My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James 1:2-4 NKJV
I may have mentioned before that for the first time in many years I decided to plant a garden this past spring. It has been a very enjoyable experience to cultivate, fertilize, water, and then observe all the seeds germinate and grow to become healthy plants. I have, however, learned something about gardens that I think has a very good application to our lives as believers, and a situation we all face at some point in our walk with God.
I was excited to see that everything I planted this spring grew, and like anyone who plants a garden I waited patiently for the fruit to appear so I could get to the business of harvesting and eating. Two things I planted were broccoli and cauliflower, and I was amazed at how big those plants can get. Imagine my surprise though when it began to become apparent that in spite of how large and healthy these plants appeared, not one of them ever produced any fruit! They gave the appearance of being healthy and mature, but they never did what they were intended to do, which was to produce their fruit for me to eat.
The book of James has rightly been called a book about becoming mature as a Christian. In it James describes not only what we as believers can expect from this life, but also what is expected from us. It may sound a little strange, but as I studied this passage this week my thoughts also went to my garden and the experience I had in watching most of the plants produce their fruit, but two not. In the passage above, James tells us that as Christians, the expectation is for us to become “complete”. How we do that is a result of a process which begins, unfortunately, with testing.
Now nobody I know likes to be tested. I used to dread tests in school because it always seemed that they were intended to show not how much I knew, but how little. Yet here James tells us that the “test” is necessary because it “produces”. In other words, without testing we would be like my plants that didn't produce any fruit. We might look pretty, but without the opportunity to produce, no one would ever see our fruit. So the way I see it, trials are the fertilizer that helps our faith grow, and as a result produce the fruit which others can see.
Now as our faith grows, it produces “patience”. In the Greek, the word for patience is hypomonē: 1) steadfastness, constancy, endurance. Patience is the fruit that everyone around us can see, and in essence, it is what everyone around us is looking for. We often tend to think that trials are sort of an “internal” self check of our faith when in reality we are being told that trials are a way for others to observe our fruit, or lack of it. Endurance relates to a process which is ongoing and takes some time, so the picture here is that the fruit of patience is something that is ongoing, and not just a one-time event.
Now it would be nice if this were a process that just happened naturally without any choice on our part, yet we now come to the part of this passage that explains why many believers, like some of my plants, produce no fruit. Notice the words “but let”. You see, here we find that although we are told that trials are a part of every believers life, we must make the choice to “let” the patience produced by those tests do it's work and help us mature into what is described as being “perfect and complete”.
It took several months for my garden to produce, and I think the idea here is that the trials we will face will last for a time as well. It takes time for growth to occur, and there aren't any shortcuts. We often try to find ways to “end” our tests as quickly as possible, or avoid them altogether when we are told here to simply let the process produce the fruit. We are told ahead of time what the result of the process will be, but we still need to make the choice to let it take it's time and bear fruit at the end.
Is it really worth it? In the Greek, the word for complete is holoklēros: 1) complete in all its parts, in no part wanting or unsound, complete, entire, whole. I don't know about you, but I figured out pretty early in life that things don't work very well when a piece is missing. What James is telling us here is that we make the choice to endure trials and let them produce patience so we may be complete. Do you really want to try and walk as a believer in this life with some parts missing?
As Christians, James tells us here that the mark of a mature believer is one who exhibits their fruit by embracing the trials that come with patience and endurance knowing that God has provided what we need to do just that. Fruit is something that others can see, and I think the point James is making here is that when we make the choice to mature as believers the fruit that will be produced is for others to see. Believers are to look different than the rest of the world and how we deal with trials is one of the best ways for us to do just that. Is it worth it? It is according to James.
Blessed [is] the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
James 1:12 NKJV