“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the Lord tests hearts” (Proverbs 17:3, NAS).
Adapted from a discourse by John T. Read
To rid gold and silver of dross when taken from the earth, they are subjected to intense heat which brings the dross to the surface where it can be burned or separated and discarded. Likewise fiery trials reveal the impurities in our characters — impurities that we did not realize were there. This is why David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Often suffering and tribulation result from the practice of sin, which is a violation of God’s laws in nature. However, these are no proof of punishment by God, nor are pestilential diseases any evidence of divine displeasure, unless definitely declared so to be from God.
Job misconstrued his own severe tribulations, sufferings, and losses as being unjust. His friends attempted to convince him that he was hiding some very grievous sins, and would need to repent and confess before God would restore him. Job knew that his heart was right toward God, and that his acts had been righteous, conforming insofar as he knew to God’s requirements. Why then was he being punished, why this misery?
Consequently Job was much confused and wished for the opportunity to present his case before God. The convictions of his friends contributed to his sufferings. In the end, Job understood that trials were permitted that he might learn important lessons, be further developed in the essential elements of character, and realized that what God does is always right. When Job arrived at this realization, he had nothing to say when God gave him the opportunity.
Jesus, in his message to John on Patmos, criticized the church at Laodicea, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see” (Revelation 3:15-18).
This church at the end of the Gospel Age is urged to self-sacrifice and to pay its vows unto the Most High. Gold is often used to represent that which is divine and here it is used to picture adherence to the divine will and the development of the graces of divine character. Paul said: “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:7-9).
The Purpose of Trials
Trials are permitted of the Lord for our growth and establishment in Christ-likeness. Therefore, they should be received with thanksgiving. If we rebel and become bitter or morose, then we waste our trials. If we let them annoy us, make us fretful and irritable or peevish, then we waste our trials. Paul says, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11). Perhaps the word “rightly” should be understood as one can be wrongly exercised: troubles can bring forth murmuring, complaining, fault-finding and anything but peace and goodwill. But rightly exercised, they will bring blessings beyond our expectations.
Trials vary according to our needs. Peter’s first epistle has much to say about the trials of faith, and as one commentator puts it, the distinctive note of the epistle is “preparation for victory over suffering,” i.e., making the most out of our trials. At that time and for centuries yet to come faithful followers of Christ could expect to endure physical persecution. For as Paul says to Timothy: “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Comparing today with the early Christian centuries, our physical trials seem as nothing by comparison. What the next few years may bring is in the Lord’s hands. We have no way of knowing what we may have to endure. All saints of God must endure to the end tests of faithfulness that will usher them into the kingdom. These are designed to prove each one’s worthiness of being a member of The Christ in glory.
“In this [that is the hope of the great salvation that has been renewed by the resurrection of Jesus] ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith which is much more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound, or yield great increase, in praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6- 7). This will result from being rightly exercised by the trials received; for under divine providence there occurs much increase in growth of God likeness of character that accrues to all who realize the purpose of trials, and accept gracefully and thankfully the inconveniences and the sufferings that are put upon the flesh.
Jesus said suffering and trials are designed in order that fruitage may abound to all who are led by the Spirit. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:1-2). Peter also speaks of the purpose of suffering, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1 NAS).
Peter is not speaking of our Lord’s death as a ransom, for we have no part with him in dying as a ransom. And furthermore, his sufferings insofar as they attended his death, were not essential to the ransom; it was himself as a perfect human being that satisfied the requirements of divine justice. His sufferings were in addition to his death as the ransom, and so were given him for his own development to insure his becoming a merciful high priest.
“For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:16-18 RSV). Therefore, we partake of Christ’s sufferings that we may like him become fitted to be his associates in the work of the kingdom. Jesus did not cease from sin as he never sinned; but being tempted he had to resist sin and so could be said to be done with sin, and therefore he knows how to sympathize with all who have had to combat temptation and sin.
Peter further says: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:12-14 NAS).
