“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4
I’m mainly a coffee drinker, but once in while I hanker for a nice, hot tea. It takes me back to times in the UK. Tea demands adherence to certain rules, for which I refer you to George Orwell’s definitive article, “A Nice Cup of Tea.” Among his eleven rules for a proper tea is number 6: “One should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about.” The water must be boiling, or the tea will be weak and weak tea is an affront to good taste. Now, let it steep for a minute and we’ll come back to it.
Suffering is an inescapable reality for Christians. Jesus told His disciples, “In the world you have tribulation” (Jn. 16:33). We’re to expect it, not fear it. We’re to be ready for it when it comes. He also explained to His followers, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (Jn. 15:19). There it is, the reason that Christians can never really be comfortable in the world is because the world hates Jesus.
I turned on the news one evening a few years back and saw the picture of a former colleague who’d been murdered solely because she loved Jesus and was sharing His grace in a country where His name wasn’t welcome. For five years, I’d see her every day in the office where I’d worked. She was an intelligent, godly woman, and a good friend. She used to play Darlene Zschech’s song, “Shout to the Lord” on the piano. Even now, it’s hard to listen to the song because of her memory. Still, her love for Christ and her resolve to serve Him with her life reminds me of the source of a Christian’s joy.
Christ’s joy is a matter of perspective. The command to count trials and temptations as joy leads us to adopt Christ’s perspective on suffering: to know that God is in control and has a purpose for everything He does – whether we know what it is or not.
James wrote to people who suffered specifically because of their faith in Christ. He reminded them that God had a purpose, even for their troubles: “the testing of your faith produces endurance” (v. 3). Preachers who peddle personal happiness as a gospel goal overlook the fact that suffering serves the divine purpose of conforming us to Christ: “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Meanwhile, back at the tea kettle, boiling the water extracts the full flavor of the tea leaves, and that’s the whole point. God takes His people through difficulties, not to learn what we’re made of or to see what we’ll do, but to work in us His grace in ways we’ve never known before. New Christians sometimes have romantic, and erroneous, ideas of God, Christ, and self. Seasoned believers, who’ve been in the trenches a while, trade the fantastic visions for a deeper, more settled understanding of God. One that makes much of Christ and forgets about self.
As we face trials in Christ, we grow in His grace. We see our own frailties and limitations in greater detail and learn to depend on Christ more explicitly. The more we learn to love and trust Christ, the more glorious we know Him to be, and that’s the whole point. Just as boiling water brings out the flavor of the tea, hardships reveal Christ in us more clearly.
“For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:15-16a).