What You Need to Know About the Future #2 & #3

It’s really good to know the future is planned. Especially when you realise that the future is also looking quite painful, and that it might be painful for some time!

In our church we’re working through Daniel, and in the last post I tried to show how in Daniel chapter 8, God prepared his people for their future, so that they could live faithfully in their present and be prepared for the future they had to live through! It was, no doubt, super helpful for them to realise that God had their future all mapped-out, and it’s really good for us to have the same hope!

Today I want to show you how God forewarned his people that their future was going to be both painful and that the painful period would be prolonged.

Now that might not seem to be so helpful, but it’s much better to know the painful truth about what’s ahead than to live in a dreamworld, only to be woken up with a bump when reality strikes! As I mentioned last time, these same truths about the future that God revealed to his people in Daniel’s time, also apply to us as we look to our own future.

So here we go: Two more things God wants you to know about the future:

#2 The future is going to be painful (in a couple of ways)

1. The pain of war and turmoil.

What God predicted for Daniel (with the vision of the Ram and the Goat in Daniel 8:1-14) was effectively a future dominated by the wars of the world-powers in the Greater Middle East. For the Jews in his day, it was the equivalent of our being told that in the next three hundred years there will be another two world-wars!

Israel is the only real highway between Africa and the rest of the world, and since everyone seemed to want to conquer Egypt (or vice versa), Israel was forever being overrun by world-powers passing through, devastating the land of Israel as they did so. Israel would be caught up in the turmoil and devastation of a world in turmoil. They would not be exempt.

In the same way when Christ prophesied the characteristic features the future for New Testament believers, he warned that “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven,” (Luke 21:10-11). It’s critical for us as believers to realise that we are NOT exempt from this kind of pain. For most of us in the West, we’ve lived through a remarkably unusual period of peace in the last 70 years, but according to Jesus, the pain of war and geopolitical upheaval is still written in our future, and while we should pray (1 Timothy 2:1-2) we mustn’t assume we’ll have it otherwise.

2. The pain of domination and defeat.

To understand quite how painful it would be for the Jews to contemplate the future that Daniel’s visions predicted, you really need to get into the mindset of a faithful Jewish believer in that day. In Deuteronomy 28 God had given Israel promises of blessings for obedience (to his covenant with them) and the threat of curses for their disobedience, and they had stubbornly disobeyed and actually experienced all of the curses listed there.

A number of the blessings for obedience, however, were specifically related to their relationship with the surrounding nations. They would be set “high above all the nations of the earth” (Deuteronomy 28:1). Deuteronomy 28:13 epitomises these promises of national prominence and dominance, when Israel were told that they will be “the head and not the tail“.

In the same way, many of the curses also focused on them being defeated by and dominated by their enemies (see for example Deuteronomy 28:25, 26, 29, 33, 36). Later however, they are promised not only restoration, but more blessing than they experienced previously, if only they repent with all their heart (Deuteronomy 30:1-6). (That never has happened yet, which is one thing that makes me look for a future ingathering and national repentance and restoration of Israel on an unprecedented scale, see Zechariah 12:10-14; 14:1-21; Micah 7:18-20; Acts 3:19-21 etc.).

We don’t have to imagine the effect of this kind of vision of future gentile domination on a faithful Jew, because Daniel exemplified it for us when he was overcome and lay sick for several days (Daniel 8:27).

Knowing the truth about what to expect, however, is better than living in continual disappointment, and it’s helpful to realise that God was no doubt preparing faithful Jews to be able to focus on what he wanted them to during the coming years of Gentile domination, rather than forever being frustrated thinking that it wasn’t going to plan! God’s plan for them was domination and defeat, for a long time to come, even if they were going to be returned to their own land and rebuild the temple. These are the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24).

For Christians, likewise, we are promised that our future will be characterised by defeat and domination by the world! This ought not to shock us, but in these days of prosperity preachers promising victory at every turn, many true believers are tragically confused when political and social issues don’t go our way. The New Apostolic Reformation and other manifestations of Dominion Theology have made for an unhelpful expectation among some for Christians that we’re going to gain influence in high places and achieve some kind of political utopia.

The history of Daniel, with all his influence, followed as it was by such a profoundly painful few hundred years in Israel, ought to temper such hopes! Our hopes, like those of Israel, are bound up in the return of the Messiah! We’re longing and praying for His kingdom to come, and for his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven, but that’s NOT what we see now! Instead, fiery trials are considered “normal” for us, not “something strange” (1 Peter 4:12).

