On a recent trip to a large country in the Far East, I was met with the difficulty of teaching the meaning of James 1:2-3, which invokes the challenge, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
It just so happened that the Christian community in this city had just experienced one of their most prominent churches being torn down by local officials. This was a group of believers who knew the meaning of trials!
I encouraged my students with the fact that they were just like the Christians of the first century and that the authors of our New Testament wrote to churches that suffered and endured real persecution. The unanimous voice of both the Old and New Testaments is that while God does not remove the sources of trials and sufferings that a Christian faces, He does promise to uphold the believer who trusts Him through those trials and sufferings.
James speaks of this testing of faith as yielding perseverance.
The biblical idea of testing comes out of the world of metallurgy and the refining of precious metals. The biblical authors use this same idea to discuss the process by which God refines the faith of individual believers, a process that often requires suffering.
Paul encourages his hearers with the idea that as co-heirs with Christ, they also will share in the sufferings of Christ in order that they also share in His glory (Romans 8:17b). By maintaining faith amid trials and suffering, believers develop the present benefit of endurance or perseverance as well as the future benefit of adding to the glory rightly due Christ (v. 18-19).
Instead of praying that the trials and sufferings be removed from the life of the believer, these verses encourage Christians to pray that the fullness of God’s agenda – testing, endurance and glory – be realized through the enduring faith of the one who suffers.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Smith is associate vice president of academic administration and professor of Bible at the College at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. His 2014 book, “The Testing of God’s Sons: The Refining of Faith as a Biblical Theme,” deals with testing as found in the Old and New Testaments.)