Dear friends in Christ. Here we are at the unofficial end of summer—Labor Day weekend. The real benefit of this holiday is to stop for a moment and pause to realize that what this holiday is about—work, labor—is a good thing. Work is one of those things, like marriage, that is still a remnant from paradise, a remnant from the perfect world of Eden before the fall into sin. The difference between the work that God gave Adam to do before the fall into sin—to tend and keep [the Garden of Eden] [Gn. 2.15], which was a true joy and pleasure—and the work that we do today, what so often makes our work a true labor, so often subject to futility, is sin and the curse of sin [Gn. 3.19]: In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.
Precisely because of sin our lives are marked by various trials, hardships, sufferings, etc. Those preachers who preach nothing but health and wealth, who seem to say that once you’re a Christian everything will be for great; you will be healthy, wealthy and wise; who give people nothing but their weekly affirmations; such preach a false message which neither the word of God supports nor the experience of the faithful. Instead, the true experience of the Christians, and which God’s word tells us about, is that which we pray against in the Lord’s Prayer: Lead us not into temptation; that is, that the devil, the world and our own sinful nature all work together to try to lead us into sin and out of the faith. The other part of the Christian experience is what James writes about in our text: the various trials that we all face. Instead of thinking that once we are Christians that our lives will be free from trials, the better thing is to follow what the Holy Spirit says through James in our text—namely, to suffer, to pray and to boast.
1. St. James begins our text: My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, realizing that the testing of your faith produces patient endurance. The reality is that we will come upon various trials; like an opponent they will meet us face to face. St. Peter [1 Peter 4.12] says the same thing: Beloved do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you. Instead of running away from trials like a cowardly soldier in battle and trying to avoid them, James tells us to consider the trial as a great joy. Here you see what a great, bold thing your Christian faith is. These Christians in the very early Church suffered greatly on account of their faith in Christ and there was always before them the temptation to surrender the faith, to surrender the Gospel for the security of ordinary life and to be like everyone else. This was especially true for the Jewish Christians in Palestine to whom St. James wrote his epistle. The trials we face will be similar and will be different both to those of these early Christians and to our fellow Christians today. The trials we face will be both common to all and unique to us. Yes, the first thing that the Christian does in trial is to suffer.
Instead of regarding trials and the sufferings they bring as something to be avoided at all cost; something to flee; something that is “proof” of God’s displeasure at you—all things that our sinful nature tell us—we are to see it as a joy because here we are being called upon to put our faith into action and to give it an opportunity to shine. Remember, we are Christians and as such we have joy in our trials and sufferings because we go through our trials on a solid foundation [1 Pt. 1.3. ff]: we have a living, heavenly hope because Jesus rose from the dead; we are certain of heaven; and we are certain that our gracious Triune God will bring us through the trial and He will keep us in the faith. Certain of the ultimate victory, which is already ours in Christ, and relying upon the Lord’s grace to bring us through the trial, in the boldness of faith we say: Bring it on! We meet our opponent, the trial, and we fight that battle not in our own strength but in the strength of the Lord which He gives us through faith.
We count the trials that the Lord allows to come upon us as all joy because we know in faith, the good that He is working, for we come to know that the testing of [our] faith produces patient endurance. Yes, when trial comes we suffer, but we are glad to have our faith tested in the process. In the midst of trial, of suffering, there is joy because in the boldness of faith and out of love for our Lord who saved us, we want to show Him our love and faithfulness—He who first showed us such great love by saving us from our sin, death, devil and hell. Our love of the Lord shines through so beautifully in the midst of our trial as in the boldness of faith we keep clinging to our Lord and His Word and are ever assured of His grace, love and mercy.
In trial, we keep going back to the word of God and the glorious thing here is that precisely that word—because it is a divine word, a word in which the Holy Spirit is mightily at work—that word strengthens faith and enables us to endure. Precisely in times of trial, let us make use of the Blessed Sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood. Here we are mightily strengthened as together with the bread and wine we receive in our very mouths the very body and blood of Christ; in a wonderful way Christ is with/ in us and we in Him. In trial we are then led away from ourselves and our strength and are led to rely on our Lord and His word and sacrament. And here is our true strength as we face trial: we continue to go back to our Lord.
The very trial that we endure has the blessed work of driving us back to God and His word of promise. Precisely in the midst of trial, when faith is being tested and tried, faith listens more carefully to the word of God and takes that word and promise of God more seriously. In trial we are often left alone with nothing but God and His word. This is that glorious thing that our trials that test faith produces: patient endurance.
