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The Heat and the Hammer: Reflecting On The Trials Of Life


HighBeamMinistry.com


“Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

 

Who doesn’t go through various trials? Sometimes, it’s a trial just getting out of bed in the morning after binge-watching the latest show  I’ve been told is a “must-watch.” Frankly, most of those recommendations fail to live up to the hype, and some make me question the sanctification of the one recommending it.

 

No, I won’t give any examples. There’s no need to get into trouble on purpose. It finds me just fine all the same.

 

There was no binge-watching last night, although it was still a trial to roll out of bed this morning. My church’s Men’s Bible Study was cracking into the Book of James, and I wanted to be there from the start. James (Ya’acov is his 1st c. Jewish name) was not only Jesus’ half-brother, but after Jesus’ resurrection, James came to faith and became the Chief Rabbi of the Jerusalem messianic Jewish congregation, the mother synagogue to all other messianic congregations to follow. I like his letter because it’s very practical, addressing everyday challenges.

 

James’ letter is written in a particular style that most Gentiles miss because they don’t know the original Jewish context of Christianity. “That the writings of Ya’akov were a specific style of rabbinic writings, a collection if you will of a particular rabbi’s sayings and teachings (in Hebrew a Yalkut), collated by his talmidim (disciples) and disseminated to a wider audience in the dispersion. (Dr. Friedman) points out that the purpose of his writings was to instruct the Messianic Jewish community in Israel and beyond its borders on how to practically apply Torah in the context of their daily lives in that milieu” (Foreward, James The Just).

 

What was that context? It was to Jews who had been dispersed throughout the Roman empire due to the persecution against Jews who accepted Jesus as Israel’s Messiah that arose in Jerusalem and quickly spread even as far as Antioch and beyond (Acts 8:1, 11:19).

 

Not only were the messianic Jews taking hits from their fellow Jews, but Roman antisemitism also made life difficult in some Jewish enclaves throughout the Roman Empire. This two-pronged persecution created many trials for Jesus’ Jewish followers, much worse than just getting out of bed earlier than usual.

 

It’s to these messianic Jews that James is writing. Like a good rabbi, he continued to teach the Torah while adding his own applications. James’ teachings were collected, and off went the letter to those enduring “various trials” because of their faith. It only makes sense that James begins his letter with encouragement about trials. His readers are already facing struggles. Who wants to hear a corrective word right from the start? No one. “Give me a little boost first, Rabbi Jacob!” And so he does.

 

The beauty of James’ letter is that even though most Christians don’t understand the Jewish undercurrent and context of the letter, James’ words reach deep into our souls because he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that rested on his half-brother, the third Person of the Trinity of whom Jesus was the Second Person. Now, that’s a mind-blower, isn’t it?

 

James starts with, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials.” Had he stopped there and not explained what he meant, there likely would have been a “backdoor revival” (pastor talk for people leaving) in every congregation and home group that heard those words. Thankfully, James clarifies his opening salvo. Let’s do a little word study, shall we?

 

Consider it joy

The Greek word for consider means “to think, consider, count, esteem, regard” (Mounce). In other words, Rabbi James tells his students to think about trials “this way and not that way.” What’s “this way?” God’s way, and not what most think about trials. James calls for a godly perspective. “Trials? They may be bad, but they’re not bad if you get my drift.” James suggests trials are not something to dread, even if truly dreadful. As he soon reveals, trials are things to be embraced. Why? Because trials serve a valuable purpose in our Christian lives. So, what constitutes a trial?

 

Trials

The word used for trials here is peirasmos, which has a few meanings according to Mounce’s Greek-English dictionary: 1) trial, calamity, affliction (James 1:2), 2) temptation and a direct temptation to sin, and 3) putting to the proof, or proof. Peirasmos’ root word is peira, meaning a trial, an experiment.

 

As we all know, a trial can be a calamity or an affliction, which isn’t pleasant. A trial can also be a temptation to sin against God. Resisting sin is also unpleasant, although giving in can bring a greater unpleasantness eventually while hanging tough avoids the consequences. You have to decide which unpleasantness you’d rather experience. But the link between #1 and #2 is #3, that God uses them both as putting to the proof or proving something. This definition leads us to the rest of the verse – “because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

 

Testing

The word for testing is dokimion, which means trying or putting to proof (Mounce). There’s the purpose of a trial, whatever that trial may be. A trial proves how much and how well we do something. Trial and test go together because a trial puts us on trial, and the test tests us. Or you could say the trial tests us, and the test is a trial.

