Wisdom for Steadfastness in Trials | James 1:1-4, 12; 5:7-11
Brian Hedges | June 3, 2018
I want to begin this morning by asking you to do something of a little exercise. I want you to pull out a sheet of paper and I want you to write something down. I want you to answer this question: what is the one difficult thing in your life that you wish would just go away? Some of you are thinking, “Just one? I need a whole notebook!”
No, I want you to just think of one thing, or the main thing or things in your life that are difficult right now; the burdens you’re bearing, the trials that you are facing, the difficulties in your life, maybe something that has happened that’s not changeable, it may be something that you think could change if just the right things would happen. Whatever it is, it’s one burden in your life that you wish was not there; I want you to write that down. If you happen to be one of three people in the room who don’t have something like that to write down, you can pray for everybody else in the room right now.
No, seriously, we all have burdens, we all have trials, and I want this morning to talk about how do we handle those trials. I’m going to give you a couple of seconds to actually write that down, and then we’re going to turn to God’s Word and we’re going to learn how to deal with those trials. So write it down right now.
Once you’ve done, you can turn to James chapter 1, which is where we’re going to be studying this morning. Two weeks ago we began a series of summer messages. We’re calling this series Practical Christianity: Wisdom from the Letter James. As we saw then, James is the New Testament’s wisdom literature. James is concerned with authentic faith, he’s concerned with the practical outworking of Christianity in our lives, and with this being wisdom literature James gives us themes. Those themes are kind of scattered throughout this letter, where there are multiple themes that he talks about multiple times, so our approach this summer is to take those themes, group them together, and cover in about 12 weeks or so the various themes in this letter.
One of those themes is the theme of steadfastness through trial, steadfastness through trial. We’re going to look at the various passages that deal with those trials in the letter of James. So we’re going to be in James 1:1-4, again in verse 12, and then also James 5:7-11. So, those are the passages I’m going to read, those will also be on the screen for us, talking about steadfastness through trial.
A trial has been well defined as “any difficulty in life that may threaten our faithfulness in Christ." It may be physical illness, it may be a financial reversal, it may be the death of a loved one, it may be whatever’s on your list right now, but it’s a difficult that we face in life, some burden that can so weary us that we want to just quit, we want to just give up in the faith. Those are our trials, and James has a lot to say about how to handle such trials.
Let’s look at the passage from God’s word, first of all, James 1:1-4 and verse 12.
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion; greetings. 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.”
Verse 12: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
Turn a couple of pages to James 5:7-11. James says, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job and have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
This is God’s word.
So, I just want to ask three questions:
I. What Is Steadfastness?
II. Why Do We Need It?
III. How Do We Get It?
I. What Is Steadfastness?
First of all, what is steadfastness? You know, I think it’s helpful for us to define the word, and particularly this word. The word is hypomonē. It’s a Greek word, and it’s really a compound word. It means to abide (that’s the word meno), and it has a prefix that means “under.” So, it literally means to abide under, or to stay under.
Here’s the lexical definition of the word: “It is the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty.” That’s the idea. That’s what this word “steadfastness” means. That’s the linking word in all of these passages we have read.
Now, your version may say “patience,” and in the English Standard Version, which we have just read, the word “patience” is used. That’s a different word, but in James those two words are almost synonymous. Other translations translate this word hypomonē as “endurance” or as “perseverance” or as “fortitude.” It’s the idea of staying power, of heroic endurance, or, as one person glossed it, it’s “toughness,” steadfastness under trial. That’s the idea of the word.
I think it’s helpful for us to just think about how James uses the word and what James says about steadfastness here in his letter. So here are several things to note about steadfastness in James.
The first thing is just this: the word is virtually synonymous with patience, and it’s interesting that James tells us to be patient several times there in chapter five. He doesn’t actually say, “Be steadfast,” because I think the point he wants to make is slightly different, but since these words are basically synonymous, and since other passages in Scripture encourage us or command us to be steadfast or to endure, surely this is a command. But James tells us that this steadfastness is the result of our faith being tested. That seems to be his point. He says that we are to “count it all joy” when we fall into various kinds of trials. That’s the command: rejoice when you’re being tested by trials. Here’s the reason: because the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
So, steadfastness here is not so much something that you manufacture as it is the result of your faith being tested. James tells us that such steadfastness brings blessing; you see that in verse 12. “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,” again in verse 11 in chapter 5, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remain steadfast.” We’ll talk about this here in a few moments, but he tell us that this steadfastness is exemplified in Job, the story of Job in the Old Testament.