It’s crucial we, as Christians get it straight in our head that it’s NORMAL for our future to look painful! This is what Jesus warned us, that in this world (we) will have tribulation (John 16:33), and it’s how Paul “encouraged” and “strengthened” the earliest disciples, “saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22). If we get our thinking about this straight, we can be much better placed to live like the New Testament believers who “endured a hard struggle with sufferings,” and even “joyfully accepted the confiscation of (their) property” (Hebrews 10:33-34).

Discussion Questions for #2

  1. Why did God give the Jews in Daniel’s time warning that the next few hundred years would be so painful?
  2. What was so very painful about the Jews being dominated by pagan kingdoms? (See especially Deuteronomy 28:13 and discuss)
  3. How is it helpful for us also to know that in this life (in the immediate future before the Lord comes) it’s going to be painful and feel like defeat?
  4. Where do prosperity preachers go wrong in terms of their eschatology?
  5. What kind of impact does it have on people’s lives/faith when they are expecting to have victory in earthly terms?
  6. Which NT scriptures would you take someone to in order to help them understand that we are destined for difficulty and even apparent defeat in this age?

#3 The (painful) future is prolonged

Daniel and his fellow faithful believers were given the revelation that this period of turmoil and gentile domination was going to last a long time. They didn’t get the specifics about timing in chapter 8, but they did get enough information to give Daniel the picture that any change of the status quo was a LONG way off.

Gabriel told Daniel about the Little Horn, and a particularly painful period of persecution… but that wasn’t going to be until “the latter end of their kingdom” (Daniel 8:23) which was speaking about 4 horned Greek empire that followed the single prominent horned version (i.e. Greece under Alexander the Great). The very fact that there would be a “latter end” to their kingdom, meant that the period of gentile domination was going to be a very long one.

There is something particularly hard about a trial (like oppression by pagan powers) that is prolonged! When the problem persists, it presents some unique tests for our faith and also some peculiar temptations.

The question that needs to be answered is why would God warn his people that the trial would be prolonged? What is the benefit to knowing in advance that it will not end anytime soon?

Kingdom now?

It may well be because the faithful among the people of Israel needed to know that they were not to expect the kingdom of God to come any time soon. That may seem strange to us, but strong Messianic expectation and a willingness to follow false-messiahs go hand in hand, and so knowledge of what they were to expect must have been helpful for the faithful Jews during the next 386 years covered by this vision.

Jesus also prepared his disciples (and us) for the reality that he was going away and that the Kingdom of God would not appear immediately. In Luke 19:11 he began to tell them the parable of the ten minas, “because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately,” and the parable opens with the “nobleman (who) went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return,” (Luke 19:12).

A couple of months later when Jesus had risen from the dead and spent 40 days teaching his disciples about the kingdom, just before he actually did go away, like the nobleman in the parable, his disciples were still asking him, “Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus reply was that it was not for them to know the times or season which the Father has fixed by his own authority.

The reality for us as believers is that we are not to expect the blessings associated with the return of Christ (to rule and reign) ahead of that time! There is a time, and there is a season, that God has fixed by his own authority, but we are not privy to those details. In the meantime, we need to know what we are to expect, so that we don’t get discouraged.

That seems to be one of the main dangers for us as believers when trials continue, and we have to live through prolonged difficulties. It’s so easy for us to begin to think, “It just shouldn’t be like this!” The reality however is that (just as God prepared the Jews in Daniel’s day) this is exactly what God planned, and yes, it’s painful, and yes it’s prolonged, but it’s OK if that’s what God has chosen for us, right?

Jesus gave teaching about a prolonged painful future in Luke 21, and described the times of the gentiles during which Jerusalem would be trampled under foot, and great suffering would prevail. Immediately he applied all this teaching by saying, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life,” (Luke 21:34).

That seems to be a huge danger for us, that in the light of prolonged suffering and difficulty, we can become discouraged, and turn back to comforting ourselves in worldly ways. The alternative is to walk by faith! In Hebrews 11, the heroes of the faith endured terrible suffering, and the writer applies it all in chapter 12 by saying, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1). The danger for us in expecting the blessings of the kingdom now, seems to be that we will lose patience, and “grow weary or fainthearted.” The answer of course, is to consider Jesus, and how he endured (Hebrews 12:3) but also—it helps to know it’s not all going wrong—but that this is exactly what we’re to expect.

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 21:34.

