human condition and today is no exception. It’s the human condition to sort of be drawn to those, not ourselves, but others who are going through trial. Isn’t it? We’re so interested, either for, maybe because we’re so compassionate, maybe we’re just morbid in our curiosity.

Some of you are aware that the wife of the professor, one of the professors in our local Bible college, formerly a member of our church I might add years ago, is facing death in the coming days and doing so joyfully. But many of us are watching. We are watching not just her. We’re watching her, husband, we’re watching her kids. We’re just drawn to that. We just are.

I just thought of just now that it’s Psalm 69:6 where David says, “Let not those who hope in you become ashamed because of me. Let not those who trust in you become ashamed because of me.”

[“Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,

O Lord GOD of hosts;

let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,

O God of Israel.”]

In other words, David understood people were watching… and so are you.

So here’s how James puts it, he says,

James 1:2-4, ”Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet,” (curious word,) “when you meet various trials. 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 and lacking in nothing.”

That’s crazy stuff there, isn’t it? I mean, that passage that you’re now looking at is dense. It is so dense. It’s dense with truth and like a dense forest, it’s hard to see through much less, get through. And yet if we accept the truth that James is teaching us the reality, we’ll not just be better off… Look at the words again… We’ll be perfect! We’ll be complete! “Well, lack in nothing! That’s crazy stuff!

When my wife died, I got letters and sermons and books and advice from everywhere. And the truth is, I all but ignored the well-intentioned advice from those who were just giving me knowledge. I didn’t need more knowledge. But next to the Word of God, next to the Bible itself, I leaned into those who had suffered. And especially if they had loved Jesus before, during, and after the trial, men like Spurgeon and C.S. Lewis and more contemporarily, Joni Eareckson Tada and Tim Keller who just recently went to be the Lord and taught us all how to die. And really especially for me, I leaned into Elisabeth Elliot. She’s the one who said succinctly,

“Suffering is not for nothing.”

More famously, it was C.S. Lewis who said that

“Pain is God’s megaphone. He whispers to us in our joys, speaks to us in our conscience and shouts to us in our pain.”

Can I get an Amen? We hear the shout, don’t we?

The great Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, very eloquently wrote that he had

“… learned to kiss the waves that threw him up against the Rock of Ages.”

How do we get there in our trials? Because we all have them. How do we get there to where we can kiss the wave that throws us up against the Rock of Ages? How do we get there? I appreciate the honesty of somebody who took this quote and rewrote it. They said,

“Will I ever learn [to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages]?”

That’s probably where most of us are. And I’m here to say to you this morning, if you’re a follower of Jesus, (and we never assume that all of you are) But if you’re a follower of Jesus, we can kiss the waves of trials. When we see them, and I’ll give you four ways in which we need to see our trials from this text.

First, is a gift from God. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but you have to get to a place where you see your trial, big or small, as a gift from God. Notice what it says, [James 1:2a]

Count it all joy, my brothers, when (not if… when) you meet trials of various kinds…

Jesus said, [John 16:33] “In this world you’ll have tribulation, but don’t worry about it because I’ve overcome the world.”  Amen?

Now I love 1 Peter 1:6 and I want to take you there. I want to show you the verse. I think we got it. Here we go.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,”

This, you talk about being packed full. That verse is packed. This verse that you’re looking at here, which is a companion to James, tells us that our trials are, they’re presently. He says, “Though now, for a little while…” though now, every trial you have is in the now. Right? They’re temporarily, though now for a little while. Every trial you have in light of eternity is temporary. Though now, presently, for a little while, temporarily, if need be. That means your trial is necessarily given to you. If need be, God doesn’t give you anything that you don’t need and your trial is necessary.

I just read this morning in my own personal devotions on Psalm 119:67 where the psalmist said,

“Before I was afflicted, I went astray.”

Have you ever read that? In other words, listen, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray.” In other words, the psalmist was saying, ‘My trial sent me right.’ It put me back. It gave me the true north. It reset me.

