G.K. Chesterton, a man known for quotable sayings, once wrote, “I believe in getting into hot water. I think it keeps you clean” (Illustrated London News, March 10, 1906).
Though Chesterton said this in the context of public discourse, the same is undoubtedly true in the private life of believers. We also know it to be true that trouble and suffering are ubiquitous. And with something so common to our everyday lives, it is essential to have a biblical perspective.
What does Scripture say about trials? Is Chesterton really correct in saying that they can be a good thing? As I work to answer these questions in this series, I want to focus on one of the classic New Testament passages on the subject:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him …
When James wrote this letter, the very first thing he wanted to talk about was suffering. And this is a very natural starting point, for the simple reason that everybody on earth lives through trials. We are fallen creatures living in the midst of a fallen world, and that is an equation for constant trouble. For humans, suffering is always near at hand.
Likewise Solomon observed, “What does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23). Day and night, life seems like nothing but trouble.
Even for Christians, the beloved children of God, life is a constant stream of trials in a very troubled world. Whenever we finally get our own little worlds under control, someone invades it and messes it up. We do everything we can to protect our peace and comfort, but trouble inevitably comes, either from outside or inside.
Jesus Himself was not able to avoid trouble. He said of His disciples, “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials” (Luke 22:28). He also told them, “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16:33). Later, Paul’s experience as an apostle bore that out (2 Corinthians 4:8).
Trouble is a normal part of life. We expect trouble in our family and from our friends. We expect trouble at work and at school. We expect money problems and health problems. We even expect that trouble will eventually find us out in the form of death as it strikes the people close to us.
This situation is true of everyone. And James says that if your faith in Christ is genuine, it will show up when trouble comes. If your faith isn’t strong enough to answer trials, it’s no good. The only useful faith and the only real faith is the sort that can sustain you when everything goes wrong.
Trials, then, are a legitimate test of the quality of your faith. Getting into “hot water” reveals whether your faith is living faith or dead faith, genuine faith or imitation faith, saving faith or non-saving faith. We will look more closely at this aspect of trials next time.
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