James 1:4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
In my ever-so-humble opinion, one of the most underrated films of recent days was Disney’s reboot of The Lone Ranger. One of the “running gags” of the movie involves Tonto, hilariously interpreted by Johnny Depp, making dubious “trades” – giving things of seeming little value to the rest of the world, but apparently of great importance to him. To understand the nature of the trade, you had to see things through Tonto’s eyes.
In James 1:4, the Holy Spirit will show us a major trade-off which the world would see as crazy, but which, when seen through the eyes of eternity, is of immense value.
So far in our verse-by-verse study of the book of James, we have noted that the author is exhorting us to think in a counter-intuitive way about the trials we face in life. Even though we feel differently, we are to think about them as a motive for joy.
Why? Well, for starters, they are authenticating our faith and building our endurance.
In an of themselves, those are two powerful reasons for us to look at our tribulations in a new light. But James is not done. Not by a long shot.
In this next verse, he takes on what I believe are the two main reasons we shrink from pain: the fear of damage and the fear of loss.
This trial is not damaging me, it’s perfecting me.
Twice in this verse James uses the word perfect. The work of patience is perfect, and its result is perfection. James’ radical proposition – that trials represent a reason to rejoice – just got more radical. We may feel like aspects of our life have been irretrievably damaged: our reputation, our health, our family. Yet James is telling us that all this is secondary to the fact that, in the big scheme of things, God is ultimately perfecting us.
In Matthew 5:48 Jesus tells us “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This perfect is the same word found in James 1:4. Obviously we are talking about a spiritual quality here, not a physical one. The trials that James talks about are moving us ever onward towards the goal that Jesus has set for us.
This trial is not taking away from me, it is completing me.
Just as the word perfect is emphasized in our text by repetition, so the word complete is emphasized by definition. If our endurance has its perfect work, it will be complete, lacking nothing.
When we read this with our modern Western mind, we tend to chuckle. If something is complete, of course it is lacking nothing. But when the Bible repeats like this, it wants us to see emphasis. Closely tied to the idea of perfection in this verse is the idea of completeness. Because of these trials, we will not be missing anything that God wants us to have.
And this is an important truth to hang on to as we see the difficulties we face bite into our bank accounts, our earthly possessions, our friendships, our family relationships, and even our physical well-being.
So in the process of more perfectly reflecting our Heavenly Father, we often trade the above-mentioned perishable (and ultimately perishing) worldly assets for eternal non-perishables – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
As Tonto would say, “Good trade.”
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