Different Kinds of Trials
© C. O. Bishop, January 2020
James 1:1-4, 12-16
There are two large groupings in scripture, under the heading of “Temptation.” We need to see the differences between them and how to respond to each.
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
James addresses himself (primarily) to the Jewish believers who were scattered by persecution, as well as those who had been scattered by the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. He makes no further explanation, but plunges right into the purpose of the letter: He knew they had been through a great deal of hardship: first, by persecution from Gentile nations for being Jews; and now, from other Jews, as well as from the Gentile nations, for being followers of Christ. The first three centuries of the Church age were riddled with horrendous persecution against believers…and the Church grew stronger under that load.
In modern English, James calls it “testing”. KJV says “temptation”. The old English word “temptation” did mean testing. But the nature of the test depended upon the source of the testing. I wish there were two different Greek words for the two types of trials, but there are not: the Greek word is exactly the same for both: “peirazo”…”to try, prove, or test.”
So, we will come to see two general categories of trials: one meaning “hard experiences,” the sort experienced by all humans: (1st Corinthians 10:13 “…such as is common to man”,) or possibly harsh treatment from others because of our position in Christ.(1st Peter 4:12-14) The other is a specific “luring away to do evil:” it is temptation to sin. James says God is never the source of this sort.
When I read verses 2-4, I
see one kind of testing, which will:
- Make me strong,
- Develop endurance (KJV “patience”) and
- Help me mature as a believer.
But, when I read verses 13-16, I see that God is not the author of testing that “lures us away to do evil,” though, ultimately, He is the One who allows it to happen. When I consider the trials and testing of Job, for example, it is clear that God allowed Job to undergo terrible trials; but God was not the one saying “Curse God and Die!” We need to consider the type of trial, as well as the source. Consider the two categories as either “trials for training,” or “temptation to sin.”
Trials for Training
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
So, under what circumstances should I consider trials to be a joy? “When” I fall into various trials. (Always.) This is in reference to the “hard times”. Sometimes they are literally from God, as a training discipline, just as an athletics coach prescribes calisthenics or weight-training, or roadwork, to toughen an athletic contestant against a coming trial—the next wrestling match, perhaps, or even the Olympic games. Such training is never easy; it is not intended to be easy. It is intended to produce strength and stamina, and increased skill, in some cases.
Sometimes they are just the normal “hard times” of life…which we endure as an honor to our Lord who endured far more than we ever will.
It is important for us, as believers, to grasp the idea that the way in which God chooses to strengthen us against hardship and to prepare us for coming spiritual battles, is through teaching, then testing, more teaching, more testing, etc. If we truly accept this concept, then the trials do become a source of joy, as we know that we are being strengthened for God’s Glory. We learn endurance by enduring. It is interesting to me that athletes know this, and accept it; and good athletes do not find a hard, grueling practice to be frustrating, but rather exhilarating. They know that they are getting strong, and the way they endured that testing has proved it!
So the admonition is to find joy in hard times, knowing that we are gaining endurance, and that we are to allow endurance to complete its work, and not short-circuit the process by fighting against God. Once in a while a member of a sports team will forget that the rigorous training is for his betterment, and will begin accusing the coach, saying that the workout is unreasonable, or misguided. In the case of a human coach, such an accusation could possibly be true, though as a general rule it is not. But in the case of God, the ultimate source of all true wisdom, the omniscient source of all our sustenance and hope, such an accusation is clearly unfounded. We can always be confident that His will for us is perfect…even when it is painful or even fatal. We don’t like that idea, but Job 13:15 says, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”
Many believers have been brought back into a right relationship with God through a deadly disease. They were forced to look at life differently: no longer carelessly; and the result was that they repented of their wandering, and they walked with God for the time they had remaining. Was that fun? Absolutely not! Did they recognize God’s Grace, in bringing them back into a walk of faith, with Him? Apparently they did.
I received a message, last year, about a young man (the son of a friend) who was diagnosed with leukemia. He was told he probably had a very short time to live. But they began chemotherapy, and six weeks later, he was in remission. Did he still have leukemia? Yes! Would he live, though? It was possible, but there were no promises.
