“Remaining Steadfast Under Trial”

James 1:12-18

February 28th and March 1st , 2009


          “Hang in there”, “Don’t worry, things will turn around”, “just put one foot in front of another”.  What do all of these statements have in common?  They are statements we have either heard from others or given to others who are going through tough circumstances or even a trial.  Sometimes this advice is helpful, but at other times in is hastily given and stated not in a helpful way, but out of our own discomfort.   We simply don’t like to see anyone struggling, so we have to say something.  Our text today says “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life”.    Here you have a Divine statement  and  promise which assumes that we as Christian people are going to be faced with trials and temptations, but God’s merciful hand will always have a the final say. 

          The word for trial in our text is really a word about temptation.   Some might falsely assume that temptation would lesson for the Christian as he progresses in his faith.    According to this view a strong faith,  means less temptation.   C.S. Lewis in a book titled Mere Christianity makes the case that it is in fact the opposite  is the case.      “A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means.  This is an obvious lie.  Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is…. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.  That is why “bad” people know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always given in.  We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means.”     Oscar Wilde once wrote “When fleeing temptation, always be sure you leave a forwarding address, for the only real way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it”.  While this quote shows the strength of temptation, we do know of another place to put temptation.   In other words Christians especially know what temptations are like, because we know that God has set before us a perfect, albeit high standards.    So temptations are real, but we as crhistians have someone who helps buffer the power and impact of temptations.  That someone has promised to be there with us when facing temptations, and he is the one who lifts up repentant believers when they yield to temptation.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin.”   He makes all the difference when it comes to trials and temptations.     

          Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised when temptations come.   In my pre-marital guidance sessions there is a compatibility profile that couples fill out which describe their strengths and growth areas.   In one of those areas is something called “Marriage expectations”.  The profile then assesses how realistic those expectations are?    At times, especially with younger couples, the expectations do not always match reality.  For example couples will agree with that statement we will never face serious challenges in our marriages, or they will disagree with the statement that “romantic love” will fade somewhat through marriage.   I get the results back, and they are marked “S”, for special focus items.  Yes, major issues can and will come up, and I think it is safe to say that “romantic” love fades a bit over time.  Now if couples go in with the wrong expectations, they are set up to think that their marriages are a failures when major challenges come to the marriage, and yes romantic love “fades” a bit over time.  Jesus is warning us about Christian expectations both for ourselves and for others.   Trials of all sorts may come our way, and they may even increase because of Jesus.  Jesus would say to his disciples “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.  Paul says in Romans “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  The assumption here is that affliction and temptation will be part of the Christian life.  Don’t be surprised.  I’m reading a book titled “Leaving the church”, and in this book the author describes the multitude of reasons why people are leaving congregations.  While she has many good points, and things to think about, as I’m reading this I’m wondering if expectations of what to expect from a congregation are often unrealistic.  In other words, the church and its leadership are made up of fallen people, and yet God gathers us together under his Word, under his forgiveness, under his good news to practice what he gives us.  Forgiveness, and a life of love. 

          So now that we know that trials and temptations are  a reality, and even more so for the Christian.  How does one remain steadfast under trial?   To remain steadfast as a Christian is not about “will power”.  It is not primarily about our promises of an improved life, though that is to be the desire of all believers.  To be steadfast is to hold on to the Savior for dear life, and to recognize that his grip on us is greater than our grip on him.   While God doesn’t cause temptation or create them, he can use them to exercise our faith muscles.     In 1 Corinthians he gives those who struggle with temptation this assurance “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.   God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  In other words our Jesus, the one who was tempted himself by Satan in the dessert, is greater than any temptation.   I suppose an even greater challenge to being steadfast under trial, is when we are tempted to believe that his Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation don’t apply to us when we fail to live up to his high standards, when we fail him and others.   When we fall to temptation.   Folks we have failed, but this Jesus who was tempted for you in the desert has not failed.   This Jesus who suffered real trials, and unimaginable difficulties on his road to Calvary, is the one who comes to our defense and  says “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.   This Jesus is the one who exchanged a crown of thorns, so that you and I might have the crown of life.   This is your God of whom Paul says “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord is faithful.    To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.