#6 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Fully Developed

So, we have spent some time looking at different aspects of faith as related to suffering. The image of the human body posed as a wonderful example with which to understand faith practically. We saw that faith can be likened to muscle. It is the wielder of our spiritual strength, and the producer of force that causes motion for our spiritual bodies. In terms of suffering, we saw that just like a gym instructor increases the weights during a workout, the Lord increases the tension in our lives so that our spiritual muscles can grow with endurance and strength.

So what is the point of this all? Why do our spiritual muscles need to grow? James actually answers this question to some degree. He encourages the believers to allow endurance to be bolted into them during times of suffering so that they may be fully developed, and lacking in nothing. The NLT version says it like this: “…let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

That is crazy! To think that while we are still on the earth in a fallen human state, we can be perfect and complete. Is it possible? In some ways, I think we generally skimp over that piece and consider it as a figure of speech rather than an actual possibility. I mean, how can we possibly be perfect, just like God is, here on the Earth? The general consensus is that “It is impossible”….right?

Well, I dunno if it is or isn’t, but what I do know is that even Jesus was not perfect and complete, and needing nothing from birth. Lets consider this piece of scripture in Luke 2. He is explaining to Theopolis (the person he wrote the letter for) how Jesus grew as a child. After explaining how mature Jesus already was as a 12 year old boy he continues to say that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man.”

In other words, Jesus was not perfect and complete. He was still lacking wisdom and favour. Spiritually of course, he was sinless, perfect in every way. Just like His Father. But in human terms, (regarding his personality and his maturity) he needed to grow and develop. And that took time. It is why he only started his ministry at age 30. He needed to be fully developed first.

And it is the same with us. Our Heavenly Father wants us to be fully developed “human” beings, able to bare His image on the Earth just like Jesus did. It is what we were created for. And it is why He will go to any and every length to ensure that we become fully developed. All we have to do, is allow endurance (His eternal life) to work in us in the midst of suffering, and we too will eventually, be perfect  and complete,  and lacking in nothing

Lord, show us how suffering is designed to develop us into full human beings. Help us understand what it is all for and why being fully developed is so important to you. Give us a fresh revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ and the example he is for us. Amen 

#5.3 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Faith

So what is Faith exactly? This is probably one of the most age-old questions that people have asked and tried to answer. People have had some very interesting ways of looking at and understanding Faith. Some which still influence the way we meet and worship today. So why am I focusing on Faith, when there is actually only one line in this initial passage in James referring to it? Maybe its because I believe that a significant part of understading suffering and the endurance designed to be developed within us, is in fact intrinsically linked to our understanding of Faith.

A man and I were chatting once about religion. He said that he doesn’t know if he believes in God, but that he has “faith.” To which I asked, “what in?” Faith on its own is worth nothing. One has to believe in something. You might not always be able to articulate what that something is, but its always connected to something. Just like Muscle is always connected to Bone. Muscle is really just floppy meat until it is connected with ligaments and tendons to bone. It is the bone that gives it a base. A foundation of operation. Without bones, muscles can’t work. Our skeletal structure gives us just that, structure. A frame to which everything can be joined and from which everything can function. Without it, our faith, just like our muscles, is useless!

And as followers of Christ, our lives are built upon him. He is the framework for our spiritual existence. Without him, our Faith cannot function. Without him, our Faith is just floppy meat. Our Faith should be built upon having unquestioning confidence and trust in someone. And that someone, is Christ. And I think that trials and temptations are designed to reveal to us who or what exactly we have connected our muscles to. Is it to the strong and sure structure of Christ, found in scripture and based on truth, or is it to the weak and brittle ideas of the world based on the traditions of men?

Let us be sure to understand that trial and suffering is designed to put stress on our spiritual muscles. Designed to prove the functionality of our faith and reveal the true make-up of our spiritual frames. We get to see things for what they really are. What a great gift! For without it, all we will ever be is floppy and flimsy flippin meat!

Father, thank you for your son, Jesus Christ, who is the very foundation of truth. The solid structure upon which all of life is built. I pray God, that we will appreciate the trails and sufferings that helps us see what exactly we have built our lives upon. To what exactly we have connected our faith to. May we see it as a gracious gift. One designed to show us the truth so that we may have real, solid, eternal life in Christ. 

#5.2 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Faith

So, we have answered the question of how endurance is actually developed within us? We saw that it happens when our spiritual strength is put to the test. When our faith is pushed to its limits. That is when our endurance stretches and tears and has a chance to grow by the infilling life of the Lord Jesus Christ. But it doesn’t end there. And so, my next question then is, What exactly is Faith? Yes, it can be understood practically as one’s spiritual strength. But how exactly does it work?

To continue with our illustration of the body I found this cool definition for muscle. See how interestingly it relates to Faith: “Muscle cells contain contractile filaments that move past each other and change the size of the cell. Their function is to produce force and cause motion. Muscles can cause either locomotion of the organism itself or movement of internal organs. Cardiac and smooth muscle contraction occurs without conscious thought and is necessary for survival.”

Isn’t that cool? Likened to muscle, we could say that the function of Faith is to produce force and cause motion for our spiritual bodies. Wow, I can understand that. Every action in the spiritual realm is produced by Faith. That is our strength. Confident belief in the truth, value, and trustworthiness of God. And it is by exercising our spiritual muscles that we are able to move, hold, touch, grab, run, jump, and even punch in the spiritual realm. An interesting thought.

And just like our muscles, our Faith is a part of our spiritual frame and enables us to engage and move around in the spiritual realm. And just like an athlete must exercise and strengthen their muscles to run the race with endurance, so also do we exercise our Faith to run the race set out for us. And the Lord, who is a well experienced coach, gives us difficult exercises and trials to prepare us. So that we, in the words of James “can be fully developed and lacking in nothing.”

