Does God have to test you to find out what's in your heart?
I'm your host, Phil Johnson. If God is good and all-powerful, and He is, why do you and I, why does anyone, suffer? Bottom line, if God really loves you, why does He allow you to go through trials? Well, as John MacArthur will show you today on Grace To You, trials can actually be good for you. That's right, hard times can be a blessing from God.
How? Find out as John continues one of his all-time most helpful studies. It's called, Benefiting from Life's Trials, and now here's John with the lesson. I was reading, as I often enjoy doing, the works of Thomas Manton, marvelous Puritan writer, and I found one line in some of the things I was reading that stuck in my mind. He said this, God had one Son without sin, but no Son without a cross.
It just goes with the territory. We're going to have trials. Psalm 23 says, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me. Trials will come, the confidence is in the presence of God. Trials can come to us through several means and with several purposes in mind.
Let me just suggest some to you, all right? First of all, trials come to test the strength of our faith. There's a great illustration of this in 2 Chronicles 32, 31.
You don't need to look it up. I'll quote that portion of it. It relates to Hezekiah, who was king, and of Hezekiah it says this, listen, God left him to test him that he might know all that was in his heart.
Did you get that? God left him to test him that he might know all that was in his heart. That who might know? Well, not God. God didn't need to know by testing what was in Hezekiah's heart. He knew by omniscience, right? Does God have to test you to find out what's in your heart?
No. God doesn't have to test any of us to find out what's in our heart. God tests us so we can find out. In other words, He assists us in doing that spiritual inventory.
He assists us in self-examination. I need to know and you need to know the strength of our faith, and so God brings trials into our lives to demonstrate to us the strength or weakness of our faith. If you're right now going through a severe trial, it is revealing to you the strength or weakness of your faith, isn't it? If you're shaking your fist at God, if you're wondering why it's happening, if you're fretting all the time and worrying, if you're in anxiety from morning till night, there's a good indication that you have a weak faith. If on the other hand, you're going through a trial and you find yourself resting in the Lord, having placed it into His care, letting Him bear the burden of it and going on your way rejoicing as best you can in a difficult situation, waiting for God to show you the way out, then you are seeing for yourself that you possess a strength of faith. So in one sense then, we ought to be thankful for trials because they assist us in the inventory of our own faith.
That's very helpful. I always want to know where my faith is so that it can be stronger, for the stronger my faith is, the more likely I am to be useful to God. When Habakkuk was going through the mystery of his own situation in the devastating promise that the Chaldeans were going to come and wipe out his people, in spite of everything, he said, even if the fig tree doesn't blossom and the fruit is not in the vines and the labor of the olive fails and the fields yield no food and the flocks are cut off from the fold, there's no herd in the stalls. In other words, if everything that I know of as normative in life ceases, yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength and He will make my feet like mountain goats feet and make me walk upon my high places.
And then at the end he says, to the chief singer on my stringed instruments, this is praise, sing it. In the midst of an absolutely unsolvable mystery, his trust never wavered. He learned through that the strength of his faith. And so one of the purposes of testing is to reveal to you and to me the strength of our faith so that we can move along the path to greater strength. So trials come as a test of the strength of our faith. Secondly, we must recognize that trials come to humble us. They come to remind us not to think more confidently of our spiritual strength than we should.
It's closely connected to the first one, but a little different. They come not only to show us our strength, but they come to humble us. Lest we think that we are more strong spiritually than we are. This is illustrated, I think, perhaps as graphically as anywhere in Scripture. In the wonderful testimony of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, you know it, he says in verse 7, and lest I should be exalted above measure. In other words, lest I should think more highly of myself than I ought to think because of the abundance of the revelations and to be caught up into the third heaven and all of the things that Paul was able to do in the power of the Spirit, miracles and signs and wonders and mighty deeds and revelations coming out of him from God.
And through all of these things, he could well have been exalted in his own mind. So lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh to buffet me, to just beat me up all the time, lest I should be exalted above measure. And we must realize that God allows trials in our lives, especially when we are blessed in places of spiritual service to keep us humble. Lest we think more confidently of our spiritual strength than we should and start to feel that we're invincible.
