The Book of James, Part 6:
The Purpose of Testing


Last week, we started a word-by-word study of James 1:2.   I concluded that James felt the need to stress to the new Jewish Christians

If we realize God's perspective for our life, which is a far broader and truer perspective, and from which we know that we cannot lose, trials are not a problem.   It is only if we restrict our perspective to ground level, like the soldiers landing on the beach at Normandy, from which it sometimes seems like we cannot win, that trials are a problem.

I argued that James indicates that the perspective we maintain is a matter of choice:  it is a decision, and should not be an emotional reaction.   We can decide to be miserable or we can decide to be joyful.  As for me, I choose joy.

We found that Jesus told us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit;  it is evidence of the Holy Spirit living in us.   But we also found that joy and grief are not mutually exclusive.   Jesus had joy, but he also grieved.  Paul had joy, but he also grieved.   We can grieve and still have and exhibit joy in our life.

Then we found that James is talking about all joy, pure joy, continuing joy.  And we found that joy and happiness are not the same.  Happiness is dependant on our external situation.   Joy is dependant on our relationship with God; our realization that God is big enough and good enough to handle whatever comes along.   Unfortunately the world sees Christians like the Puritan who was described as 'a person who suffers from an overwhelming dread that somewhere, sometime, somehow, someone may be enjoying himself'.

To paraphrase Jesus and James, you should be able to recognize a Christian by the love and the joy you see lived out in their life.

Today -- The Purpose of Testing:

This morning, let's look at the kinds of trials that we should expect, based on the verses you found in the New Testament about trials and tribulations.

James said:

Your assignment for this week was to use your concordance to look at all the verses in the New Testament to find what kinds of trials and tribulations are mentioned.   What did you find?

There are over sixty references to "test", "trial" or "tribulation" in the New Testament alone.  Here are just a few:

The Greek word translated as "tribulation" is thlipsis, which means pressure.   In this context it can mean either a test or a temptation.   You have to look at the context to determine if the pressure is a test or a temptation.
  1. What is the purpose of a test at school, in a class?
  2. What's the difference between a test and a temptation?
  3. How might this explanation help us understand the purpose of trials we face in life?
The purpose of temptation is to cause you to fail.  Satan, not God, tempts us and his purpose is to cause us to fall.

The purpose of a test at school is--

The purpose of God's testing us is-- To help us move in the right direction spiritually, we need tests like we need signposts on a road trip.

What are some positive results of trials (tests) that God can produce in our lives?

A matter worth pondering is the fact that the very first topic James discussed involved the difficulties encountered in the Christian life.  Totally foreign to him was the curious modern notion that becoming a Christian will make life easier, that all problems will disappear, and that the prospect in this life for each believer is that he will live 'happily ever after.'

James proceeds to tell us why God tests us, why trials come along.

I think the hardest questions in life are the "Why?" questions.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why do we have to go through hard times?  This verse is only part of the answer, but it's an important part.

Here God gives us a basic reason or purpose behind adversity -- to help us become more like Jesus.  The sad, unfortunate fact is that times of adversity are far more effective in accomplishing this goal than times of prosperity.   James said:

There are several Greek words translated "know" or "knowing".  The one that is used here is ginosko.  It means to know through personal experience.  The word know implies a degree of certainty we have about the statement being made.  We can be certain of the positive results of trials because (1) God says so in His Word and (2) because our own experience bears this out.

The Greek word for testing here is dokimos.  Here it is translated testing, and in 1 Peter 1:7 it's translated proof: Both the words proof and tested come from dokimos.  So when God speaks of "testing" our faith, consider 1 Peter 1:7 -- that His purpose is to "prove" that your faith is genuine.

What does the word develop imply to you?

I like the word develop because it suggests a work in progress.  Our faith hasn't arrived.  We need to be continually growing in Christ-like character.

The Greek word translated here as "endurance" is hupomeno. It's a combination of two Greek words -- hupo means "under", and meno means "to live, remain, stay".   So hupomeno means literally to remain under.  That's a pretty good description of endurance, isn't it?  Hupomeno is also translated "perseverance" and "steadfastness", both synonyms of "endurance".

Strong defines hupomeno as cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy.

What does the word endurance suggest, or imply, to you?

There are about seventy references to perseverance (endurance, steadfastness, etc.) in the New Testament.  It's an important theme for Jesus' followers.  Here's a sampling of verses on this topic:

All of these references to enduring and persevering include the concept of hopefully progressing through the test.

Then James tells us our prize, the result of endurance.

The Greek word translated as perfect is teleios and can be translated "complete, mature, perfect".  It comes from a root word telos that means something having reached its end.

You can argue that Spiritual Maturity is the theme that ties the whole letter of James together.  In fact, this word teleios is used a number of times in James:

Maybe we need to talk more about spiritual maturity.  It's clearly very important to the God, but how important is it to us?

Let's consider us as individuals and, for now, not think about the spiritual dimension. What are some characteristics, evidence of maturity you would look for?

One truth is clear from this verse -- endurance is essential to achieving spiritual maturity.

Why?  Why is endurance so important to maturity?  The reason is because there are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity.

We're a society that focuses on instant and quick.  We love fast food but fast food restaurants weren't quick enough so we invented drive through fast food restaurants!

One of the most admired cellists in the world was Pablo Casals.   It's said that when Pablo Casals was in the final years of his life, a young reporter asked him, "Mr. Casals, you are 95 years old and the greatest cellist that ever lived.  Why do you still practice six hours a day?"  Casals answered, "Because I think I'm making progress."   That's the kind of dedication to continual growth that we should have in our Christian life.

How about you?  Are you making progress?  Are you growing toward spiritual maturity?

What difficulties, trials are you going through right now?   Those continue your progress toward maturity.

A man by the name of Andrew Murray was suffering from a terribly painful back injury.  One morning while he was eating breakfast in his room, someone came in and told him that a woman, who was going through great trouble, was downstairs and wanted to know if he had any advice for her.  Andrew Murray handed over a piece of paper he had been writing on and said, 'Give her this advice that I'm writing down for myself.  I may be that she'll find it helpful.' This is what he wrote:

In time of trouble say,
'First, He brought me here.  It is by His will I am in this difficult place; in that I will rest.'
Next, 'He will keep me here in His love, and give me the grace to behave as His child.'
Then say, 'He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He means for me to learn.'
And last say, 'In His good time He can bring me out again.  How and when, He knows.' Therefore say, I am here

  1. by God's appointment
  2. in His keeping
  3. under His training, and
  4. for His time.

Ask yourself:

Next lesson we will learn how and why to lean on God.   We will look at wisdom.   Your assignment is to use your concordance to find all the references to wisdom in the New Testament.

Next Week:

Pat and I are taking all our clan on a three-day weekend vacation, so we will be out of town next weekend.   Terry Heames will be teaching another lesson from Mere Christianity.   Be sure to be here.

We will see you in two weeks to pick up with James 1:5.