As we begin our study tonight in James chapter 1, you might open your Bible to that wonderful section of Scripture that is filled with so much hope for those of us who go through trouble. While you are doing that, I want to share a letter with you. A couple of weeks ago someone called me on the phone in our church and said, “I wonder if you could make a phone call for us to a brother-in-law who just had a terrible tragedy in his life.” And I said, “I would be happy to do that.” So I called.
When he picked up the phone, responded, I said, “Hi, this is John McArthur in California.” He was in Colorado. And he was stunned for a moment because he had been listening to the radio and the tapes but had not met me personally, to my knowledge anyway, and said, “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe you called me. I’m sitting here at the table writing you a letter.” And the letter came and in the middle of the letter, right in the middle of it, it says, Wow, praise God, this is where you called me.”
This is on page four of the letter. I feel like God is telling me something, 6:15 p.m. on the 16th of March 1986. The letter says this, “I would like to tell you a story that begins over a year ago. The story is far too complex for me to write in a letter, at least in all its detail. I would like to share, perhaps a paragraph of it with you. My name is Dan. I met you at Grace Church briefly, and I sat four rows back, dead center on December 22, 1985, do you remember? My wife was not able to come as she was ill. We have a son, Luke, age 4 and a daughter, age 22 months. In March of 1985, my wife was diagnosed as having a brain tumor in her right cerebellum. On April 3rd, 1985, Carolyn went in for surgery, and they removed the tumor along with 80 percent of her right cerebellum. On Good Friday, April 3rd, 1985, things were looking good and they moved Carolyn out of the ICU into a regular room.
April 5th, 1985, I went home to her parents’ house around 10:30 p.m. I went into kiss the kids goodnight, and Sarah then 8 months old was glassy eyed and staring off into space. I thought she was gone. The doctors at Children’s Hospital took a spinal tap and said she had spinal meningitis. They told me she could die. Or have any number of deficiencies. It would take 24 hours to tell if she would survive. It was then that I really lost control. I could do nothing.
As my daughter lay there on an inclined crib, she had splints on her arms and one leg; she had an IV in her left foot, right hand, left hand, and scalp. She was tied down with her arms spread and had three monitors on her chest. I wept. Lord, why her? She’s so innocent. I was totally at a loss for answers. There I was trying to keep this from my wife, Carolyn, who was in another hospital. I couldn’t; Lord, what would I do? On Easter morning April 6th, 7:00 a.m., I was at Children’s holding Sarah with all the wires and IVs sitting in a chair and a nurse came in and told me that Sarah had made it.
The monitors indicated that she had responded well to the antibiotics and they could take off all of the apparatus. As you can imagine during that time, I did a lot of footwork between the two hospitals. In doing that, I was using Carolyn’s car and she listened to radio station KWBI AM 91 somewhere in Longmont, Colorado. That’s where I first heard you. I don’t remember the date. But you were in the series, how to handle persecution, from the book of Acts. First time I heard I had to stop the car. I was crying too hard to drive.
My wife, Carolyn, fought back from her surgery and even though her motor skills would never be normal, she never gave up. She was dedicated to her children and me and her Savior and Lord. I have included some of her notes from the Bible study on kingdom life, and they are in the back of the letter, her own notes. Written with obviously a scrawling hand that would reflect some of the brain damage. She was not a Bible scholar, but she loved the Lord. She died May 8th, 1986, in my arms. The third tumor was inoperable. Praise God, we have a Savior who has conquered death. As I write this letter, I have wet eyes and the smell of funeral flowers fills my nostrils.
I am not writing this for sympathy. I just could not let it go any longer because I wanted you to know how much Grace to You has blessed me and my family. And I speak for those outside my family as well. Please give my thanks to your staff at Grace, Grace to You, and also to Grace Community Church.” And then I love this at the end. “Many of your church have prayed for Carolyn and I and the family, and P.S., we’re praying for you and your new building. Your friend, Dan Hummel.” Now there is a man who went through a very, very wrenching emotional experience.