But his comment was that, “I guess it took something like this to bring me back to the things that are important. But it may take some time, because I’d gotten so far away!” He saw life differently because of that trial, and chose to allow his disease to drive him closer to God, rather than railing against God, and becoming bitter. As a matter of fact, a few months later, the disease came back with a vengeance, and killed him. But, for the few months he had left, his life was transformed and both he and his family were at peace.
Sometimes hardships are just to equip us so that we can be a comfort to others who are in similar trials. 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11 gives a number of very positive reasons why we might endure hardships. Seven are easy to see, as they are spelled out for us:
3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; 4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. 6 And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. 7 And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. 8 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: 9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: 10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.
Thus, when the trial (whatever it is) is not a “luring away to do evil”, we are to accept it as a trial in which we can rejoice, because we are “on God’s team,” and He is giving us a workout.
Temptation to Sin
13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. 16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.
This is the other type of testing…and it is not from God. We are told that the believer has three great enemies in this life:
- The World (The system of government, business, values and thinking that is common to unbelievers.)
- The Flesh (The old sin nature…usually called “the flesh” in scripture, but not meaning the physical body.)
- The Devil (Yes, this is the person called Satan. He is not a mythological creature, but a real enemy, with deadly intent toward us.
Any of these three enemies can be the source of such “luring away to do evil.” Our old sin nature is in full agreement with the other enemies, and is the “enemy within the gate”, so to speak.
The World around us will offer us the fruits of immorality, or the immoral acts themselves, and the people act very friendly, accepting and accommodating when making the offer. Bear in mind that the specific plan by which the Moabites and the Midianites attempted to destroy Israel was to send their most beautiful women to invite the Israelite men to feasts…which turned out to be idolatrous worship-feasts to the heathen Gods of Moab and Midian. They hoped to corrupt Israel, and bring down the judgment of God upon them. And, in a way, it worked: thousands of Jews died in the resulting judgment from God, and the Moabites were cursed, as well. Balaam, the traitorous prophet, who had counseled them to corrupt Israel, was killed along with the Midianites who died in the fight. (Numbers 31:8, 16) People want you to join them in their sin. (“Come on! Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it! Everybody does it!”) The World is not “a friend to Grace,” the old hymn reminds us. And joining them in their sin will still not earn their friendship.
The Flesh, Our old Sin Nature, often called “the old man”, or the “carnal mind,” and sometimes “the heart”, is in full agreement with the other two enemies. It joins in the attempt to deceive and corrupt us. The only way to be sure that we are not being deceived by our sinful heart, is to continually, daily, submit our thinking to God’s thoughts, as recorded in His Written Word, so that we can recognize falsehood, and reject it; recognize temptation to sin and reject it, recognize wrong patterns of thinking, and reject them..
The Devil, also calledSatan, is not omniscient, but he is well-versed and practiced in the art of deceit. He knows how to “get to us”, so that we will say “Oh, follow your heart! You deserve to be happy!” and so fall prey to his snares. What do we know, from God’s Word, about the heart? (Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”) God says that our heart is THE most likely thing to deceive us. So where will Satan most likely strike? He will offer us our “heart’s desire.”
This is why James begs his readers, “Do not err, my beloved brethren!” It is so easy to fall prey to such a deadly and invisible enemy. The only place a sheep can be safe is when it is close to the Shepherd. We need to learn to walk with Jesus, the Great Shepherd.
So, then, when the temptation is a “luring away to do evil”… when it is temptation to sin, how are we to respond?
Defense against Temptation
There are several layers of defense: The first is not one we would choose in the flesh: We find it in 1st Timothy 6:11 “But thou, O man of God, flee these things!” If there is a way to turn away from the temptation, and get away from the lure, then do so. We are not to dwell on the evil, longing after it. Jesus said if a man looks at a woman to lust after her, he has already committed adultery in his heart! So, the outward failing is not the only issue. Desiring it, and not fleeing the temptation is the key issue.
