Seven Tests of Faith
August 18th, 1974 @ 10:50 AM
THE SEVEN TESTS OF FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-18-74 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on our television, five states of you, we welcome you to share with us the glory and gratitude and praise of this holy service. You are with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message from the Book of James entitled The Seven Trials of Faith. We are preaching now through the Book of James, and we have just been introduced to him in the previous messages, two of them.
He is the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, and he is the great towering personality of the first Christian century. We do not see that today, just reading the Bible, but had we lived in that day the horizon to horizon spirit in the world of the Christian faith was James, the Lord’s brother [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3], who pastored the church in Jerusalem [Acts 15:13-21; Galatians 2:12].
Now what we are going to do today is we are going to look through the whole five chapters of the book, and we are going to do it in a certain way. We are going to see how he writes what he says to us, and we are shaping it under the form of the seven tests of faith.
James was a pastor. So we expect and find it so that he writes pragmatically, experientially. He does not write theologically; He is not a metaphysician. He is not a philosopher, but he is a pastor of the church, and as such he will write about our common everyday life. So he starts off, “My brethren,” he is a pastor, “My brethren,” generically, “My brothers and sisters, count it all joy when you fall into divers,” and you have that word translated here “temptations” [James 1:2], but “temptation” to us always carries an overtone of an invitation to evil, and it has no meaning like that here. The word peirasmos, peirasmos, means “to be tried, to be tested.” Let me show you that in the Bible.
In the story of the feeding of the five thousand [John 6:1-13], as John records it in the sixth chapter of his Gospel, he says, “When Jesus lifted up His eyes, and saw a great multitude, He saith to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” Now John makes a side remark: “This Jesus said to peirasmos Philip, for He Himself knew what He would do” [John 6:5-6]. Now you have the word peirasmos here translated, “This He said to prove him, to test him, to try him” [John 6:6]. Now that’s the way the word is used here, not with an invitation to evil, not our “temptation,” but peirasmos, “trial, test.”
Let me give you an illustration of that last night. Last night, some of our people went out to the Texas Stadium to see the Cowboys play the Houston Oilers. And what you saw out there was a gesture toward real football. The coach sent in player, after player, after player. He was peirasmos. He was trying them. He was proving them. He was testing them. He has a large group of rookies on his team, and he has to find out what they’re made of and what they can do. Now that’s peirasmos, the word here, trying them, testing them, proving them.
Yesterday, one of our staff members received his Doctor of Philosophy degree. John Shanks, our business administrator, is now Dr. John Shanks. At North Texas University they conferred the doctor’s degree upon him. But before they did it, he had to go up there and stand a test. He had an oral examination, a peirasmos. One of my staff members here is Brother Peacock, who heads our ministry to adults. He received yesterday his master’s degree in gerontology. And he had to stand an examination before they conferred upon him that master’s degree.
That’s the word here. And he says, “My brothers and sisters, count it all joy when you fall into all kinds of trials, tests, proving you, for in the trying of your faith you are brought into hupomonē, the bearing up under” [James 1:2-4], you’d call it steadfastness and commitment.
Then he begins, “Our weakness lies in our lack of wisdom. And if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, and God will not upbraid us, find fault with us; He gives to us aboundingly, liberally” [James 1:5]. In most any trial or test we need heavenly direction and God’s wisdom. Ask, and God will not fault you for asking, but He will abundantly and gloriously answer.
Then he says, “Our tests, our trials, are twofold. Sometimes they are,” in verse 9, “they are full of pleasure [James 1:9]. Sometimes,” in verse 10, “they are full of pain [James 1:10]. Sometimes,” in verse 9, “they come of poverty. Sometimes,” in verse 10, “they come of prosperity.” But we never escape the trial [James 1:9-10].
You know, that’s a strange thing. You would think that a man who had riches and success or fame or affluence, he’d have no trial. Not so, the man who is successful, who is famous, who is rich, is tried just as much, though in a different way as the man who lives in penury and in want. But he says, “Blessed is the man that endureth the trial: for when he is,” and here it is translated “tried,” “for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him” [James 1:12].
So having introduced it now as a pastor of the church, he’s going to speak to us about our everyday life and the trials that we face in it. And I’ve picked out seven of them going through the five chapters.
Our first trial is our attitude toward the word of God. Beginning at verse 19 and through the rest of the first chapter, he talks about that attitude toward God’s word. “Wherefore,” he saith, “my beloved brethren,” he’s a pastor, “my brothers and sisters in Jesus, be swift to hear.” Then he says, “With meekness receive the engrafted, emphutos, engrafted, implanted, the word that we have been taught and the word that we have heard preached, with meekness, hear it, receive it, for it is able to save your souls” [James 1:19-21].