Before I was afflicted, I went astray,  but now I keep (obey) your word.”

he said. So our trials are presently, though now for a little while if need be, they’re temporarily for a little while, they’re necessarily if need be, and they’re unequally given to us. You’re moved by various trials. Same word given here, it’s the same word here in James. Look back to James here again. He says,

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of, (there’s the word,) various kinds.”

That is a great word there. The word conveys the idea that our trials are unequal. They’re not always the same. Wouldn’t you agree? Not every trial is on the same level as the one you had before. This is the word “poikilois.” The Greek word is where we get our English word “polkadot,” and polkadots come in various colors and various sizes. So do our trials. They come in various colors. They come in with various intensity, some are big, some are small. They’re not all the same. And that’s what James is trying. In fact, this word, “various” literally means “multi-colored.” That’s literally what it means. Like our trials are multifaceted. And that’s what James doesn’t want you and I to think, “I’m only talking about the real heavy ones.” He’s not saying that at all. James doesn’t tell us exactly what these Jewish Christians, and if you remember from the introduction last week, the first verse or two is talking that these are Messianic Christians. These are Jews scattered around because of persecution, but they are Jewish Christians. And he doesn’t tell us what these Christian Jews were suffering. Instead he uses this word, which means all kinds. And he’s got all kinds of trials in mind. Let me illustrate.

Just the other day I was in a coffee shop and I ordered, wait for it… a cup of coffee. And so I said, I’d like to get just a mug of regular coffee and she said, okay. She said, “You stand over here and we’ll get to…” the mug was right there. The coffee was right behind her. You grab the mug… you fill up the coffee… you give it to the patron… right? No, she moves me over while she’s got some vanilla, latte, pumpkin spice, whatever, for four other people. (“It’s a cup of coffee. Give me my cup of…”) No, I’m not saying all this, but this is what’s going on inside. ‘Cause she moves me to the side. As I wait for a cup of coffee, she could have poured right there! And in that moment, I thought, “What is going on with you, Nemmers? You’re completely losing it on the inside because she didn’t give you your coffee!” Now, was that a trial? Yes it was. Yes it was. And I was failing miserably in that moment!

But that’s the whole point of James. He says, “Count it all joy when you meet various, multi-colored, various, multi-faceted, trials big, small, everything in between. That’s what he’s talking about. That means everybody here gets it… or should. Whether your trials are terrifying or trivial, you need to see them as a gift from God.

My very first trial after becoming a Christian was rejection. It was a pretty heavy trial from my family, from my friends. And I remember coming upon Philippians 1:29 where the apostle Paul writes,

[“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,”]

Have you ever read that? So that means your trial literally is a gift from God. If you’re going to kiss the wave that throws you against the rock of ages, you’ve got to see it as a gift from God.

Secondly, you’ll do that if you see your trial, big or small, as a joy in the making. You see it right there. “Count it all joy.” The Greek word literally means “complete joy” or “pure joy.” I know that, again, this seems counterintuitive like, ‘How goes the cancer treatments, brother?’ ‘Pure joy, brother.’ That doesn’t happen, does it? We usually go, (unintelligible). God is trying to manufacture joy in our lives through our trials. So, I mean, back to the experience, those of you who have suffered greatly in some way, you know, and remember what he says,

“For you know that the testing of your faith…[produces steadfastness.” [James 1:3]

He uses the word “know.” The idea there is, he’s talking about our experience. And if you’ve been through a trial, and you’ve suffered through it righteously, you know… you know this peace, you know this power, you know how God has lifted you up. You can’t explain it, but you know it, right?

Early on in my walk with the Lord, I was enamored with the story of Jim Elliot and his four friends who were missionaries in Ecuador and they were martyred, speared to death by Auca Indians. And they left obviously five widows as a result. One of those widows, Jim Elliot’s wife, Elisabeth Elliot, would write a book “Through Gates of Splendor.” That book changed my life. That book, it changed my life. Because it came from the pen of a woman, listen to this, It came from the pen of a woman, deep in experiential hurt, but steeped in biblical knowledge, resulting in real joy. Did you catch that? She not only was deep in experiential hurt, but she was steeped in the truth of God, and the result was real joy, real joy! Joy in the making, and she even had a radio program for years called “Gateway to Joy.”

