The Trials of the Faith
July 28th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
THE TRIALS OF THE FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-28-74 8:15 a.m.
On the radio we are welcoming you sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. We welcome you and are glad that we can share this hour with you. The title of the sermon is The Trials of the Faith, and this is the pastor bringing the message, the second one from the Epistle of James.
After he introduces himself as a slave of Jesus Christ, and after he addresses the twelve tribes of the Diaspora, the Jews who were scattered among the nations of the world [James 1:1], then he begins his letter:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations;
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.
I would suppose from that, and it was confirmed in our study of last Sunday morning, that this is a pastor with a shepherd’s heart who is writing. “My brethren,” he looks upon them as friends in Christ, as members of the household of faith, and he is in purpose writing these words to encourage them in the Lord. “My brethren”; after all, is it not written on the sacred page, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ?” [Galatians 6:2]
We are admonished to do that, lest our brethren fall into despair. For you see, the Christian faith is always one of encouragement and uplift. There’s no such thing, it is unimaginable that a man with a shepherd heart, a servant of Christ, would ever see one in need, in trial, and not seek to help and to encourage, for that is the Christian faith; that we wipe the tears from the eyes of those who weep.
The Christian faith is not a dream of devils descending into the abyss, but it is a vision of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder that leans against the shining throne of God [Genesis 28:12]. We may sow in tears but we reap in joy [Psalm 126:5]. So the pastor begins, “My brethren” [James 1:2]. Then he uses a word we want to look at. “My brethren, my brothers and sisters in Jesus,” if I were writing it today, for it is generically used, including our men and our women, “My brothers and sisters in Jesus, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations” [John 1:2]. Let’s look at that word peirasmos. You will find it used, for example—it’s used many times—but we’re going to translate it exactly as it means.
In 1 Peter 4:12, the apostle writes, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial,” and there’s that word peirasmos, fiery trial, which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; peirasmos, “a fiery trial.” Just once again, in Acts 20:19, describing his ministry at Ephesus, the apostle writes, “Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and trials, which befell me by the lying in wait of the enemies of the gospel.” So it would be better, for “temptation” to us has a connotation of evil, so let’s translate peirasmos literally in its first meaning; a trial, a fiery trial. “My brothers and sisters in Jesus, rather than cringing, or lamenting, or weeping, or falling into despair over fiery trials” [1 Peter 4:12], then he writes his word of comfort [1 Peter 4:13-14]. But we’re going to stop there for just a moment. The fiery trial that always overwhelms the Christian, and none of us escapes; it’s a crucible in which all of us are cast. That is, it’s real.
This is no sham word, peirasmos. It’s an awesome reality. These brethren were ground between the upper and nether millstones of pagan religion and emperor persecution. They lived in the day of crucifixion, and the fagot, and the fire, and the sword. The amphitheater was consuming thousands of them. The watchword from one side of the empire to the other was, “The Christians to the lions!” The trial, the peirasmos was real.
We’re not talking about a strange day, either. In my study this week there came a man who lives in Munich, Germany, and who’s dedicated himself to getting Christian literature beyond the Iron Curtain. And I listened to him as he described for me the martyrdom, and the persecution, and the trials of God’s people in communist lands. It’s not a fake word. It’s awesomely real. And sometimes for us in our lives, though maybe not like that, yet the furnace is heated seven times hotter, and we’re thrown in to it. For you see, he says here that the trials are “divers” that is, diverse [James 1:2]. Not any one of us has the same trial as the other of us, but there are different trials, different kinds of heat, different kinds of furnaces.
It can be like Abraham whom God tried when He said to him, “Offer your only son, Isaac, by Sarah, offer him as a sacrifice on an altar; take his life, shed his blood, plunge the dagger into his heart” [Genesis 22:1-10]. Oh! and this was the child of promise! [Genesis 17:15-19]. A fiery trial could be like the Lord said to the rich young ruler, “Sell everything you have. Get rid of it. Your money stands between you and the kingdom. Give it away” [Luke 18:18-22]. Or it can be like the Lord said to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you like wheat . . . but when you are converted, strengthen your brethren” [Luke 22:31-32].
We don’t all have the same trial as a father, in Abraham, nor do we all have the same trial of the rich young ruler, nor would we all have the same trial of Simon Peter, who when Satan sifted him, denied his Lord [Luke 22:54-62]. The trials are divers, that is, they are diverse. They are different. You will have one of one kind, and you will have one of another kind, and you will have one of still another kind but we’ll all have them, all of us.
Another thing the pastor at the Jerusalem church says, he says that we “fall into them” [James 1:2], that is, they come unawares, and they come unannounced, unheralded. They come suddenly. Do you remember in the Old Testament, in the story of Job, the sheep were grazing in the pasture, and the sons and daughters were eating and drinking in the elder brother’s house, and the camels were in service, and there came a wind from the wilderness, and there came lightning fire from heaven, and there came the Sabeans from the desert. And they announced to Job the destruction of his cattle, and his herds, and his flocks, and the slaughter of his children, all of them dead, and the stealing away of the rest of his property [Job 1:13-19]. The trial comes suddenly and harshly, but it always comes.
Now the pastor writes, there’s a great purpose in what he says. Remember, he’s a pastor. He’s a Christian. He’s a shepherd. He’s an emissary of God, so he speaks words of encouragement and to health and strength. So he writes, “We are not to be discouraged or fall into lamentation over these fiery trials that overwhelm us, because,” he says, “it is the trying of your faith that worketh” [James 1:3], and let’s translate that word, hupomonē—hupomonē is literally this: “a bearing up under—so let’s just translate it the best way we can. Hupomonē is a bearing up under, so we could translate it “patience.” That’s the way it’s translated here, “fortitude, faithful commitment, holy endurance; hupomonē. “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh devout and holy virtues, in order that ye may be,” and let’s translate that word teleios. Here it is translated “perfect” [James 1:4], but to us perfection connotes in moral life and spiritual life freedom from sin, freedom from error.
No, it has no connotation of that at all. Teleios is “to reach the purpose for which God intended the object or the life or the man.” Like a man is a teleios of a boy. The purpose of the boy’s growing is that he might be a man. A great giant oak tree is the teleios of the acorn. It has reached its purpose, its maturity. Now that’s what the pastor says about our trials: “They worketh for us the hupomonē, the patient endurance and commitment, that we might reach that purpose for which God intended us” [James 1:3-4].
Now the remainder of the sermon will be looking at that. It is an unusual but magnificent thing in his encouragement that the pastor of the church at Jerusalem writes to us, that the trials we experience in life, so different among different ones of us but all of us having them. The trials we suffer in life all have a purpose of God to bring us to maturity, that we might attain the stature of the faith of our blessed Lord.
So, I would think first that this refers to our Christian growth. This refers to our maturing. This refers to our strengthening in the faith. You know when a man has muscles that are strong he develops those muscles by trial, by stress, by strain. He’ll pick up big weights or he’ll do many other exercises. That grows muscles. Same way in a man’s mind; his mind can become sharp and agile, brilliant, with study and intellectual academic dedication. It is no less so in our spiritual life. It is our striving in it. We think, “O Lord, these things that overwhelm us and these doubts and discouragements that nearly destroy us”; no, the pastor says they’re for our good. God is maturing us. He’s strengthening us in our souls.
I one time heard of a fellow who was watching a little butterfly trying to get out of a cocoon. And the little butterfly was struggling in the cocoon for liberty. And thinking to help he took his sharp pen knife and he slit the silk cocoon. And the little butterfly on the inside was liberated, but it flapped its wings feebly for a moment and then fell down in exhaustion and death. It needed the strength of striving in the cocoon to fly and to live in the world beyond.
You know it’s an unusual thing in the Bible—in the ark of the covenant, God’s covenant with His Ten Commandments, in the ark of the covenant there were laid two things, two great instruments of typology; one, the bowl of manna from the wilderness by which God fed and sustained His people, and by the side of the bowl of manna there was the rod that budded [Hebrews 9:4]. You see, the two go together, always; the manna that feeds us from God’s hands and the rod that disciplines and corrects us, no less from God’s hands. We need the food of the Lord, we need the rule of the Lord; both are necessary if we are to become mature Christians in His sight.
For the time, we have difficulty in our trials because we don’t many times understand the purpose of God in them. He sees but we don’t. He knows but we don’t. And the holy purpose to which He is leading is us clear to Him, but it is dimly shadowed to us, and we don’t understand. And that’s why we sometimes lament, and weep, and agonize before it.
Did you know there was a man whose little son was born with a badly deformed foot? And as the little lad grew, that deformity of his foot was a sad thing in the life of the little boy. So the father took the lad from doctor, to doctor, to doctor; finally, to surgeon, to surgeon, to surgeon. And the surgeons finally gave up. They could not help the little boy’s deformed foot.
