Enduring Trials That Test Our Faith
“You have been grieved by various trials, in order that the tested quality of your faith . . . may be found a cause for praise.”—1 Pet. 1:6, 7.
1. Are trials pleasant? How can faithfulness under trial prove a cause for praise?
TRIALS are not pleasant. They can be very grievous. It certainly was not pleasant, for example, when Jesus Christ was spit upon and ridiculed, and finally viciously beaten and nailed to a torture stake to die an agonizing death. (Matt. 26:66-68; 27:26-30) Those trials that put his faith to the most extreme test were indeed grievous. Yet Jesus’ faithful course under trial proved a cause for praise. First, it brought praise to God’s name, for Jesus’ faithfulness proved Satan the Devil incapable of turning him from the worship of God. Then, too, Jesus was rewarded for his faithfulness with praise and honor when God resurrected him from the dead to heavenly life.—Phil. 2:9-11.
2, 3. (a) How is it possible to be happy even when undergoing trials? (b) What benefit do trials serve?
2 When we always keep in view the praise brought to God’s name and the grand reward he gives for faithfulness, we can maintain genuine happiness even when undergoing trials. In fact, Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount: “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake. Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens.” (Matt. 5:11, 12) The disciple James wrote similarly: “Happy is the man that keeps on enduring trial, because on becoming approved he will receive the crown of life, which Jehovah promised to those who continue loving him.” (Jas. 1:12) Yes, it is a source of joy when we know that our faithfulness under trial is pleasing to God and will merit his reward of eternal life. We can also be happy for the opportunity that trials afford to prove our love for our heavenly Father.
3 When they are viewed properly, therefore, we can actually welcome trials, for they produce beneficial results. This certainly is true in connection with the training that is necessary for a runner or swimmer. Those persons must undergo many demanding trials and tests to cultivate the needed quality of endurance. Only after being put through such trials can they ever hope to win in fiercely competitive track and swimming meets. It is similar with a Christian; trials serve to make him stronger in the faith. It is for this reason that the disciple James wrote: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials, knowing as you do that this tested quality of your faith works out endurance.”—Jas. 1:2, 3.
4, 5. (a) Why could the apostles rejoice after receiving a flogging? (b) In what way are we strengthened by trials?
4 An experience of the apostles illustrates how tests of faith can produce endurance, and actually result in joy. On one occasion they were summoned by the Sanhedrin officials, who “flogged them, and ordered them to stop speaking upon the basis of Jesus’ name.” How did they react? The Bible says: “These, therefore, went their way from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name.” (Acts 5:40-42) The apostles were happy for the opportunity to prove their loyalty to Christ and his heavenly Father. Also, the fact that their faith had been tested by a severe trial and proved to be of genuine quality was a source of joy to the apostles. They could rejoice that the trialsome experience had produced in them endurance.
5 Just think of that! Those experiences through which Satan endeavors to tear down our faith can in fact build us up. For when we faithfully endure trial, our mind is filled with the conscious realization that we are pleasing to God. This consciousness of God’s approval strengthens and makes our hope more sure. Trials and tribulations thus set in motion a sort of “chain reaction” through which the Devil’s attempts against us are completely thwarted. The apostle Paul explained the matter nicely, urging: “Let us exult while in tribulations, since we know that tribulation produces endurance; endurance, in turn, an approved condition; the approved condition, in turn, hope, and the hope does not lead to disappointment.” (Rom. 5:3-5) What a victorious combination Jehovah God has given us! Yes, sufferings and trials can only serve to build us up and strengthen us when we remain faithful.
6. (a) How do we know that the Devil has no new methods in his attempts to turn us from God’s service? (b) Why may the Devil seek to bring different trials upon different individuals?
6 It is significant that Satan the Devil has no new methods, no new ways of endeavoring to turn us from God’s service. That is why the apostle Paul once said regarding Satan: “We are not ignorant of his designs.” (2 Cor. 2:11) Also we are told at 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation [or trial] has taken you except what is common to men.” In the Bible there are recorded for us the many different trials by which we may be tempted to reject Jehovah. By examining these Bible examples we can be warned of what to expect, and to be forewarned is to be forearmed. We also want to remember that Satan is very clever. He will not necessarily bring the same trials upon everyone. For what is a severe trial for one person may be something relatively easy for another person to endure. So we can be sure that the Devil will endeavor to strike us at our most vulnerable point. With this in mind, let us consider briefly some trials that may come upon us to test our faith.
TESTED ON LOYALTY TO GOD
7. (a) How does the Devil seek to make persons break God’s laws? (b) What is one law of God that Satan has often endeavored to get persons to break?
