That which is most necessary for the health of the church today, is the very thing God promises to produce and build into our character through the testing of our faith. Do you know what it is? James chapter 1 provides the answer!
James 1:2-4 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.
In previous articles we’ve noted that trials are both inevitable and profitable. Adversities produce the quality of spiritual toughness or “endurance” (vs 3). Endurance is spiritual ‘staying power’ – a wonderful and fundamentally Christlike attribute according to Hebrews 12:1-2. Nevertheless, James tells us that the production of endurance is not the end; It leads towards a further goal. Its goal is in fact the most necessary quality for the health of the church in every age. Trials produce spiritual maturity (vs 4).
James tells us that increasing endurance ripens. God actually desires that the endurance of spiritual toughness and strength would blossom and contribute toward his larger goal of producing spiritual maturity in our lives. But what is spiritual maturity? Spiritual maturity refers to a degree of holiness in both life and character that reflects significant and increasing Christlikeness. Romans 8:28-29 indicate that God graciously orchestrates all things in our lives so that we would be conformed more and more to the pattern of Jesus’ life and character. (For a fleshed-out portrait of Christlike character consider 1 Tim 3:1-6; Tit 1:5-9; Gal 5:22-23; Eph 4:1-2). But look in the mirror – none of us have fully and finally arrived at complete Christlikeness! One of the necessary ingredients to reach this goal of maturity is trials. There are three phrases in James 1:4 that speak his concept of spiritual maturity:
- “…that you may be perfect…”
The word perfect does not mean moral perfection in terms of sinlessness (1 Jn 1:8,10). It means to be fully grown, or completely developed. Paul used this same word to describe Christian maturity in Col 1:28. It has the idea of attaining a desired goal or purpose.
- “…and complete…”
This word literally means complete ‘with all its parts.’ Picture an engine that, having been completely assembled, runs because all of the parts are intact.
- “lacking in nothing…”
The verb “to lack” means to be deficient or to be in need. The idea falling short of a standard. Of course, mature Christlike character is the standard that the believer presses on towards and for which the believer has been saved (Phil 3:12).
Taken together, James is saying that God uses trials produce resilient, stable, fully grown Christian graces and attitudes within us so that all the individual aspects of our heart, our spiritual disciplines, our worship, and our relationships reflect Him. It is a comprehensive growth so that no area falls short of who he calls us to be and how he calls us to live.
What a picture! Just as any parent rejoices to see their children healthy, balanced, stable, strong, and mature – God desires this in our lives. None of us enjoy trials – but I want the Lord to produce spiritual toughness and spiritual maturity in my life! Don’t you? The very thing I need to be a better husband, better churchman, and more faithful disciple is maturity. Oh, but to exude more sound, stable, proven godliness of life and character that has been tested refined!
Let me give you challenge: What if we focused on how God wants to mature our character in the midst of trial instead of asking the question that we all naturally obsess over in hard times. It’s the “why” question? We tend to have a shortsighted view focusing on “why.” Why is this happening? Why me God? Why are you allowing this heartache? Why haven’t you dealt with this person or situation I’ve prayed for? But God has a long-sighted view (transcending the circumstances) that focuses on transforming and strengthening our character. Whether our trials are short or long, severe or mild, financial, medical, relational, spiritual or other – it is comforting to know that through it all our God is producing spiritual toughness and spiritual maturity!