What we are able to treasure up and appropriate to our own hearts and minds from these verses will depend upon the genuineness of our faith, which if it endures the testing to which all the saints are subjected, will redound to praise, honor and glory at the appearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, such a glory as we are not able to comprehend while in these fleshly bodies. Quite evidently our limited powers of comprehension could not endure such a revelation of glory for we are told that Jesus was exalted far above all rule, and all authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come; and his body members will share in that glory.
Trials Should be Welcomed
The praise, honor and glory that will attend our faithfulness belongs first to God who is glorified by all that takes place in accord with his purpose and will; second, to our Lord Jesus whose faithfulness and self-sacrifice has made possible the accomplishment of the Father’s will; finally, to the overcoming saints, who by divine grace and strength yield themselves to the doing of the divine will.
The goal that we now seek is not the prize that is to be awarded to the overcomers — not that we should ignore the inestimable reward the Father has promised, for that would show a great lack of faith and appreciation — but our goal is to become like Christ. This is the objective God has in mind for us, for “whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). This statement is so definite and important that it should stand well toward the head of our list of scriptures to always keep in mind. Are we accepting tribulation gracefully and with gladness, or do we waste our trials?
Paul said “We glory in tribulations … knowing that tribulation worketh patience” (Romans 5:3). Did he mean that he enjoyed the things that were a trial to his flesh? By no means! Tribulations require the exercise of patience, and patience results in experience, and the learning to endure strengthens hope. And because of increased hope, the love of God which results from the Spirit fills our hearts.
Thus we see that Peter and Paul agreed respecting the purpose of our trials, and the spirit with which we should accept them. James said: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). James follows the same line of reasoning as Peter and Paul. He does not say that the trials that come will of themselves be joyful to the flesh, but that we should count ourselves as greatly blessed in receiving them, because of knowing what they will accomplish in us and strive to learn the lessons of submission and cheerful endurance they inculcate.
All trials do not affect us in the same way. A trial may be something that will test our forbearance with some brother or sister or it may be something that tries our patience with ourselves in some respect. Then again, perhaps there is a real battle to love someone who was not kind or considerate toward us. There are multiple ways in which we could be tested, but underlying all of them it is faith that is on trial, for faith is the basis on which our whole character superstructure is being built. Without faith, we would have nothing.
Paul’s afflictions interfered with his service of ministering to the Gentiles, so he prayed about the matter three times. Then he was told by the Lord to be satisfied with the grace of God to bear his affliction. In full acquiescence Paul said: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
It seems imperative for all in Christ to develop this same spirit. Whether or not all will be able to manifest it to the same degree in the control of the flesh is doubtful. The degree to which we will be able to accomplish this will depend upon how completely our bodies are made subject to the new mind.
Both Paul and James (Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-3) agree with Peter that whatsoever God permits to afflict us, if rightly endured, will under the influence of the Spirit, result in making us approved in God’s sight.
Many men and women of faith prior to the first advent of our Lord were very patient and long-suffering but they did not have our Lord’s example to guide them, nor the enlightenment of the holy Spirit that is given to us. Job did not understand the objective of trials, and being imbued with the belief that trials such as he suffered were given as punishment for sin and evil doings, he was greatly confused and distressed at what he believed to be unjust treatment.
As our Lord neared the end of his trials, they became more severe. Luke says of his agony in the Garden “that being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). The agony that gripped our Lord was not caused by fear of physical death and suffering, for he demonstrated that he could take such suffering without a cringe or tremor. He knew that much depended on fulfilling his service faithfully. But his prayer was heard, “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from [out of, Diaglott] death, and was heard in that he feared” (Hebrews 5:7).
Jesus took advantage of all his trials in a way that brought about the results God intended. May he help us to accept whatever experiences he sends in a spirit of thankfulness and of sincere effort to learn the lessons that are necessary to our perfecting as new creatures. As one of our late dear sisters used to say, “all trials are worth millions; don’t waste any.”