And then finally (and this is a command), he says that we must “let steadfastness have its full effect,” so that we will be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Here’s how the NIV reads: “Let perseverance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”
Now, this is really important. Steadfastness is the result of faith being tested by trials, but James says we have to respond to those trials in a certain way for the steadfastness to actually have its full effect.
So, here’s the implication. The implication is that our response to tests and trials is an essential ingredient in God’s recipe for developing mature and healthy Christian character. The way we respond matters, and if we don’t respond in the right way then we can thwart the intended good outcome of those trials.
Chuck Swindoll one time said that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it. There’s a lot of truth in that statement. How you respond to the trials really matters, and James tells us we are to respond by counting it all joy and letting steadfastness have its perfect work. What is steadfastness? It is bearing up under the trial with courage, with fortitude, with staying power; it’s staying in the midst of the trial with faith. That’s what we’re after.
II. Why Do We Need It?
Now, why do we need it? Second question, why do we need it?
In some ways it’s obvious: you need it because you have a list, right? You have a list of things going on in your life right now that account for why you need it. But I want to back up just a little bit and I want us to just get a more nuanced theological explanation for why steadfastness is necessary, because it may not be sufficient to list your trials and someone just say, “Okay, be tough!” That’s not enough, is it? I mean, we need more than that. We need some understanding, we need some perspective on why these trials are here, what God is intending in the trials, and how we are to respond.
So, why do we need it? Let me answer by giving you two things, two answers: an answer about our context and an answer about our condition.
(1) First of all, our context. What is the context in which we live? We live in an unredeemed and fallen world, marked by sin and suffering, a world that is still waiting for judgment and new creation. That’s our context, and you get hints of this in James 5:7 and 8. “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” Now, notice that there is a big event on the horizon here; it’s the coming of the Lord, and James is saying, “Be patient until then. You’re looking until then.”
And then he uses an illustration, doesn’t he? He says, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.” The early rains would be in the fall and the late rains in the spring in Palestine, and then the harvest, and anyone who’s had any experience with farming knows that farming requires endurance, it requires patience, it requires waiting. We are waiting. We’re waiting for something. What are we waiting for? We are waiting for the coming of the Lord, because only in the coming of the Lord will the world be made right again.
So, this is an important thing for us to understand. Our world is not the way it’s supposed to be. The world is messed up. It’s messed up! This world is marked by sin and suffering and death. More than that, this world is marked by terrible injustices, and sometimes the trials that we face in our lives are the direct result of someone treating us unfairly or unjustly. Probably everyone in this room has experienced that at some point or another.
So we live in a world where the wrongs are not always made right. We live in a world where virtue is not always rewarded, where in justice is not always punished, and where suffering sometimes seems random. The world is not the way it’s supposed to be.
I’m reading right now C.S. Lewis’s novel Perelandra. It’s the second novel in C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy. There are probably only four people in the room that like to read science fiction, so you’re probably not going to read the book. But let me just give you, in a nutshell, the plot and then a scene from this book that I think is very helpful.
So, here’s the plot. A guy goes through outer space to the planet Venus, okay? This is science fiction. The planet Venus, in Lewis’s trilogy, is a planet that has never fallen into sin, so it’s like an Eden. It’s a whole planet that is unspoiled. So there’s a man-like and woman-like creature on the planet who are the Adam and Eve on that planet, and there’s a wicked person who’s come to the planet who is possessed by the evil one and who is functioning as something like a serpent in the garden, a Lucifer in the garden; and there’s this other guy on the planet, named Ransom, who’s trying to prevent this from happening.
So, much of this novel is written about the temptation scene, it’s written about the splendor and the glories and the beauties of this unspoiled paradise. And there’s a scene that’s really instructive, I think, in this story, where Ransom has been exploring the planet, he’s been seeing all of the flora and fauna, all the plants and animals and the fruits, all of this wonderful creation, totally unspoiled; he’s never seen it before. And then he comes across a ghastly sight. There are on the planet Perelandra little creatures that are like frogs, and he comes across one of these frogs that has been horribly mutilated and is dying.