Discussion Questions for #3

  1. What is particularly hard about prolonged trials? (Why are they more difficult to deal with?)
  2. What particular temptations do we face when we face prolonged difficulties?
  3. What is helpful about knowing that the future for believers is supposed to be painful, and that it’s normal for our difficult circumstances to last a long time?
  4. How would you counsel someone who is sinking under the pressure of a prolonged painful situation?
  5. What scriptural encouragements are there that we can apply to encourage ourselves in these circumstances?

What you need to know about the future #1

Reading Daniel, the fundamental lesson seems to flip back and forth between an encouragement to be faithful, and prophecy to prepare God’s people for the future. Daniel 8 is firmly focused on the future, at least the next few hundred years of future from Daniel’s day.

In chapter 8, the language shifts from Aramaic (the language of the Babylonians) back to Hebrew (the language of the Jews) and the focus from this point on, is all-future. This seems to be because God is now focused on preparing his own people to be able to live through the troubled years ahead. In fact, if God didn’t warn them, the next few hundred years would seriously confuse and dismay His children, but God did prepare them. Daniel 8 is a precious gift to the believers today, since we can look back (knowing the subsequent history) and learn from how God prepared his people to live through it.

Another remarkable thing about Daniel chapter 8, is that the key features of the future God was preparing the Jews to live through, is strikingly similar to the future promised to Christian believers in the New Testament. Given the parallels, I’ll unpack things here to try to show four things God wants believers today to know about the future, and in this post, we’ll just look at the first of these:

#1 The Future is Planned

Daniel had his vision “In the first year of the reign of King Belshazzar” (Daniel 8:1) which was about 551BC, but what he saw covered future history from that time right up to December 25 165BC, giving them a prophecy that covered the next 386 years!

The Immediate Future: The Ram (Daniel 8:3-4)

Credit: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/403564816615786476/

Thankfully we know exactly what the ram refers to, since the angel Gabriel interpreted it as “the kings of Media and Persia” (Daniel 8:20). In Daniel’s vision, he found himself in the city of Susa, in the Babylonian province of Elam (Daniel 8:2), and the Ram appears standing on the bank of the Ulai canal (Daniel 8:3). It would be about another 10 years before this prophecy would be fulfilled and Susa would fall to Cyrus the Great, the Persian king and overall head of the now-combined Medo-Persian empire.

The details here in Daniel 8:3 are striking: one (horn) was higher than the other (Persia dominated the partnership of these two kingdoms) and the higher one came up last (Persia rose to prominence later than Media).

The conquests predicted here are in themselves remarkable, even if it’s not that far distant from Daniel’s prophecy. At it’s greatest extent, the Persian (Achaemenid) empire stretched from what it now the NE of Greece, through Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, down into Egypt, not to mention Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. The ram really did do “as he pleased and became great,” (Daniel 8:4).

The Later Future: The Goat (Daniel 8:5-8)

As I was considering, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. (Daniel 8:5) (Pic:https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/31806741088145326/)

the Goat

Again we know exactly what’s referred to here, since Gabriel interprets this as the king of Greece (Daniel 8:21) which can be none other than Alexander the Great. The thing is that Alexander wasn’t born until 356BC, and began his conquests in 334BC, a full 217 years after the vision.

If you’re sceptical, it’s conceivable that Daniel could have taken a look at the world scene, and made a stab at which nation was going to rise to prominence next, and guessed at Medo-Persia. To suggest that Daniel got lucky guessing Greece 217 years ahead, however, is just crazy (which is why sceptics have to deny Daniel is authentic and suggest it was written after the event. In the 550s BC Greece was just a collection of warring city states discovering democracy, but busily embroiled in their own squabbles for the next 200 years, and certainly no threat to the world stage. It would be akin to me predicting that Belgium will rule the world by 2220!

What’s even more amazing is to accurately predict the manner of Alexander’s conquest: “from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground,” (Daniel 8:5). Within just 10 years, Alexander had conquered the world. He figuratively flew at Darius III of Persia, and decimated him repeatedly on the battlefield (Daniel 8:6-7). Some of the historical details here are remarkable considering the language used in this prophecy. When it says he “came close to the ram” — you can literally read accounts of Alexander getting into close combat with Darius’ bodyguard at the Battle of Issus, and then capturing Darius’ wife and daughter, and Alexander with only 35-40,000 men managed to inflict devastating defeat to the whole of the Persian empire, despite repeatedly being opposed by armies with vastly superior numbers.

