Can You Endure Trials Successfully?
“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.
1. When we read of the trials that Christians have suffered and are suffering, what questions may arise in our minds?
We have heard people say, “I wonder if I could have endured,” when they read about the trials suffered by Christians of the first century, as well as those in Nazi countries during World War II and, in more recent times, in lands all around the earth. Even in the day-to-day life of all Christians, however, problems occur that are not only hard to bear but often very difficult to handle. Can one who expresses faith in Christ and who is a servant of God endure? Can he face trials and problems with real assurance of success?
2, 3. Why was James’ letter timely and appropriate?
2 It was to persons undergoing trials and facing such questions that James, the half brother of Jesus Christ, wrote. His words are of great comfort, for he wrote when Christians, not only were undergoing strong persecution, but were approaching a time when affairs of the Roman nation would be more turbulent, as far as Christians were concerned.
3 In only a short time after James wrote, Christians in Rome would be falsely blamed by Roman Emperor Nero for the great fire of 64 C.E. that would destroy much of that city. Of course, this would lead to the persecution of Christians throughout the empire. Then, a little later, in the year 70, Jerusalem and the land of Judah would be devastated by the Roman armies. Christians in Jerusalem, obeying Christ’s warning, would flee across the Jordan prior to the city’s destruction, saving their lives, but losing their possessions and facing many hardships.
4 So James’ letter was timely. But whether under heavy persecution or not, Christians have need of endurance. For they must live in a world that flouts Christian principles and, in addition, they have to deal with sickness and many other problems. The 73rd psalm speaks of difficulties encountered by servants of God that non-Christians do not undergo. Why? Because non-Christians usually do not care. They do not have the hope and the faith that Christians have in God, and they are not motivated to please him. James’ letter helps Christians to avoid falling into the attitude that Asaph, the writer of that psalm, temporarily had. Asaph said:
“As for me, my feet had almost turned aside, my steps had nearly been made to slip. For I became envious of the boasters, when I would see the very peace of wicked people. They are not even in the trouble of mortal man, and they are not plagued the same as other men. And they have said: ‘How has God come to know? And does there exist knowledge in the Most High?’ Look! These are the wicked, who are at ease indefinitely. They have increased their means of maintenance. Surely it is in vain that I have cleansed my heart and that I wash my hands in innocence.”—Ps. 73:2, 3, 5, 11-13.
5. James addresses his letter to “the twelve tribes that are scattered about.” To whom was he writing?
5 James begins his letter in a modest manner, not by alluding to his family relationship to Jesus Christ, but by designating himself as “a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He addresses “the twelve tribes that are scattered about” with “Greetings!” (Jas. 1:1) These are not the twelve tribes of natural Israel. The content of the letter reveals this. James would not have written as he did if his readers were merely fleshly Jews. Moreover, this manner of address was common among Christians, particularly those of actual Jewish descent, as James was. Paul calls the Christian congregation “the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:16; compare Romans 2:28, 29.) By that time Christians were scattered into every part of the Roman Empire. The apostle Paul’s exertions in the western part of the civilized world and Peter’s efforts in the area of Babylon to the east contributed much toward the increase enjoyed by Christians. Peter addressed his first letter to “the temporary residents scattered about” in parts of Asia Minor.—1 Pet. 1:1.
THE PURPOSE OF TRIALS AND ENDURANCE
6. Why should the Christian “consider it all joy” when encountering trials, and of what value are trials to him?
6 James continues: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials.” (Jas. 1:2) Jesus had 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) Not only is there a heavenly reward, but there is an advantage now, as James adds: “knowing as you do that this tested quality of your faith works out endurance.” (Jas. 1:3) Faith that stands up through tests is better—it is proven faith. This kind of faith works for stronger endurance for the next test.
