James 1: 2 – 25.
Not unlike a long-distance runner, endurance is built over a period of regular training often punctuated with inevitable pain, but with perseverance, the result will be within reach. Similarly, spiritual maturity, according to the Apostle James, is not a hit-and-miss process but one that arises through withstanding the testing of our faith, and though we may grit our teeth as we are stretched to our physical, emotional, and psychological limits, he encouraged us to brave it as pure joy! For the one who perseveres under trial, a future-oriented life at its best in the new earth and new heaven will be their reward (i.e., the crown of life; James 1:12; c.f., Rev 2:10). However, to regard all trials and temptations as ‘pure joy’ may just sound too masochistic, but for the fact that spiritual maturity is the culmination of an enduring relationship with our Lord and is only sustainable when that rapport is fueled by a yearning to be in His Presence, where the experience of suffering is viewed from our position in Him (c.f., Phil 4:11-14). In other words, the first commandment ought to be our constant focus, where we are commanded to seek to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our souls and with all our mind (James 1:12; Matt 22:36-38).
When God tests us, His motives are never to destroy our faith in Him, and therefore, to imagine that He causes us to sin is reprehensible; as James reasoned that God could not be tempted by evil (James 1:13). The pathway to the corruption of good morals invariably begins within the individual’s heart and sinful nature, where sin is birthed (James 1:14-15). In this perspective, the capacity for human self-deception is enormous and potentially self-destructive, as we choose to blame God having been trapped by our misdemeanours and wrong decisions. But God remains committed to our wellbeing by giving up His Son at Calvary so that we can be born anew through the gospel, as evidence of ‘the first fruits’ of His glory and grace among His creations (James 1:16-18).
The expectation that nothing untoward would happen to believers is far more prevalent than imagined; consequently, James cautioned us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” since our resentments will never enable us to live righteously before God (James 1:19-20). The alternative to trusting our Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow, is to forget what we have heard and read from the gospel and react in apportioning blame to Him for our misfortunes. Our reactions in confronting difficulties do matter, and if we are not to jeopardise our testimony in Christ, we ought to recall the implanted word of the gospel how not to walk blindly or impulsively into sin (that our souls will be saved; James 1:21, 25). Significantly, our misplaced indignation is an indication of how we view our identity in Christ, either as transformed Christlike beings or as individuals trapped in our self-willed humanity. James exhorted his readers to take a close look at themselves to ascertain their sincerity in the expression of their faith in God as they attempt to be obedient to the word so that they will be set free by it and be blessed through it (James 1:21-25). For that reason, to grow in faith when we are struggling through trials and temptations is to remember the basis of our salvation, and in acknowledging Yahweh’s sovereignty in our lives, we ought not to misinterpret His repeatedly unfathomable motives. Hence, in our suffering, let us recall the occasions when God in His goodness always delineated His best for us. And as we are being instructed from the word, let us not just be hearers of it but doers as well, if we desire to embrace the freedom fully spoken of in the gospel in living a Christ-centred life.