2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James regarded trials as inevitable. He said when not if you fall into trials of many kinds. At the same time, trials are occasions for joy, not discouraged resignation. We can count it all joy in the midst of trials because they are used to produce perseverance. The word ‘perseverance’ here doesn’t describe passive waiting but active endurance. It is not perseverance that helps you sit quietly in a doctor’s waiting room, but the type that helps you finish running a race. The ancient Greek word used in place of ‘perseverance’ literally means to stay/abide/remain under. So it’s the picture of someone under a heavy load and choosing to stay there, instead of trying to escape. The image that comes to mind is that of someone weight-training. In weight-training, the person stays under this heavy load and lifts, not trying to escape, but enduring it because they know that it’s to help them become stronger. This is the frame of mind which endures.
In verse 3, James seems to be saying that faith is tested through trials, not produced by trials. What’s produced is the fruits of that faith, fruits being that faith getting stronger, among many other things. Trials reveal what faith we do have; not because God doesn’t know how much faith we have, but so that our faith will be evident to ourselves and to those around us.
We notice that it is faith that is tested, and it shows that faith is important and precious – because only precious things are tested so thoroughly. Faith is as vital to salvation as the heart is vital to the body. And because of this fact, the weapons of the enemy are mainly aimed at this very essential grace.
If trials do not produce faith, what does?
Romans 10:17 tells us: Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
Supernaturally, faith is built in us as we hear, understand, and trust God’s word. When trials are received with faith, it produces perseverance or patience. Yet patience is not inevitably produced in times of trial. If difficulties are received in unbelief and grumbling, trials can produce bitterness and discouragement. This is why James exhorted us to consider it pure joy. Doing this is faith’s response to a time of trial.
In verse 4, it says to let perseverance finish its work. The work of patient endurance comes slowly and must be allowed to have a full bloom. This is a mark of a person who is mature and complete, not lacking anything.
The natural tendency of trouble and trial is not to sanctify but to induce sin. A man is very likely to become unbelieving under affliction and this is a sin. Hence we are taught to pray, like in the Lord’s Prayer ‘Lead us not into temptation’. Because trial has a measure of temptation, not because of the trial itself, but because of the sinfulness of Man. If we are not covered and forget the abundant grace of God, it would bear us to sin.
When covered in faith, trials can prove a wonderful work of God in us. One theologian is quoted as saying, “I have looked back to times of trial with a kind of longing, not to have them return, but to feel the strength of God as I have felt it then, to feel the power of faith, as I have felt it then, to hang upon God’s powerful arm as I hung upon it then, and to see God at work as I saw him then.”
Though we are surrounded by all these different trials, they should be our joy because it is this testing of faith that creates perseverance within. It makes us stronger, more steadfast, more mature; not lacking in anything. It isn’t waste nor coincidence, but it’s something God wants to use in our lives.
And this word ‘testing’ is a very interesting word. The origin of the English word ‘test’ comes from a Middle English word, which means ‘a pot in which metals were tried’. So what does this mean exactly? Silver-smiths back then would use this term ‘test’ when extracting and purifying silver. And the way they would do this was to put a bunch of the silver into a pot and they would heat it up with fire. It would melt, but then at a certain temperature, all the impurities (they called this the dross) would rise to the surface and the silver-smith would scoop this top layer off. Then they would heat it up again and repeat this process over and over again until the silver was ‘tested’ or ‘pure’. And the way they knew the silver was actually tested, was if they could see their reflection in the pot of melted silver.
So we could say that the word ‘tested’ itself, means ‘to be made pure’ and for us, ‘to be God’s reflection’. These trials in our lives are God doing this very act of testing and trying, purifying and the idea is that as we continue to go through many different trials is that one day, He’d look down and see His own reflection.
My deepest prayer is that we can set this truth firmly within ourselves. Considering trials joy, because it is God testing us to be His reflection. Do we truly live believing in this? It’s our faith that is revealed in and through times of trial. However, no matter where we are in our faith now, may the trials we go through make it stronger and more mature, producing many good fruits.