It’s the first time he’s seen anything like it on the planet, and it shocks him. It utterly shocks him. He sees this and it seems so out of place. This perfect world, it’s so out of place; here is death in the process, because something evil has mutilated this creature. This is the comment Lewis makes; he said, “The thing was an intolerable obscenity which afflicted him with shame.” “The thing was an intolerable obscenity which afflicted him with shame. It would have been better, or so he thought at that moment, for the whole universe never to have existed than for this one thing to have happened.”
Now, Lewis is trying to shock us and make us feel the weight of sin and evil and suffering and death in the world, and the reality is that we live in a world that is written large with the obscenities of sin and suffering and death. I mean, it’s everywhere. It’s everywhere. The world is fallen, the world is broken, and it’s an obscenity, it’s not meant to be there, it’s not meant to be seen. We’re not meant to live in a world like this, but we do. We do because of the Fall, we do because of human rebellion, we do because of this insidious evil that has crept into our world, that has invaded our world.
The good news of the gospel is that God, in Jesus Christ, has come to defeat that evil once and for all, we have proof of it in the resurrection, and we are awaiting final redemption, but it’s not here yet. Because it’s not here yet, because we live in the midst of this suffering in this context, we need endurance, we need steadfastness.
That’s the first reason, the context. We have to understand that if we’re ever going to cope with suffering in our world. There are some things that just are not the way they’re supposed to be. They will be made right, but they haven’t been made right as of yet.
(2) Now, here’s the second reason why we need steadfastness: we need it because of our condition, because God is not finished with us yet, either. We are still in the process of redemption. You’re not fully redeemed. If you’re a Christian this morning, you’ve been changed, you’ve been transformed by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you’ve been made new by the power of the Spirit, but you’re not fully new. You are truly new, but you are not fully new. There are still remnants of sinful flesh, there are still remnants of the old corruption. You still live in a body, with a mind that is corrupted by the fall, and you are in the process of being changed, of being perfected, of being made new.
James alludes to this in James 1:2-4 when he tells us, “Count it all joy...when [we] meet trials of various kinds, [knowing] that the testing of [our] faith produces steadfastness.” Then look at verse 4. He says, “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Implication: you’re not yet perfect! You’re not yet complete, you still lack some things, and James says that these trials, these tests - and the language he’s using here, by the way, is very vivid language; it’s the language of the crucible, a refiner’s fire. That’s the testing kind of language. The refiner’s fire is there to test your faith so that it will be purified so that you will eventually be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Those words carry the idea of fully developed, without defect, mature. James here is after full Christian integrity, not moral character. He says that our steadfastness in trials will have that effect.
That’s almost exactly what Paul says in Romans 5:3-5. “Not only that,” Paul says, “but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance.” The same word, hypomone. “Suffering produces steadfastness, steadfastness produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
So this is why we need steadfastness, because we’re in process, and God uses these trials in the process of changing our character.
Now, one more comment before we go to the third question, how do we cultivate this steadfastness? The comment is this: this perspective on trials presupposes a complex biblical theology of suffering, and it’s important that we understand that perspective, that we understand that theology. We have to be careful in how we state it to others and to ourselves so that we do not mislead people.
So, for example, sometimes Christians can sound almost glib in the ways they talk about suffering. Maybe you’ve experienced this. You’ve just gone through something terrible, and you’re trying to tell your Christian friend about it, and you realize pretty quickly that it’s not really okay for you to say how you feel; they’re going to hush you up quickly and they’re going to say, “Don’t worry, God’s going to turn all this for your good.” That’s the immediate comment, and you’re still just in the process of dealing with the blow. “My mom has cancer,” alright? “I just lost a child.” “I’m going through a divorce.” I mean, whatever the issue is. Sometimes the rush to, “God’s going to use it for good,” can feel very glib.
Now, theologically, it is true that, for every Christian, God will use all of your suffering to do you good. He will; that is true. Romans 8:28 is in the Bible. It is true. But it is a truth that must be nuanced with everything the Bible says about suffering.
Again, I think C.S. Lewis is helpful here. This time I want to give you a quotation from his book The Problem of Pain. This is, I think, the best, most nuanced statement about suffering that I’ve ever read. So this one’s a little bit longer; you can read it along with me, as I read it, on the screen. This, I think, will help us understand how to think about our suffering and how trials work to do us good.