Then he speaks of the doing of the word: “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. A doer of the work shall be blessed indeed” [James 1:22-25]. So our first test lies in hearing and doing the word of God. First, hearing it; that is the beginning of the Christian life [James 1:19]. No man ever comes into the salvation of our Lord without the spoken word. Simon Peter said, “We are born again by the word of God” [1 Peter 1:23]. In the [eighteenth] verse of this first chapter, James says, “He begets us by the word of God” [James 1:18]. Paul wrote in the tenth chapter of Romans, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God” [Romans 10:17]. It is a gift from heaven to hear unto the salvation of our souls. You know, men can come to the service and hear and hear and hear and one day they hear! They see and see and see, then one day they really see! This is the beginning of the faith: hearing the word of God [James 1:19].
Then, doing it, he gives an illustration here and an unusual one. “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, for,” he says, “a man who hears and does not do, that man,” he says, “is as one who looks in a mirror and sees himself, but does nothing about it, just goes away and forgets what he looked at when he saw himself in the mirror” [James 1:22-24]. He likens the word of God to the truth that a mirror will reflect. A mirror doesn’t lie to you. It reflects you just exactly as you are. And the word of God does that for us. We see ourselves exactly in the word of the Lord. And he says seeing ourselves, if we don’t do anything about it, it’s like the man who looks in the mirror and he sees what he ought to do, but he doesn’t do it. He just goes on and forgets about it.
He looks in the mirror and he ought to shave, but he doesn’t shave. He looks in the mirror and he needs a haircut, but he doesn’t cut his hair. I’ve been gone two weeks. I looked in the mirror this morning. I’ve got to go to the barbershop. Or, the man’s face is dirty, but he doesn’t wash his face.
There were two boys and one said to other, “I know what you had for breakfast this morning.” And the boy said, “What?” And the fellow said, “You had eggs for breakfast this morning. I see it on your face.” And the boy said, “Why, I did not. That’s what I had morning before last.” He uses that illustration here about the word of God. It’s a true picture of us we find in it, and looking at it, then if we do something about it, “Indeed,” he says, “blessed is that man” [James 1:25].
Now the second test he writes of is our attitude toward God’s people. So he starts off, as a pastor:
My brethren, my brothers and sisters in Jesus, have not faith with respect to persons.
For if there come into your assembly a poor man, and you place him in a menial place, and there comes in a rich man and you exalt him in the chief seat, he says, Do you not have respect of persons?
And he says in the ninth verse, “That is sin, that is sin” [James 2:9]. It is not right in God’s house for us to have respect of persons as between the poor and the rich or the known and the unknown. There is one place, James says, where all of us are alike and equal before God, sinners alike, needing saving alike, whether we’re successful or unsuccessful, whether we’re rich or poor, whether we’re learned or unlearned [James 2:1, 9].
Did you know, almost all of God’s people are ordinary people, common people? In the Book of the gospel it says, “And the common people heard Him gladly” [Mark 12:37]. In the first chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul says, “Look around you, not many mighty are saved” [1 Corinthians 1:26]. God’s people always, for the most part, are just plain ordinary people. I’ll tell you something else. I have never been in an assembly of preachers, like an evangelistic conference, like our conventions, our convocations; practically all of your preachers, practically all of them come out of poor and humble homes. A preacher that comes out of a rich and affluent home is as scarce as a hen’s tooth. Practically all of them, all of them, come out of poor and humble homes.
And for us to say, “They’re not important”… “No,” says the pastor. “That’s not right. They are important. They’re souls for whom Jesus died” [John 3:16]. And whether they’re poor or not makes no difference in God’s sight. Practically all of this world is poor. About half of it lives on the verge of starvation, every day. And for us to have compassion, and love, and sympathy, and understanding for those who may not be as prosperous and as well off as some of us, for us to have that feeling of love and open-hearted understanding is pleasing to God [James 2:1-4].
His third test: our attitude toward God’s work. “What doth it profit,” he says, “my brethren,” always the pastor, “My brothers and sisters in Jesus, what doth it profit, though a man say he has faith, but he does not have any works? can that kind of faith save him?” [James 2:14] No, no, for when a man is saved, when there is faith in him, he’s a different kind of a man. It’s seen in all of the facets of his life. It’s in everything about him. He’s somebody else. He’s a man of faith. He’s a man of the Lord. And if there’s not any change, then the man hasn’t found the Lord.
Sam Jones was a Southern preacher of the last century, a tremendously effective one. And being an evangelist he went from place to place holding revival services. So he was walking down the street one day, and there was a drunk in the gutter. And a fellow walked by and said, “Come here, Sam, I want you to look.” And Sam Jones looked down there in the gutter and there was a drunk. And the man said to Sam Jones, “Sam, that’s one of your converts.” And Sam said, “That’s right, he looks like one of mine. God had nothing to do with him.” Now that’s so true.
