Joyful Testing - The Purpose of Testing

Bible Book: James  1 : 2-8
Subject: Testing; Hardships; Trials
Introduction

I want each of us to see the tests we go through for what they really are - opportunities for joy. I want us to leave here ready to pass the tests God puts before us. And I want us to truly count it all joy that God loves us enough that He wants to grow us through testing.

It's back to school time, isn't it? Teachers are excited. Parents are excited. Kids are excited. You can just feel the excitement in the air, can't you? Well, maybe not. Kids, I hope you have a better attitude about going back to school that I used to. I used to dread going back to school. I used to dread it because I wasn't a very good student. My teachers used to throw around words like "potential" and "effort". It wasn't that I couldn't do the work, it was just that most of the time I wouldn't - especially in high school. The thing about high school is, a lot of times you can get away with not doing the homework. You can get away with not doing the daily reading and studying. Sometimes you can get away with it for weeks at a time. But then what happens? Then comes the test. Teachers always have to throw in those exams. Why do they do that? To weed out people like me who were just trying to get by on personality.

In school, test time is the moment of truth. It's the time where students prove what they've learned. It's the time when the rubber meets the road-the time the students must "put up or shut up." That's why I didn't like tests in high school. I didn't like them because I wasn't prepared for them. But in college, it was a different story. I don't know what it was - maybe maturity, maybe paying for it on my own, or maybe doing it at night with a wife and kids. I don't know, but in college, my attitude towards taking tests changed. Tests became a good thing. They were a way for me to prove my learning. Tests and quizzes became a way to prepare me for the big finals to come. They were a part of learning and growing. My attitude toward tests changed. It changed because I saw what tests were really all about. I saw that they were a way for me to learn and grow. Seeing them that way made me want to prepare well for them. And preparing well made me pass them successfully.

This morning we're going to be looking at verses 2-8. These verses form the introduction to the first part of James, which runs all the way through verse 18. We'll be looking at the rest of the introduction over the next couple of weeks. In his introduction, James tells us that his letter is going to be about taking tests - the kind of tests that show whether our faith is real or not. In the first part of his introduction, the part we're looking at this morning, he explains why we're tested. He tells us the purpose for the tests we have to go through. The experts say that when you develop teaching curriculum, you write the test questions before you write lesson plans. That's kind of how God does it. God builds tests into every part of our lives. Faithfully passing those tests is what God wants of us. Failing those tests is Satan's desire for us. By God's grace, He gives us everything we need to pass the tests He places before us. We just have to choose whether we're going to listen to Him, or whether we're going to listen to Satan's lies.

This morning I want each of us to see God's tests for what they really are - an opportunity for joy. And once we see the real joyful purposes in these tests, I want each of us to rejoice in passing those tests that God has in store for us. In order to do that, we're going to look at the four joyful purposes for testing. But before we get into those four purposes, we have to clear up some language issues in the introduction as a whole. Over the next few weeks, you will see that the word "tempted" or "temptation" is used six times in James' introduction. If you are one to write in your Bibles, it might be a good idea to circle these. It's used once here in verse 2. Once in verse 12. Four times in verse 13. And it's used once in verse 14. Now, in today's English, the word tempted or temptation carries a very negative meaning. But the original word carries no such meaning. The original word carries the meaning of something being put to the test. It carries the meaning of an examination. We can even go so far as to say it can mean trials. So, in verse 2, when James writes, "My brethren count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations," he is telling us is to take joy in the fact that your faith is being examined. Take joy in the fact that God cares enough about you that He is going to test your faith. He's going to test your faith so you can know that your faith real and not false. He's telling us to take joy in the pop quizzes of life. He's telling us to rejoice in passing the tests God has in store for us. Now, back to our purposes. The first joyful purpose for testing is that testing produces patience. Look at verse 3:

I. Testing Produces Patience

James 1:3-8

Testing produces patience. We all know what the purpose of tests in school are, don't we? It's because the teachers are mean, right? Well, that might be the case, but what is the purpose of God's tests? Is it because He's mean? No! His purpose is to grow us.

