Trial by fire…the forging of spirit… (K. Payne)

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Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative | Inclination: dispensational | Seminary: Western (Portland)

1. Study James 1:2-6. What implications are there with the word knowing found in verse 3 in relation to personal trials?

According to the Bible Christians can know, not just hope, that trials will produce endurance. The ultimate result of the trials process is that we become "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." God's promise that we can know our trials will make us stronger is a reason to hope, even in the midst of a stressful trial.

Knowing our trials will make us stronger does not promise they will be painless. But our attitude in facing trials can make the difference between seeing that situation as a source of joy or a reason to be despondent. "This is going to be stretching and tough to work through but I will make it" is a far different mental attitude than the person who wonders "Am I going to survive this?" Trials can hurt; but a Christian knows, because of God's promise, that the end result will be a strengthened faith while the other person is left to simply survive.

According to 1 John 5:11-13, we can know we have eternal life. Romans 8:28 declares that we can know that God will always cause our circumstances to work for the good to those who love Him and are called accordingly to His purpose. James 1:3 makes it just as clear that we can know even during the painful process, that our trials will strengthen us so that we are able to serve God more effectively.

2. Look again at James 1:5-6. What does James mean? How is this reconciled in today's world? Disease, poverty, starvation, AIDS, gang violence, automobile accidents, abortion, divorce, alcoholism, drug addiction, physical, mental, and sexual abuses are all sad realities we live with which have no simple solutions nor do they appear to have redeeming qualities. How we make sense of this?

If we always had a clear understanding of our trials we would not have to ask God for wisdom. The fact that James tells us we can confidently ask God for wisdom and not fear being rebuffed by Him indicates the likelihood of this occurring sooner or later. Have you ever thought how limited reality is for the individual who says, "I will only believe or accept the things I can reason though"? Finite human beings, even the brightest, are just not that smart. Some of the circumstances we face in life are beyond our abilities to reason, control, or change. God alone is omniscient. "Self-made" men and women do not exist. Those who claim to control their past, present, and future are naive, proud, or both.

The attitude in which we ask God "why" can affect how God answers our prayers. Verse 6 tells us that our request must be made in faith.

Luke provides two illustrations of this "faith" is:

In Luke 1:12-22, a Levitical priest, Zacharias, is told by the angel Gabriel that his barren wife Elizabeth will bear him a son. Zacharias responds by asking, "how will I know this for certain?" Gabriel responds by making Zacharias mute, "And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time."

In Luke 1:26-45, we see a different example. Gabriel visits Mary, the virgin engaged to Joseph, and informs her that she has found favor with God and will conceive a boy named Jesus. Mary asks, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" In contrast to Zacharias, Mary asked her question with a different heart and attitude. Regardless of the implications in Jewish society of a visibly pregnant virgin, she responds, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." And later in Luke 1:45, a Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth says to Mary, "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord."

We live in a world of uncertainty. It often feels like no one is in control and things are getting progressively worse. The contentment that a Christian should have in the face of trials, knowing that God is in sovereign control and using our trials to strengthen us, allows us the privilege and opportunity to live in sharp contrast to those around us who get up each morning and go to bed each night without hope. The good news is not that trials can be eliminated this side of heaven, but the fact that there are biblical principles which will help us work through our trials rather than become buried underneath them. James tells us that we have the privilege to ask and understand, if we are willing to believe that God, without a doubt, is bigger than our circumstances.

Karl Payne's personal note: I grew up in a home that would have been considered moral and ethical, but not religious. Both of my parents were teachers. Dad was a Mathematics / Science specialist for the Sacramento City School District and my mom taught grade school. My Dad would occasionally pray for our food, but we did not read the Bible or discuss religious topics. I decided my first Sunday of seventh grade that I had no real interest in church or Sunday school and informed my parents that I would no longer attend either. I assumed I was a Christian because I had been baptized as a child at my mom's request, but my primary interests were baseball, football and music.

On June 17th, 1970 I became a Christian while attending a youth retreat sponsored by Young Life, a Christian ministry focused upon reaching high school students. The two biggest hurdles I faced in that decision both related to honest assumptions. My first assumption related to what I had understood it meant to be a Christian. I assumed that I was a Christian because I had been baptized. Christians get baptized, I had been baptized, therefore, I was a Christian. I also thought that heaven, if it was real, was attained by being a nice person. I reasoned that since on a moral and ethical scale which had the Pope on one end and Hitler on the other, that my live style was closer to the Pope's than Hitler's, thus making me a shoe in for heaven if God was fair.