“If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; all things are become new” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. A new heart, a new love, a new vision, a new dream, a new house, a new home, a new heart, a new life, a new fellowship; if a man has faith it will reflect itself in the kind of a life that he is and the kind of deeds that he does.
Now number four: the test of our talk, of our tongue, of our word. He says the tongue is a very dynamic, and meaningful, and significant instrument. And he gives illustrations of it in the third chapter. He says, “The tongue, though it is very little, is like the bit in a horse’s mouth: the big horse but a little bit can just turn him anywhere” [James 3:3].
He says the tongue is like the rudder on a ship, a great ship, but guided by so small a rudder [James 3:4]. He says the tongue is like a fire, “And what great matter just a little fire kindleth!” [James 3:5-6] And he says the tongue is like an animal untamed. You can tame almost any kind of animal, and he names it here, but the tongue is hard for a man to tame [James 3:7-8]. It is something that God can do.
Then he says, “This tongue is the instrument with which we bless and praise God and is also an instrument that some men use to curse men.” And he says, “My brethren, this ought not to be; for out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing” [James 3:9-10]. Now isn’t that a very pragmatic, down-to-earth thing in which all of us share? “Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” [James 3:5]; just a match of it. You know, gossip sometimes is like that. Just say a word. Just make a comment. “Did you know?” and then assassinate someone’s character and sometimes ruin someone’s life. “Oh,” says James, “that is impossible and unimaginable in the life of the Christian!”
He says, “How great a matter sometimes just a little fire kindleth” [James 3:5]. I drove one time through Montana, one of the great national forests. And from side to side it had burned to the ground. It was a vast wilderness of waste. And I asked the ranger what the destruction, the catastrophe was; and he said, “The flicking of a cigarette set it afire and destroyed that whole great forest.”
Oh, what our little words sometimes can do! And he says, “We sometimes instead of blessing God with our tongue, our words, sometimes we curse with those words.” Oh, and he says, “The same mouth can be used to praise God or to curse” [James 3:9-10].
You know, when I was pastor in just a little country church, each man in the assembly counted for so much. There were just say, half a dozen of them. And one of those men I could never get to pray. Call on him, he’d always refuse. I ate dinner in his home, and he didn’t say grace at the table. Well, being very young, and foolish, and falling into places that even angels would not dare to enter, I asked him why. You know what he said was this. He said, “When I get angry, I am volatile in my spirit, and I curse!” He says, “When my team, when I’m plowing, doesn’t do as I want them to do, I curse them.” And he says, “My boy hears me curse.” And he says, “When you ask me to pray in public in the church, my boy is there, and I’m ashamed.” And he says, “When we eat dinner at the table, I don’t say grace because my boy is there, and he hears me curse; and I am ashamed.” I thought, “How sad that is, how sad that the tongue that could praise God uses His name in vain and curses!”
Did you know, there is a great leader in America, and did you know, I think his loss of respect on the part of the great mass of the American people was when they learned how he talked when the world was not listening? Oh, it was sad and hurt your heart to know it!
James says such a thing ought never to be. When a man speaks, he says here: let his yea be yea and his nay, nay, and never curse [James 5:12]. Cursing, profanity is a sign of mental and moral weakness. If I look at a chimney and it is propped up, I know that the chimney is weak. If I see a wall and it is propped up, I know that the wall is weak. So when a man speaks and he curses, I know that his speech and his thought and his heart are morally and intellectually weak. No, says James, no, let your tongue be one of forthright honesty and integrity, and use it, the language, the nomenclature, the vocabulary, the syllables and the sentence, to praise God and to bless men [James 3:1-18].
His fifth test is one of friendship with the world. “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? And who would be a friend to the world is an enemy of God?” [James 4:4] What a strange and strong statement that is. But he’s a pastor, and I understand.
In the last chapter of the last letter that the apostle Paul wrote, he said to his son in the ministry, Timothy, he says, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” [2 Timothy 4:10]. Oh, as a pastor, how many times have I grieved over that? Here’s a fine family. Here’s a dear couple. Here’s a fine somebody, and the world woos them away. They love the fashion of it, and the entertainment of it, and the appearance of it, and the invitation of it. It isn’t long until the world is in their heart, and they’re lost to God [James 4:4].
The sixth is our attitude toward our secular work and our secular life:
Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we are going into such a city, we are going to continue there, and buy there, and trade there, and sell there, and get game there:
Whereas you do not know what the morrow may bring.
But always you ought to say, In God’s goodness and grace I will do this and this, having laid it before the Lord.
Oh how fine is the man who will remember the word of the Lord Jesus in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, where God says to him, “Occupy till I come!” [Luke 19:13] What I have, whatever I could gain is mine just for a while. Then I leave it, and somebody else enters into it and possesses it. I am an oikonomia. I am a steward, that’s all. And my oikonomios is what God places in my hands, and I’m to be faithful in it. I’m to be a partner with the Lord in it.