In one sentence he said, “She died in my arms” and the very next sentence he said, “Praise God for a Savior who has conquered death.” In the most profound of human agony, for the Christian there is great hope. There is triumph, no matter how deep the trouble. It’s all a question of perspective. The family that I mentioned to you this morning, the Romanoski family, whose two daughters were killed yesterday have been staying with Russ and Heidi Moore. I asked Russ what their attitude is and he said to me, “To be honest with you, they are rejoicing today.” Rejoicing? Over the death of two daughters in an auto accident? Well, they are rejoicing because both of their daughters knew Jesus Christ and the other two students with them, who were spared, do not know Christ. Cause for rejoicing. It’s perspective. Going through any trial of life for a Christian can be a joyous experience if perspective is right.
Now, I imagine for yourself, the worst trial you could possibly face. Maybe for some people it might seem to be financial crisis, all your investments are lost. Your life savings. For other people it might be the loss of employment; you are fired. You have no income to support your family; you lose all your dignity. Or the announcement from the doctor that you have just received word that you are going to have to have a triple bypass immediately, or that you have a massive brain tumor or your husband dies. Or your son dies. Or the word has just come over the telephone that your daughter has had a terrible car accident and has died or been raped, or your wife had been murdered by a drug addict who broke into the house. Or maybe that your child has a fatal disease and only a few days to live.
And we could go on and on and on. And frankly, folks, all of those things touch us one way or another, don’t they? Because, as Job put it, “Man is born of trouble as the sparks fly upward.” And anybody who tries to create a fantasy world where everything is perfect is only setting themselves up for even a more profound sorrow. It must be anticipated. And I have to confess to you that the anticipation of the reality of sorrow and agony and trouble coming close to us casts a sort of a shadow over even our highest joys, doesn’t it?
In a sense, it mitigates even the most wonderful events of life and maybe that is the reason that though Jesus wept, rather commonly as Scripture records, no place in Scripture does it ever say He laughed. Perhaps He did, but His happiness at any occasion certainly would have been offset by His overwhelming sense of sadness over sin. All of us, to some degree or another, if we think realistically, know we are going to face trouble.
We are going to have to look right in the eyes of agony at some point in our lives, and we need to understand how to face that. I was trying to think this week as I sat in my study of what, to me, would be the severest trial of all trials. The most painful experience to go through. And I thought about the classic Job who lost his family and his crops and his animals and everything. And I thought about that for a while, lost all his possessions, lost all his children. And worse, he was left with a wife who didn’t understand anything. He was personally struck with disease, and that is admittedly a heavy-duty trial. But as I thought about it more, I thought of another person, who in my judgment, and you may or may not agree with me, but who, in my judgment, probably was faced with potentially the severest trial any human being could ever endure. And the man’s name is Abraham.
Turn with me for a moment back to Genesis 22. I really wanted to get into James, but I just got to think about this, and felt that perhaps this might give us a very good perspective. I think what God put Abraham through is unquestionably the most unimaginable test that anyone was ever given. In Genesis 22, verse 1, it says, “It came to pass after these things that God did test Abraham.” This is a [???] peirasmos, folks. This is a trial for Abraham.
This is a test for Abraham. He was faced with the severest trial that is imaginable. “God did test Abraham.” “He said to him, Abraham. He said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now your son,” notice the emphasis, “your only Isaac, whom you love.” Almost as if God is rubbing it in. Not just your son, but your only son. Not just your only son, but the one you love. “And go into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you about.” Incredible. I want a sacrifice out of you, and I want a human sacrifice. I want your son. I want you to go there. I want you to kill him as an offering to me.
This did not fit Abraham’s theology. There was no history in the covenant of God of human sacrifice. That was a pagan thing. No child of God would ever offer his own in human sacrifice. Furthermore, this was the son of promise. God had touched the dead loins of Abraham and allowed him to bring to consummation a relationship with his wife, Sara, who was also dry in her own loins, and produce a son, a son of the covenant, a son of promise, a son of hope. A son of Sara who was barren all her life. Why would God call for human sacrifice when He never had called for human sacrifice before and to do so would be the antithesis of everything that Abraham knew to be true about God. Why would God go to great lengths to enable a man and a woman nearing 100 years of age, who had been barren all their life, to produce a son and then ask the son be killed?