When God saves us, He's not finished with us. As a matter of fact, in many ways He's just starting with us. What does Paul say in Philippians 1:6? He says, "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." In so many ways, salvation is just the starting point. That's one of the reasons Jesus compared salvation to being born again. I've never known anyone to be fully grown up on the day of birth. I've known some kids who thought they were all grown up, but never knew any who were born that way. The same thing happens when Jesus saves us. We're babies in Him. But babies grow. They grow fast, don't they? Before you know it, they grow up, go off to college and get married. Just as we experience the rapid way our children seem to grow up, God wants us to be growing spiritually in the Lord. That's what James says that testing is for. The purpose of testing is to "work" things in us to make us grow. Our bodies grow naturally. It doesn't take any effort to physically grow. But spiritual growth only comes with effort. You know, a lot of times we're like I was in high school. We don't want to put forth the effort. That's why God puts the tests in there. He puts them there because He knows that if they were not there for the tests, we would just sit back and be spiritual babies forever. We would never grow the way He wants us to. But He won't let us do that. He won't let us be babies forever. He says that once He starts something, He's going to finish it. So the purpose of testing is to work things in us to make us grow.

What does that growth look like? It looks like patience. As it's used here in verse 2, patience means perseverance. It means endurance. When I think of endurance, I automatically think about a long-distance runner. I don't know if any of you are long-distance runners or not. You can look at me and tell I'm not. So what would happen if we all decided to go run a marathon after church together? By the way, a marathon is a little over 26 miles long. So, after church we're all going to run to Princeton and back, okay? What do you think would happen? I know I probably wouldn't make it to Airport Road and back, much less to Princeton. Why wouldn't I? Because I don't have the endurance it takes. Now, think about what it takes for long-distance runners to build up that kind of endurance. They have to really train hard. Train - that's another word for purposely afflicting pain on yourself. For a runner to be able to endure the race, they have to continually test their body to its limits. That's the same reason that God tests us. He tests us to build our endurance, to increase our spiritual fitness so we can endure to the end - so we can persevere.

There's a fruit of the Spirit that covers patience. Remember the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23? "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace"...what? Longsuffering. Longsuffering is endurance. It's perseverance. It's patience. It's the kind of patience and perseverance and endurance that comes from being tested. So growth from testing looks like patience. The first joyful purpose of testing is that it produces patience. The second joyful purpose is that it promotes perfection. Look at verse 4:

II. Testing Produces Perfection

James 1:4

Testing promotes perfection. Perfection is not used here in the sense of sinless perfection. He's talking about perfection in the sense of completeness, fullness and maturity. Being complete, full and growing closer to the Lord everyday is what perfection means. But how do we do that? We do that through testing and trials.

When talking about the 100% purity of God's Word, the psalmist wrote that His Word is as pure as "silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." (12:6) That is a common picture in Scripture. The picture of metal being purified by fire speaks of purity. You know how it works when precious metal is purified. It is heated to extreme temperatures - temperatures so hot that all the impurities are burned off. The only thing that remains is the pure precious metal. The prophet Zechariah paints that picture of refinement for Israel. Turn with me to Zechariah 13:8-9. God's prophet told Israel that God was going to put them through a severe test. Now, Israel had been disobedient, so part of it was as a punishment. But what was the overall purpose of the test He was going to put them through? It was to refine them. God was going to make them purer than silver or gold. He was making them holy examples of who He is. That's why God tests His people. It's not because He's mean. It's because He loves us and wants us to be holy as He is holy. And many times, the only way to spur us on to holiness is by putting us in the fire for a little while.

Think back over your life for a minute. If you were to graph out your Christian walk on a chart, where were you greatest times of growth? Have they been when your personal seas were the calmest? Or have they been when the storms were raging in your life? Most of the time, the storms draw us closer to him. Most of the time the tests in our lives bring us closer to completeness in Him. Completeness, fullness, perfection are the goals. Perfection is a joyous thing. And that's what comes from testing. The second joyful purpose for testing is that it promotes perfection. The third joyful purpose is that it wants wisdom. Look at verse 5.

III. Testing Produces Wisdom

James 1:5

Testing seeks wisdom. It seems like one of the first things we say when we are in the middle of a test is, "I don't know what to do." Do you remember whom the Bible calls the wisest man who ever lived? His name was Solomon. Solomon was the son of King David. And before David died, he said that Solomon would succeed him as King of Israel. What a huge responsibility. Can you imagine what must have been going through Solomon's mind when David died and he was handed the crown? How in the world would he be able to effectively lead God's chosen people? How would he be able to lead the nation of Israel as well as his father did? That's some kind of test, isn't it? But is it really any bigger than some of the tests we have to go through?

"God, I just got the results of my biopsy back-I don't know what to do."

"God, I just lost my job - I don't know what to do."

"God, I just...," you fill in the blank.

