by Mike Ratliff
3 Εὐλογητὸς ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ὁ κατὰ τὸ πολὺ αὐτοῦ ἔλεος ἀναγεννήσας ἡμᾶς εἰς ἐλπίδα ζῶσαν δι’ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκ νεκρῶν, 4 εἰς κληρονομίαν ἄφθαρτον καὶ ἀμίαντον καὶ ἀμάραντον τετηρημένην ἐν οὐρανοῖς εἰς ὑμᾶς 5 τοὺς ἐν δυνάμει θεοῦ φρουρουμένους διὰ πίστεως εἰς σωτηρίαν ἑτοίμην ἀποκαλυφθῆναι ἐν καιρῷ ἐσχάτῳ 6 ἐν ᾧ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε ὀλίγον ἄρτι, εἰ δέον ἐστίν, λυπηθέντας ἐν ποικίλοις πειρασμοῖς, 7 ἵνα τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως πολυτιμότερον χρυσίου τοῦ ἀπολλυμένου, διὰ πυρὸς δὲ δοκιμαζομένου εὑρεθῇ εἰς ἔπαινον καὶ δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν ἐν ἀποκαλύψει Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (1 Peter 1:3-7 NA28)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one according to his great mercy has regenerated us to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an imperishable inheritance that is undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if it is necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to bring praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7 translated from the NA28 Greek text)
I left on a trip early in the morning of August 19th for a scheduled two week meeting in the Kansas City area dealing with restructuring much of how we do our Database Management at our company. However, I knew going into this that there was the possibility that I could receive a message or call or email from my sister that the time in hospice care was drawing to an end for my nephew Travis who has been battling brain cancer for about 6 years or so. In fact, on Wednesday last week I got an email from her saying that the hospice care nurses were saying he had only a matter of hours or days left so we had better be prepared. I called her that night and she confirmed that and I could also sense a deepening dread in her perhaps some weariness. In any case the very next evening after after my wife drove up to KC from our home in the OKC area to spend the weekend with me, we received the message from her that Travis had died. I made all the arrangements to depart the meetings and head home the next day so we could then drive to Houston to be with family and attend Travis’ funeral, which was on Monday this week. We arrived in Houston with our daughter Sunday afternoon in time to attend the “Viewing” at the funeral home. This was the first time I had seen my sister in several weeks, perhaps months. What a difference! It was a like a massive load had been removed from her. We visited with my brother-in-law, Travis’ brother and sister, and his wife Jennifer and it was amazing how, yes, they were in mourning, but there was also a great release and joy present knowing that the one they loved was no longer suffering and was now in the presence of our Lord.
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.
At Travis’ funeral, or “Celebration of Life” as they called it, several things struck me about those who spoke about my nephew. My memory of him was of a much younger, athletic, young man not the adult with a wife and children they spoke of. I remembered the all-american collegiate baseball player who was not that talkative when he came over to our house to visit. When one of those young men who was in his accountability group at their church spoke I sat there listening to a description of a young man who knew his Lord and was living in such a way that the Lordship of Christ was at the center of it all. Perfect? No, not any more than any of us, but always ready to repent and asking for prayer so that he could grow into a more Christlike man. He had some of those thorns at times and he was learning how to deal with them.
7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NASB)
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. There are times when I think of my “thorns” as overwhelming, but honestly, as I listened to those speaking at Travis’s funeral service I realized I was listening to an accounting of those who had witnessed one who had gone through an incredible fiery trial and all through it became less and less focused on self and more and more focused on Christ and his will and his glory.
I may get the wording wrong here because this is from memory so if you were at the service and I get this wrong please forgive me. When the pastor of Travis’ church spoke he shared many things about Travis and Jennifer and their walk and their spiritual growth and journey there. One that hit me right in the heart was after Travis and Jennifer had decided that he would receive no more cancer treatments, but would go into hospice care. He could still speak, but it was a burden to do so. He spoke slowly and it was hard to understand him unless you really paid attention. The pastor was trying to minister to him and asked how he could pray for him and if there was anything he needed, that kind of thing. Travis said very slowly and laboriously, “The weaker I get, the stronger Christ is in me…” That was when I began to weep. It is one thing to write about these things and talk about these things and experience an illness here and there, a lost job, some trying experiences with this lost and dying world, but it is a whole other level when you know that you are days or even just hours or minutes from hearing your name called by your Saviour.
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 NASB)
The Greek word for “consider” ἡγέομαι or hēgeomai, can also be translated as “count” or “evaluate.” We are to examine our circumstances, but according to James, no matter what our trials consist of, we are 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.
5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8 NASB)
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.
9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. (James 1:9-11 NASB)
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 a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12 NASB)
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.
Another thing shared by the young man in Travis’ accountability group was after Travis and Jennifer had confirmed that there would be no more cancer treatments and he would go into hospice care and that that would mean, unless God intervened, cancer would take his life in short order, his accountability group asked him if he was scared. Travis said, “No.” He and the other men in that group asked him individually if he was sure. The young man up on that stage sharing this paused and I knew what was coming because Travis was more like my own father than any of his other grandchildren. This young man said the he gave them a look that made them all know for certain that they had made a huge mistake and they all regretted asking him. He replied with that same look, “I told you, I am not scared!” Why wasn’t he scared? He knew his Saviour intimately and believed the Gospel and all the promises that go with it made to those who belong to Him. His faith was rock solid and had been tested as true in the fire.
Do you know the Saviour?
Soli Deo Gloria!