 

So, now we have the means and the reason. What is being tested?

 

Well, you are. More specifically, how much do you trust the Lord whom you claim to trust?

 

Trust is built through experience. Trust is like wisdom. As wisdom is knowledge forged in the fire of experience, trust is reliance on God forged in that same fire. Both start with a raw material – knowledge for wisdom and reliance for trust. Through experience, wisdom and trust are forged over time.

 

But trust must be increased if we are to mature spiritually in our relationship with the Lord. Hence, the Lord allows the fires of trials and testing to be stoked on our behalf because He wants us to trust Him as much as He can produce in us.

 

Since the Lord wants us to trust Him resolutely, should we be surprised at the trials He allows us to walk through? Trials are inevitable and valuable for building trust in God. So, we shouldn’t “be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test (peirasmos) you, as if something unusual were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

 

“What? Another trial has come to test me and build my trust? I’m surprised! Who’d a thunk?”

 

Job thunked it. You want to talk about someone acquainted with trials and testing over his faith. That’s the lead-in to Job’s terrifying experience in the fiery trials. Satan accused Job of trusting God because the Lord prospered him. “But stretch out your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will surely curse you to your face,” Satan suggested (Job 1:11). When that catastrophic calamity fails to sway Job (Job 1:22), Satan suggested another severe trial to test Job’s trust in the Lord. “A man will give up everything he owns in exchange for his life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 2:4-5). Still, Job endured the trial and the testing process (Job 2:10). Job learned the reality of life, “But humans are born for trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).

 

Yup. Trials are a part of life. Can’t avoid them. Can’t shake them. The redeeming part about trials is that the Lord uses them to shape us into the image He designed us to be, Jesus Himself. This purpose follows Egyptian viceregent Joseph’s biblical principle after his many trials. “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result…” (Genesis 50:20). Here’s another reason to look at trials in a different light. “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

 

Those “all things” include every trial we’ve ever gone through, are going through, and will go through, especially the ugly, stinkin’, excruciating ones.

 

Faith

Faith means trust. It’s more than mental agreement. A mental agreement type of faith is merely an intellectual belief. True faith (trust) demands we act on it. Trust puts “feet to faith” and walks into the unknown with God, trusting He knows the way and what’s ahead.

 

We shouldn’t be surprised about any fiery trial that comes our way because the Lord has already seen it approaching us as we move toward it. The exciting part is that He frequently tips me off to prepare me. Some trials come as a shocking surprise. Others have been preceded by the Holy Spirit tapping on my spirit, causing me to become more alert about something. It’s happening to me right now as I’m tapping away. The Holy Spirit has led me to fast and hinted that it’s about this coming Monday. Don’t ask me what that is. I got nothin’. But we’ll see if I’m hearing clearly. I’ll let you know. Regardless, I trust my Lord.

 

But why does the Lord test our trust level in Him?

 

The primary reason is to reveal who or Whom we really trust – us or our Heavenly Father. Who is lord here, me or Him? How we go through the test of trials proves where we’re at. Through the test, we get tested. We’re on trial as we go through trials. Again, the nature of a trial is in its name, peirasmos, putting to the proof. In courtroom vernacular, trials are the prosecutor who batters us with questions to see if our testimony about our trust is genuine. And when those questions come, we must meet them, answer them, and press on. This process adds endurance to our trust, and that’s what our Lord is looking for – “You know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect…”.

 

Endurance

The word here means “to wait under.” As we wait under the constant pressure of the trial as it bears down on us, we develop endurance, much like a weight lifter develops muscle through resistance training. The test causes our trust in the Lord to grow stronger and more resilient. The process proves our trust in the Lord because we can remain faithful to Him even though everything stands against us to turn from Him and trust ourselves. The key is to learn cheerful, hopeful, patient endurance.

 

And now we come to the Lord’s ultimate goal through His use of trials – “so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”

 

Mature and complete

The two words for mature and complete are teleios and holokleros. Teleios means “brought to completion; fully accomplished, fully developed,” and holokleros means “whole, having all its parts, sound, perfect, complete in every part.”

