Trials, Troubles, and Trust

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. James 1:9-18 ESV

So often, we judge the success of our lives based on the circumstantial evidence that surrounds us. If our lives are free from trouble and trials, then we assume that God is pleased with us. But should any kind of difficulty come our way, we jump to the opposite conclusion and assume that God is punishing us for something we have done or something we have failed to do.

But James has been encouraging us to see life through a different lens. We must learn to view our circumstances with the clarifying help of God’s wisdom. And James gives a few examples of what this looks like in real life. First, “the believer of humble means should take pride in his high position” (James 1:9 NLT). Notice who the referent is in this verse. It is a believer who just happens to be poor. But James declares that this individual actually enjoys a “high position” or standing because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. He is a child of God and an heir to the Kingdom of God. His lack of social standing is inconsequential when compared with his status as a royal subject of heaven.

In James’ day, the average person believed that poverty was a curse from God. To be poor was considered a sign of God’s displeasure and discipline. Wealth was considered a sign of blessing. If you were rich, you must have done something to please God and warrant His outpouring of physical blessings. But James puts that fallacy to rest by stating, “the rich person’s pride should be in his humiliation, because he will pass away like a wildflower in the meadow” (James 1:10 NLT).

In other words, the person of means should always maintain a healthy does of humility by remembering that his wealth is temporary. As the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you. At death, his 15 minutes of fame will come to an abrupt and unavoidable end. And James provides a very eloquent description of this inevitable outcome that every wealthy individual faces.   

For the sun rises with its heat and dries up the meadow; the petal of the flower falls off and its beauty is lost forever. So also the rich person in the midst of his pursuits will wither away. – James 1:11 NLT

This thought brings James back to his original charge: “consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials” (James 1:2 NLT). But now he adds a further point of clarification that encompasses the fate of every believer, whether they are poor or wealthy.

Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him. – James 1:12 NLT

It all goes back to the issue of the trials that God uses to test the spiritual condition of our lives. Trials are not punishments, but they serve as divine purifying agents that help to burn away the dross of sin that contaminates our lives. They help to purify and prepare God’s children for the future reward that awaits them: the crown of life that He has promised. Temporal wealth is not a sign of God’s blessing. Poverty is not evidence of His displeasure. And the presence of trials in the life of a believer is not an indication of God’s divine discipline. They should be viewed as instruments in the hands of a holy God who is lovingly purging the impurities and imperfections from the lives of those He loves. That is what led the apostle Paul to encourage the Corinthians to maintain a long-term, future-focused perspective regarding their present sufferings.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT

The apostle Peter shared Paul’s perspective and echoed his call for humility and faith in the midst of present difficulties.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. – 1 Peter 5:6-10 NLT

Notice that both of these men stress the future glory that awaits the children of God. That is where we should set our sights and focus our attention. The promises of God concerning our eternal heritage are intended to instill hope and produce endurance. The trials of this present age have a shelf life. They will come to an end. And we are to set our hopes on the glorious future that God has planned for us.

But James warns against confusing the tests that God brings into our lives with temptations. He has made it clear that trials are tests. They are intended to expose sin and lead to confession, purification, and further sanctification. But for some, the presence of an unwanted trial can result in sin rather than sanctification. We can become angry and lash out. We can allow the trial to produce envy, lust, and resentment. We may even find ourselves shaking our fists in the face of God and refusing to respond in repentance. Instead, we allow the trial to produce further sin and then blame God for our actions.

Yet James will not give us that out.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. – James 1:13 NLT

Trials are tests but not temptations. God would never encourage one of His children to sin.  Yet, the temptation to do so is always there. The Old Testament story of Job is a perfect example of a test that could have easily become a temptation. God had allowed Satan to test the righteousness of Job by inflicting him with a debilitating skin disease.

Satan left the LORD’s presence, and he struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot.

Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. – Job 2:7-8 NLT

In the midst of suffering from this horrible condition, Job’s wife confronted him with far-from-comforting words.

His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” – Job 2:9 NLT

At that point, Job faced a temptation. He could have listened to the counsel of his wife and blamed God for his unpleasant circumstances. But instead, he called out his wife for her foolish advice and declared his commitment to trust the will of God.

But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong. – Job 2:10 NLT

For Job, the source of his temptation was not God but his own wife. It was an external source. But James states that, more often than not, the temptation is an inside job.

each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. – James 1:14 NLT

It starts in the heart. Had Job not been a righteous man who had a love for God, he could have easily bought into his wife’s errant advice and lashed out at God for his devastating circumstances. Had his heart not been in the right place, Job could have made the wrong decision. And James points out the inevitable outcome of an impure heart that gives in to ungodly desires.

…when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. – James 1:15 NLT

We can’t blame God for our poor choices because, according to James, He is the giver of good gifts.

All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change. – James 1:17 NLT

God may test, but He never tempts. He doesn’t cause us to sin. What He does is give us the capacity to respond to the tests of life with faith that allows us to experience His life-transforming power that eventually leaves us “perfect and complete, not deficient in anything” (James 1:4 NLT).

God is not fickle or capricious. He doesn’t tease or tempt His children. But He does lovingly discipline them so that they might experience the full force of His sanctifying power in their lives. God is consistent and unchanging. His character doesn’t fluctuate and His sovereign plan for us remains unwavering and reliable.

By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. – James 1: 18 NLT

God preordained our salvation and He has planned out every aspect of our sanctification and future glorification. And no amount of trials can prevent God from completing what He has begun. This glorious promise is what prompted the apostle Paul to write:

…we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently). – Romans 8:23-25 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.