Lewis says, “There is a paradox about tribulation in Christianity. ‘Blessed are the poor,’ but by judgment (i.e., social justice) and alms we are to remove poverty wherever possible. Blessed are we when persecuted, but we may avoid persecution by flying from city to city and may pray to be spared it, as our Lord prayed in Gethsemane. But if suffering is good, ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? I answer that suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is for the sufferer his submission to the will of God and for the spectators the compassion aroused in the acts of mercy to which it leads. In the fallen and partially redeemed universe we may distinguish (1) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for his redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute. Now, the fact that God can make complex good out of simple evil does not excuse, though by mercy it may save, those who do the simple evil. This distinction is central. Offenses must come, but woe to those by whom they come. Sins do cause grace to abound, but we must not take that as an excuse for continuing in sin. Crucifixion itself is the best as well as the worst of all historical events, but the role of Judas remains simply evil.”
You see the complexity here, and you see how this will help us to nuance how we counsel sufferers. So, for example, let me just make this practical in one case study. What would you say to a woman who is a victim of domestic violence, and she comes to you and she’s saying, “My husband is beating me continually; I need some help”?
Well, the first thing you say is not, “God is going to use this for your good.” That’s not the first thing you say. The first thing you do is you call the police and you take care of the injustice! You report the crime, and then you begin the long, slow process of helping this woman come to embrace God’s grace and God’s mercy for her in the midst of suffering, which over time, as she responds to him and as God works graciously in her, can lead to a real good in spite of all of the pain and suffering she has endured. There’s a complexity here, and we have to recognize that complexity in all kinds of problems, in all kinds of trials.
And yet, in the midst of our own trials, while we may do everything and should do everything we legally and morally can do to avoid suffering and being sinned against and injustice and all of these things, we still, in the midst of the suffering, submit to the wisdom, the goodness, the providence, the kindness of God, asking him to exploit the evil and use it to do us good.
III. How Do We Get It?
So then, how do we do that? How do we cultivate the steadfastness? We’ve already seen on the one hand that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness, so again, it’s not something we manufacture, but it is something that is to be sustained and it’s something that we are to respond to. We are to let steadfastness have its full effect. So, how do we do that?
I think James’s teaching suggests at least three answers to that question, and I’m resisting the impulse here to go to lots of other places, because I could give you probably ten answers to the question. I’m not going to do that, I’m going to give you three, and these are the three that James emphasizes here in this passage.
(1) Number one: wait for the coming of the Lord. It is central to James’s counsel. Look at chapter 5:7-8, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until he receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient.” Here the word “patient” means to “suffer long.” “Establish your hearts,” he says, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
James wants us to have an eternal perspective. He wants us to have (to use a theological word) an eschatological mindset. He wants our minds to be set not on present things but on future realities, not on the present suffering but on the future grace, not on the temporary trial but on the eternal weight of glory that lies on the other side, when Jesus comes back. So he says wait for the coming of the Lord. Look ahead. Don’t forget that this suffering is temporary; the suffering is a dot, eternity is a line that extends forever. Your suffering will last just a moment; the joy that follows will last for all eternity, age upon age upon age. That’s what’s waiting for you if you’re in Christ, and all of your suffering will be abundantly compensated for in Christ when Jesus comes back.
So right here - I mean, it’s the first encouragement and it’s the first rebuke, isn’t it? It’s the first encouragement because it reminds us that this world is not our home as it now is, it will be our home when Jesus makes it new. It reminds us that our best life is not now, in spite of what Joel Osteen may say. It’s not now. Our best life is in the future.
It rebukes us because so many of us have our hearts so much set on having it easy right now. We want life to be easy. We want to be healthy, we want to be wealthy, we want ease, we want pleasure, we want prosperity. We do not want sickness, we do not want trials, we do not want difficulties. Our hearts are set, often, on earthly things, on worldly things. So the rebuke comes. Put your hope where your hope should be. The hope is not next summer’s vacation, it’s not getting to the end of the week so you can enjoy Saturday; the hope is the blessed coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. An eternal perspective, embracing that.