Note on the interpretation of prophecy:

According to the prophecy, if you were a believing Jew watching the world news, you’d be expecting Alexander to be cut down in his prime, and he was (Daniel 8:8). At just 33 years old, Alexander was dead, and every prophecy watching Jew would have been expecting the kingdom to divide immediately into four powers, to the N, S, E, and W.

Instead of immediate fulfilment, there was about 20 years of struggle in which it might have appeared that the prophecy wasn’t going to be fulfilled, since multiple power centres existed with a great deal of infighting, until finally (exactly according to God’s plan for the future) the goat kingdom was divided into four: Lysimachus in the North, Ptolemy in the South, Seleucus to the East, and Cassandra in the West. All that was needed to see God’s plan for the future fulfilled, was to wait.

Here’s a good deal more detail in a sermon preached at GraceLife London

Discussion Questions:

How could you use Daniel 8 to encourage another believer who was struggling with trust in the accuracy of the word of God?

How does it help us practically as believers to know that the future is planned? (What difference SHOULD it make to the way we handle daily situations, and also the way we respond to world events, etc.)

From Daniel 8 (and other vision prophecies in Daniel) we can see that God gave the Jews certain prominent features of the political “beasts” they would face in the future, presumably in order to enable them to identify them when they emerged on the world stage. What difference does this make to the way we should interpret prophesies that seem remarkably similar in Revelation 13 and 17 (for example)?

In the fulfilment of Daniel 8:8 there was a delay of about 20 years in history after Alexander’s death, before a great deal of infighting finally resulted in four distinct powers to match the prophecy. What significance does this have for the way in which we handle prophecies concerning our future that don’t seem to have accurate fulfilment yet?

Courage Facing Death

Reading the Acts of the Apostles, you can get the feeling that Peter and Paul and the others were almost superheroes. They just didn’t seem to be daunted by death! How did they do it? How can we face the reality of death with truly Christian courage?

Thankfully Paul explains the source of his courage in 2 Corinthians. Twice in chapter 4 he says “we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1,16), and then twice in chapter 5 “we are… of good courage” (2 Corinthians 5:6,8), and sandwiched between these is his explanation of the source of such courage facing death: and the source is what “we know” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5).

So often in the Christian life, the route out of our anxiety is to move from focusing on what we’re feeling, and thinking, to what we know.

In 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 Paul gives us 10 things we know about death (as genuine Christians) that we need to focus on so that we can have courage facing death.

The first three are all about your body:

I. Your body is just your earthly home

Paul calls it “our earthly home” in 2 Corinthians 5:1, and this epitomises the Bible’s anthropology outlined in Genesis 2:7;3:19 and Ecclesiastes 12:7. We are not simply atoms, and molecules, and the combination of chemicals that Scientific Materialism would want us to think we are. You are more than your body. Even using the phrase “my body” shows that you understand a certain separation between “you” and your body!

II. Your body is just a tent

When Paul speaks of “the tent that is our earthly home” in 2 Corinthians 5:1, he’s giving us a metaphor that shows our body as something temporary, fragile and relatively cheap. The contrast in this passage is with a more solid building that would be understood to be comparatively permanent, durable, and costly. The body we have is here today and gone tomorrow, it is so easily destroyed. We shouldn’t put too much store in it, if indeed we’re going to inherit something much better.

III. If your body is destroyed, you have another home ahead (as a true Christian)

In 2 Corinthians 5:1 Paul’s is absolutely certain that “we have a building… a house” ahead as believers even though we die. A modern illustration could be to say that here, we are just renting our bodies, but we must surrender them to our Landlord, who’s given us notice to quit. (This Landlord however does actually promise Christians that upon eviction from our bodies, He will give us a permanent home of our own, which will never be taken from us!

These next three are all about your NEXT body:

IV. Your next body is God’s gift to you

Obviously, this body was also given to you by God, but this body is corrupted by the fall, and is like a house in which many things are broken, and gradually (or rapidly) it’s all breaking down! The next body however is “a building from God” (2 Corinthians 5:1) and is effectively God’s final response to the awful impact of the fall upon us. He’s not going to leave his original design for physical bodies defeated by the fall. More than that, he won’t simply restore the human body to its former (pre-fall) glory, which is the next point:

V. Your next body doesn’t belong to this creation

Paul said it’s going to be “not made with human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1) which the Bible most helpfully explains as meaning “not of this creation” (Hebrews 9:11). There is another world coming! Jesus referred to it as “the regeneration” (sometimes translated as “the new world” (Matthew 19:28) and he was talking about a physical world in the age to come.