Why would God make a promise to Abraham that he would be the father of nations, and that the seed that would come out of his loins would number as the sands of the sea and the stars of heaven and then kill the only child he had? The whole idea was absolutely bizarre. All hope of progeny in old Abraham would die. All hope of promise would die. Abraham would be killing his love, killing God’s promises, striking a blow at God’s word. Striking a blow at the character of God, striking a blow at the covenant faithfulness of God, killing the promise of God, and cutting off the line of Messiah. Absolutely inconceivable. And what makes it the severest trial ever is not that Isaac was to die, but that Abraham was to kill him with his own hand.
Incredible. It’s one thing to have the one you love die. It’s something else to be told to kill that person. An unthinkable trial. A trial that made sense, no way - not theologically, not in terms of the nature of God, not in terms of the plan of redemption. Not in terms of God’s word. Not in terms of His love. Or of Abraham’s love for Isaac. If there ever was anything that God commanded a man to do that deserved a rather lengthy argument, this was it.
And we would have understood if Abraham had said, “Look God, could You explain this please? This makes no sense. I can’t do it.” Notice his response, verse 3. “And Abraham rose up early in the morning and saddled his ass and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son.” What? In the morning he got ready to leave, to go, and he cut the wood. He had to cut his own wood to put his son on to burn him to death.
And he rose up and he went to the place, which God told him to go. An amazing man, absolutely amazing man. No questioning, no delay. No argument, no dispute, no reaction. Three days later, verse 4, “Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men - he had some people going along with him - Abide here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship.” Watch this one, “And come again to you.” You ought to underline that.
“I and the lad will go and worship and we’ll be back.” Here is the secret; keep that in mind. He said, we’ll both come back. “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father: and he said, Here am I, my son. He said, Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering.” Oh my, this is agonizing. A trusting son who doesn’t know what’s going on says in such a loving way, and gently to his father about this act of worship, “Where is the lamb.” “And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.” And you ought to underline that.
You see, I believe down deep in Abraham’s heart he knew that God had something in mind that was consistent with God’s character and consistent with God’s covenant. I don’t know that he knew what it was, specifically, but I think he had a good idea. “And they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham had built an altar there” - he had to build the altar – “laid the wood in order. Bound Isaac his son.” No struggle on Isaac’s part either. Tied him up, “laid him on the altar upon the wood. Abraham stretched forth his hand, took the knife to slay his son.”
You can stop it there. Unbelievable. Do you understand by reading that story what it means when it says Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness? Do you understand why the New Testament says that Abraham is the father of the faithful? He is the greatest single model of trust in God the Bible knows anything about, apart from Christ. The man is at the point of plunging the knife into the breast of his own son.
An unthinkable thing; what a trial. Contradictory, indescribable, painful, murderous. Inconsistent with everything he knew about God, and yet he was submissive. He was obedient; he will worship at any cost. And God took Abraham’s willingness for a performance. God judged him on his willingness and didn’t make him carry out the act. Verse 11, “The angel of the Lord called to him out of heaven and said, Abraham, Abraham. And he said, Here I am. And he said, Lay not your hand on the lad, neither do anything unto him: for now I know that you fear God.” Guess what, this was a test and Abraham what? Passed. He passed. He would obey the word of God no matter what. “You have not withheld your son, your only son from me.”
Hmmm, now Abraham shows us that we might be tested in things very near to us. We might be tested in things very dear to us, like a son or a daughter, or a husband or a wife or a friend. We may have to offer up our own Isaac, give the ones we love most over to the Lord, not only in death, but maybe in life. Maybe by letting them go the way that God wants them to go and not necessarily the way we want them to go.
You see, when Abraham was willing to give up Isaac, no matter how much Isaac meant to him, in every way, he showed by being willing to give him up - Watch this - that he had the right to keep him. You see that? He wasn’t possessive; he would release him to God’s will. Why? Because he would do anything that God asked him to do. Now we all have a lot of trials in life, but I can’t ever imagine a trial like that. I can’t imagine what I would do if God told me to do that. I can’t imagine what I would go through.
But I think that we can conclude from this that the more excellent or the more difficult the obedience the more excellent the obedience. And the more difficult the obedience, the more self-denial is inherent in it. So here you have an obedience that takes tremendous self-denial, and therefore is the most excellent. Abraham passed the test. He says, “Now I know you fear God.” In other words, you truly reverence God at any cost. What a trial.
The commentary on this trial of Abraham is given in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Would you look there for just a moment? In Hebrews chapter 11 and verse 17. How did Abraham do this? How could he bring himself to this? Hebrews 11:17 tells us very clearly, the first two words of verse 17 tell the whole story. “By” - What? – “faith Abraham” - Here it comes again, you ought to underline it. “When he was tested.” This was a test. I think about that on the radio. The other day I was driving into the church, and the little beep came on and said, “This is a test,” and I thought about Abraham.
God was saying, “Beep, this is a test. Beep, the test has just been concluded; this is a test.” “And when he was tested, he offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. Of whom it was said, In Isaac shall they seed be called.” How could he do that? Here it comes, here is the key, verse 19. “Accounting,” or taking note of the fact that “God was able to raise him up even from,” - What? - “the dead.” You know why he was willing to do that? Because he believed that God could raise the dead. Had he ever seen the dead raised? Not to my knowledge, but he believed that God could raise the dead. What he really believed was this: that God was so true to His word that if he made a promise He would even raise the dead to keep it - tremendous faith. Now I don’t want to read too much into this story, but it just may be that Abraham was a little disappointed when he wasn’t allowed to take his son’s life because he would like to have seen a resurrection.
We don’t know that, but he believed if need be God would raise him from the dead. Now what does that tell us? It tells us that man can go through the severest imaginable trial of life if he really trusts God. And if he believes that God is on the throne, that God will keep His promise, that God never makes mistakes. That God always fulfills His word. And that God will accomplish His purposes. It is that kind of faith that passes the test.
When Abraham was put through the peirasmos, when he was tried or tested, he passed. And I say again, is it any wonder, is it any wonder that this man is the single greatest human model of faith? In Galatians 3 verse 7, “Know ye therefore that they who are of faith, are the sons of Abraham.” Anybody who lives by faith in God is in a spiritual sense a son of Abraham. He is the father of the faithful. He is the model of faith. Verse 9 says “they who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” He knew that through his loins the nations of the world would be blessed, and he knew God kept His word, and God would bring it to past.
Now, beloved, we have to realize that God is going to allow us to go through tests. And the thing that sustains us in the midst of that is our trust in God, our faith that God is working all things out for His own holy purpose. I know we dream of worldly ease, and we like to create a perfect environment. We want to have absolute comfort. We want to get all the rough spots out of life. We want to make sure everything is perfectly settled. Frankly, I have never known such a moment in my life. Every once in a while, I think there is one there, and I find out there isn’t.
But the fact that we have temporary rest and temporary ease sort of fools us into thinking we might find a permanent exemption when that is not the case. I remember the words of the psalmist, do you remember Psalm 30 verse 6, he said, “In my prosperity, I said, I shall never be moved.” Implied, but I was wrong. When I was fat, I thought it would always be like this, and you can live in a fool’s paradise if you want, never forecasting any trouble, promising yourself ease, but that isn’t what Christ said. He said, “Watch and pray that you enter not into peirasmos, trials.” Watch, look for trials, pray, ask for strength, watch and pray. I was reading as I often enjoy doing, the works of Thomas Manton, marvelous Puritan writer. And I found one line in some of the things that I was reading this week that stuck in my mind, he said this: God had one Son without sin. But no Son without a cross.
It just goes with the territory; we are going to have trials. Psalm 23 says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” Trials will come. The confidence is in the presence of God. Now, let me talk a little bit more by way of introduction, and as I said, I wanted to get into the text itself, but so many things came into my mind this week that probably should have been covered in the introduction. So, if you’ll indulge me a little bit, trials can come to us through several means and with several purposes in mind.
