Beauty produced by heat is not exclusive to lava lamps. Most precious gems are produced by massive amounts of heat below the earth’s surface. Sand is turned into glass by the heat of a furnace and glass-blowers will heat and reheat it until they’ve created a piece of beauty. Steel and other forged metals are shaped into decorative items in the same way. Ceramic glazes look down-right ugly until the fire of a kiln brings out the hidden colors from the minerals and elements that were mixed in order to produce it. But according to the Bible the most beautiful thing produced by “heat” is our faith.
There is a mind-set among some believers that once you accept Christ as your Savior nothing bad will ever happen to you again. Apparently Peter knew some folks who felt the same way for in 1 Pet. 4:12-14 he admonishes them, “Don’t be surprised when you encounter trials” echoing the very words He heard Jesus say (Mt. 5:10-12). Not all trials have to be catastrophic or monumental, but we shouldn’t be surprised by them. According to Jesus they are a natural part of faith-based living.
But why do they come? What is their purpose? James reveals the answer in his letter written to believers scattered across the Roman Empire in Js. 1:2-4. There are several key words here. First, the word “testing” (dokimion) refers to a criteria or process that demonstrates whether or not something is genuine. In NT times it was used of metals that were without alloy. In a similar fashion, it’s like the folks who “thump” a melon to see whether or not it’s ripe. The second word is “produces” which is based on the verb “to work” and it carries the idea of something being carried out until a task is complete or finished. The third word, endurance, can also be translated as perseverance and it is the same word Paul uses in Rom. 5:3-5 to describe the effect of tribulations we encounter while living out our faith. Both James and Paul state that the “result” (a word that can also mean objective or purpose) of this testing is that our faith reaches its desired goal. This word combined with “perfect” paints a picture of something which is finished and complete- that is the process has come to an end and the work is done much like a product which has reached the end of the production line in a factory.
Faith under fire or faith which has encountered various struggles is faith which brings out the beauty of what we believe. Or perhaps it is better to say WHO we believe. If we have placed our faith in material possessions our faith will come under fire when they slip away (Mt. 6:19-21). If we have placed our faith in human institutions or one particular person our faith will come under fire when they fail us. But when we face a trial as a result of misplaced faith or any other reason and we understand that it is part of the process of refining our faith and bringing out its beauty then our struggles take on a whole new meaning. It doesn’t mean we will look forward to going through them! But it does mean we will appreciate their purpose because they will teach us more about Jesus and His suffering (1 Pet. 4:13) and help us to be more like Him (Rom. 8:16-18; 1 Pet. 2:21; 3:13-17).
Like a lava lamp whose wax remains lifeless until the warmth of the incandescent bulb reaches the right temperature, our faith will remain unnoticeable until a struggle or trial causes us to stretch our faith muscles and rely on no one else but Jesus (Mt. 5:14-16). But accepting a trial as a “proof-test” of our faith helps us to see that struggles are a thing of beauty and the end result of them brings glory and praise to Jesus (1 Pet. 1:6-8).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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