“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
Verse 3 gives us a two-fold reason for the thought which had been expressed m the second verse. James had exhorted the church of God to count it all joy when they fell into divers temptations. Of course, the people of God do not consider these temptations all joy because of the temptations themselves. It is for this reason that we do not seek temptations. To the contrary we fall into them. And we must count as all joy, not the temptations as such, but the fact that we fall into them. We rejoice in these afflictions because they are a means to an end.
The church of God is exhorted to rejoice in the midst of temptations not, first of all, because they are of short duration. It is, of course, true that they are of short duration. Inthe apostle speaks of our being in heaviness through manifold temptations but for a season. There this brevity of our afflictions is held before us as a cause of great rejoicing. However, this is not mentioned in this text of James. Neither does James exhort us to rejoice in temptations because of the glory which awaits us. This, too, appears in Holy Writ as a cause for the Christian’s joy. In Romans 8 the apostle Paul declares that our suffering is not to be compared with the glory that shall follow. And in the same apostle expresses the inspired word that our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. It is indeed true that the eternal hope of heavenly glory sustains the child of God, enables him to walk the path of affliction and suffering to the end. Otherwise, he would surely be the most miserable of all creatures, possessing nothing in this world and without hope for the future. Also this, however, is not in the mind of James as a reason for our rejoicing in the midst of divers temptations.
The first reason for rejoicing advanced by James is that these temptations work “the trying of our faith.” This is evidently the meaning of this text. It is true that the writer speaks of patience as the result of this trying of our faith. Yet, it is plainly the teaching of the text that these temptations, first of all, work this “trying of our faith.” The translation, “trying of our faith”, does not exactly represent the original thought of this portion of Scripture. The translation as such is clear. The “trying of our faith” refers to the process by which faith is tried. But the holy writer does not refer to this idea. Fact is, the trial of our faith does not always and necessarily result in patience At times temptations result in the weakening of the conscious believing of the Christian. James, in this text, does not have this in mind. He is not speaking here of the “trying of our faith” but of our “tried faith.” The underlying idea of the expression is that faith has a character which can endure temptation When faith has endured temptation it shall have been “tried” in the sense of “approved”, even as gold, having endured the test of fire, bears an approved, a purified character. Besides, we must also notice here the use of the word “tried, approved”. The change is made in the text from “temptation” to “tried, approved.” The reason for this is plain. The devil tempts, exclusively. He always purposes evil. But while the devil tempts, the Lord, through these temptations, is proving, purifying His people. And the text refers to this approved faith, which is faith that has endured the trial.
Faith is the living, spiritual bond which unites m with Christ Jesus. By faith we know, taste the fullness of the grace which is in Him. He only is our life we have been implanted into Him. Faith is that spiritual power whereby we, essentially but also consciously, live out of Christ, even as a tree lives, through its roots, out of the fatness of the earth. Moreover by faith we are also united with all the brethren, love them, seek their fellowship, fight with them against the common spiritual enemy, and separate ourselves from the world. And finally, faith is also a hearty confidence in God through Christ Jesus. To believe means that we, upon the basis of the cross, with our eye fixed upon the eternal glory, have the confidence that God is faithful and will never forsake the work which He has once begun.
What, then, is approved faith? Faith itself, we understand, is pure. Faith is the living and spiritual bond which unites us with Christ. It always knows and eats and drinks the Christ. It always trusts. Faith as such is pure. However, our believing, our conscious believing is not always pure. It is often mixed with human ingredients. We rely upon God but also upon ourselves. We seek then the things which are above but also the things which are below. We often mix our own righteousness with the righteousness of God. Hence, we do not always reveals the true character of faith. Our believing must be purified. This approved state of our faith is realized by means of temptations. Thereby we learn to realize our own unworthiness, to love God and hate sin and the world. We learn to rely on Christ and on Christ alone and not on ourselves, to believe in God alone. Whatever is then of ourselves and of the world falls away. God and His Kingdom become our all. Purified faith implies that our believing has been purified of all elements which are foreign to the true character of faith.