Another one, obviously, is to have already memorized enough scripture to do as Jesus did, and answer with Scripture. When Satan attempted (Matthew 4) to coerce Jesus to go outside God’s direction for his life, Jesus answered with the written Word, and defended himself in that way. The scripture is referred to as the “Sword of the Spirit”…and a sword can be both an offensive and defensive weapon.
We need to remember that when an enemy is attacking, we are to respond as befits soldiers, since God says that we are soldiers: He has given us armor, and tells us what it is for:
Ephesians 6:10-18 outlines the armor of the Christian, paralleling the physical armor of the Roman soldiers of that age. He first reminds us that the “enemy” is not other humans, but rather the forces of spiritual wickedness; then he lists the armor. The first five are entirely based on God’s Word, and His trustworthiness; the last two require some work on our part, in order to be useful, and readily available:
begins with the Belt, possibly
because the other items were hung from and depended upon that belt: He says we
are to “stand fast”, having our loins
girt about with truth. Everything depends upon the truth of God’s Word. If
I am convinced of the truth of God’s Word, I have a good start toward a proper
defense against the attack of the enemy. I need to believe God more than I
believe anyone or anything else.
the Breastplate of Righteousness,
which is entirely dependent upon the truth of God’s Word…not our
actions. The only righteousness, here, is the righteousness of Christ…not
our own good works! (2nd
Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9) His righteousness, not ours, guards
our hearts and our lives.
- The Shoes…the secure footing offered by
the preparation of the Gospel of Peace.
This is the only place this phrase is used. He did not say “the Gospel of
Christ”, or any of the other phrases regarding the Gospel of Salvation. He means
the “good news” that we have eternal peace with
God (Romans 5:1), and the
fact that God is eternally backing us. God is not angry at the church.
Being confident in our relationship with God gives us the courage to face the
enemy, and a solid footing from which to fight.
- The Shield of Faith, with which we are to
“quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.” This is easy to forget: I can
become solidly entrenched in good doctrine, know I’m saved, absolutely believe
the Bible is God’s written Word, but completely forget the critical issue
of a faith-based relationship
with God. Don’t forget the shield! He says, “Above all, taking the
shield of faith…” We walk by faith, not by sight! (2nd Corinthians 5:7)
- The Helmet of Salvation protects your head;
your mind: If you are not convinced, in your own mind, that God’s promise of
eternal life is good, then you will spend all your energy worrying whether you
are good enough, whether all your sins are really forgiven, etc., and you will
become entangled in the notion that your salvation is ultimately secured by your
good works, not God’s Eternal Grace, and His Eternal sacrifice for you at the
Cross. This is critical to your thinking, your confidence and your joy. You
need to know you are saved, by the promises of God, not just “hope so.”
- The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.
This one takes some work: reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on it,
in order to have it within easy grasp, and ready to use as an offensive or
defensive weapon. If you are not really familiar with God’s Word,
then He cannot bring it to your mind to defend you against doctrinal attacks;
nor can you use it effectively in evangelism. Sharpen your sword by improving
your knowledge and understanding of God’s Word.
- Finally, Prayer is our link to God himself: our line of communication. By it, we are commanded to call for help for one another as well as ourselves: Even the Apostle Paul asked for Prayer on his behalf. Notice that he prayed for boldness to preach…not comfort or safety. It is instructive, to take note of the things for which Jesus and the Apostles prayed. Somehow their prayer list looks quite different from ours, as a rule. Prayer also takes time and practice, in order to be confident and effective.
We are told to labor in prayer, and to labor in the Word and doctrine. Prayer and Bible Study are critical in Christian service, as without them we will not only be ineffectual, but misguided, as well.
We can see, then, that trials and temptations are of two different types:
- The kind that makes us strong, because it is from God, and
- The kind that seeks to corrupt or destroy us, because it is from the enemies of our soul.
How you respond to any of these trials will determine the end result. You will either come out with joy, knowing that you have handled things well, or in shame, knowing you failed to respond appropriately. Neither result affects your standing with God. If you have been born anew as His child, God will never cast you away. But failing to walk with Him and to respond well to testing will definitely affect your happiness and peace.
Lord Jesus, help us to embrace the reality of our lives, knowing that the trials are part of your plan for our benefit. Help us to glorify you by our actions.