Let me just suggest some to you. All right, first of all, trials come to test the strength of our faith. And we really did get into that last week; I just want to touch this one. Trials come to test the strength of our faith. There is a great illustration of this in 2 Chronicles 32:31; you don’t need to look it up. I’ll quote that portion of it. It relates to Hezekiah who was king and of Hezekiah it says this, listen, “God left him to test him that he might know all that was in his heart.” Did you get that? “God left him to test him that he might know all that was in his heart.” That who might know? Well, not God. God didn’t need to know by testing what was in Hezekiah’s heart; He knew by omniscience, right? Does God have to test you to find out what’s in your heart? No.
God doesn’t have to test any of us to find out what’s in our heart. God tests us so that we can find out. In other words, He assists us in doing that spiritual inventory. He assists us in self-examination. I need to know and you need to know the strength of our faith, and so God brings trials into our lives to demonstrate to us the strength or weakness of our faith. If you are right now going through a severe trial, it is revealing to you the strength or weakness of your faith, isn’t it? If you are shaking your fist at God, if you are wondering why it’s happening, if you are fretting all the time and worrying, if you are in anxiety from morning till night, there is a good indication that you have a weak faith.
If on the other hand, you are going through a trial and you find yourself resting in the Lord, having placed it in His care, letting Him bear the burden of it and going on your way rejoicing as best you can in a difficult situation, waiting for God to show you the way out, then you are seeing for yourself, that you possess the strength of faith. So, in one sense then, we ought to be thankful for trials, because they assist us in the inventory of our own faith. That’s very helpful. I always want to know where my faith is so that it can be stronger, for the stronger my faith is, the more likely I am to be useful to God.
When Habakkuk was going through the mystery of his own situation in the devastating promise that the Chaldeans were going to come and wipe out his people, in spite of everything, he said, “even if the fig tree doesn’t blossom and the fruit is not in the vines, and the labor of the olive fails and the field yields no food and the flocks are cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls.” In other words, if everything that I know of as normative in life ceases, “yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like mountain goats’ feet and make me walk upon my high places.” And then at the end he says, “to the chief singer on my string instruments.” This is praise. Sing it.
In the midst of an absolutely unsolvable mystery his trust never wavered. He learned through that the strength of his faith. And so, one of the purposes of testing is to reveal to you and to me the strength of our faith so that we can move along the path to greater strength. Job was tested. As a result of his testing in chapter 42 that familiar text he says, “I have heard of thee with the hearing of mine ear: and now my eye seeth thee and I repent. I abhor myself. I repent in dust and ashes.” In other words, he said, I want to confess my sin. Lord, I have never really seen You the way I see You now. And I realize that some of the things I thought about You and said about You and felt about You were sinful. Lord, my faith and its weakness has been revealed. So trials come as a test of the strength of our faith.
Secondly, we must recognize that trials come to humble us. They come to remind us not to think more confidently of our spiritual strength than we should. It’s closely connected to the first one, but a little different. They come not only to show us our strength, but they come to humble us, lest we think we are more strong spiritually than we are. This is illustrated, I think, perhaps as graphically as anywhere in Scripture in the wonderful testimony of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, you know it, he says in verse 7, “Unless I should be exalted above measure.” In other words, unless I should think of myself more highly than I ought to think because of the abundance of the revelations and to be caught up into the third heaven and all of the things that Paul was able to do and the power of the Spirit, miracles and signs and wonders and mighty deeds and revelations coming out of him from God. And through all of these things he could well have been exalted in his own mind. So, “lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh to buffet me.” To just beat me up all the time, “lest I should be exalted above measure.”
And we must realize that God allows trials in our lives, especially when we are blessed in places of spiritual service, to keep us humble, lest we think more confidently of our spiritual strength than we should, and we start to feel that we’re invincible.
There is a third reason, as I thought these things through, and these are really my own reflections. I’m trying to look at it from the biblical and personal viewpoint. I believe the Lord brings trials in our life also to wean us from worldly things. To wean us away from worldly things. Have you found that the older you’ve gotten and the more things you have accumulated, more furniture or cars our houses or bank accounts or whatever, the more success you may have had, the more worldly things you have done, you have been here, you I have been there. You have traveled. You have seen this; you have seen that. Have you noticed that as that has gone on in your life those things tend to have less and less significance? There was a time when you thought that they were the most desirable things in life, and now you no longer feel that because they have not been able to deal with the real issues of life. They don’t really solve deep problems. Great anxieties, hurts, and when trials come into your life, and you reach out for all those worldly things, and they make no difference, and they mean absolutely nothing, that trial is weaning you off of those things.
