Testing…Testing… – By Pastor/Elder Rene Milner
I have been meditating lately on James 1. I often find this book challenging. For me it seems to fit perfectly between the old and new testaments. Sometimes it seems reflective of the Law and at others it is filled with Grace. This week I have been particularly “tested” by the third verse. “For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” We often read this verse and think, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” For some reason we believe that our faith will have to go through the times of testing to prove to someone how strong it is. Indeed, in the very next verse James finishes with “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” When you read them together with our current use of these particular words it often sounds like “I have this little faith that will be tested over and over again through this life and I have to muster up the strength to complete these frequent tests to the best of my ability and if I struggle through steadily without wavering I can get a high enough score on my test that I will be perfect”. This week as I dug a little deeper into the verse, I saw something different. A lot different.
I always love to look at the words of scripture in the old languages. Sometimes it just makes me think newly about a word I have come to use differently than the original language. As I was pondering verse three of James one, just such a renewing of my mind happened. I was looking at the word “testing” and it made me think of all the times that the word is used. Nine times in the ESV. It seems like the Bible often speaks of tests and trials. What surprised me was that this word for testing was only used four times in the Bible. In the New Testament it is only used twice. The word used here is like trustworthiness or proof. Like it is a thing that exists and not so much a thing to be done. When I looked at the word in Strong’s it is described as a noun. This is what caught my eye. This is not something we do. That would be a verb. This is something that very much already “IS.” More of an Entity than a task to be accomplished. Studying the cross-references of the usage helped me. (It is easy when there are only a couple.**) The only other New Testament usage of the word is found in 1 Peter 1:7. “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Clearly Peter is referring to a thing not a process. Something even more precious than gold. The already proven tested genuineness of your faith. It is highly unlikely that the actual testing process is worth more than gold. In fact, in the very next line the word he uses is a related word based on the same root, but this time it is a verb used when talking about the process to purify gold. My point is that the testing in James is not a test we have to pass but more of a proof of the existence of our faith. OK so what is the difference?
One way it reads “I have all these tests I have to pass to show I have great faith.” It all depends on me and my strength. How good am I? What can I do? What if I fail?
The other way it reads “Know that your proven genuine faith brings about patient endurance” and, verse 4, “this patient endurance has a finished work that is complete in all its parts with nothing wanting.” In this way faith is in me and it is doing a work that leads to true completeness. The focus is no longer on how strong my faith is but more like the strength of that faith is based on the object of the faith not the faith itself. Put another way, faith is the on/off switch, but the brightness of the light depends on the Source. So, when there is a trial, our faith proves/shows/illuminates the power of God in Jesus Christ.
There is no doubt that we will have challenging times. This world has fallen, and the result of that fall is hardship. We can look at that hardship as a personal attack and something we must conquer in our own strength, or simply as part of God’s grand design and a chance to reflect His glory in our lives. Whenever I am faced with two ways of understanding Gods Word, both being correct, I choose the answer that would seem to show God’s glory and omnipotence the best. So, let us choose to consider it pure joy and an opportunity to glorify God whenever we are faced with various kinds of temptation or trials. God grant us the will and the strength to be able to find, like Paul, contentedness in all circumstances. In plenty and in want. In trial and in triumph. That we may be the switch that lets the light so shine that others may see your glory and be drawn to worship you. In all things to God alone be the Glory.
** I love BLB or E-sword for study. They are amazing. Feel free to ask me if you would like to know how to use them.