7. Why should the Christian not try to evade trials or become weary under trials?
7 The Christian should not try to evade trials or feel that he has endured long enough. James says: “But let endurance have its work complete, that you may be complete and sound in all respects, not lacking in anything.” (Jas. 1:4) The work that endurance is performing in the Christian should not be hindered by complaining, murmuring or rebellion. If he does endure faithfully, not complaining against God or his own brothers, and not turning away in fear or weariness from telling others about God’s purposes through His kingdom, he will come to be complete and sound in all respects. Such endurance will help him to make over his personality. He will become a person who is able to help others, with reasonableness, sympathy and mercy. Without having undergone trials with endurance, one cannot qualify in this way. He cannot be a complete Christian.—Compare Matthew 5:48; 24:13.
WISDOM TO FACE TRIALS
8, 9. How assured can we be that we will have the wisdom to face a certain trial and endure it?
8 How assured can we be that we will have the strength and wisdom to face a certain problem—any trial—and endure? James says: “So, if any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep on asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching; and it will be given him.” (Jas. 1:5) Therefore, we can be sure that if we pray for the wisdom to handle any problem or trial that we face, we will be given it.
9 This does not mean that the problem will always go away or that it will be solved immediately, but that we will be able to take the course that will do good, spiritually, for us and for others concerned. We will endure the trial to the end and come through it better Christians than we were when we went into it. And others who observe us, and who have a right heart, will be helped.
10. (a) What kind of answer do we often get when we pray for certain things? (b) In the case of prayer for wisdom to face a trial, in what ways may we get the answer?
10 There are many things over which we may pray that may not be answered in the way that we desire. We will get an answer, possibly different from what we expect; it will be what God knows is best for us. In fact, some things that we ask for might not be for our benefit if they are granted as we ask or desire. However, wisdom to face a trial is absolutely promised by God. We are sure to get the necessary wisdom if we ask properly. The wisdom will be given in one or more of three ways: (1) Certain Scripture passages that provide the answer that we need will be called to our attention, either through our own study or through our brothers. (2) Circumstances and events as maneuvered through God’s providence will enable us to see clearly what to do. Certain obstacles may be removed from our path. (3) God’s holy angels may direct our spirit in the right course.
11. How does God ‘give generously, without reproaching’?
11 God gives generously, that is, with a simple, wholehearted spirit, more than one asks for. (Eph. 3:20; 1 John 5:14, 15) He does this without reproaching. Whereas, if you ask a human, he may reply, ‘That is a stupid request.’ He may even look down on you with contempt. Or, after several requests, he may get impatient and cut you off sharply with a denial. But not so with God. He never says, ‘What a foolish request!’ Nor does he make one feel inferior. He does not reproach you for your past conduct, as humans are prone to do. He deeply appreciates the person who has the faith and enough concern to pray repeatedly for a certain thing.—Compare Luke 18:1-14.
12. Of what can we be assured by James’ words, “it will be given him”?
12 “It will be given him.” Wisdom, which we acquire under the direction of God’s spirit, is one of the things that God is very desirous of giving to his servants. He is happy when we ask for wisdom. It always works for our good and helps us when we pray to understand God’s Word as it applies to our situation. (1 Cor. 2:9, 10) Jesus said: “If you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will the Father in heaven give holy spirit to those asking him!”—Luke 11:13; Mark 11:24.
THE RUINOUS EFFECT OF DOUBT
13. With what attitude must one pray for wisdom, and why?
13 “But let him keep on asking in faith, not doubting at all, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and blown about.” (Jas. 1:6) The petitioner must have full faith in God and his Son, and in their readiness to provide what is needed, and must have no thought other than the interests of the Christian faith and the purposes of God. He must not be praying for one thing and “halfway” wanting something else. His prayer must be from the bottom of his heart. Otherwise he is like a sea wave, which goes back and forth and up and down. Every wind—every outside influence, every fear—makes a change in him.
14. What does James say further about the man who doubts?
14 About such a person, James concludes: “In fact, let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from Jehovah; he is an indecisive [Greek, “two-souled”] man, unsteady in all his ways.” (Jas. 1:7, 8) He is double-minded, trying to go in two directions at once, torn between something of the world and the things of God; or influenced by things other than God’s Word, being of one opinion and then another. (Compare Matthew 6:24.) He may even hesitate about taking the matter to God. He has enthusiasm at one moment and discouragement at the next. He is that way not only in the matter of prayer but also as to other things in connection with faith. He is not a steady, reliable witness of Jehovah. To the contrary, the Scriptures say: “Without faith it is impossible to please [God] well, for he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.”—Heb. 11:6.