Because it is demonstrating their utter inability to solve any problem. Or to provide for you any real resource in a time of stress. We need to be weaned away. Philip, you know, in John 6. He comes to Jesus and he says, “How are we going to get bread to feed these people?” He’s looking at things from a worldly viewpoint. There are no stores around here, and there is not enough bread anyway. We have got a multitude here, a massive crowd. How are we going to get food for 5,000 men, plus women and children?
And so He says, “Well Philip, you tell Me, where are we going to buy bread?” And it says in verse 6, “And this He said to test him.” Want to find out whether Philip looked to worldly resources. And of course, he did. But it wasn’t any good at that point, and the Lord then created a meal and very quickly weaned Philip off the worldly things and satisfied him with the spiritual things. I think about Moses, remember in chapter 11 of Hebrews, verses 24-26? He had been raised in pharaoh's house. He has been brought up as a prince in Egypt. For forty years he was educated. He was literally in line in the pharaoh’s family for prominence. He had reached the apex of Egyptian society, which was at the height of the world. All the education, all the money, all the prestige, all the honor, all the success, all the comfort was there in his hands. But he considered the reproach of Christ, the Lord’s anointed, greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.
See, he had gotten his eyes off of all of that, and he began to be concerned about the trial of his people. And the Lord used that trial to wean him off of worldly things. Trials will do that.
There is a fourth, I think, purpose in trials. I think they call us to what we could call an eternal hope. Trials in life, I don’t know how they work with you, but I know they work this way with me, trials in my life tend to make me want to go to heaven. Have you noticed that? That’s what I’m saying. I don’t want to make it too difficult; it’s pretty simple. They call us to an eternal hope, like the dear man who wrote me the letter.
And said “she died in my arms, praise the Lord for a Savior who conquered death.” All of a sudden heaven for him is sweeter than it’s ever been. The little family who lost two daughters, heaven is sweeter than it’s ever been. And they have a new, what should I say, a new disinterest in the passing world, wouldn’t you say that, if you have lost a loved one?
If the most precious people in your life and the most precious person in your life, the Lord Jesus Christ, and if the most precious possessions in your life have been laid away as treasure in heaven, you are going to have a very, very disengaged relationship with this passing world. So, trials, trials tend to show us the bankruptcy of human resources. And wean us off the world and sort of settle us on the heavenly hope.
In Romans 8, among many scriptures that could be noted, we just support that thought, in Romans chapter 8 it says, “the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God and if children then heirs, heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ. If so be that we suffer with him, we may also be glorified together. And I reckon” - or I count – “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
As I go through suffering, Paul says, I just get more and more hungry for glory. And I see the whole creation groaning and waiting for the hope to be realized, waiting for “the glorious,” verse 21, “liberation of the children of God.” And then in verse 24, or 23, he says, “we are groaning, waiting for the redemption of our body.” Verse 24, “we are saved in hope,” so we go through trials; trials give us greater affection for that which is eternal. They help us long for the eternal city. They set our affections on things above. That’s a very important spiritual thing.
They cause us to think on things divine, things heavenly. And that’s what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “For which cause we faint not; for though our outward man perish, the inward man is renewed day by day, and our light affliction which is but for a moment works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Then he says this: “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” How did he get that kind of attitude?
Oh, it’s very easy, just go back to verse 8, “we are troubled on every side, we are perplexed, we are persecuted, we always bear in our body the dying of Jesus Christ.” Verse 12, “death works in us.” He’s going through so much trouble, it’s little wonder he doesn’t like the world. He would rather be in glory.
So you see, trials have a very, very helpful purpose. They test the strength of our faith. They humble us lest we think more confidently of our spiritual strength than we should. They wean us off of worldly things, and they call us to a heavenly hope.