Think of the men, some of them heading great corporations, some of them great national figures, think of those men had they just taken God as a partner, and before they made a decision, ask the partner about it. Before they accepted a bribe or were involved in so many of the things that destroy corporations and integrity, think of what, “God as my partner—before we do this, I must talk to my partner.” Think what a blessing it would be if a man would take God into his secular life.
I think the Lord’s interested in what you’re doing. Ask Him. Pray about it. You have a decision to make. Ask your partner. You have a commitment to make. Ask Him. You have an investment to make. Ask Him. You have a work that’s possible. Ask God. See what God does.
And the last: our attitude toward prayer:
Is there any among you afflicted?
Is there any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
Look, what do we do when we’re sick? James says we’re to pray and to use means. Both of them, praying and using the oil [James 5:14].
You know the Bible always does that, never a deviation from that. In the parable that Jesus told of the good Samaritan; that poor man who had been robbed and left for dead, and the priest passed by and the Levite passed by, and the Good Samaritan came by, and he bound up his wounds, pouring in wine and oil [Luke 10:30-35]. The alcohol was an anesthetic and an antiseptic, and the oil was a healing balm; always that, prayer and means; prayer here, and the anointing oil, prayer and means [James 5:14]. Not prayer; prayer and means, both of them.
That’s why I believe in our Baylor Hospital. And that’s why I believe in our beloved physicians, and our pharmacists, and all of these things that God has given. Who made penicillin? God did. Who gave us these healing chemicals and drugs? God did. And who gave us the mind to ferret them out and to use them? God did.
And whenever you see a faith healer, tell him, “Come and see the pastor, because the pastor would like to take you up and down the halls of Baylor Hospital. That’s where you ought to be. You say you can heal, you go out there, that’s where the sick people are. Heal them, let’s see you do it.”
Why wouldn’t he do it? Because way down underneath he knows he’s a charlatan. He knows he’s a fake. He knows it way down underneath, but he makes money on it, lots of money, lots of money. He makes money off of the illnesses of the people. God said, “Pray and use means” [James 5:14]. Pray and then ask God to give wisdom to the doctor; both of them. That pleases the Lord.
And he says, “Not only prayer for the sick, but prayer for the sinner. Let him know, that he that converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” [James 5:20]. Our attitude toward prayer; when I’m sick, take it to God. And to have a Christian physician is a benediction. Pray for the sick and pray for the lost.
One time, a young doctor stood up who’d just been converted. And he said to the people, he said, “I was saved by the words of the preacher.” “Faith cometh by hearing” [Romans 10:17]. He said, “I was saved by the words of the preacher, the sermon of the preacher, and,” and he made a gesture toward the senior doctor in the clinic, “and I was saved by the prayers of this good doctor.” Isn’t that just marvelous? “I was saved,” said the young physician, “I was saved by the message of the pastor and by the prayers of this good doctor.” That’s how God blesses His people. We try, we pray, and God adds His benedictory remembrance.
Our time is spent. In a moment we shall stand and sing our invitation hymn, and while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you, down one of these stairways if you’re in the balcony, into the aisle and to the front if you’re on this vast lower floor: “Today, pastor, I have decided for God and here I am.” Make the decision now in your heart, and when you stand up, stand up coming down that stairway or walking down that aisle. “I’ve decided, pastor, and here I am. I’m coming now.” Do it, angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
TESTS OF FAITH
a pastor – he writes pragmatically, experientially
– “to be tried, to be tested”(James 1:2, John
– “steadfastness, commitment”
most any trial or test we need heavenly direction, wisdom (James 1:5)
Our tests and trials are twofold – sometimes full of pleasure or pain;
sometimes of poverty orprosperity(James 1:9-10)
one who endures the trial receives the crown of life (James 1:12)
II. Our attitude toward the Word of God
and doing the Word(James 1:19-25, 1 Peter 1:23,
Word of God likened to the truth that a mirror will reflect (James 1:22-24)
III. Our attitude toward God’s people
right to have respect of persons as between rich and poor (James 2:1-4)
Almost all of God’s people are ordinary, common people (Mark 12:37, 1 Corinthians 1:26)
IV. Our attitude toward the work of God
faith without works save?(James 2:14)
a man has faith, it will reflect itself in his deeds(2 Corinthians 5:17)
V. The tongue
power of the tongue(James 3:3-8)
be used to bless God and curse men (James 3:9)
VI. Our relationship with the world(James 4:4-10, 2 Timothy 4:10)
VII. Our attitude toward secular work and
life(James 4:13-15, Luke 19:13)
VIII. Our attitude toward prayer
For the sick(James 5:13-16)
the lost (James 5:20)