COUNSEL TO RICH AND POOR
15. How can the lowly brother exult “over his exaltation”?
15 Continuing to think of trials, James next speaks of one that is common: “Let the lowly brother exult over his exaltation.” (Jas. 1:9) Most of the Christians were, and are today, people of humble birth. (1 Cor. 1:26) Being of low estate, their economic condition may make it harder for them when persecution comes. Also, some who had been rich were made poor by persecution. Nonetheless, they could rejoice because, in the Christian congregation, their lowly state is no disadvantage. They are children of God, ‘fellow citizens of the holy ones and members of the household of God.’ (Eph. 2:19) The poor man can forget his earthly poverty because of the surpassing riches of his relationship with God and Christ, and the love of his Christian brothers. And he can be happy that he is able to help others by imparting the “good news” to them. Over these things he can boast.
16. How can the rich brother exult “over his humiliation”?
16 As to the rich man who has become a Christian, he can exult “over his humiliation.” Now it is not his wealth that really counts. Rather than high-mindedness, which riches often produce, the spirit of Christ is one of lowliness of mind and humility. (Phil. 2:3-8) He can rejoice over the understanding that he can now, through God’s undeserved kindness, discern “the deceptive power of riches” and that riches are not the thing in which to put trust. (Matt. 13:22) Also, he realizes that spending time and effort to amass worldly riches is a waste and tends to destroy the spirituality and often the health of a person. James gives reasons why: “Because like a flower of the vegetation he will pass away.” He knows that his riches do not extend his life-span. “For the sun rises with its burning heat and withers the vegetation, and its flower drops off and the beauty of its outward appearance perishes. So, too, the rich man will fade away in his ways of life.”—Jas. 1:10, 11.
17. Explain James’ description of what becomes of the rich man and his “beauty.”
17 The vegetation is withered by the sun and its beauty fades away. Just so, when the rich man gets old and dies, the splendor of the wealth that surrounds and ‘beautifies’ him is gone. Of course, the poor man also dies, but he never presented the beautiful blossoming appearance of the rich man. But this “beauty” of the rich man is taken by his heirs and others, and often the “empire” that he was building is dissolved or the goals that he was pursuing are discarded. While “in his ways of life,” perhaps on a business trip or while he is carrying out a plan to get more wealth, he dies. In many cases the rich man’s death happens before he has an opportunity to enjoy his riches. On the other hand, the rich man who becomes a Christian can even enjoy his material riches because of his using them to further the interests of God’s kingdom. He usually can arrange to devote more time to proclaiming the “good news” and can contribute to the maintaining of meeting places and to the promotion of the Kingdom work as it is done world wide.
THE REWARD OF ENDURANCE
18. What reward does James describe for the one faithfully enduring trial?
18 Whereas James, in Jas 1 verses 3 and 4, points out the immediate benefits of endurance, in Jas 1 verse 12 he emphasizes its final outcome or result—the reward for steadfastness in undergoing trials. He writes: “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) The “crown of life” is the gift of life that God gives to “those who continue loving him” through the many trials that God causes to work together to perfect his servants, if they endure them steadfastly, uncomplainingly and, by his help, triumphantly. (Rom. 8:28) This does not mean that he earns the right to life by his works or endurance, for life is the free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. But the enduring Christian has proved that he has that faith. Its quality is tested and found strong and complete.
19. What, then, is the proper Christian viewpoint toward trials?
19 Consequently, the Christian CAN endure whatever trials come upon him, even the most severe ones. He should not enter into these trials trusting in his own strength. God’s wisdom and strength must be sought through prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, who, when on earth, set the perfect example of endurance. The Christian can be fully confident in the apostle Peter’s comforting assurance: “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all undeserved kindness, who called you to his everlasting glory in union with Christ, will himself finish your training, he will make you firm, he will make you strong.”—1 Pet. 5:10; Rom. 8:35-39.