Fifthly, trials also serve a very important purpose because they reveal what we really love. They reveal what we really love. Could anything have been dearer to Abraham than Isaac, anything? It’s questionable that anything could be dearer to him than Isaac - anything in this world. Certainly God was dearer to him than Isaac, but that was the test. To find out did he love Isaac more than he loved God or did he love God more than he loved Isaac, that’s the test. You see, trials will reveal what you really love by how you react.
You see, if you supremely love God, you are going to say, “Thank You God, for what You are accomplishing through this. Help me to see that. And give You glory though You are allowing this to happen.” But if you really love self more than God, you are going to say, “God, why do You do this?” And you are going to be irate, and you are going to be upset, and you are going to be bitter. And you are going to be full of anxiety.
You see, there is a sense in which if anything is dearer to you than God, then He has to have it. He’s got to remove it. So, in my own life, I just want to make sure nothing is dearer to me than the Lord, because I don’t want Him to remove it, not that He always does. I was thinking about this and reading back in the Pentateuch a little bit, and I came to Deuteronomy chapter 13, verse 3, “Thou shalt not hearken to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams.” This would be a false prophet. “For the Lord your God” - Look at this - “tests you. To know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Wow, the Lord is testing you to see who you really love, whether you love Him with all your heart and all your soul.
In Luke 14:26, “If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children and brethren, and sisters, and yea his own life also, he cannot be” - What? - “my disciple. And whosoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Now what in the world is He saying? Is He literally saying it’s a Christian thing to hate everybody including yourself? No, what He means by that is, if you do not love God, to the degree that you willingly, if necessary, cut yourself off from father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister, and your own life, then you don’t love God supremely. You are not worthy to be His disciple. What do you mean “cut off”? We mean by that this: that you will do the will of God first and foremost, no matter what appeals those others make to you. No matter what appeal your father might make, or your mother, or your wife, or your child, or your brother, or your sister, or your own flesh. You will do the will of God no matter what appeals are being made because therein lies your supreme love.
God wanted in the case of Abraham to let Abraham and all of us find out who Abraham loves most. He said to him, “Isaac, your only son, whom you love.” Abraham passed the test. Whom did Abraham love most? God. And that’s the value of the trial. Abraham found out he loved God most, and everybody found out that. That’s so important to note. When you go through a trial, find out what it reveals about your love.
There is a sixth purpose in trials, that really is very, very helpful, and that is this: trials teach us to value the blessing of God. They teach us to value the blessing of God. Reason, reason teaches us to value the world. Sense, feeling tells us to value pleasure; faith tells us to value God’s Word. God’s Word. God’s favor, God’s blessing. Reason says, “Grab what you can grab in the world and go.” Sense and feeling says, “Find pleasure at any price.” Faith says, “Obey the Word of God and be blessed.”
See, trials teach us the blessing of obedience. In the midst of a trial, we obey and are blessed. That’s what they are intended to teach. They show us that obedience at all costs brings the blessing of God. The psalmist says in Psalms 63:3, and this out of personal experience, “Because thy loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.” God, I have seen Your loving-kindness and it’s the best thing there is, the best thing there is. Jesus is the perfect example of this in Hebrews 5. In the days of His flesh He “offered up prayers, supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death.” Jesus is going through the trial in the garden. That’s what’s being pictured there, and He was sweating “as it were great drops of blood,” weeping and crying out to God to deliver Him.
And He “was heard in that he feared,” and “though He were a son” - and a beloved one at that – “yet He learned obedience by the things He suffered.” And being made perfect He became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him, through” - watch this – “through suffering he was obedient, and God exalted Him. Philippians 2 puts it another way. He was humbled. Took upon Him the form of a man, offered Himself in death, and God highly exalted Him.
Trials come to put us through suffering, that we may obey in the suffering and then receive the full blessing of God. And I would say, that when you go through a trial, if you learn to obey God, you will experience the exhilaration of His blessing, that’s His promise. Let me give you two others that are purposes of suffering.