Most of the time when God places a test before us, we don't have a clue as to what we should do. We find ourselves in the same position as Solomon, a king without a clue. In 1 Kings 3:7-9, Solomon prayed to the Lord to give him wisdom. He said, "And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?" Doesn't that sound like Solomon was overwhelmed with the test that lay before him? He said that he felt helpless like a little child. He felt confused to the point of not knowing whether he was coming or going. So what did he do? He wanted wisdom to enable him to pass the test. The tests that God places before you can make you feel like Solomon did, can't they? They can make you feel overwhelmed. They can make you feel helpless. They can make you feel confused. Feeling overwhelmed, helpless and confused makes you want wisdom, doesn't it? So where did Solomon go to find it? He went to the Lord. And the Lord gave it to him. He gave him so much of it that he was known throughout the world for his wisdom. Now, Solomon ended up abusing the wisdom God gave him. But the point is, the tremendous test he was facing made him want wisdom. He wanted wisdom, so he asked God for it. And God did exactly what He said He would do for you here in James 1:5. He will give it to you. He'll give it to you liberally, freely, abundantly.

Testing in your life will make you see the need to have the wisdom that only God can give you. It will make you see that need and when you ask, God will fill that need. The third joyful purpose for testing is that it wants wisdom. The fourth joyful purpose is that it finds faith. Look at the first part of verse 6:

IV. Testing Produces Faith

James 1:6a

Testing finds faith. You think back to Solomon. When he asked God for wisdom, where else could he turn? He couldn't turn to his dad. David had already died. He couldn't turn to his brothers or the rest of his family. They were a wreck. There weren't any "how to be a king" classes he could take. The test God placed in front of him pointed him in the only direction he could really go - to God. But Solomon still could have refused to humble himself enough to ask God for wisdom. He could have been determined to go it alone. To be the man. To rule the kingdom the best HE could. But he didn't. For that one moment in his life, he turned off his pride and looked to God in faith. That's what testing will do for you. It will allow you to find faith.

In Mark 9, the Bible tells of a man with a demon possessed son. The disciples had tried to heal the boy, but failed. That man was certainly facing a trial, wasn't he? Anyone with a child can imagine the anguish that man was feeling. His boy was throwing himself in the fire. And when he wasn't burning himself, he was trying to drown himself. What an awful test to have to endure. But, then Jesus came along. He told the man that it was possible for his son to be healed if he truly believed. And do you remember what the man said to Jesus? Mark 9:24 records, "And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." The test of his demon possessed son caused the father to find faith. He asked Jesus for it. Jesus gave it to him. And Jesus healed the boy.

Do all our tests end up with a happy ending? No. Sometimes God chooses not to heal the sick. Sometimes He chooses not to remove the thorn from your flesh. He chose not to remove Paul's thorn in the flesh. But whether He resolves the test the way you want Him to or not, He knows what He's doing. And He gives you the test for a purpose. He tests you to produce patience. He tests you to promote perfection. He tests you to make you want wisdom. And He tests you so you will find faith.

Conclusion

The fact is that each and every one of us in here will go through tests in our life. How are you going to pass those tests? Are you going to be like I was in high school? Praying for the Rapture to come before the next big test? Or, are you going to prepare for it ahead of time? I can tell you right now that you have no hope of passing anything without Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Because, really, that is the first and biggest test of all. This test only has one question, but it has an eternal grading scale. The question is asked by your maker - the One who created the heavens and the earth. His only question is, "What will you do with My Son?" So, I'm going to ask you, what have you done with Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God this morning? Have you trusted Him as your Lord and Savior? If you have, He will give you the patience to pass the tests of life. He will give you the completeness and perfection you need to pass the tests of life. He will give you the wisdom you need to pass the tests of life. And He will give you the faith you need to pass the tests of life. He will give you everything you need to pass the tests of life if He is your Lord and Savior. If He isn't your Lord and Savior, you're on your own. What a lonely place that is. What a helpless place that is. Don't leave this place this morning without trusting Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Don't leave this place having to face the tests and trials of life alone.

In just a few minutes you will have the opportunity to come forward and publicly proclaim your trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If you find yourself still unable to do that this morning, I would ask that while I pray, you simply do as the demon-possessed boy's father did. Say to Jesus, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." If you ask, you will receive. Ask Him this morning.

And, believer, you need to trust Him in the midst of your tests today. Whatever you are going through, realize that God knows about it and has a purpose in it. Someone here today needs to renew your commitment to trust God through your test and, thereby, to grow into all that He intends for you. Perhaps you need to come today and just bow before Him and renew that commitment!