VI. Your next body is eternal and heavenly

Maybe you think you have a heavenly body now, but you don’t —at least not in the Biblical sense—and for most of us, not in any sense! The reality for true Christians however is that the next body will be truly heavenly and eternal. Paul says here it will be “eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1) but in 1 Corinthians 15 he draws a series of contrasts between the body as it is now (what is sown) and the resurrection body (what is raised). These contrasts show us exactly how different the body to come will be. The body we have now is “perishable” —decomposing nicely—but it will be raised “imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:42). It is “natural” now, but will be a “spiritual” body then (1 Corinthians 15:44).

What this all means would be a complete mystery, if it wasn’t for the fact that we’ve been given an example in the resurrection body of Jesus, and we’re told in several places that we are going to be made “like him” (1 Corinthians 15:47,49; Romans 8:29; Philippians 3:20).

So for now, we’re struggling with “weakness” and experiencing the reality of life that’s considered “dishonour” (1 Corinthians 15:43), but the body to come, by contrast will be characterised by “power” and “glory”.

Meanwhile however, we groan, and the next three here all have to do with groaning:

VII. While you are in this body you groan

This is godly groaning, since Paul includes himself when he says “For in this tent we groan” (2 Corinthians 5:2), and although Christians are instructed to rejoice “always” — there really is no need for us to walk around with a fake grin. We follow one who was the “man of sorrows”, and Paul himself experienced and expressed the pain of grief and confusion and being hard-pressed (see 2 Corinthians 4). Peter spoke of the reality Although James told believers to “Count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2), Peter did speak about believers rejoicing, despite having been “grieved” by such trials (1 Peter 1:6-7). So let’s just lay that one to rest! Groaning can be godly, and in this tent, “we groan”. (See also Romans 8:18-25)

VIII. Godly groaning is longing to put on the next body.

Godly groaning is not moaning about how bad things are (that would be sinful and get us into trouble spiritually). Godly groaning is “longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2) —understanding that what is to come is going to be so much better. It’s something like longing for the new car you’ve ordered, which won’t have all the problems that your current car. You can do that without grumbling and complaining about your current ride!

IX. Godly groaning is not longing to be free from physicality, but free from sin-cursed mortality.

The description given us is not that we want simply to be rid of our body and float free, as disembodied spirits. That was a terrible mistake in Greek philosophy that worked its way into the early church and caused chaos, with a denigration of everything material as if physicality was inherently evil. Paul wasn’t expecting to be found “naked” — i.e. without a body (2 Corinthians 5:3), and he wasn’t longing to be “unclothed” but “further clothed” (2 Corinthians 5:4). Things are improving in recent years, but historically this kind of error that views the physical as inherently evil, has caused many problems in the church. It helps to realise that God doesn’t view things that way. What’s ahead is so glorious that it’s pictured as the moment when “what is mortal” is “swallowed up by life”.

X. God is the one doing all this.

Paul viewed the Corinthians as already “prepared” for their next body (2 Corinthians 5:5). Note the tense! This is accomplished already! Nothing stands between them and their next body, except death. There’s no more preparation to be done. So many people would expect to have to perform some great task, or do some good works, or even pay some great price (e.g. purgatory) in order to be “prepared” to inherit this glorious resurrection body, but salvation is by GRACE (Ephesians 2:8-9). The truth is, you are never more prepared for your resurrection body than the moment you are saved, and the guarantee of this future inheritance has already been given to every believer (2 Corinthians 5:5)

Some questions for discussion:

  1. When a genuine Christian is suffering from anxiety or distress connected with death, what does it look like, in practice, to work backwards from how we feel (through what we think) to what we KNOW?
  2. How is helping someone back to what they know different from how Job’s friends wen’t wrong in trying to comfort him? (What did they do wrong and how can we help people who are truly suffering, without being like Job’s friends?)
  3. How would you help someone who’s not a Christian but they’re suffering with anxiety / distress connected with death?
  4. What would you say to help someone who says, “I know all this, but it doesn’t make me feel any better!” (Clue: study Philippians 4:6-8, and don’t miss v.8).
  5. When a trial is very severe, and someone is going through wave after wave of grief or pain in their experience day by day, how can directing them to think about what they know (as above) still be helpful? (It can seem like it’s dismissive of the reality of their pain/grief, but if done rightly it can still be helpful. Discuss how to do this rightly, so that it’s not dismissive of their struggle!)
Check out the sermon from GraceLife London preached on 31st January 2021

Three keys to joy in trials

photo credit below

Some Bible verses can feel like they stick in your throat and bring truth that’s hard to swallow. Here’s one of them from James:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,”