You know what the father did? He studied, and he studied, and he studied. He studied every bone in the foot and its articulation. He studied every tendon and muscle and nerve. He studied, and he studied, and he studied. And upon a day, he made a strange looking box. And the box was filled with strange looking screws that ended with a felt washer.
And he took his little boy and put the little boy’s deformed foot in that strange looking box and tightened the screws. And the little boy cried, and the father tightened the screws. And when the father came in from the office in the evening he found his little boy in an agony! And the father tightened the screws! And day after day, and week after week, the father would come home from work and find his little boy in tears and in agony; and he would tighten the screws! And the father would weep with the boy as he tightened the screws. And after the passing of time, upon a day, the father loosened the screws, opened the box, and said to his son, “Son, stand up.” And for the first time the boy stood erect. And as the days passed, the lad gained strength in his foot, and he could walk straight, upright. That son became a man. And over the grave of his father he wept tears of gratitude for what his father had done.
My brothers and sisters in Jesus, maybe that father tightened the screw just one turn too much once in a while, but our heavenly Father never does. He never has. It’s a crucible and God has in it a holy purpose, a blessed one, a good one. So the apostle writes: “My brothers and sisters in Jesus, count it joy when you fall into the crucible; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh hupomonē, patient endurance…” that we might become teleios, mature, the purpose reached for which God hath made us [James 1:2-4].
I have a moment longer. Let me speak of some of the things, some of these virtues that come to us in our trial. Here’s one. In the Christian faith I learned not to fight against it. I learned to be yielded and submissive. To war against a providence of God is like fighting against the Almighty Himself. He is so sovereign, and He is so elective.
What God chooses for me, shall I not accept it as being the best for me? This is God’s gift from His gracious hands. So I will not seethe on the inside and be filled with resentment in my soul. No, I shall learn to live the triumphant life in the Lord; to bless when I’m cursed, to be gracious when I am spitefully used.
Oh how do you do that? Not to return evil for evil or violent word for cursing, but to bear whatever the providence is, in humility, in Christian forbearance and fortitude and to learn to be grateful in it, thankful for it.
When I was in Africa, one of those Africans stood up and said, “I thank God I’m a leper.” Then he explained, “When I was well I worshiped heathen gods and was lost. I became a leper and was brought to this clan settlement, and here in this clan settlement,” what you’d call a leper colony, “in this clan settlement I heard about Jesus and I found the Lord”: to be grateful for the providences that God hath set upon us.
You see—and with this I must close—you see, there are things that a man can look at and understand from a mount of difficulty, and interdiction, and sorrow, and trial that he could never see, and never understand, and never know from any other point of vantage. Look, when Moses, as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and the heir apparent to the throne [Hebrews 11:24-27], when Moses sat as a young man in Pharaoh’s palace, what did he see? Well, I can just imagine and you can too, all the luxury of palatial life, all of the wealth of high living, all of the feelings of sovereignty and rulership. I can just imagine all those things in the heart of Moses. As a young man he lived next to the throne in Pharaoh’s palace [Exodus 2:5-10, Hebrews 11:24-27]. But I want you to go with me and look at Moses on Mt. Nebo. After the wandering of the trials in the wilderness for forty years [Acts 13:17-19], God has brought him to Nebo before He leaves him in a sepulcher unmarked in the valley of Bethpeor [Deuteronomy 34:5-6].
Tell me, what did he see? The Book says that on top of Mt. Nebo God showed him the Promised Land, the Promised Land [Deuteronomy 34:1-4]. He never saw that in Pharaoh’s palace, nor would he ever have known it in its beauty and in its glory had he remained the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
It is thus with us. It is not in our ease, and in our luxuriance, and in our affluence. It is not in these soft relaxations that we come to know the glory of God. We see them and we’re introduced to them in the days of trial, peirasmos, when God is strengthening us, testing us, maturing us in the faith [James 1:2-4].
So blessed Jesus, may it be that I can thus be numbered among those to whom the pastor is writing; who counts it joy, joy, when the day of trial and affliction comes? [James 1:2]. This is what it is to be a Christian.
In this moment now when we sing our hymn of appeal, to give your heart to the blessed Jesus, to open your soul heavenward and God-ward, to put your life in the circle of this dear church, to come by a family, all of you coming, “Pastor, my wife, my children, we all are coming,” or just a couple, or just you, make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment, when we stand to sing, stand coming down that stairway or walking down this aisle. Make it now. Do it now. Answer with your life now. See if angels do not attend you in the way, while you come and while we stand.