You know, I have a book on my shelf, by the Puritan Richard Baxter, called The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, and I’m not kidding you, it’s that thick [four inches]. I mean, it’s that thick! And it was written for people like you! It was written for normal, everyday Christians, because the Puritans suffered a lot. I mean, this was what they were living for. This is what Baxter was trying to do, was encourage that hope.
Now I haven’t read all the book, but I’ve read a little bit of it, and Baxter says - he rebukes Christians for not thinking more about eternal things, and he just says, “If you would have more light and heat, why don’t you get in the sunshine?” The sunshine is the saints’ everlasting rest, it is this blessed hope of Jesus Christ. We need, folks, to be thinking often about the second coming of our Lord. We wait for the second coming. That’s our hope, and if that’s our hope, that is the first step for us in cultivating steadfastness.
(2) Number two: we must also trust the purpose of the Lord. We must trust the purpose of the Lord. Look at chapter 5:10-11. “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job and have seen the purpose [the telos, the goal] of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
Now, James’s readers, who were Jewish Christians, scattered, probably, by persecution, many of them living in poverty, they would have known well the story of Job. It is the great Old Testament story of the righteous sufferer. You remember the story? I mean, here’s Job, he’s the most righteous man in all the earth, and Satan, the adversary, the accuser, comes into the court of God and essentially says, “The only reason Job worships you is because you bless him so much; he’s a paid lover. If you would take away all the prosperity you’ve given him, he would curse you to your face.”
Job knows nothing of this conversation. He doesn’t know. So there’s this mysterious purpose behind the scenes behind Job’s suffering that he doesn’t understand but that God understands and the reader understands, and Job begins to suffer. The Lord says, “You know, everything that’s in his hand you can touch, just don’t touch him.”
So one by one - I mean, everything’s gone. You know, his sheep, his cattle, his children, they’re all gone. I mean, just one right after another. It’s just tragedy upon tragedy upon tragedy. This is the story of Job.
How does Job respond? He says, “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” That’s where that song comes from.
Then the Lord has another encounter with the adversary, and Satan says, “Skin for skin. If you let me touch his body, then he’ll curse you.” So the Lord says, “Okay, you can touch his body, just don’t take his life.” And Job is smitten with boils from the crown of his head to the sole of his feet.
I mean, can you imagine the misery? This is absolute misery! And then Job’s wife comes and says, “Job, just curse God and die! Give up!” Adding insult to injury here. And Job’s friends come and they all say, “What’s the secret sin? What did you do to deserve this, Job?” That’s the whole mystery of the book; he didn’t do anything to deserve it. He is the righteous sufferer.
Well, that’s the story that James has in mind. He says, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job and have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” You see that compassionate mercy at the end of the book when God finally answers Job’s prayer, he finally comes and speaks to Job and reveals himself to Job, and then he restores Job’s fortunes. I mean, everything that Job has lost is in some way replenished, there is some kind of compensation. Job is more blessed at the end than he was at the beginning.
It is a story, isn’t it, that shows us the narrative arc of suffering, endurance, restoration. It’s the same arc we have in the gospel: suffering, death, resurrection. There’s a resurrection at the end of the story, because God is compassionate and merciful.
Now, the reality is that for most of us, we’re still in the middle of the story. We don’t see the end yet. We don’t see the restoration yet. We’re not in resurrection yet, so again, we have to look to the end. But in the midst of that we trust the purpose of the Lord and we trust his character; that is, his compassion and his mercy.
Now, I’ve told this story a number of times, so many of you will have heard something of this before, but I’ll mention it again, because I think it just fits so well the theme this morning. Most of you know that my mother was diagnosed years ago with early-onset Alzheimer’s, so we’ve been in a 10 or 12-year process now of seeing her lose virtually every faculty. She now no longer recognizes any of the family, she no longer can communicate verbally, she can no longer walk on her own; she is an invalid in every sense of the word.
Probably about ten years ago now, when this was - we were still trying to figure out what was wrong, something was obviously very off, things were obviously getting worse. So we were right in the middle of this, and my dad, of course, is bearing the brunt of it. I mean, he was carrying this burden as no one else was. He was in a period where the trials just started flying at him from every direction. So he’s dealing with the increasing care for my mom, he was in the middle of a terrible work situation that was a trial to him, and then one of his best friends, a deacon in his church, committed suicide.
When that happened, I didn’t even know what to do except call him and just try to be there. I called him, and I was trying to express empathy, and I just said, “Dad, I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now.”