So you can imagine the excitement I had with my first wife when we got to meet Elisabeth Elliot, the very tall Elisabeth Elliot. That’s me and my Baptist, with a Capitol “B,” uniform on. (audience laughing) Later, when my wife died, Elisabeth Elliot wrote me personally and she sent me one of her books, personally signed with a note on the inside expressing her encouragement to me. I tell you that, because Elisabeth Elliot didn’t own a copyright on suffering. What she did have was a genuine experience wrapped in truth, experiencing or producing rather real joy. And you need to know if you’re going to be able to kiss the waves that throw you up up against the rock of ages, then you’ll need to see whatever way, big or small, as a gift from God and as a joy in the making.

Thirdly, you need to see it as a perfecter of your faith. I mean, this is really curious. Look at this. Look at [James 1:2]. He says, “Now count it all joy” You know, “my brothers, when you (I like the ESV) when you meet trials of various kinds…” When you meet them. I mean, I think a lot of translation says when you “encounter.” Another one says when you “experience.” This one says when you “meet.” ‘Hello, trial. Trial, Debbie. Debbie, trial.’ The point that James is making is that these trials, now listen to this, these trials are not, they are not trials of our own doing. Some of us are in trials of our own doing, our own sins. He’s going to get to that later on, verse 13 when he talks about God doesn’t tempt. He doesn’t make somebody sin. He doesn’t tempt you to sin. Stop blaming him! These are trials NOT of our own doing. That’s getting back to that word, “various.” They’re various circumstances, big, small, and everything in between. But they’re trials.

The very young Amy Carmichael who was a renowned missionary to India, ran these orphanages, and she was a great woman of God. She told the story of when she was a young missionary getting ready to go to India. And she was all fidgety and all fretting because there was a boat that was supposed to show up and it wasn’t there on time. And she was just thinking of all the ministry and opportunities that were being lost because they were waiting for this time. And an older missionary woman came up and put her hand on her shoulder and she said to Amy,

“Amy, God knows all about the boats.”

That line became a maxim in her life for the rest of her life. “God knows all about the boats.” He knows about the circumstances you can’t do anything about.

We led the lead guitars for Alice Cooper, the Alice Cooper band to Christ many years ago who wrote the great lyrical ballad “School’s out.” We lead him to Christ. He was growing in the Lord, and he had a line, whenever something would happen and you couldn’t do anything about it, he would always say,

“Well, like they say in prison, oh well.”

I love that! You can’t do anything about it when you’re in prison. You’re behind bars, for crying out loud! That’s not very godly. But you get the point. It’s the same thing. “God knows all about the boats.”

And in the process, remember it is producing “steadfastness.” Now this is really, this is the stuff of the verse here. This is the Greek word “hypomonen.” “Monen” is the word to remain. “Hypo” is a prefecture which means under, literally “to remain under.” Interestingly, later on,

James 1:12 says this, look what James says, he said,

“Blessed is the man remains steadfast… [under trial]”

There’s the word, that word “steadfast” means remain under, but look at the “under trial.” It’s almost like James is writing to an English audience. He said, “If he didn’t get it the first time, get it when I write it out again, under under… He’s purposely being redundant here, because… let’s be honest… we have to remain under, do we not, sometimes? We don’t get that choice. Your trials, even if they’re not of your own doing, they don’t go away. They hang around, they hang around and they hang around… and we hate that! But God says, ‘I’ll give you grace to remain under.’ And why does He do this? Because sometimes these trials are hurtful, they’re sinful, they’re, they might be physiological because of our DNA where some of us are struggling with various issues of depression or maybe you have a cancer. And you think, does God like that? No. I love what Joni Eareckson Tada said. This is worth memorizing. She said,

“God permits what He hates in order to accomplish what he loves.”