There's a third reason, as I thought these things through, and these are really my own reflections, trying to look at it from the biblical and the personal viewpoint. I believe the Lord brings trials in our life also to wean us from worldly things, to wean us away from worldly things. Have you found that maybe the older you've gotten and the more things you've accumulated, the more furniture or cars or houses or bank accounts or whatever, the more success you may have had, the more worldly things you've done, you've been here, you've been there, you've traveled, you've seen this, you've seen that. Have you noticed that as that has gone on in your life, those things tend to have less and less significance? There was a time when you thought that they were the most desirable things in life and now you no longer feel that because they have not been able to deal with the real issues of life. They don't really solve deep problems, great anxieties, hurts. And when trials come into your life and you reach out for all those worldly things and they make no difference and they mean absolutely nothing, that trial is weaning you off of those things because it is demonstrating their utter inability to solve any problem or to provide for you any real resource in a time of stress. We need to be weaned away. Philip, you know, in John 6, he comes to Jesus and he says, boy, how are we going to get bread to feed these people? He's looking at things from a worldly viewpoint. There's no stores around here and there's not enough bread anyway.
We've got a multitude here, a massive crowd. How are we going to get food for 5,000 men plus women and children? And so he says, well, Philip, you tell me, where are we going to buy bread? And it says in verse 6, and this he said to test it. We want to find out whether Philip looked to worldly resources.
And of course he did, but it wasn't any good at that point. And the Lord then created a meal and very quickly weaned Philip off the worldly things and satisfied him with the spiritual things. I think about Moses. Remember in chapter 11 of Hebrews, verses 24 to 26, he had been raised in Pharaoh's house. He had been brought up as a prince in Egypt for 40 years. He was educated. He was literally in line in the Pharaoh's family for prominence. He had reached the apex of Egyptian society, which was at the height of the world. All the education, all the money, all the prestige, all the honor, all the success, all the comfort was there in his hands.
But he considered the reproach of Christ, the Lord's anointed, greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. See, he'd gotten his eyes off all of that, and he began to be concerned about the trial of his people. And the Lord used that trial to wean him off of worldly things. Trials will do that. There's a fourth, I think, purpose in trials. I think they call us to what we could call an eternal hope. Trials in life, I don't know how they work with you, but they work this way with me. Trials in my life tend to make me want to go to heaven.
Have you noticed that? That's what I'm saying. I don't want to make it too difficult.
It's pretty simple. They call us to an eternal hope. If the most precious people in your life and if the most precious person in your life, the Lord Jesus Christ, and if the most precious possessions in your life have been laid away as treasure in heaven, you're going to have a very, very disengaged relationship with this passing world. So trials, trials tend to show us the bankruptcy of human resources and wean us off the world and sort of settle us on the heavenly hope. In Romans 8, among many Scriptures that could be noted, we just support that thought.
In Romans chapter 8 it says, the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God and if children then heirs, heirs of God, join heirs with Christ. If so be that we suffer with Him, we may also be glorified together. And I reckon or I count that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. As I go through suffering, Paul says, I just get more and more hungry for glory and I see the whole creation groaning and waiting for the hope to be realized, waiting for the glorious, verse 21, liberation of the children of God. And then in verse 24 or 23 he says, we are groaning, waiting for the redemption of our body.
Verse 24, we are saved in hope. So we go through trials. Trials give us a greater affection for that which is eternal. They help us long for the eternal city. They set our affections on things above. That's a very important spiritual thing.
They cause us to think on things divine, things heavenly. And that's what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4, 16, for which cause we faint not. For though our outward man perish, the inward man is renewed day by day and our light affliction which is but for a moment works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Then he says this, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. How did he get that kind of attitude?
Oh, it's very easy. Just go back to verse 8. We're troubled on every side. We're perplexed. We're persecuted. We always bear in our body the dying of Jesus Christ. Verse 12, death works in us. He's going through so much trouble, it's little wonder he doesn't like the world.
He'd rather be in glory. So you see, trials have a very, very helpful purpose. They test the strength of our faith. They humble us lest we think more confidently of our spiritual strength than we should. They wean us off of worldly things and they call us to a heavenly hope. Fifthly, trials also serve a very important purpose because they reveal what we really love.
