by Mike Ratliff
4 The Lord is in His holy temple,
The Lord’s throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold,
His eyelids test the sons of men.
5 The Lord tests the righteous,
But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates. Psalms 11:4-5 (NKJV)
According to some professing Christians, if anything unpleasant comes into their lives then it proves that God is displeased with them. They say it proves that God is punishing them. Also, they proclaim that the ones suffering are simply victims in the ongoing battle between God and Satan. Is there another explanation? Let’s see!
In Psalms 11:4-5 (above) David used a word that is translated here as “test” and “tests.” This Hebrew word means, “to try, prove, test, examine, search out, purify, to look out, to watch. This word denotes an investigation to determine the essential qualities of the object, especially integrity. It is used almost exclusively in the spiritual sense, attaining knowledge intuitively.” So, when the Lord “tests” the righteous, what does this involve?
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4 (NKJV)
God is the master at testing the faith of His children. He does it in such a way that it produces steadfastness. According to James when we cooperate with God in these tests and trials, God will produce this steadfastness in us and it will mature us in Christ that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
All events are under the control of Providence; consequently all the trials of our outward life are traceable at once to the great First Cause. Out of the golden gate of God’s ordinance the armies of trial march forth in array, clad in their iron armour, and armed with weapons of war. All providences are doors to trial. Even our mercies, like roses, have their thorns. Men may be drowned in seas of prosperity as well as in rivers of affliction. Our mountains are not too high, and our valleys are not too low for temptations: trials lurk on all roads. Everywhere, above and beneath, we are beset and surrounded with dangers. Yet no shower falls unpermitted from the threatening cloud; every drop has its order ere it hastens to the earth. The trials which come from God are sent to prove and strengthen our graces, and so at once to illustrate the power of divine grace, to test the genuineness of our virtues, and to add to their energy. Our Lord in His infinite wisdom and superabundant love, sets so high a value upon His people’s faith that He will not screen them from those trials by which faith is strengthened. You would never have possessed the precious faith which now supports you if the trial of your faith had not been like unto fire. You are a tree that never would have rooted so well if the wind had not rocked you to and fro, and made you take firm hold upon the precious truths of the covenant grace. Worldly ease is a great foe to faith; it loosens the joints of holy valour, and snaps the sinews of sacred courage. The balloon never rises until the cords are cut; affliction doth this sharp service for believing souls. While the wheat sleeps comfortably in the husk it is useless to man, it must be threshed out of its resting place before its value can be known. Thus it is well that Jehovah trieth the righteous, for it causeth them to grow rich towards God. – C.H. Spurgeon – from Spurgeon’s Evening by Evening
Read again Spurgeon’s closing statement, “Thus it is well that Jehovah trieth the righteous, for it causeth them to grow rich toward God.” Affliction is not pleasant and no one is trying to say it is. Pain is pain and when our circumstances devolve into something less than we had planned or hoped, it is very tempting to become bitter and separate from God in our antagonism toward Him due to Him “not coming through.” However, there are two truths we must grasp if we are to grow rich towards God. The first is that God is Sovereign and the measure of what is good and perfect and complete is Him, not us. The second thing we must learn is that suffering is one of God’s major implements in His work to shape and form Christians according to His plan.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 (NKJV)
Why is it imperative that God gives us His wisdom? Christians are to have an undivided faith. In this the wisdom we should cherish and ask for is God’s. If you closely examine the verbiage coming from the emergents, for instance, it soon becomes apparent that their sources of “wisdom” are anything but God. It shows as well for you will see them combine parts of all of the world’s religions into their’s. When we go to God for wisdom it must be done in trust and confidence in Him based on His character and promises given to us in Sacred Scripture. When we seek these truths from God, it must be without doubting, which is vacillating between trusting God and trusting the world or one’s self. Those who doubt God’s goodness dishonor Him. This is a mark of a fence-sitting professor, one who professes to be a Christian, but doesn’t really know God at all. These are the ones who are double-minded. They profess to be Christians, but their faith is not in God.
9 Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. James 1:9-11 (NKJV)
The Church is made up of people from every financial and social strata. Neither one’s poverty or one’s riches bring any advantage before God. Instead, James is counseling us to create an environment in our churches which become countercultural, which reverses the values of the world. James seems to be saying that the conflict between the poor and rich in the Church is one of the greatest trials for Christians.
12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. James 1:12-15 (NKJV)
12 Μακάριος ἀνὴρ ὃς ὑπομένει πειρασμόν, ὅτι δόκιμος γενόμενος λήμψεται τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς ὃν ἐπηγγείλατο τοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν αὐτόν. 13 Μηδεὶς πειραζόμενος λεγέτω ὅτι ἀπὸ θεοῦ πειράζομαι· ὁ γὰρ θεὸς ἀπείραστός ἐστιν κακῶν, πειράζει δὲ αὐτὸς οὐδένα. 14 ἕκαστος δὲ πειράζεται ὑπὸ τῆς ἰδίας ἐπιθυμίας ἐξελκόμενος καὶ δελεαζόμενος· 15 εἶτα ἡ ἐπιθυμία συλλαβοῦσα τίκτει ἁμαρτίαν, ἡ δὲ ἁμαρτία ἀποτελεσθεῖσα ἀποκύει θάνατον. James 1:12-15 (NA28)
What is the crown of life? According to v12 those who will receive it are the same ones who remain steadfast. Those who remain faithful as they endure tests and trials prove their authenticity and, in the end, will receive this crown. This is a laurel wreath, which was given to winners of athletic games. The reward for perseverance is eternal life, with all of its abundant blessings. In vv13-15 James gives us the other side of trials, which is temptation. God tests His people that their character is strengthened, but he never tempts. The Greek word translated here as “tempted” is various forms of πειραζόμενος, which is the verb form of the same Greek word translated as “trial” earlier. God brings trials in order to strengthen the Christian’s faith. He never tempts, however, because He never desires his people to sin. Christians should never blame God when they do wrong. He gives us many opportunities with warnings not to proceed down the ways of world. We have no one to blame for our sin but ourselves. Carefully read vv14-15. James used a fishing metaphor to show how we are lured and enticed with appeals to our own desire. If we do not stop this process right here we will soon find that we have the lure in our mouths and desire is in control. This grows and gives birth to sin, which brings forth death. This shows the terrible result when one gives in to temptation.
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. James 1:16-18 (NKJV)
God is good. He gives good gifts. In the midst of our trials, we must remember that God is not tempting us to sin, but the difficulties in life are intended to strengthen and perfect us and make us more like our Lord Jesus. Never forget my brethren, there is nothing in this world that is truly good that has any other origin than from above descending from the Father of lights. V18 speaks of our spiritual salvation. God is good indeed.
As many of you know, my mother died last week. Also, I am working pretty hard to plan for retirement, which also means I am struggling with “getting old.” There are many other physical, mental, and spiritual tests that I am going through right now. I consider them to be opportunities to become stronger in Jesus. God is very good to me and my family. We often have our own agendas, but God, being Sovereign, works out the details of our lives according to His perfect will. I would just as soon not have epilepsy, for instance, but through this I have learned to be stronger in the Lord while being weaker in myself. I must deal with this disease the rest of my life and so be it because it is God’s will that I do so. I know that He will strengthen me and by His grace I will be able to live my life for His glory regardless. I also know that our daily bread comes solely from Him.
Soli Deo Gloria!