7 It is in connection with obedience to God’s laws that our faith will be tested. Satan the Devil endeavors to create circumstances that constitute a severe test, making it very difficult for us to obey God. One of Jehovah God’s laws or commands that Satan frequently attempts to get God’s servants to break is this: “You must not have any other gods against my face. . . . You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.” (Ex. 20:3-5) Jesus stated the command this way: “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.” (Matt. 4:10) God’s servants frequently have undergone severe trials that have tested whether they would remain faithful to this requirement to give God exclusive devotion.
8. In what way were the three Hebrews tested in connection with the above law of God?
8 For example, when ancient Babylon was a world power her ruler King Nebuchadnezzar set up a huge golden image, and the order was issued to all present: “At the time that you hear the sound of the horn, the pipe, the zither, the triangular harp, the stringed instrument, the bagpipe and all sorts of musical instruments, you [must] fall down and worship the image of gold that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship will at the same moment be thrown into the burning fiery furnace.” (Dan. 3:5, 6) Among those present were three Hebrew servants of Jehovah God, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. What a severe trial this was for them! What a test of their faith! God had commanded, “You must not bow down,” and yet the command of the Babylonian king was, “Fall down and worship the image of gold” or die in the furnace. This was a deliberate attempt of Satan the Devil to get the three Hebrews to break God’s law by bowing to the State, the State’s image.
9. To what image or symbol have nations in modern times often required that service be paid?
9 The Devil’s methods have not changed. He still maneuvers God’s servants into similar trying situations. For example, just as nations did in the days of ancient Babylon, so nations today set up emblems and command their citizens to salute, bow or perform other worshipful honors toward these. Regarding a prominent symbol of the nations in modern times, Catholic historian Carlton Hayes observes: “Nationalism’s chief symbol of faith and central object of worship is the flag, and curious liturgical forms have been devised for ‘saluting’ the flag, for ‘dipping’ the flag, for ‘lowering’ the flag, and for ‘hoisting’ the flag. Men bare their heads when the flag passes by; and in praise of the flag poets write odes and children sing hymns.”* And just as obligation was laid upon citizens of ancient Babylon to bow before the image of the State, so in modern times nations often require that service or worship be paid to some State emblem or some human representative of the State.
10, 11. How have God’s servants in modern times been tested in connection with idolizing a man or rendering allegiance to an emblem of the State?
10 In Nazi Germany people were commanded to heil Hitler and raise their arm to the swastika. Failure to comply with this idolatrous practice was punishable by brutal treatment and the horrors of a concentration camp. What a severe test of faith this was for true Christians! Would they heil a man and render worshipful honors to an emblem of the State? Or would they obey God? What would you have done? Thousands of Christian witnesses of Jehovah obeyed God and refused to render devotion to Hitler or an emblem of the State. True, they were sent off to concentration camps and suffered horrible treatment, but the majority of them came out rejoicing that the trialsome experience had produced in them endurance.
11 More recently, persons in the United Arab Republic were commanded to shout such patriotic cries as: “Long live the president Gamal Abdel Nasser!” How happy were those who loyally refused to share in such idolatrous practices toward a man who has since died—in 1970. Although they received beatings, they were conscious of Jehovah’s help during this trialsome experience. The Washington Post, reporting on another African country, said: “Hundreds of children from Witnesses’ families have been expelled from school. They refused to sing the anthem and salute the flag.”* Despite the Scriptural precedent and the conscientious objections of these children who were put under much pressure to break God’s law, the High Court ruled that there was sufficient basis to deny them an education.
12. To what test are schoolchildren frequently subjected?
12 We can be certain that Satan the Devil will continue in his efforts to pressure Christians to pay worshipful honors to persons or emblems of the State. He does not want anyone to remain loyal to God by giving God exclusive devotion. In many countries schoolchildren are regularly called upon to salute the flag, repeat an oath of allegiance to it, and in some places even to kneel before it and kiss it with their lips. Ridicule and in some cases physical harm have been meted out to those who have not complied with such requirements. This may soon become the practice where you live, if it is not already. What will you do? Will you endure such deliberate attempts of the Devil to cause you to become disloyal to God? Will you pass this test of your faith?
TESTED OVER ISSUE OF BLOOD
13. (a) What is God’s law regarding blood? (b) How were early Christians tested in connection with this law, and with what results?
13 Another law in connection with which servants of God frequently have been tested is the prohibition regarding blood. God’s command to the Israelites was: “You must not eat the blood of any sort of flesh, because the soul of every sort of flesh is its blood. Anyone eating it will be cut off.” (Lev. 17:14) The command was repeated to Christians: “Abstain . . . from what is strangled and from blood.” (Acts 15:19, 20) The early writer Tertullian reports that the Romans knew about the stand of Christians on blood, and that Christians were tested in connection with this law. Tertullian writes: “When you are testing Christians, you offer them sausages full of blood; you are thoroughly well aware, of course, that among them it is forbidden; but you want to make them transgress.”* But faithful Christians would not transgress. They could not be coerced to break God’s law even when threatened with the punishment of death.
