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Home School of Suffering Testings, Temptations and Tribulations - Text

Testings, Temptations and Tribulations - Text

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Testings, Temptations and Tribulations


Welcome Friends

by Gary Phillips - Copyright

If you ever use the J. B. Phillips' version of Scripture in your study of the New Testament, you cannot help but be struck by his graphic 'translation' of the Epistles. His excellent paraphrase of James 1:2 , from which my subtitle is pirated, is particularly striking. The verse reads in full 'When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your life my brother don't resent them as intruders but welcome them as friends'. It will be my purpose in this brief article to examine the subject of Christian trials, and in developing my theme I propose to take the general and generic term 'trials' and to break it down into what I see as its three component parts. It may perhaps help to schematise (but obviously not dogmatise) this in the following way;

Of course, I am well aware that the subject is far more complex than our table suggests, and at times it is extremely difficult linguistically (both in English and Greek) to maintain such a neat distinction. But for the sake of convenience, and at the risk of oversimplification I will use this framework as a basis for this present study.

1 Testings

Before we tackle this rather difficult subject we should perhaps pause for a moment and say something about Triumphalism, with its theology of glory without suffering and its 'gospel' of problem-free Christianity.

Triumphalism teaches that happiness, success, health and wealth are evidences of the 'abundant life', and these should be the right of all Christians. On the other hand, failure to obtain these benefits is indicative of some spiritual malady. I think this fairly expresses the Triumphalistic position popularised by the fringe elements of Pentecostalism and dug from the ground of non-Christian philosophies. This doctrine, if that is the right name to give it, is arrived at by the random relevance selection method of interpreting scripture.


That is, by arbitrarily taking texts from their biblical contexts to prove or support a particular viewpoint, thus making the Bible say what they want it to say.

This section is written as a corrective to this devious and deviant teaching.


The Bible clearly establishes the fact that God (whether directly or indirectly) tests the believer. We could easily support our case with a long list of scriptures but the following three will serve to prove the point.

Eliphaz urges Job to 'despise not the chastenings of the Almighty. For he wounds but he binds up, he smites, but his hands heal' (Job 5:17 ,18). Hosea tells the people 'come let us return to the Lord for he has torn, that he may heal us, he has stricken, and he will bind up' (Hos 6:1). Isaiah tells us of 'the day when the Lord binds up the hurt of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow' (Is 30:26).

I am sure that we can all draw from our many personal experiences to bear out the truth of these scriptures.

For instance, how many of us have at some time or other known what it is for God to withdraw his face (not his grace) from us? (Ps 30:7; 69:17), or who is there among us who has not felt God's hand heavy upon them? (Ps 32:4; 38:2), or what believer is there who has not been tried by fire? (I Pet 1:7).

To my mind, there are two possible attitudes to these rather dark and strange providences. They will either cause us to cry Why? (response) or Why me? (reaction). The latter is, strictly speaking, sub-Christian, for it arises out of rebellion and resentment. It is to charge God with being unfair and unreason­able in his treatment of us. It is to question his rule and government in our lives. It is to deny his wisdom and love in the exercise of his providence. It is a failure to see that 'Behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face' (William Cowper).

On the other hand, the former is the voice of request and reflection. It is to ask oneself, what is God trying to teach me through this unpleasant experience? To what is he drawing my attention? Is there a warning to heed? a sin to forsake? a command to obey? a direction to follow?

What is the purpose of God in testings? Testings are an integral and inescapable part of our calling as children of God. They are specifically designed to prove, reprove and improve, to train, restrain and constrain in order to promote spirituality, maturity and humility, in a word to make us Christlike. They should be seen as 'means of grace' and helps brought in alongside the believer to challenge his faith, develop his character and deepen his commitment. Testings can take many forms including infirmities, afflictions, adversity and hardship. But there may be some who, on reading this will say to themselves 'Surely, this cannot be consistent with a loving and caring Father'. My answer is simple: it is because he loves and cares for us so much that he will use any means whatsoever to shape us into the image of his Son. Such is the testimony of a shrewd and perceptive old Puritan when he wrote 'I have gained more by my sickness than by many a sermon'. It is a truth that caused Horatius Bonar to pen:



Choose Thou for me my friends, My sickness or my health

Choose Thou my cares for me My poverty or wealth.


and one which constrained Faber to write:


Ill that he blesses is most good

And unblest good is ill

And all is right that seems most wrong If it be his sweet will.


Our lives oftentimes resemble that of a tapestry. The backside of the cloth consists of what seems to be a mass of tangled and purposeless threads. But on the picture side a glorious picture is taken shape, perfectly designed and fashioned by a loving, wise and all-knowing Father (Rom 8:29 ).

Before we go on to the next section it remains for us to note the difference between discipline and punishment. God does not punish the believer, he disciplines him. The difference is important. Punishment is the pronouncement of a merciless judge, whereas discipline is the action of a tender father. The latter is punitive, the former is corrective. The one is provoked by love, the other by wrath.