Number seven, suffering comes - and this is a very, very valuable purpose - suffering comes to enable us to help others in their suffering. Sometimes when suffering comes, it may have no more purpose than to make us better able to assist others in their own suffering. I think of that in regard to the twenty-second chapter of Luke, where Jesus says to Peter, and the Lord said, “Simon, son, behold, Satan has desired to have you so that he may sift you as wheat.” Satan is going to take you and shake you. “And I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not.” Now watch this, “And when you are turned around,” when you come through that thing, He says, “strengthen your brethren.” There you go.
A wonderful purpose. That’s like Jesus in Hebrews chapter 4, Hebrews chapter 2 also, “Who becomes a faithful merciful high priest” able to help those who come to Him because He has been through every trial we have been through, right? That’s what makes Him a merciful, faithful high priest. So, we go through trials for the purpose of being able to help others. How wonderful. How wonderful that God allows us to learn by experience to instruct others.
And then finally, the eighth, and this leads us right into the passage, we’ll have to wait a week, but eighth, trials come to develop enduring strength for greater usefulness. They come to develop enduring strength for greater usefulness. Again, Thomas Manton said, “While all things are quiet and comfortable, we live by sense rather than faith. But the worth of a soldier is never known in times of peace.” That’s right, “the worth of a soldier is never known in times of peace.” God has His purpose in trial, and what it is to do is to give us greater strength.
As you go through one trial, your spiritual muscles are exercised. You are stronger for the next one. That means you can face a greater foe. That means you are more useful. You go through another trial and another trial and another trial. And all those are strengthening, strengthening, strengthening until now your usefulness is on the increase, your endurance makes you more useful, and then the more useful you are the more used you are. And the more used you are the more you accomplish in the power of the Spirit for the glory of God.
So let me sum it up. What is God’s purpose as He tests us? First to test the strength of our faith that we might know where our strength is, or isn’t. Secondly, to humble us lest we think more confidently of our spiritual strength than we should. Thirdly, to wean us away from worldly things. Fourthly, to call us to a heavenly hope so that we live in the above and not in the below. Fifthly, to reveal what we really love. Sixthly, to teach us to value the blessing of God and to appreciate it as it comes to us out of the times of suffering.
Seventh, to enable us to help others in their trial. To bear one another’s burdens. And eighth, to develop enduring strength for greater usefulness, so that God can thrust us into greater places of ministry and effectiveness. Now aren’t these all worthwhile purposes? All these fit into the plan of God, by His grace. But the question still lingers in your mind as it does in mine. Fine, they are going to come.
Let’s go back to James 1 for just a closing thought. It says they are going to come. The “testing of your faith,” it’s going to come, verse 3. Verse 12, “Blessed is the man that endures the testing, after he is tried, he’s going to be rewarded.” They are going to come; there is no way to avoid them. And we might say, “I know they are going to come, and I know all of these things are God’s purposes in them, and He wants to accomplish all of this. I can buy into that, but it still doesn’t answer the question, How do I get through it in the middle of it? How do I make it through? It’s fine to have all this in place on a list in my sermon notes, but how do I get through that trial?” And that’s where James 1:2-12 really speak to the heart.
First of all, it takes a joyous attitude. The first means to persevering in a trial is a joyous attitude. “My brethren, count it all joy.” The second is an understanding mind, “knowing this,” that this test is producing something. The third is a submissive will. “Let patience have its perfect work.” In other words, let it happen because God is at work. The fourth, in verses 5-8, is a believing heart. Ask God for what you need and “ask,” verse 6 says - In what? – “in faith.” You have to have a believing heart to believe that God has a purpose and that He will supply everything that you will need for that trial. A believing heart.
And finally, in verses 9-11, a humble spirit, a humble spirit. You persevere through trials with a joyous attitude, an understanding mind, a submissive will, a believing heart, and a humble spirit. Now, next time, we’re going to look at those final two, a believing heart, and a humble spirit. I just wanted to set it up, and I want you to notice, we are going to look at some very, very exciting truth. Where it talks about asking of God for wisdom, where it talks about asking in faith, never wavering. It talks about a double-minded man and how that man forfeits anything from God. And then we are going to look at that whole area of a humble spirit and what that part plays in endurance.
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