That patient endurance that trial produces in us comes from the faith that believes that God does not neglect us and that He is favorable to us. It comes from the hope that God will govern the outcomes and lessen our trials. It flows from the love that does not murmur against God but which offers Him our obedience with a quiet mind and obedient will. But let patient endurance continue to have a complete work, that you may be complete and entire, lacking nothing.
2. In the midst of trial, not only dowe suffer—and that we consider a joy—but we also pray. Our text: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all without reservation and not as upbraiding, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let that man stop supposing that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. We pray for the precious gift of wisdom to see the good that God is working by allowing the various trials to come upon us that He does. The Christian does not say, “Why me, God?” but instead prays to the Lord for wisdom to see/ understand His glorious and gracious workings. In times of trial, much wisdom is needed to see what God is working in grace. Reason and our old sinful nature will want us to see nothing but God’s wrath and our sin.
To count it all joy when you fall into various trials, we need to judge the trials correctly as coming from God’s gracious hand and for our spiritual good—and this is only the result of that true spiritual wisdom that He gives. In times of trial, pray for that wisdom that you may see the way God is leading you and to see that it is His gracious hand that’s leading you through the trial. This is a divinely worked wisdom that comes only from His gracious working and instructing by His Holy Spirit in the word. We do not and cannot conjure up this wisdom from ourselves, but by delving into the word of God, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we apply God’s promises of grace, mercy, forgiveness to ourselves and our own situation.
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting. When we go to the Lord in prayer, asking Him for this great gift of wisdom, we do so in true faith, knowing that He will grant this to us because He has promised to hear us for Jesus’ sake.
How vital prayer is in time of trial—prayer, the fruit of faith that takes God at His word and promise! We cannot rely on ourselves, on our good/ positive attitude in a bad situation—cheer up things could be worse. That’s not divinely granted wisdom. Instead, amid trials we have a great need for wisdom to know our Lord rightly and rightly to understand all His purposes for placing us where He did. Here we have God’s command/ promise to go to Him who gives to us without reservation and does not despise our requests. In trial, we suffer and we pray.
3. But the glorious thing for us dear Christian, is that in the midst of trial, we are certain that God’s good and gracious will toward us is being done—even though we may not fully understand all the “hows and whys.” Here is the glorious fruit of faith—humble submission to the Lord’s will; knowing that it is best. Of course, here is where prayer that the Lord grant us this spiritual wisdom is vital.
But here we come to the third thing the Christian does in the midst of trial—we not only suffer and pray, but certain of God’s gracious working we boast in our trials. St. James brings it out this way: Let the lowly brother continue to glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. Just like the poor Christian glories/ boasts in his exaltation—that is, even though He is poor he shares in the riches of God that Jesus brought about by His life, suffering and death and gives him in the word and sacrament; and just as the rich Christian glories/ boast in his humiliation—that is, he no longer places his trust in fleeting earthly goods but finds in Christ his true wealth and treasure; so too in whatever situation/trial the Christian finds him/herself there is cause for boasting and rejoicing in the present struggle because of who we are in Christ.
Dear Christian, who we are in Christ remains; thus in the midst of whatever the trial may be that we are in we are still the dear child of God. In the midst of trial we can boast and glory because we are still our Lord’s dear Christian. Trial does not remove or nullify our baptism in which our sins were washed away and we were brought into God’s holy family and made His dear child and heir. In fact, that the Lord cares enough to work on us to purify our faith through various trials shows how much He loves us.
In the divinely worked wisdom we can stand eye to eye against trial. As we stand firm in trial, there is proof that faith is sound and this leads us to take courage in the power of the Holy Spirit—my life might be rocked but thanks to the work and strengthening by the Holy Spirit in word and sacrament, my faith isn’t—and so we are emboldened and boast of and glory in our trials: the Lord is working in me, His dear child and heir. Even if we falter in our trials and give in for a time to doubt and despair, we still can rejoice as we return to the Lord—for we see our faith was tested and discovering the weak spots we strive, by diligent/ faithful use of the word and sacrament be made solid all around.
Our cause for true glorying and boasting will come on the Last Day when patient endurance will have done its work completely and we by faith have overcome all trials and receive from our Lord the gift of grace—eternal life, soul and body, with Him in heaven. Blessed is the man who is patiently enduring temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which He has promised to those who love Him.
In times of trial, we suffer; but we also pray for wisdom to judge/understand that trial correctly; and in our patient endurance worked by faith we can even glory in our trials as we look forward to that heavenly, eternal crown. INJ Amen.