His voice broke, I could tell he was weeping on the other end of the phone, and then he said this: “He knoweth the way that I take, and when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:10, in the King James Version, which is his version.
Now, he still hasn’t seen the final outcome, and none of us have, because Mom has not experienced resurrection yet. I can tell you that the hope of resurrection is more precious to me now than it’s ever been in my life, and those of you who have faced these kinds of burdens or you’ve lost a loved one, you feel the same way. But his example is an example that I remember often. It is an example of steadfastness under trial that holds onto the hope of resurrection, that holds onto the purpose of the Lord, that the Lord is compassionate and merciful. When he has tried us, we will come forth as gold, either in this life or in the life to come.
(3) So, wait for the coming of the Lord, trust in the purpose of the Lord; thirdly (I’m almost done) cherish the promise of the Lord. Cherish the promise of the Lord. Look at verse 12, chapter 1, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
Now, James is using a different image here. It’s the image of the victorious athletic runner in the Olympic games, the ancient Olympic games. They would be crowned, at the end of a race, when they had completed the race, they were crowned, not with a wreath of gold, but with a laurel wreath or a wreath made of an olive branch. They were crowned with this perishable wreath, this crown. James thinks of us now as athletes in the competition, and he says, “If you will endure, if you will be steadfast, if you hold out to the end, there’s blessing.” Now, there are temporary blessings as our faith is being perfected, and there is an eternal blessing, and James points to that blessing, the crown of life.
What is this crown of life? I think it’s, very simply, eternal life that is given in reward to the faithful endurance and perseverance of the saints. The reason I think that is because in Revelation 2:10 Jesus says to a suffering church, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison that you may be tested,” see how many links there are between these passages? “...that you may be tested. For ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” So, the crown of life is something you get after death, so it’s eternal life, eternal life that is given to us after death.
I think it’s reminiscent of Paul’s words, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Remember what you wrote down on that sheet of paper? Remember what those trials are? Do you have more to add to the list? You probably will before the year is up. They’re temporary. They will not last forever. And more than that, those temporary trials, when we submit to them with faith, when we “let steadfastness have its full effect,” those trials will work for us an eternal weight of glory. That’s the good news.
Let me end with this quotation from Lewis. Lewis said, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”
Brothers and sisters, we know this is true because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ suffered the worst of injustices, he suffered the worst of deaths, and death works backwards in the resurrection, so that the agony of the crucifixion is now the glory of our redemption, and the good news is that if we believe in Jesus Christ, if we trust in Christ and if we submit to God in our sufferings, our agonies also become glories.
So this morning, whatever your trial is, let me invite you right now, would you open your hands, would you turn it over to the Lord, would you trust the good purpose of God, would you cherish the promise of God and wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? Would you believe this good news that God has taken your sufferings and he will exploit them to do eternal good? Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we bring our burdens to you right now. There’s a whole fistful that I have in mind, and probably every person in this room has at least one and many of us have many more burdens and trials that, from a human perspective, we just wish they weren’t there, we just wish they would go away. We confess this morning that we are too short-sighted and that we need the perspective of your word that reminds us that our best life is the life to come, reminds us of the glory that is awaiting us and that assures us that none of our suffering is wasted, not one stroke. So Father, we embrace that reality, we embrace that truth this morning. We bow our heads to your sovereign, mysterious, so hard-to-understand goodness. We often do not see your plan, but we trust the testimony of Scripture, that you are compassionate, that you are merciful, and we bank our hope in the reality of our resurrection Lord Jesus who shows us the glory of life to come.
Lord, would you give strength to suffering saints this morning? Encourage them, help them in every way that they need. Give hope, give endurance, give faith, give perseverance.
Father, if there are any among us this morning who do not know Christ and who do not have any confidence, at this moment, that their sufferings could do anything for them that is good, I pray that the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ would shine on their hearts this moment, that your Spirit would work powerfully to give the gifts of faith, repentance, a new perspective, a new belief and trust in the crucified, risen Savior; and a new confidence that you are God, doing all things well, that you know the end from the beginning, and that you are using our present sufferings to prepare us for eternal glory.
May that be our hope this morning, and may that be our hope as we come to the table and as we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. So draw near to us in these moments. We pray it in Jesus’s name, Amen.