Bitter or Better?
“2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”
Trials. I believe it is safe to say that a global pandemic such as the one we are currently facing brings with it a fair share of trials for just about everyone. The trials I am enduring may be much different than the ones you are facing, but the fact is that trials abound. And we don’t only face trials during a world health crisis, we face trials throughout our entire lives. Whenever we find ourselves in the midst of a trying situation, we should always recall the words of James 1:2-4.
Verse 2 begins with a command: whenever we experience trials we should take great joy in them. What a way to start off a letter! No matter what sort of trial we are facing (“various”), and no matter when we face it (“whenever”), God’s Word commands us to count it as joy. That is such a counterintuitive idea, so how can we make sense of it?
Thankfully, James doesn’t end his thought there; he proceeds in verses 3-4 to explain just why we should consider our trials as occasions for joy. First, he tells us that trials—the testing of our faith—produce endurance. A better translation of that last word might be “steadfastness.” Enduring trials allows us to become better at standing firm and standing fast in our faith. Enduring trials gives us the ability to stay strong and to keep going. While trials may seem difficult in the present, they actually prove to be useful in the long run.
And that’s not all. James goes on in verse 4 to tell us that when we allow endurance to do its work, we can become mature and complete. The word translated “mature” is the Greek word telos. It is a word that speaks of wholeness, of fullness, of completion, and even of perfection. What we see here is that in the perfect plan and providence of God, He can use something as difficult as a trial to produce telos. Our trials can produce in us a maturity, a wholeness, a completeness.
So the way I see it, we can let our trials make us bitter (against God, others, or even ourselves) OR we can allow our trials to make us better. One letter makes a big difference: bitter or better.
What are some practical ways our trials can help us mature and make us better? Consider the following:
- Our trials can cause us to depend on God
- Our trials can lead us to worship God
- Without our trials we might be underdeveloped in our faith
- Our trials can help us rid ourselves of immaturity in our faith
- Our trials can produce better character in us
Despite how difficult it may be to consider trials as occasions for joy, it appears that the benefits abound. That being said, I want to leave you with two further thoughts.
- Just because trials can make us better and help us mature in our faith does not mean that we should go seeking out trials.
- Just because we are commanded to consider our trials as joy does not mean that we should pretend they are pleasant.
Trials come and trials go. Trials come easy enough on their own, so there is no need to go seeking or creating our own trials just to get a little bit better. And, as you probably know, joy is not happiness. Joy is a mindset and a state of being. Counting our trials as joy does not mean we have to smile all the way through them and pretend that nothing is wrong. Counting our trials as joy means that we realize the good work that God can accomplish in us through them, even with all of their pain and heartache.
The key to it all is obeying the command in verse 2. If we fail to consider our trials as occasions for joy, then the potential benefits mentioned in verses 3-4 are thrown out the window. We must allow God to use our trials to make us better. And if we read just a little further into James, we find this great promise in 1:12, which serves as a great way to conclude:
“Blessed is a man who endures trials, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that He has promised to those who love Him.”