2 Temptation


Temptation has its origins in Satan (the tempter Matt 4:3 ), and he appeals to two stimuli in his attempt to seduce and induce the believer to sin. The one is external, the other internal. Internally there is the old nature (Jas 1:14 , Mark 7:21-23, 1 Jn 2:16). Externally, the direct attacks of Satan (1 Thess 3:5), and his forces (Eph 6:12 ). However, temptation itself is not sinful. Sin is succumbing to temptation. As a line of a hymn puts it 'Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin'. Neither does God tempt us (Jas 1:13 ), he tests us (Gen 22:1 RSV). The difference is precisely this, the devil tempts us to sin, God tests us that we might not. Testing is `for our good' (Heb 12:10 ), temptation, 'for our ruin' (1 Tim 6:9 ).


Although we have said that God does not tempt anyone, we should make it clear that even temptation is included in the sovereign, decretive will of God. This is a tremendous truth for us to grasp. God in his wise and providential dealings with his people superintends the details of every temptation. He determines their purpose, appoints their occasion, governs their duration and limits their severity (1 Cor 10:13). He delivers the godly out of temptation (2 Pet 2:9).


A fuller description of the divine purpose that lies behind temptation is to be found in the Westminster Confession of Faith; 'The most wise, righteous, and gracious God, doth oftentimes leave for a season his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruptions of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover to them the hidden strength of corruption, and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled, and to raise them to a more close and consistent dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them watchful against all

future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends' (Section V, 2-6).

Let me draw this section to a close with brief reference to the mechanics of temptation.

We cannot possibly come through temptation, without it affecting us in some way or other, whether it be for good or bad. The man who resists temptation not only preserves his former purity, but also adds to it by the very act of resisting sin, and by so doing should make the next temptation a little easier to deal with. Conversely, to yield to temptation makes the next sin easier to give in to, since it weakens the will, deadens the conscience and subtracts from the believer's purity.

3 Tribulations

`Tribulum'from which comes our English word tribulation is a Latin word used of a threshing instrument which separated the grain from the husks.

Tribulation is employed in scripture as an umbrella word to describe the whole range of experiences the Christian must expect in the world (2 Tim 3:12 ), and to which he is destined (1 Thess 3:3). It includes among other things scorn, insult, persecution, ridicule, mockery, contempt, offence, reproach and even martyr­dom. The purpose of tribulations is to overthrow and nullify our faith and originates in a world that is hostile to God and his people (Gal 4:29 ).

Can our faith be overthrown by these experiences? Is defeat a possibility for the Christian? What does God's Word say? 'No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us' (Rom 8:37 ). Another New Testament writer states 'everyone (not just some) born of God overcomes the world' (1 Jn 5:4). Consider too, what Paul has to say in 2 Cor 4:8,9 (notice the four 'but nots').

`hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair,

persecuted, but not abandoned

struck down, but not destroyed' (NIV)

This is what it means to 'triumph in Christ' (2 Cor 2:14). This is true and biblical Triumphalism. Going through problems, and coming out the other side victorious, with our faith intact, not leap-frogging them, by-passing them or pretending they have gone or are not there at all.


We began our study by identifying three kinds of Christian trials. Let me now draw these three strands together and with scripture as our guide, offer some practical and positive advice on how we should respond to these distressing, perplexing and often traumatic experiences.

The first strategy I would wish to put forward is this; In order for the Christian to deal effectively with trials he will need to have a working knowledge of Holy Scripture. This is absolutely crucial and I cannot stress it enough. The believer must know his way around the Bible so that he will be able to apply the relevant scriptures to the everyday issues of the Christian life. Jesus himself clearly employed this method on the occasion of his temptation by Satan (see Luke 4:1-13 where three times, verses 4, 8, 12 he countered the devil with 'It is written').

Let me digress for a moment to make a number of recommendations to the person who sees himself as lacking in his knowledge of Scripture.

Firstly, I would recommend that he seeks out and places himself under a pastor who exercises a regular expository preaching ministry, in other words, preaching that is systematic, instructional, persuasive and applicatory in its form and presentation.

Secondly, I would encourage him to obtain a translation that is user-friendly. By user-friendly, I mean one that is readable, understandable and easy to memorise.

Thirdly, I would recommend that he uses Robert Murray M'Cheyne's excellent daily Bible reading plan in his personal and devotional study of scripture. M'Cheyne's calendar of daily readings will take him through the whole Bible once a year and the Psalms and the New Testament twice.

The second strategy is this; to deal effectively with trials the believer will need to know an ongoing supply (filling) of the Holy Spirit. Scripture commands us to be 'filled with the Spirit' (Eph 5:18 ). The reason is of course obvious. He is the one who sustains and strengthens us in times of conflict. He is the one who empowers us to resist temptation and overcome sin. He is the one who wars against the flesh (Gal 5:17 ). He is the Spirit of holiness, creating holiness in those whom he indwells. He is the one who enables us to keep God's laws (Ez 36:27). But let us note that 'the filling of the Holy Spirit' is not merely an experience (or for that matter a bookful of experiences), but a lifestyle lived in submission to the laws, commands and precepts of God as they are found in Holy Scripture.

The third strategy is this: if the believer is to be able to deal effectively with trials, it is essential that he lives an ordered and disciplined Christian life. The Christian is called to a life of prayer (Luke 18:1 ; 1 Thess 5:17; Eph 6:18 ), vigilance (Mt 26:41; 1 Pet 5:8 ) and resistance (1 Pet 5:9 ; Jas 4:7 ). He is warned to be on his guard, and is encouraged to stand firm in the faith, be courageous and strong (1 Cor 16:13).

 by Gary Phillips - Copyright



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