James 1:2

This is strong meat, but verses like this can bring us blessings we can’t find elsewhere, if only we take a little time to chew on them! A little bible-munching on James 1:2-4 gives us three wonderful keys to having joy in trials:

KEY #1: Consider the Value of Trials (James 1:2)

The command: “Count it all joy”
James commands Christians to “count” it all joy, and the word used speaks of the result when you have passed a matter through the court of your mind. It’s talking about the conclusion that you reach when you have spent time deliberating everything. The conclusion we must reach is that it is “all joy“. (All-joy, means that it is un-alloyed. Silver may exist alongside pure gold, and the gold is still pure, but if silver is mixed with gold, it’s now no longer pure. In this sense, the evaluation we are to make, when everything is considered, is that it’s “all-joy”. There may be grief from trials, alongside our joy (see 1 Peter 1:-6-7), but once we evaluate things properly, we must conclude that it is “all joy”.

The encouragement: “my brothers”
James is no stranger to trials. This is the brother of Jesus speaking, who witnessed his elder brother’s crucifixion, and knew the pain of persecution as well as any, but he reaches from the page and encourages us with “my brothers”. We are never in better company than when we are in trials.

The occasion: “when you meet trials of various kinds”
The Greek word translated “meet” crops up in Luke 10:30 when speaks of the man who “fell among” thieves. This picture here is that whenever we are suddenly surrounded by trials of various kinds, then, on that occasion, we should make our mental evaluation that this is “all joy”.

Like runners who consider the painful process of training a joy, while others would only be focused on the pain, we are called upon to make an evaluation of the situation we face, and come to the conclusion that it’s “all-joy”. To do that, however, we must move from what we feel, and what we think, to what we know, and James helps us now to do this.

Key #2 Consider the Effect of Trials (James 1:3)

“For you know that” – just like a runner who focuses on the reality that his painful training will produce fitness and help him win the race, we “know” certain things about the effect of trials. If only we focus upon the effect of trials, we can move from being ruled by how we feel, to being governed by what we know. You may object that, like Job, you don’t know why God is allowing these trials to happen to you, but you have more information than Job did. One thing we know that God is doing is that trials are “the testing of your faith”.

“the testing of your faith” – “testing” (Greek: dokimion) refers to the happy result of testing metals to see that they are pure. It’s translated in 1 Peter 1:7 as “tested genuineness”. Just like God tested Abraham (Genesis 22:1), God tests believers’ faith to prove its genuineness. When you are providentially thrown into the crucible of trials and yet you still trust God (i.e. you don’t curse him – see Job 1:22), and you obey God (see Genesis 22:12; James 2:21-23) you pass the test, and your faith is shown to be genuine. It’s this happy result, the tested-genuineness of your faith that has an effect.

“produces steadfastness” – literally, works steadfastness. Steadfastness is an effect, a result brought about by our faith being tested and proved genuine when we are in trials. Steadfastness itself is the ability to remain steady under a load. The Iron Duke (Wellington) was given his name because of his ability to remain steadfast and keep going under immense criticism as Prime Minister.

Key #3 Cooperate with the Purpose of Trials (James 1:4)

At last we can begin to see how this works: When you are suddenly surrounded by trials, you may be grieved by them (1 Peter 1:6-7), but if you will stop and consider the value of what is happening, and think about the reality that this testing process is exposing the genuineness of your faith and actually producing steadfastness in you —then you can really begin to see it with a measure of joy, knowing what God is doing. God is producing steadfastness in you, but it doesn’t stop there. Steadfastness itself does something to you. It produces maturity:

“and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

A golden chain of cause and effect: trials test our faith => our faith is proved genuine => this produces steadfastness => this produces maturity “perfect and complete, lacking nothing”.

Don’t break the chain: Sadly there’s a huge temptation when we are suddenly thrown into the crucible of trials, to buck and complain and resist. Grumbling and complaining are the bitter fruits of a heart that rejects God’s wisdom in allowing us to be tested, but another sad result of resisting this whole process is immaturity. We are commanded to “let” steadfastness have its full effect – and the sense of this (Greek 3rd person imperative) is that we are to “ensure this happens” — i.e. “it must happen”. Put simply, don’t get in the way. It’s our job to make sure nothing stops this process, and that means we have to humble ourselves like Job, and refuse to grumble and complain, lest we end up with even more trouble —and discipline instead of maturity.

Check out the sermon on this text preached at GraceLife London on 17th January 2021

photo credit: Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons