Considering Consider

Recently, someone shared with me their least favorite verse in the Bible. “You therefore be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48.

James 1:2 used to be a hang up for me. “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,”. How can God possibly expect us to consider trails joyful?

In our modern vernacular, consider often means, “ to ponder, to bear in mind, to have an opinion, or make allowances for.” (www.dictionary.com) That usage is not very conclusive; it implies an either/or stance.

My sisters and I recently took each other to task, two on two, debating the color of our mom’s car.  Jennifer and Rachelle considered it gray, Kelsey and I considered it bronze or taupe. The battle escalated until we called our mom. We finally insisted that dad pull the car’s original paperwork to prove one side of the discussion. Kelsey and I won.

This brings consider into focus, regardless of how Rachelle and Jennifer considered the appearance of the car, there was a verifiable truth. Truthfully, if I meditate on my trials for very long, I will most certainly not conclude that they are joyful. But, maybe it doesn’t matter how long we ponder our trials. Maybe it isn’t a case of analyzing all the possible good that God may bring out of our pain.

The Greek word for consider, in James 1:2 is hégeomai, meaning, “I lead, I think.” Additionally, it can mean, “to lead, command, have authority over.” When you replace consider, in James 1:2, with the fuller definition, one way it reads is, “Have authority over all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds.” That’s a different perspective!

This broader explanation of James 1:2, leads us to 2 Corinthians 10:5b, another verse that I have long wondered how to obey, “…and take every thought captive to obey Christ,”. A captive is under the authority of his captor. Biblically, even in the midst of trials, we are the captors, we are in authority of our own joy.

Now on to the rest of James 1:3-4, “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.”

Do you see the linkage back to my friend’s least favorite verse? James is telling us how to be perfect. Could it be that God will bring us to speechless awe at His never ending ability to reconcile the most polar opposites: trials and joy, perfection and pain?

For what it’s worth, let me offer you my personal paraphrase of the these two passages side by side: Brothers, take authority over your joy when you encounter various trials. Take captive under your authority all your thoughts and fears. It is an indisputable fact that when you remain obedient in the hardest situations you will become more perfect, more like your Heavenly Father. 

And the crowing conclusion: The fulfillment of this obedience, this increasing Christ-likeness, is God’s glory.

“Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

2 Corinthians 9:13-14

Ultimate Pain

Privileged Pain.

Privileged pain might mean that no matter how well-off one is, how wealthy or comfortable or perfect the family – pain plays no favorites. Or, Privileged Pain might explain the ultimate, beautiful outcome that suffering has the potential to produce.

Just mulling these thoughts over, I considered the polishing of a pearl, the rain before a rainbow, the pressing of a grape and the squeezing of citrus. Most of those are not new metaphors but true nonetheless and sometimes we forget the most common affirmations of difficult truths.

I think one thing that suffering accomplishes is to kill any remnants of dead religion that sometimes cling to Christ followers. I heard of a book that I’m dying to read, Jesus Hates Dead Religion, by Eric Metaxas. This book follows on the heals of his New York Times bestseller, Bonhoeffer. Both books have been added to my Kindle’s to-do list.

No one can testify to the privilege of pain as can a martyr. Bonhoeffer died for his faith – he was certain that the weight of glory prepared for him was greater than any momentary suffering. I want to endure like that!

As to the other book, James says that faith without works is dead. If Jesus truly hates dead religion, then the effectual proof of my faith must be a consistent growth in Christ-likeness. And if pain slays nothing else, it will slay dead religion. It will destroy the trappings of false charity, disguised pride and shallow empathy.

Faith and religion are not the same thing. Sometimes they are bitter enemies. Think of Jesus, and then think of the Pharisees. Think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and then the German religious establishment enslaved to Hitler and the Führer principle. Think of William Wilberforce, and then his complacent countrymen, piously permitting the traffic of people whose skin was darker than their own. Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce stood against the evil of their times, evil so easily peddled as religious. Will we do the same?

This is a Bonhoeffer moment, as Eric Metaxas says. Modern culture offers us comfort, distraction, even piety to keep us from a living faith in the God of the universe. But Metaxas’s rousing message calls readers to follow in the steps of men like Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, godly men who lived the gospel instead of following the path of dead religion to the approval of their respective societies.

Real prayer is only possible with living faith. And living faith is the only kind that can be used by God for transformative change in our world. But dead religion is a deceptive substitute. Jesus came to deliver people from dead religion. Let’s not be its defenders. – Amazon book description of Jesus Hates Dead Religion

Whether or not the day ever comes that I will be asked to suffer the ultimate pain for Jesus, I want to have such a living, vital, ready-to-die faith, that I can stand next to Bonhoeffer and James in heaven.