14. (a) What is a common medical practice today, and how can this constitute a trial for true Christians? (b) How does obedience to God’s law prove a real protection?
14 Due to the modern medical practice of transfusing blood into ill persons, Christians today frequently are faced with a similar test of their faith. Some medical authorities insist upon giving this blood treatment, or no treatment at all. This can be a real trial for a Christian. What if you should find yourself in a circumstance where doctors insist on giving blood to you or to one of the members of your family? Will you faithfully adhere to God’s clear law that commands abstinence from blood? Or will you be tempted into breaking his law by pressures instigated by the Devil? How happy are those who have faithfully obeyed God when faced by such a test! Not only do they have the grand consciousness of God’s approval, but they have been protected from the many horrible diseases and dangers with which blood transfusions are associated.
TESTED ON MORAL REQUIREMENTS
15. (a) What are God’s laws in connection with moral conduct? (b) How has Satan tempted God’s servants in connection with these laws, and is he doing so today?
15 On the other hand, Christians are also frequently tested in connection with God’s moral requirements. God commands: “You must not commit adultery.” “Abstain from fornication.” (Ex. 20:14; 1 Thess. 4:3; Acts 15:20) The Devil has found many of Jehovah’s people to be vulnerable in this area. Therefore, one of his favorite methods to alienate persons from God is to seduce them to break these laws. For example, when Jehovah’s people of Israel were about to enter the land of Canaan, Satan used attractive Moabite women as bait to seduce Israel’s men to commit immorality and thus bring upon them God’s wrath. (Num. 25:1-9; Rev. 2:14) In recent times, too, Satan the Devil has employed sex to tempt Christians into immoral conduct. The tremendous emphasis upon sex, with the glorifying practically everywhere of illicit sexual practices, can constitute a real trial for Christians.
16, 17. How can we successfully avoid falling into sexual immorality?
16 How can we successfully endure this trial? By allowing our minds to dwell on immoral thoughts? By going to movies, reading books and watching television programs that condone prostitution, adultery and other God-dishonoring practices? By looking on persons other than our own marriage mate with the thought of having immoral relations with them? Of course not! For the thoughts with which we continually fill our minds are what will eventually motivate us to act. How dangerous, therefore, to allow our minds to focus upon immoral desires!—Matt. 5:28; Jas. 1:13-15.
17 To pass this test of our faith successfully we need to persistently control our thoughts. We need to heed the instruction of God’s Word: “Whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.” (Phil. 4:8) Yes, make it your mental resolve, and reinforce that resolve over and over again, that no matter what situations arise in your life you will obey God’s moral requirements. When tempted, pray to Jehovah. Think about making His heart glad. Also, strengthen yourself by considering such faithful examples as Joseph, who resisted enticement to immorality. Oh, how fine to be like that God-fearing man!—Gen. 39:1-13.
THE COMMAND TO PREACH—A TEST OF FAITH
18, 19. (a) What was God’s will for Jesus, and is it the same for Christians today? (b) What evidence is there that the Devil has made it difficult to obey God’s command to preach, but with what effect upon Christians?
18 God’s will for Jesus Christ was that he be a preacher of the “kingdom of God,” and Jesus faithfully did this work in the face of mounting opposition that eventually claimed his life. (Luke 4:43; 8:1) Later Jesus commanded his followers: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19, 20) This command to preach is applicable to all Christians today. In fact, it is especially urgent now that Christians preach, for Jesus foretold that ‘this good news of the kingdom must be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness before the end comes.’ (Matt. 24:14) Little wonder, therefore, that Satan the Devil is concentrating his efforts to make it difficult for God’s servants to obey this command. This means that the solemn charge: “Preach the word, be at it urgently,” poses a real test of faith for Christians.—2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Cor. 9:16.
19 In the first century it certainly did. You will recall that Satan stirred up his religious representatives against the apostles, and they “flogged them, and ordered them to stop speaking upon the basis of Jesus’ name.” (Acts 5:40) What would you have done? Stopped preaching to avoid another flogging? Not the apostles! They endured the trial, passing this test of their faith. In recent years, too, Christians have faced similar circumstances. Authorities have banned the preaching work in some places. But in imitation of Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles true Christians have continued right on preaching. They have said in effect: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) What courage! What faithfulness to God! This is the example that we certainly want to imitate.
