I remember awhile back working through a Bible study in a small group. The passage of our focus was Romans 5 in which Paul commands us to rejoice in suffering because of what the suffering is producing, namely steadfastness and ultimately hope. One of the attendees questioned the truth of the passage in view of his own tragedy within his family. Given the weight of his trial, I felt inadequate to answer his question although I had recently lost my mother in her battle to cancer. This past month my wife and I, as we continue our transition in the Philippines, found ourselves in the midst of a multitude of struggles.
As I surveyed the NT, I found almost the exact description of suffering producing steadfastness not only in Paul’s writings but also in James’ and Peter’s letters (Rom. 5:1-11; James 1:2-12; I Pet. 1:6-9). In all three there are several commonalities. First, there is and will be trials in the Christian life. Secondly, we are commanded to rejoice in those trials. And thirdly, they are producing steadfastness, and therefore, we must let them continue.
The combination of the trial or suffering with that of endurance or steadfastness often conjures up images of action during the midst of resistance. The most common being a marathon race or a boxing match. As we consider these images, it is easy to fall into the temptation that everything in the trial depends upon our action. Many times the Christian’s auto response is try to fix the problem or act. This was most certainly my response in each of our trials.
However, as we investigate each of the above passages, we realize that fundamentally the focus is not upon our outward action in fixing the trial but upon the inward one. In Romans, hope is in focus with faith in the background (Rom. 4:18-19; 5:1). In James and Peter, the testing of faith is central.
- Romans – Suffering > Endurance > Character > Hope
- James – Trials > Testing Faith > Endurance > Perfect & Complete
- Peter – Trials > Testing Faith > Genuineness of Faith > Praise, Glory & Honor
The primary lesson for us is that behind our trials and sufferings is an examination of the kind of faith that we have. To be vey explicit, it tests our trust in our heavenly Father that He will provide and sustain us through the trial regardless of the outcome. That is an incredibly difficult reality to stomach. Will we trust God if the outcome is contrary to our expectation or hope? As one who typically acts, I am slowly learning not to act less but to act in wisdom. And the first and wisest act in the midst of a trial is to trust in our heavenly Father. This will always manifest itself in prayer, mediation upon His Word, and most importantly rest in him.
This brings new significance to Deut. 8:3, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We must follow the example of the one who acted the wisest in the time of testing, Jesus our Messiah (Matt 4:1-11) and not the rebellious first generation of Israel in the wilderness (Exod. 17:3; Psa. 95). Thus, the greatest litmus test to determining whether or not we are indeed acting in faith during a trial is our response. As we wrestle mentally with the difficulty, our response must be first and foremost not to question “why” but to declare “your will be done.”
Many often respond, if the Lord knows all things including that my faith is genuine and I have been justified by faith why does it need to be tested? Perhaps the answer may be best given through an automotive analogy. For the one who purchases a Landcruiser, merely sitting in the garage was never its intention. The vehicle is worthless to the owner until he actually uses it for his purposes. It is only in its use that the driver can fully appreciate the quality and performance, and actually benefit from it. And, a failure of the 4×4 SUV on the mountain or in the jungle can have catastrophic results. Perhaps, this is precisely why Peter states, “that your faith will be proved genuine and result in praise, glory and honor.” We are the instruments through which our heavenly Father uses to proclaim His gospel (Matt. 24:14), to reveal Himself to a broken world (Matt. 5:16), to strengthen His church (II Cor. 4:1-17), and to fight the forces of evil (Eph. 6:10-18). Therefore, when the storms of life comes, he does not want our failure but our steadfast trust in him.