“God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
Verse 12 is the encouraging conclusion to the tough topic of trials that James began in verse 2. James closes this section on times of testing with a promise for Christians who are facing the challenges that come from difficult trials by reminding them of God’s rewards for those who remain faithful. Scripture makes it clear that the promised blessings are not based on our backgrounds or socioeconomic status, but rather have to do with our faithfulness to the Father. James tells us that this reward is three fold. For those who remain faithful the first reward is:
Though going through trials may not be a blessing, verse 12 teaches us that enduring trials does brings blessing. God blesses those who persevere under pressure. The word blessed means “fortunate,” and speaks to an inner quality of joy, contentment in the midst of challenging circumstances. This blessing is a joy that the world cannot steal because it is a joy that is found in the depths of your heart. Joy is not based on your circumstances it is based on Christ. Circumstances change but Christ is the corner stone. Joy is a choice; you can focus on Jesus or the junk. You have a choice in this life, you can allow yourself to be miserable, or you can choose Christ in the midst of the challenges and face life with joy. Our joy flows from our relationship with the Redeemer and results in us faithfully following Him. Not just in the good times but also in the trying times. Inner blessedness is the result of faithfully following Jesus even through the trials and tribulations of life. Trials will come to the Christian but it doesn’t mean that we are not blessed. There is a story told about a young Christian that worked for a rich man who told his boss that satan was constantly battling him, and desired to beat him. His boss laughed and made fun of him, saying that satan never bothered him. How was it, that the devil should bother the boy but not his boss? He would ask. But the poor young Christian could not answer him. One day however, they went hunting together. The boss shot at some wild ducks. Some he killed and some he just wounded. “Run and catch the wounded ones first before they run away,” he told the boy. The young Christian came back smiling for now he had the answer to the bosses big question. “You know sir,” he said, “why satan does not tempt you? Because, you are dead to God, just like those ducks. He goes after the live ones, ones like me.” As my mother would often say, “If you are not being tempted there is a good chance you’re already doing what the devil wants you to, and he has no need to bother you. James proclaims that the blessed man is the one who steadfastly endures trials and temptations and has stood the test. The word persevere here comes from two Greek words. The first means “to remain” and the second means “under.” To persevere means, “to remain under.” The connotation is the one who perseveres under pressure, who remains under trials and doesn’t crack. What James is pointing to is the fruit of faithfulness. Perseverance is standing steadfastly in the midst of trial. How do we face the tough trials of this life, by focusing on Jesus. We face trials by faith. God’s plan is to bring us to the place where we patiently wait upon Him to do His work in us and through us. Trials while not fun can be very fruitful, something a blacksmith came to realize. About eight years after he had given his life to the Lord he was approached by an observant but unsaved man who had a challenging question: “why is it you have so much trouble? I have been watching you. Since you joined the church and began to faithfully follow God you have had twice as many trials and difficulties as you had before. I thought that when a man gave himself to God his troubles would be over. With a thoughtful but smiling face, the blacksmith replied: “Do you see this piece of iron? It is for the springs of a carriage. I have been ‘tempering’ it to soften the hardened steel for some time. It gains elasticity through adding or absorbing carbon. I do this by heating it red-hot, and then plunge it into a tub of ice-cold water. This hot to cold process must be done many times. If I find it taking ‘temper,’ I heat and hammer it unmercifully. In trying to get the right piece of iron I found several that were too brittle. So I threw them in the scrap-pile. While those scraps are worth very little, this carriage spring is very valuable. He went on to explain that God saves us for something more than to have a good time, He saved us for service. Just as I want this piece of iron to be more than just a scrap of metal so He too wants to tune me for His service. To do that He often has to temper us in the fiery forge of trials. Ever since I understood this I have been saying to Him. “Test me in any way you choose Lord, so that I become useful for service and not for the scrap pile.” The point here is not the mere experience of trials, for that does not necessarily bring about blessedness. The truth is that many come out of their difficulties not softened, or tempered but hardened and brittle. Instead of blessing there is only bitterness. In the 1996 summer Olympics, sprinter Michael Johnson set records in the 200-meter and 400-meter races, shattering his own world record by a staggering margin. To do so he had trained for some ten years to cut a mere second or two from his time. In Slaying the Dragon he writes: Success is found in much smaller portions than most people realize. A hundredth of a second here or sometimes a tenth there can determine the fastest man in the world. At times we live our lives on a paper-thin-edge that barely separates greatness from mediocrity and success from failure. Life is often compared to a marathon, but I think it is more like being a sprinter: long stretches of hard work punctuated by brief moments in which we are given the opportunity to perform at our best. The reality is that the Christian life also resembles the life of a sprinter, long stretches of obedience and spiritual disciplines punctuated by great tests in which God gives us the opportunity to choose His eternal best. What about you are you focused on the trial or on the treasure hidden within the trial?