Perseverance in Suffering

by Mike Ratliff

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV)

When God saves a person, he or she is changed forever. However, they are not at the spiritual maturity level that God desires for His people. Therefore, from that point until they go home to be with their Lord all genuine Christians will go through a series of tests and trials that put pressure on their faith. This pressure is spiritual, but the circumstances applying it come from all directions and sources. The Apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh that put his faith to test to the point that he implored the Lord to take it away.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, [1] a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV)

We do not know what Paul’s ‘thorn’ was, but it resulted in him being in a severe test. This test caused him to plead with the Lord three times to take it away. However, notice that God’s response was to allow the ‘thorn’ while sustaining Paul by His grace in the midst of it. What was Paul’s response to that? I know that when I was a younger Christian that I would read this passage and wonder where God’s grace was in my tests and trials. However, nowadays things are different. I still do not like suffering, but I have learned that I am a Christian for God’s glory and for my Lord’s sake, not for myself at all. That realization finally began to sink home with me in August 2004 after an 8-month boot camp with God drawing me closer and closer to Him over that time. I was truly amazed at how my conceptualization of suffering changed after that. I am nowhere near where I would like to be in this, but as I experienced that car accident the other day and have been dealing with insurance companies the last few days I have been amazed at my patience and calm demeanor when I talk with adjusters and claim agents. I know that these issues, while trying, are very minor compared to what other believers are going through right now. However, no matter how severe our trials are, God’s grace is sufficient for us, for His power is made perfect in weakness.

Count it all joy, my brothers, [2] 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 ESV)

The Greek word for “count,” ἡγέομαι or hēgeomai, can also be translated as “consider” or “evaluate.” We are to examine our circumstances, but according to James, no matter what our trials consist of, we re to respond in joy. We are commanded here to make a conscious commitment to face them with joy. The Greek word for “trials” here is πειρασμός or peirasmos. The KJV translates this word here as “temptations.” In this context, James is giving us the word picture of circumstances that breaks the pattern of peace, comfort, joy, and happiness in one’s life. The verb form of πειρασμός means, “to put someone or something to the test.” The purpose of doing this is to discover a person’s nature or the quality of their character. God allows or brings these tests to bear in our lives to prove and increase the strength and quality of our faith and to demonstrate its validity (James 2:12).

The Greek word James used here that is translated as “testing” is δοκίμιον or dokimion.  It literally means “proof” or “proving.” The word “produces” here is the Greek word κατεργάζομαι or katergazomai. This present, indicative verb in middle voice gives us the picture of a craftsman finishing a work or fashioning something to completion. This verb structure tells us that the “producing” happens at the same time as the “testing.” The middle voice tells us that the action is being applied to the one experiencing it. In other words, our suffering is working directly on our own character faith so how we react to it is vital in this process. What is the desired product of this “testing?” The Greek word for “steadfastness” is ὑπομονή or hupomonē. It is often translated as “patience.” Other good translations for this context would be “endurance” or “perseverance.”

As we learn, as Paul did, that God’s grace is sufficient for us in our trials, we acquire the ability to withstand tenaciously the pressure of a trial until God removes it according to His timing. We also learn to cherish the benefit or outcome within as Paul did. We will no longer, as the world does, resent problems, tests, and trials, but will submit to the Lord’s will within them knowing He is working in our weakness to produce eternal treasure within us. This is  ὑπομονη having it full effect, which is that we become more “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” What does this mean? This isn’t perfection as we understand in English, but spiritual maturity (1 John 2:14). This is accomplished in Christians as their testing drives them to deeper communion and greater trust in Christ. This, in turn, produces those qualities that people see in us that they cannot understand, unless they too know our Lord. We will exhibit stable, godly, and righteous character in the midst of trouble. We become whole in Christ.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8 ESV)

Let us never forget my brethren, that God wants all of His people to know Him, to have knowledge of Him and His ways. He wants us to know good doctrine, to know His Word. This will develop the mind of Christ in us and then He will give us wisdom and discernment based on that knowledge as we ask Him and learn to understand this life according to His Word. He liberally gives wisdom to His people who ask Him and pursue the truth according to His Word. Notice that Christians can ask for wisdom from God with wrong motives. I believe that this was my problem for many years until God turned me around. I had a lot of Bible knowledge, however, my focus was backwards. Therefore, I did not ask in faith, but in doubt. When I learned that my role in God’s Kingdom is to bring Him glory, everything changed.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass [3] he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. (James 1:9-11 ESV)

This boasting is actually rejoicing or glorying in ones high spiritual standing before God by His grace and the hope that it brings. Yes, we should rejoice in this. It puts our circumstances in proper perspective. On the other hand, rich people are brought to this state by experiencing trials that bring them low. God does this to help them understand that their possessions cannot bring eternal fulfillment like standing in humility before the Lord. True riches are God’s grace, not mammon.

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12 ESV)

This word “blessed” takes us back to Matthew 5:3-11, the Beatitudes. Believers who successfully endure tests and trials are “blessed.” He or she will be steadfast, or patient and be able to endure to the end. When this life is over and we stand before our Lord, those of us who have endured to the end will receive the ultimate reward, eternal life, which has been promised to us. Again, the mark of genuineness of Christians’ faith is that they endure to the end.

My brethren, rejoice in your tests and trials because God’s grace is sufficient for us. What we are going through is only short, light affliction that will end, but we will spend eternity with our Lord. On the other hand, think of those who do not know Him. Their eternity will be continual affliction and suffering unless they hear the Gospel, believe, and repent. Therefore, let us rejoice in our suffering as God uses us to show the world the truth about His grace and genuine Christianity.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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