The second assumption I had made related to education. In eighth grade my science teacher told our class that "religious people were mental cripples who needed a crutch to get through life." I was very impressed by this teacher and took to heart what he said. In the eleventh grade, my physiology teacher told our class that "educated people believed in evolution." As I grew older my education had become more important to me. As a result of several teacher's comments I assumed that it was not possible to think deeply and still be a Christian. Religion in my mind was therefore something for nice people who were not too concerned about an academic education. My first assumption was to confuse churchianity with Christianity. Churchianity represents men and women making their best efforts to reach up to God and receive His approval, based upon their individual efforts to be found worthy in His eyes. Biblical Christianity is a message explaining how God has chosen to reach down to mankind through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, providing salvation by His grace as a free gift to all who believe, in spite of our unworthiness. Religion is essentially a message of man reaching up to God. Christianity is a message detailing how God has reached down to man. Religion exalts man. Christianity exalts God. I had received just enough religious training to confuse religion with Christianity and had rejected an honest consideration of Christianity in the process. My second assumption was to confuse naturalism, dialectical materialism and the suppositional baggage assumed to be true by both philosophical world views, with actual empirical data and good science, which provides conclusions based upon testing, observation and repetition rather than wishful thinking and naturalist / atheistic suppositional indoctrination.

On the 17th of June, 1970 at 8:00 P.M., I listened to a gentleman clearly explain that God's plan is that I have eternal life (John 3:16, John 10:10, Romans 5:1), but that my problem with sin (to miss the mark in word, thought or deed) had separated me from Him (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23). This sounded more like bad news to me than good news. He went on to say that God had provided a remedy for my sin by sending His only son Jesus Christ to die on a cross as a payment for my penalty (2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 2:4-10, 1 Timothy 2:5, Romans 5:8, John 14:6, Ephesians 2:8-9), but that it was absolutely necessary for me to respond to His remedy for the remedy to be effective (John 1:12, Romans 10:9-10, Revelation 3:20). I bowed my head in that room and quietly asked Jesus Christ to become my Savior and Lord. Jesus came into my life and has made me a new person, from the inside out (2 Corinthians 5:17). That was nearly thirty-one years ago. Knowing Jesus is more than religious activism or academic curiosity. It is a real relationship. Spiritual maturity is a process (1 John 2:12-14) that should continue to develop and grow as long as we are alive.

God used a Campus Crusade for Christ high school ministry to teach me that aggressive, reproductive Christianity (2 Timothy 2:2) should be considered normal Christianity. Sincerity is necessary for Christian living, but it is not sufficient for impacting our world for Christ (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, 2 Timothy 2:15, 1 Peter 3:15). He has used several godly men, seminary and nearly twenty-five years of serving in church ministry to teach me that making disciples means far more than leading people to Christ and asking them to pray and read their Bibles. It is impossible to give what you do not have or share what you do not know. When people tell me that their Christian faith is boring, what they are really telling me is that they do not pray, they do not study and they do not give away what they have been given. The Christian life is an adventure that is exciting to live and share. To judge Christianity by people who sit on their hands, criticize others and turn a living faith into dead religion is to misrepresent Biblical Christianity. Christianity was never meant to be lived as a passive spectator sport.

Dr. Karl Payne, at heart, is an apologist who loves to train and equip Christians for spiritual service and warfare (Eph.4:11-16). He enjoys preaching, writing and retreat / conference / seminar speaking. He derives his greatest pleasure tackling the challenge of teaching Christian workers, interns and budding preachers / teachers at both the Bible College and Seminary levels. In addition, he has co-authored two books: A just Defense and Cross Training through Multnomah Press.

It is believed that the author of this epistle is James, the half brother of Jesus and son of Joseph and Mary. He became the leader of the church in Jerusalem and was martyred in 62 AD. This means that the epistle of James is one of the earliest books of the New Testament. However, authorship and date of writing is still debated among scholars.

"Scripture has but one sense, which is the literal sense."

William Tyndale (1494-1536)

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