This is what he does. This is what he’s doing right now in your life. Sometimes God permits what he hates in order to accomplish what he loves. So what do you do? What do I do in those situations? We remain under. We do the same. Remember what Jesus said to Paul,

[2 Corinthians 12:9]

My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness. Therefore I will glory in my weaknesses…” (Why would I glory in my weaknesses? Paul tells us why.) so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

When we remain under, God’s power comes on top. And in the end, we’re perfect and complete. [James 1:4] We don’t lack in anything. We’re perfect. ”Teleitai.” The word means the idea of “the consummated goal.” That’s the idea here. The finished product.

[Philippians 1:6] “… being confident in this very thing. He who began a good work in you will bring it to (what? That’s the idea,) completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

So you can kiss the wave, the waves that throw you against the Rock of Ages. If you see them as a gift of joy in the making and a perfecter of your faith, and finally, as a test, watch this, you will pass. You saw it there. There it is again.

[James 1:2-3] “Count it all joy in my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

How many of you like being tested? You don’t like tests anymore than you like trials, because they’re kind of the same, aren’t they? Sometimes I hear Christian’s speak of God, testing them as if he’s trying to flunk you, as if he’s trying to fail you. You need to know this word “testing.” It means the exact opposite. It means the exact opposite of being tested in order to be failed. This word literally carries the idea, conveys the idea, of “being tested so that you’ll pass.” God is like your favorite teacher you ever had. You were facing this test, but the teacher was working with you, helping you memorize, helping you understand the concepts and working with you all the way up until the test. So by the time you take the test, you’re confident you’re gonna get through the test and you’re gonna pass. God is that teacher. And that’s what he’s doing to you in your test, no matter if it’s a big one or a small one. And so the question is, does everybody pass? Sadly, no.

Recently, we got an email from someone who was really disgruntled, very upset. They were suffering consequences of their own doing. It was their own sin that put them into the situation they were in. And while we ministered to this individual, in fact a number of people ministered to this individual, it was just not enough, not enough ministry. And so they played the blame game. In my understanding, in my mind, that dude flunked the test.

And by the way, if whining is pathetic, a whining Christian is uber-pathetic. If you’re a Christian, you have everything, everything in you to pass the test that God hands out to you, big or small. Everything. We have all things that pertain to life and godliness.  That’s what the Bible says.

[2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…”]

If you’re not a Christian, you can’t possibly pass the test. [2 Corinthians 13:5] It’s not even possible. In fact, Paul said to the Corinthians, he said (to you who are not Christians here or watching online) he said,

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

Have you ever read that? The Bible says that some of you are failing because you’ve never had faith. You’re failing because you’ve never humbled your heart. You’re leaning on some prayer you prayed, your life never changed. You’ve never repented of your sin and believed that Jesus died for you and rose again for you. Would you make that claim today? Did you lay claim to the cross of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and his resurrection? And those of you who love Jesus, you really do know him, there’s joy in, under, and above your trials. Embrace your trial today and kiss the wave that throws you up against the Rock of Ages. Will you pray with me?

Our Father in Heaven, how grateful we are, that you have provided everything we need in this confusing life that we live in. Some here, Lord, are hurting in a very large way. Their trial is large. There are some Lord who are thinking about some stupid thing they did just 20 minutes before they came here. Not a big deal, but they sort of failed the test. Cause us, Lord, to see our trials, our “poikilois,” our big and small trials, as gifts from you, as your joy in us in the making, as that which causes us to be stronger, perfects our faith. And to realize Lord, whatever is going on, you’re not trying to flunk us. Just the opposite. You’re the great teacher who wants to see to it that we pass the test, so that your name might be exalted in this world, in our families, in this church. I pray for those Lord who have never trusted Jesus, but today, if that’s you, dear friend,  would repent of your sin? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. You’ll pass the test then, because you’ll have the one who knows all the answers, living inside you. And we’ll give you the praise for these things, Lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen. Let’s stand. [Music]


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