“For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5a, 6). What comforting words to men in the midst of trials and afflictions. And, certainly, it is the Lord’s will that we suffer afflictions of various kinds in this life. For as the writer of Hebrews says later in this same chapter: “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (vv. 12, 13).
But just as surely as we have been called upon to suffer tribulation, we have been promised sweet and blessed support in the midst of it and glorious victory at the end. For the same passage continues: “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (v. 14). And John’s Gospel records these words of Christ: “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (16:33b). Don’t worry about the problem of this life, the Lord advises, because they’re temporal. They cannot undo any good work which He has wrought in us. In fact, just the opposite is the case. For far from destroying us, the problems, difficulties, and afflictions we face in this life are the pathway to blessing and reward eternally. James writes: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (1:2). We are to count it as joy when we are tested. Did a streak of sadism move James to pen those words, or are we, rather, to believe that James penned Spirit-breathed words from One who is holy and righteous, but also gracious and loving?
To say otherwise than the latter would be, not only to blaspheme the Word of God and our Savior, but also to reject God’s avenue to comfort, rich growth, and reward. Consider it all joy, James says, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (v. 3). “Small comfort,” you say. “Who wants endurance—especially at the price of suffering?” Just a moment, James hasn’t finished yet: “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v. 4). Enduring suffering offers an immediate reward, namely, perfection and completeness, that is, spiritual maturity, character lacking nothing. Have you ever begun a job only to discover that you did not have the right tools or the proper materials to complete it? What a waste of time! What frustration! Or worse yet, have you ever begun a project only to realize that you did not know how to complete it? You were left with a half-finished job—some ugly, misshapen hulk, stored for years in a dark corner of the garage, the depths of the basement, or an inaccessible recess of the attic; some ugly hulk, a perpetual memorial to your ineptitude. Or even worse, perhaps your unfinished project is not something physical. Perhaps it is some quality or personal character trait that is unfinished. That sort of “project” cannot be hidden in the attic or thrown on the trash pile. But rejoice, for the Lord never leaves His projects unfinished: He tries us that we may be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
We will not face eternity and enter heaven as legless pieces of broken furniture, half-knitted scraps of unraveling wool, or unpainted and unfired shards of ceramics. No, we will go to glory complete in Christ. Furthermore, for that suffering which produces in us maturity and completeness, we will receive reward. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jam. 1:12). This “crown of life” is not eternal life, for that we receive when our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. No, the crown of life is some further embellishment (so to speak) on our eternal life received by the person who endures suffering. The Lord chooses suffering for His children, not in order punish them, but in order to sanctify them and so to heap blessing upon them throughout eternity. “Therefore, be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord” (Jam. 5:7a).
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