Lord, I pray that we will see suffering and trial as mere exercises that you have given to prepare us for the race that you have set out for us. May we approach them with courage and allow them to develop our spiritual muscles so that we may be fit and able to run with skill and endurance. Amen.

#4 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Endurance

So we have determined that to see suffering from the Lord’s perspective, we really must look at what the scriptures say. We must not base our understanding on our emotions or past bad experiences. Rather, we must ask the Lord to give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ and desire to be filled with real truth. Only then, will we be able to consider trials, temptations, and suffering as an opportunity for rejoicing. And only then, will we be able to allow endurance to do a thorough work in our lives in the midst of our suffering.

As James continues, he explains that the reason we are to rejoice in our suffering, is because the process is designed to plant and develop endurance within us. And that to him is clearly something worth rejoicing about.

Now, since when has endurance been so important? I mean, today we are not encouraged to have endurance. Maybe if you were an athlete. But in general, we live in a consumer society. Start something, don’t finish it. Need something, buy it immediately. Tired of something, give it up or throw it away. Choices are limitless, and living for Now all that’s important. We do not really understand the concepts of steadfastness, patience, investment, long-term, growth, and endurance. The concepts that the scriptures seem to be full of. The one’s that James is focusing in on here. So why does he focus on endurance and what is it anyways? Well, dictionary dot com defines it as follows:

  1. the fact or power of withstanding (enduring) or bearing prolonged pain, hardships, strain, etc.
  2. the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina: (He has amazing physical endurance).
  3. lasting quality; duration: (His friendships have little endurance).
  4. Steadfastness: constant, firm, unwavering.
  5. Patience: calm endurance of hardship, provocation, pain, delay, perseverance.

Lasting quality! That sounds almost like the word “Eternal” – Which is an aspect of the person of God. He is firm, strong, steadfast no matter what, forever, never-ending, ever-lasting, the alpha and omega, timeless, eternal. I like that. It’s like trial is designed to develop within us an aspect that relates to the person of God. To become like Him.  For we are made in His character, and should in essence reveal His nature. Is that not why we were made in the first place? To fill the Earth with the image of God. It would seem that even though Adam and Eve fell and subsequently lost much of their nature that revealed God, He did not give up on His quest. No, He determined to use whatever means necessary to reclaim His image bearers on the Earth. To develop and establish within man, that which He is. And so fill the Earth with his image.

So, the charge is to embrace suffering and allow endurance to be developed within us, and so, as people fully developed and lacking nothing, we fill the Earth with God’s enduring and ever-lasting image. That which he has purposed from the beginning of time.

Lord, your desire is to fill the Earth with your image. It is one of the main things that motivated you to create. To have a people that revealed your nature and character perfectly. And for them to multiply and forever fill the Earth with You. Thank you that we can be those image bearers. Please do whatever it takes to develop us into that which we were made to be. Fill us with endurance, fill us with You.

#3 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James1:1-18]: Perspective

So we have established that we should consider suffering and difficulty as an opportunity for JOY! In looking at them as a means through which we reach the top (of that mountain) and receive the glory that awaits us there. The pain being a momentary experience, only a means to an end. But before we can begin to climb this mountain of suffering, or think about the top, we first need to consider how to go about doing so. We need a strategic perspective. A professional approach.

James explains in verse 3 that we should be assured and understand that the trial and proving of our faith bring out endurance (and steadfastness and patience). Now to be assured of something is to really trust that it will happen. And to understand something is to see it from a realistic perspective. In this case the Lord’s. James is assuring his brothers and sisters that when they belong to the Lord, trial is a good thing. And they should see it like that. They should not moan about trial, or try to avoid it, or feel guilty and bad because their lives are not sweet and smooth. Or even feel less loved by God because of the suffering in their lives. On the contrary, the opposite feelings should arise. They should see it as an opportunity to rejoice in the Lord, for He has allowed a time in which they will develop and grow. He has brought on a season of progression. A time in which they can mature in wisdom. One that will require closer dependence on Him and more need for His life and character to be developed within them. I could even go so far as to say that James is encouraging them to see trail as a loving gift from their heavenly Father. One that is meant for their good, and not for evil. But that again is a matter of perspective.

Now I know that many people have faced very real suffering in this world, terrible things that no person should ever experience. And often these are brothers and sisters that love God and follow Him wholeheartedly. And yes the question does beg, “how can a loving God allow suffering?” And as much as that is a very important question, one that many have asked, and one to which I too would love an answer, I do not want us to get into it just yet. For now, I would like us to just look at these scriptures at face value and receive wisdom from them for our lives. Allow the scriptures to speak to us without our own agendas, experiences, or emotions determining the way we read them, and so clouding our ability to receive and believe the truth set out in them. We have to be professional. Approach the scriptures objectively and with a desire to understand them for what they are. Only then will we truly see from the Lord’s perspective and be able to understand suffering correctly.

So, may we, as in the words of James just a little later on in this chapter be as one who looks carefully into the faultless law, the law of liberty that sets you free, and be faithful to it and persevere in looking into it, being not a heedless listener who forgets but an active doer who obeys, and so be blessed in that life of obedience.

Lord, thank you so much that life from your perspecitive is worth living. That when we see things the way you do, we are able to live in a way that is wise and in a way that works. I trust that during this time you will really shift our perspective closer to your own and help us see, think, and walk in a way that pleases you. May we truly understand trail and be assured of your love for us in the midst of suffering. Amen.