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The situations of life are very often a matter of perspective.
What does every 21st century Western Christian avoid like the plague, even more than sin?
It's the trials and testings of life.
We spend a large proportion of our time, effort and money planning so that life flows as smoothly as possible.
We would consider that pretty normal; it's not usual to go looking for hardship.
But in our study today we're going to find out how important faith is when we're going through trials.
We're also going to see that the Christian response to life's problems and difficulties must be very different from the response which is considered normal in the kingdom of darkness.
James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, (3) knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (4) But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
1 Pet 1:6-7 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, (7) that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
James said, "count it all joy".
Peter said, "In this you greatly rejoice".
It sounds like Peter expects that they don't need any instruction, and that he thinks they are already rejoicing.
He obviously hasn't met some of the Christians that I've met.
But both he and James were only echoing what Jesus taught them.
Matt 5:11-12 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. (12) Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
How can we possibly rejoice in the face of hardship?
When Peter said, "In this you greatly rejoice" what did he mean?
In what do we greatly rejoice?
By referring to our reward in heaven, Jesus made clear that He expected His followers to have an eternal perspective.
"Great is your reward in heaven."
When we're going through a tough time, we have look to the reality of eternity with Christ - that will give us reason to rejoice.
But to find out what Peter was talking about, we need to back up a bit in that passage.
1 Pet 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (4) to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, (5) who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
So in what do we greatly rejoice?
We've been born again, we have a living hope through Christ's resurrection, we have an incorruptible inheritance reserved in heaven, we are kept by the power of God.
Notice that none of the things that we are to rejoice in are things that belong to this world.
They all relate to the next life.
So whatever we go through, we have a reason to rejoice.
I know how difficult that can be.
It's not easy to thank God and rejoice when everything inside of you wants to lie down and die, or lash out in anger, or sulk, or give in to depression.
It's not easy.
When you're going through the mill, the last thing you want to do is thank Him, and rejoice.
But the Christian response is different from that of the world, because we have an eternal perspective.
Too many Christians expect that God is just going to wave His magic wand and make everything alright.
But He doesn't always do that, and when nothing happens, they say, "It doesn't work for me."
Well, I've got news for you, it isn't meant to just work for you, although God often graciously does something on our behalf.
Our attitudes are meant to reflect an inner reality that we are eternal beings and citizens of the Kingdom of God.
The distinction between the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of God is so stark that there is a major difference in the way we respond to the pressures of life.
No longer is our thinking, or our mindset, to be bound to the things of this life.
We've got to see beyond those.
Did you know that all Christians are employers?
2 Cor 4:17-18 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, (18) while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Did you hear that? Light affliction is working for us.
And it's earning for us "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory".
Let's train ourselves to rejoice in times of testing.
That word peripipto means "to fall into the midst of something, so as to be totally surrounded by it."1
It's not necessarily your fault that you're going through a trial.
Let me say that again: It's not necessarily your fault that you're going through a trial.
Some of you need to know that.
Ever since the Garden of Eden, it's been human nature to look around for somebody to blame: Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent didn't have a leg to stand on.
What happened then has stayed with human nature ever since.
Have you ever noticed that? You ask, "Who left the toilet seat up?" And what happens? "I haven't used the toilet today."
Pass the buck.
It's the blame syndrome and it's part of the sin nature.
It's what Satan is like; that's why he's called "the accuser of the brethren".
I guess Adam and Eve blamed him, and he's been getting his revenge ever since.
John 8:59-9:3 Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by. (3) Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. (2) And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (3) Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him."
The first response of the disciples when they saw the blind man, was to look around for someone to blame.
I guess when Jesus said that nobody was to blame, they went away scratching their heads, and they had to make a quick revision of their theology.
And so many times we blame ourselves for things that have got nothing to do with us.
Just because a loved one was struck down by a serious illness and died, doesn't mean that God is punishing you for some sin.
We have to admit that sometimes we're our own worst enemies; we cause a lot of our own problems.
But we can also fall into trials.
One day everything is fine and dandy, not a cloud in the sky, and all of a sudden BANG.
It could be a letter, or a phone call, or an accident, or something happens at work or school.
And you're left wondering what hit you, and why.
Did you ever stop to think that God might have a greater purpose in life's difficulties than just to see if He can make us squirm? Or to punish us?
He's moulding us, and fashioning us into the image of Christ.
By the time God's finished with us, we're going to be much more like Jesus than we are now.
Peter says, "that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire".
God is vitally interested in the quality of our faith.
And if we want to know how pure our faith is, we should monitor how godly our responses are the next time we're going through a trial.
Because our faith isn't measured by the size of our bank account, or the make of our car, or the impressiveness of our house, or the kind of clothes we wear.
It's measured by our steadfastness and obedience to the principles of Christ when everything seems to be going wrong, when the pressure's on.
When the bottom falls out of your world, what are you like?
Do you get the sulks? Get angry? Look around for someone to blame?
Our response gives us an idea of the purity of our faith - now isn't that a scary thought!
But keep in mind that our faith is precious to God.
How precious? Much more precious than gold which perishes.
That's why God wants us to get through the trial successfully.
This is an interesting word, different from in our last study.
Gk: hupomone - comes from a verb which means "to stand one's ground, survive, remain steadfast, persevere"2
If James were writing today, he'd probably say, "knowing that the testing of your faith produces staying power".
Do you have staying power?
When things get tough, are you still hanging in there? Still trusting in God?
Literally, this word means "an abiding under".3
Patience - staying power - is the friend of our faith - it abides under it.
This staying power is often associated with faith in the New Testament.
2 Thess 1:4; 1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 3:10; Tit 2:2; Rev 13:10
It comes in underneath and strengthens our faith.
Patience comes in and supports it when it's sagging.
This talks about a cooperation between us and God.
It's something we can allow, or block.
We can cooperate, or resist.
God brings the trials, the trials test our faith, the testing produces staying power, and the result is that we become perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Notice God's plan is not purposeless.
Jesus' suffering wasn't purposeless; it was to pay the price for our sins.
And our suffering will have value too - if - if - if we cooperate with God, that's why it says, "let patience have its perfect work".
By our own bad responses and attitudes, we can prevent it from happening.
Isn't that a tragedy? To go through tough times for nothing.
To miss out on what God wants to do in us.
And worse still, to then have to go through it all again.
But faith gives us the ability to trust God through thick and thin.
Faith isn't just for the good times.
Just because we're experiencing tough times doesn't mean our faith isn't working, or that we've fallen out of favour with God.
Having a lot of money doesn't prove we have great faith.
If we want to prove the strength and quality of our faith, let's see how we trust God in the tough times, when everything seems to be working against us.
What sort of people are we when things aren't going our way?