 

The root word of teleios is telos (the endpoint, fulfillment, goal, utmost). Jesus is the telos of the Torah (the Law, Romans 10:4 ), meaning He is the fullest, most complete, accomplished, and fully developed expression of God’s will in human form. God’s will walking, so to speak. Our Heavenly Father wants our restoration to be completed, fully accomplished, and fully developed so we’re just like Jesus, as we were designed to be.

 

That final product will be whole, missing nothing, perfect and complete in every part. That means we will be completely perfect before God, especially concerning His standard of right and wrong.

 

This endpoint is our destination as He shapes us through trials.

 

The challenging news is we won’t ever achieve that in this lifetime. Even worse, the trials will continue. The great news is there will be a completion point.

 

What we endure for now is the process that tries our patient endurance to prove if we will continue to trust God in everything, no matter how painful, complex, or aggravating. But that’s okay when we understand there’s a purpose behind it.

 

This brings us back to “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials.” The world considers trials as purposeless, meaningless, senseless, and painful. But we should regard them as blessings – God’s way of shaping us into the Image that He loves and designed us to be.

 

When we learn to remain cool, calm, and collected under the trial, we prove that we trust God. Proof that we don’t trust Him in a trial is when we scream and flail about as if our hair is on fire. Oh sure, we don’t do that outwardly, but I bet if our inner life were projected on a screen, we’d look like that air-blower promotional stick man outside car dealerships, whipping about as we confront the winds of adversity.

 

The Forge

Speaking of fire, during the Men’s study discussion, the Lord impressed me with a picture of a blacksmith at his forge.

 

The blacksmith takes a hunk of scrap metal, envisions a final design, then gets to work.

 

The blacksmith uses heat to soften the metal. When hot enough, the blacksmith picks up the hammer, begins pounding away, and shapes the softened metal. Alternating between the two allows the blacksmith to form the scrap into something useful and beautiful. A skilled blacksmith can create gorgeous works of art or functional things like weapons, tools, and equipment.

 

Our Heavenly Father uses the heat and the hammer to forge us into the beautiful and functional image of Jesus. We become useful to Him and also a weapon against His spiritual enemies.

 

During the blacksmith’s forging process, the heat is slow, but the hammer is sudden.

 

Under our Father’s forging, we alternate between trials that slowly turn up the heat to help us become flexible and open to change and trials that suddenly hit us, forcing us to adjust to a new mindset, understanding, or behavior.

 

Throughout the blacksmith’s process of forging the piece, he is always right next to the piece he’s working on. He holds the piece firmly even as the hammer falls and supervises the process personally. The blacksmith knows how much heat to apply and how many hammer strokes he needs for that shaping time. Even the hammer is unique. One side is rounded to spread the pliable metal, and the other is flat to work on the finish.

 

Thank God we don’t go through trials alone. Jesus promised, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Every trial we come under is supervised personally by our loving Lord as He stretches us and finishes each part of His work in us.

 

Finally, forging a piece of metal to its final form takes time, sometimes a lot, for the blacksmith to get his desired result. Forging takes as long as the blacksmith needs to complete his work according to his desired design.

 

For every believer, our Heavenly Father’s smithing process takes a lifetime. But when the final hammer stroke falls, we will live in His presence in our final form, precisely as He designed us to be.

 

Meanwhile, we need encouragement during the trial. Encourage means “to put in heart.” In other words, when people are discouraged, they lose heart. When they’re encouraged, a heart of courage is imparted to them. In the 14th c., encourage meant giving someone “valor, a quality of mind which enables one to meet danger and trouble without fear.”

 

How do we encourage ourselves and others in the heat and under the hammer? It’s all there in our verses from James:


  • Have the right attitude – consider it a great joy.

  • Awareness of the process helps us know what to expect – know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

  • The purpose is to help, not hurt – let endurance have its full effect.

  • The plan is to perfect us – so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

 

Let’s not look at the heat and hammer of trials as something unusual, for we all go through them or as things to be feared and avoided.

 

Instead, be encouraged. Forge on until we reach that final point of perfection when we stand before Jesus, looking precisely like Him!

 

Sources:

MacArthur, John, James: Guidelines For A Happy Christian Life, Harper Christian Resources.

Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament, billmounce.com/Greek-dictionary.

Friedman, Dr. David, James The Just (Ya’akov HaTzaddik) Presents Applications of Torah, Lederer Books, a division of Messianic Jewish Publishers, messianicjewish.net.

 

Shining the Light of God’s Truth on the Road Ahead

 

Pastor Jay Christianson

The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts

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