Some thoughts on James 1:3: “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”
Some of us have spent so many years in school we are quick to associate testing with examinations where the primary goal is to get through with a passing grade so we can move on to the next subject or task and another exam to be passed. A failed exam may bring some shame and require repeating the exam until we get it right. However is that what James has in his mind when he said that the testing of our faith produces endurance? Let’s explore.
The use of the participle “testing” in most English translations is a bit misleading because in the original language the word is a noun, “the proof”. What’s the point you say? Well, the original author was emphasizing the result not the process, the proof rather than the proving. As one Greek dictionary says: “here and in I Pet. 1:7, [testing] clearly means ‘the genuine element in your faith,’ not ‘crucible’ nor ‘proving.’ ‘Your faith like gold stands the test of fire and is approved as standard.’ ”
When God places us in situations that test our faith He does not have some malevolent wish that we would fail, nor is he weeding out the weak for He cares for all of us with the same perfect love. His intent is that these situations would provide opportunities for us to demonstrate our love and trust toward Him in the face of opposition; that our faith, like gold, would not be damaged, but would demonstrate it’s value by being unchanged in the fire. A good example of this is Jesus’ experience of testing in the wilderness recorded in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. His trust in the Father stood out as the “gold standard.”
On the other hand, while we can be declared righteous by God through faith in Christ, we will still have a fallen nature to contend with. Therefore it takes time for us to wrestle with, and eventually let go of our suspicious, controlling and judgmental habits when faced with opportunities (trials) to demonstrate this faith. This usually happens bit by bit as we slowly accept His trustworthiness and the value, the gold, of faith exposes itself to us and others.
Another way to say this is that it takes time to work into our behavior a trust in the truth that God only and always has our best interest in mind and can be counted on even when He acts in ways unfamiliar to us. In fact, since He knows that it is in our best interest for us to be developing an ever closer relationship with Him through proven faith, He knows that the destructiveness of our lack of faith (which is our sin) has to be exposed and purged with our willing cooperation. Dr. Earl Radmacher, President of Western Seminary Phoenix, puts it this way “The aim of testing is not to destroy or afflict, but to purge and refine. It is essential to Christian maturity, for even Abraham’s faith had to be tested (Gen. 22:1–8).”1
In vs 1:4, James agrees: “let endurance have its full effect that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”(RSV) According to Heb. 5:14 (Hebrews 5:14), maturity is a quality of being able to recognize good and evil from experience with testing for testing teaches us to be able to recognize the true nature and consequence of the things which challenge our faith. Of course the implication is that this discernment is used to avoid distrusting God which is sin. (James 4:17, Romans 14:23)
So God allows us to be in situations where our faith in Him is tested in order to reveal the value of our faith in Him. Over time He will do this to ever increasing degrees in every area of our life. To the degree that we allow each challenge to prove the worthiness of trusting God, it builds into us a new measure of maturity because it equips us to recognize future challenges (good and evil) and provides the confidence we need to be able to stand firm, that is to endure or persevere in face of them.
Suppose being a Christian were like being on some team, let’s say a baseball team. The coach puts you through training exercises and watches your performance as you play in a number of games. If you think in terms of the testing model I mentioned at the beginning of this article, you would be fearful of failing because bad performance would get you benched and not allowed to play, thus ruining your chance to achieve any significance. If you failed badly you might even be cut from the team. That’s the way we think of testing.
However Christians are on a different kind of team. On this team you won’t be cut because the coach knows just how to train each person on His team to achieve not only their best but to accomplish what He needs for a winning team. God knows our frame and has chosen us by His mercy and grace for His purposes, and His purposes are not thwarted – ever.
The Apostle Peter touches on God’s purposes when he says “In this [our salvation and promises of God] you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”2 The praise and glory and honor are not for us. They are for God. John Piper sums it up this way “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied – in Him.”
We are so conditioned to fear failing tests that it is hard for us to see that situations designed to demonstrate our faith are intended to build us up, and in the hands of the master, they will. Only when we accept this view will we find it possible to consider trials “all joy” as James and Paul exhort us to do.
James 1:2 (NASB95) ” Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,…”
Romans 5:3 (NASB95) “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance…”
Some situations are short lived, others last a lifetime. Either way the coach will see that our entire life ultimately becomes a proof of the value of faith in Him because despite stumbling along the way, we confess our sin, trust in the forgiveness purchased at the cross and finally arrive at the revelation of Jesus Christ ready to give praise and glory to God for what He has accomplished in us. For in that day it will all come out in the open. All those who have overcome the world through their faith will be vindicated. Born of our experiences and from our hearts, the assembly of the faithful of all the ages will cry out together praise and glory to God and be thankful that He let us participate in bringing it about. What a day that will be!Footnotes