20. How is the Devil responsible for people’s attitudes, and what is the intended effect upon Christian ministers?
20 In most places, however, the preaching work has not been banned. Nevertheless, people frequently are indifferent to the Kingdom message; they may even scoff and ridicule. This, too, is a trial. It poses a real test of our faith. Are you enduring this trial? Do you recognize the responsibility of Satan for the indifferent attitude of people? It is a fact. By means of his propaganda he has molded their thinking. (2 Cor. 4:4) He is thereby endeavoring to discourage you from even attempting to preach to them. But do not let him succeed! Recognize in the indifferent and sometimes even hostile attitudes of people the efforts of Satan to slow you down and keep you from zealously and tactfully presenting the Kingdom message to them. Do not allow the Devil in any way to stop you from obeying our heavenly Father’s command to preach.
PASSING THE TESTS OF OUR FAITH
21. How did God test Abraham, and how did Abraham respond?
21 God’s commands to us can prove to be a test even when Satan does not bring trials. The Bible gives an ancient example, telling us: “God put Abraham to the test. Accordingly he said to him: ‘Abraham! . . . Take, please, your son, your only son whom you so love, Isaac, and make a trip to the land of Moriah and there offer him up as a burnt offering.’” Just imagine how difficult it was for Abraham to obey this command of God! But Abraham did. He went to the very point of using the knife to slaughter his dear son. What faithfulness to God! After holding back his hand from harming his son, Jehovah said to Abraham: “Now I do know that you are God-fearing in that you have not withheld your son, your only one, from me.”—Gen. 22:1-18.
22. (a) What requirements for Christians today may be about as hard for some to obey as the test applied to Abraham? (b) How was Abraham blessed for his obedience, and what does this indicate about us if we are obedient?
22 God’s instructions to Christians today pose a similar test. For example, how difficult some find it to preach “publicly and from house to house”! (Acts 20:20) And how hard they find it to prepare for this preaching work by giving talks in the Theocratic Ministry School or by making comments at congregational meetings! (1 Tim. 4:13; Heb. 10:24, 25) But are these tests any greater than the one God applied to Abraham? An extremely timid person may almost think so. But remember, Jehovah is a loving, merciful God. He never asks his people to do anything that is not for their own good and blessing. Think, for example, about the blessings Abraham received for obeying God. He had the joy of being stopped by God’s angel and hearing God’s approval pronounced upon him. He became ancestor to the seed of promise. (Gen. 22:17, 18; Gal. 3:16) Also, his faith is recommended in the Bible for all Christians to imitate. (Heb. 11:17-19) And Abraham served as a prototype of God himself who offered his Son as a sacrifice for mankind. (John 3:16) We, too, will be blessed by God if we obediently do what he says.
23. What mistake do we want to avoid making?
23 It is a real mistake to try to avoid or sidestep a test by failing to do what God commands us. The Bible says that “Abraham got up early in the morning” and took Isaac and immediately began his journey to Moriah. He did not put it off. Neither should we put off obeying God’s instructions to preach his Kingdom message. Obedience will only be more difficult the longer we put off doing what we know that we should do now. And that test will always stand between us and obtaining God’s approval and blessing.
24. What test did some Israelites fail to pass, and what shows that if they had trusted in God they could have passed it?
24 As an example, consider the Israelites whom God brought out of Egypt to the land “flowing with milk and honey.” The land was theirs, but there was a test they first needed to pass. The land was filled with demon worshipers who participated in truly abominable practices. What is more some were of unusual, giantlike size. (Num. 13:1-33) This caused the Israelites to become fearful and to refuse to obey God’s instructions to go in and take the land. Therefore God said that they would not go in, but that all of those over twenty years of age would die in the wilderness. (Num. 14:29-34) However, forty years later when the next generation of Israelites proceeded to go into the land at God’s command, what was the situation? Why, there were those same powerful men, or at least their offspring! The test still had to be passed. But the Israelites at this time did not avoid the test. They trusted in God and obediently went right on in and began taking the land. (Josh. 11:21-23) How much better, though, it would have been for their fathers to have passed the test forty years before!
25. What should we do now, and with what prospect in view?
25 Now we are at the portals of God’s righteous new system of things. (2 Pet. 3:13) How close the end of this system is! This is no time, therefore, to put off or neglect to do God’s will. We must trust in Jehovah, and courageously do what he says. Very shortly now we can expect Satan in his final all-out assault against God’s people to bring tremendous trials upon us. But in God’s strength we can endure these trials that test our faith. Yes, and then consider the grand reward of eternal life in his righteous new system with which God will bless us!—Jas. 1:12; Rev. 21:3, 4.
What Americans Believe and How They Worship by J. Paul Williams, pages 359 and 360.
The Washington Post, Feb. 21, 1969, p. F2.
Tertullian’s Apology, translated by T. R. Glover, pp. 51-53 (1931).
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Despite fearsome threats, the three Hebrews refused to bow down to the king’s image. Can you endure similar trials that test your faith?
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What will you do if doctors insist on giving you blood?
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Will watching TV programs that condone immoral practices help you to endure trials?