One of the world’s most valuable minerals is gold. Although wonderfully beautiful on its own, this precious metal is usually mined among quartz and iron which discolor it golden shimmer. Therefore, it is brought through a purification process. The ore is placed into a crucible and the crucible into a furnace where intense heat draws the impurities out and is skimmed away. Only the gold shimmer remains.
Proverbs 17:3 alludes to an ancient method of this process, “the crucible is for silver, the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” But, wait for the punchline. The instrument, in which the precious metal is purified, is called the crucible, which means “a severe trial.” The term is derived from the Medieval Latin word “crucibulum,” which originally described a common night light as “a lamp burning before the cross.”
This captures the proving work of trials quite vividly. The Lord tests our hearts in the crucible whereby the heat of His holiness melts away impurities, so that only the beauty of the cross remains. James tells us to consider this trying process a great joy, because it reveals the grace of God more vividly by approving the validity of our faith and improving the maturity of our faith.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Ja. 1:2-4)
Trials Produce Steadfastness
Few things frustrated me more than running out of gas while mowing the yard. I was impatient when I was young. The nearest gas station was a long walking distance to the end of the neighborhood which would set me back a good hour. On occasion, I would leave the yard half-mowed until my parents could refill the gas can. Not so with trials. They never leave a job unfinished. They always produce steadfastness.
This word “produces” is an intensified verb conveying a kind of persistent work that labor until completion. The Roman occupied world of that day would have easily identified this term as mining or farming term. They understood that miners would prevail against the rock until precious metals were excavated. Farmers would prevail against the soil until it yielded produce. The term was never used to refer to an incomplete job or a performance that was done halfway. James to say that trials always accomplish their intended goal. They are never unproductive. They always produce steadfastness.
Steadfastness is a Christian virtue. The word means to “remain under” trials. It is sometimes translated as endurance, patience, or perseverance—none of which perfectly capture it meaning. Steadfastness involves a willful submission to remain under discomfort while standing firm without grumbling. It is composed of virtues like courage (the ability to go against your fears), hope (the ability to look passed your present troubles), joy (the ability to delight in God’s sovereignty), patience (the ability to forebear until God delivers), and more. It pictures the athlete who holds up under a heavy weight developing strength that can withstand even more weight in the future. The steadfast person, to put it negatively, will not surrender to discomfort during trying times.
The testing of your faith works out perfect endurance. If your faith is a genuine faith, the trial will pump spiritual energy into its muscles. A counterfeit faith will fall under pressure because it is weak. Saving faith is a standing faith. It does not waiver. It does not coward or withdraw. It remains under the pressure of trials regardless of the pain, because it is supernaturally charged and dependent on the grace of God which courses through its spiritual veins. For my nerds: Saving faith is like the Incredible Hulk, the more you trouble it, the stronger it becomes. You’re welcome.
Steadfastness Develops Perfection
Coordinating a cleaning service with the closing and moving into a home is tricky business. Each of the moving parts depends on the timing of the other. A delay in attaining the keys means a delay in opening the door, which consequently delays everything else. Hard decisions have to be made when you arrive at the house with a fully stocked moving truck and several young men willing to work for pizza, and the cleaning crew is still inside. The temptation might be to interrupt the cleaning. When it comes to the testing of our faith, the same temptation arises. James tells us to “let steadfastness have its full effect” (Ja. 1:4).
Trials have a job to complete. They are cleaning your spiritual house. Let them do their job. Let them complete their task. This is the idea behind the words “full effect.” It might translate into modern vernacular as “run its course” or “complete its goal.” God uses trials to accomplish a specific work in us that is summarized by the term “steadfastness,” which refers to an improved, stronger faith (Ja. 1:4). God intends to build you up, so let Him work. Submit to the trial. Don’t avoid it. Don’t fight it.
One pastor said that the only way out of a trial is through it. There are not side exits or hard brakes. So, let it have its full effect. Why? Because you will be clean clean clean. Yea, triple clean. When you submit to God’s proving process, you will be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Ja. 1:4). Triple clean.
It is not uncommon for Jewish writers to employ this triple-threat device. (“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!” as Revelation 4:8 reads.) Each of these words, though distinctly nuanced, imply the same thing. “Perfect” refers to the depth of maturity—full grace. “Complete” refers to the breadth of maturity—all grace. “Lacking in nothing” reinforces both ideas with a negative clause (like “faith, not doubting” in James 1:6). Trials result in a trifecta—three perfections.
Perfection Prepares Faith
Now, we are treading in curious waters. Let me throw you in the deep end. If trials always result in my perfection, why do I need more? Does perfection need improvement? It is likely that James considers steadfastness to be a lifetime development. Trials, over your lifetime, produce steadfastness.
Steadfastness has its “full effect” when you have fully lived your life enduring trials. In other words, the perfection you experience occurs when you “receive the crown of life” in Heaven (Ja. 1:12).
At the same time, there is a sense of “here and now” in the text. Each trial produces steadfastness today. Steadfastness develops perfection today. It is a “glory to glory” experience (2 Cor. 3:18). Consider the six days of creation. At the completion of each day, God declared His work “good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Yet, each day He worked again on His creation. God completed His intended work each day. So each day was perfect as it was. The next day, God completed a different creative work. It too was perfect when He finished. At the end of the week, God perfected His creation until it was perfectly complete. In the same way, God is working in our life to make us “good” each day until we are finally perfect in every way.
The military puts its computerized devices through a process called “ruggedization.” During the process, certain parts of the devices are replaced with stronger materials and resources in order to withstand particular circumstances. Some of these devices are taken into the most tumultuous habitats. They need to withstand sand, rain, submersion, impacts, and even small bullets. Once they are “ruggedized” they can be taken into war. However, the ruggedization is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The device will require another ruggedization process for its next mission. Likewise, trials equip us for our present conditions, but will require further improvement for future trials.
Don’t Be a Moab
In the Old Testament, fine wine was developed by being poured from skin to skin. It would sit in the wineskin for a time to allow the dregs to fall to the bottom. The wine would then be poured into another skin to repeat. Once the dregs were removed, the wine was pure and sweet tasting. Hold on to this point: the constant pouring and standing allowed the bitterness to fall and the sweetness to remain.
In Jeremiah 48, God is judging Moab. You might recall that Moabites were a cursed people, a pagan nation. They were not allowed into the house of Israel. They were impure and distasteful to God. Read the Words of the Lord:
“Moab has been at ease from his youth and has settled on his dregs; he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile; so his taste remains in him, and his scent is not changed” (Jer. 48:11).
Moab was never “emptied from vessel to vessel” like wine. He never experienced troubles. He had an easy and comfortable life. This resulted in him remaining in his sin—bitter tasting to the Holy Lord. A life without trials produces weak faith. So, “count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds” (Ja. 1:2). God is making you better.