The second reason why we must rejoice in the midst of divers temptations is that this approved faith works patience. Patience is not indifference as expressed in the saying, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” Neither is patience to be confused with Stoicism, the attempt to harden oneself so that we become immune to suffering and pain—this is fundamentally rebellion against God. And, in the third place, patience is not forced subjection, so that we submit ourselves to the rod of affliction because we are powerless to resist. Patience is a work of the grace of God. It deals, as the text suggests, with suffering and affliction. Patience is that power of grace, whereby the Christian, not indifferently or passively as a Stoic, but willingly and joyfully bears all temptations, for God’s sake, so that we do not succumb to the wiles of the devil, but endure them, having our eye fixed upon the glory above, knowing that all our present trouble must work together for our good and the glory of God’s Name.
This patience is the result of approved faith. James uses a word here which does not merely mean “to work”. Literally, he writes that this approved faith works completely, accomplishes thoroughly this patience. The meaning is plain. Patience is the necessarily accompanying fruit of approved faith. We are placed before a choice. We renounce the things of this world and cling unto God and His promises in Christ Jesus. And the peace which passes or transcends all human understanding fills our heart, our hatred of sin grows, our reliance upon God becomes more steadfast, our joy in God’s love more intense, our security in God is confirmed and re-established. Our ability to suffer for the sake of God and of Christ is strengthened. Approved faith works patience.
We understand that when James writes, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience,” he does not refer to intellectual knowledge. Mere intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures and of the Scriptural truth that approved faith works patience will not enable the child of God to rejoice in divers temptations. This knowledge of our text is experimental knowledge. Only then will this rejoicing occur when, in the midst of temptations, we experience that our faith is actually being purified and that this approved faith works patience.
In verse 4 James answers the question how this rejoicing because of its result according to verse 8 can actually be experienced by the child of God. We read here: “But let patience have a perfect work.” The church is admonished to let the virtue of patience be complete unto the end. The virtue of patience must be practiced fully, completely, unto the end. This is the meaning of the expression “perfect work”. Patience, we have remarked, is the willingness and the joy of the Christian to bear and endure all suffering for God’s sake and the glory of His Name. How often does it not happen in our lives that we do not practice the virtue of patience to the end, that we break it off, become very impatient. We refuse, then, to suffer for Christ’s sake, we seek God and Mammon, heaven and the world. We refuse to forsake all for the sake of God and His Kingdom. We will not walk patiently, but seek, now and then the things below. However, we are exhorted to let the virtue of patience have a perfect work. We must exercise it continuously.
And notice, in this connection, the “but” which introduces verse 4. How well the holy writer knows that we are prone to be very impatient. And we are warned to bear constantly in mind that patience must be exercised to the end.
Patience must have a perfect work in order that we may be perfect and entire, wanting or lacking nothing. The meaning of the words “perfect” and “entire” is plain. Any doubt as to the meaning of James certainly must disappear in the light of the last words of the text: “’wanting nothing.” The word “entire” refers to the Christian in his entirety, refers to all the parts whereof he is constituted. To be “perfect” and “entire” means, therefore, that we must be perfect in all our parts. This is literally explained by the holy writer in the words that follow: lacking nothing. The Christian’s walk as a friend of God in the midst of the world must be such that, in all his walk, in every part of that walk, he may never fall short of his calling to conduct himself as of the party of the living God. It is plain why James adds these words in verse 4. We must surely let patience have a perfect work. Approved faith will work patience, but the virtue of patience must be exercised to the end. Patience is not only the Christian’s willingness to bear and endure suffering, but it is also our unspeakably blessed assurance of victory. If our patience “breaks down” it will be impossible for us to experience that approved faith works patience, inasmuch as both, patience and a living faith, are not being practiced by us. Hence, to rejoice in the blessed patience of the Christian we must also exercise it to the end. To do that, however, we must be perfect and entire, lacking nothing. There is a reciprocal relationship here. We must be patient to the end that we may be perfect and entire. Only when we are thus patient can we be perfect and entire. But it is also true that to be patient unto the end, we must in nothing fall short of our calling as a Christian. Always to be patient surely implies that we do not “break down” anywhere along the line, but that we steadfastly continue to be God’s friend and an enemy of the world. This is a difficult calling, possible only by grace.