Our trials and suffering have eternal purpose

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By Brian Owens

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4).
Scripture clearly teaches that God ordains trials in the lives of Christians to mature them. Many today, however, believe that any trial that one may experience is the direct result of that person’s sin; but this is not always the case. Consider John 9:1-3: “As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Jesus corrects this common misunderstanding of illness and calamity. It isn’t necessarily due to any sin, but so that the glory of God might be made manifest in the life of the individual! James is telling us that our trials have an eternal purpose. If we recognize their purpose, we can properly respond to them. The trials themselves may not be joyful; we shouldn’t pretend they are. God expects us to cry, and when we do, we are to cry out to him.
Our suffering finds its culmination in our perfection and completeness in Christ. This is not to say we will achieve perfection in this life. Theologians often refer to the “already, but not yet” tension that runs throughout the New Testament. When we are saved, we are made perfect in our standing with God in that we are found in Christ; that is justification. We are no longer guilty because his righteousness has been imputed to us by faith. On the other hand, the “not yet” aspect of our salvation is that we are still sinners living in a fallen world who struggle with sin, but God is making us like Christ; that is sanctification.
It is through those God-ordained trials that we are being made perfect. Just as precious metal is refined and made more pure through the fires of the furnace, so the Christian is being made perfect through the fires of trials. So instead of allowing our trials to weaken our faith, we are to embrace our trials as God’s refining tool and allow them to strengthen their faith instead.
F.B. Myer wrote, “If God promised His servants an unbroken run of prosperity, there would be many counterfeit Christians. Don’t be surprised at famine…it is permitted to root you deeper just as a whirlwind makes the tree grapple deeper roots into soil.”
Whatever your struggle today, if you are a Christian be encouraged that God is working out his perfection in your life which will serve to make you more like our Lord Jesus Christ. As Corrie Ten Boom once wrote, “there is no pit so deep but He is not deeper still.” Soli Deo Gloria!

Brian Owens is an associate pastor with youth and children emphasis at Farmdale Baptist Church. He can be reached via e-mail at brian@farmdalebaptist.com.