They reveal what we really love. You see, if you supremely love God, you're going to say, thank you, God, for what you're accomplishing through this. Help me to see that and give you glory, though you're allowing this to happen. But if you really love self more than God, you're going to say, God, why do you do this? And you're going to be irate, and you're going to be upset, and you're going to be bitter, and you're going to be full of anxiety. You see, there's a sense in which if anything is dearer to you than God, then he has to have it. He's got to remove it. So in my own life, I just want to make sure nothing is dearer to me than the Lord because I don't want him to remove it.
Not that he always does. I was thinking about this and reading back in the Pentateuch a little bit, I came to Deuteronomy chapter 13, verse 3, thou shalt not hearken to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. This would be a false prophet. For the Lord your God, look at this, tests you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Wow. The Lord is testing you to see who you really love, whether you love him with all your heart and all your soul. In Luke 14 26, if any man come to me and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brother and sisters, yea, in his own life also he cannot be what? My disciple. And whosoever doesn't bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Now what in the world is he saying? Is he literally saying that it's a Christian thing to hate everybody, including yourself? No, what he means by that is if you do not love God to the degree that you willingly, if necessary, cut yourself off from father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister, and your own life, then you don't love God supremely. You're not worthy to be his disciple.
Well, what do you mean cut off? We mean by that this, that you will do the will of God first and foremost no matter what appeals those others make to you. No matter what appeal your father might make or your mother or your wife or your child or your brother or your sister or your own flesh, you will do the will of God no matter what appeals are being made because therein lies your supreme love. There's a sixth purpose in trials that really is very, very helpful and that is this. Trials teach us to value the blessing of God.
They teach us to value the blessing of God. Reason, reason teaches us to value the world. Sense, feeling tells us to value pleasure. Faith tells us to value God's word, God's word, and God's favor, God's blessing. Reason says grab what you can grab in the world and go.
Sense and feeling says find pleasure at any price. Faith says obey the word of God and be blessed. See, trials teach us to find pleasure in the blessing of obedience. In the midst of a trial, we obey and are blessed.
That's what they are intended to teach. They show us that obedience at all costs brings the blessing of God. The psalmist says in Psalm 63, 3, and this out of personal experience, because thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
God, I have seen your loving kindness and it's the best thing there is, the best thing there is. Jesus is the perfect example of this in Hebrews 5. In the days of His flesh, He offered up prayers, supplications, was strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death.
Jesus going through the trial in the garden, that's what's being pictured there. And He was sweating, as it were, great drops of blood, weeping and crying out to God, deliver Him. And He was heard and that He feared. And though He were a Son and a beloved one at that, yet He learned obedience by the things He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him. Through, watch this, through suffering, He was obedient and God exalted Him.
Philippians 2 puts it another way, He was humbled, took upon Him the form of a man, offered Himself in death and God highly exalted Him. Trials come to put us through suffering that we may obey in the suffering and then receive the full blessing of God. And I would say that when you go through a trial, if you learn to obey God, you will experience the exhilaration of His blessing.
That's His promise. Let me give you two others that are purposes of suffering. Number seven, suffering comes, and this is a very, very valuable purpose, suffering comes to enable us to help others in their suffering. Sometimes when suffering comes, it may have no more purpose than to make us better able to assist others in their own suffering. I think of that in regard to the 22nd chapter of Luke where Jesus says to Peter, and the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold Satan's desire to have you that he may sift you is weak.
Satan's going to take you and shake you. And I have prayed for you that your faith fail not. Now watch this, and when you are turned around, when you come through that thing, he says, strengthen your brethren.
There you go. A wonderful purpose. That's like Jesus in Hebrews chapter 4, Hebrews chapter 2 also, who becomes a faithful, merciful high priest able to help those who come to Him because He has been through every trial we've been through, right?
That's what makes Him a merciful, faithful high priest. So, we go through trials for the purpose of being able to help others. How wonderful, how wonderful that God allows us to learn by experience, to instruct others. And then finally, the eighth, trials come to develop enduring strength for greater usefulness. They come to develop enduring strength for greater usefulness.
Again, Thomas Manton said, while all things are quiet and comfortable, we live by sense rather than faith. But the worth of a soldier is never known in times of peace. End quote. That's right.
The worth of a soldier is never known in times of peace. God has His purpose in trial, and what it is to do is to give us greater strength. As you go through one trial, your spiritual muscles are exercised.
You're stronger for the next one. That means you can face a greater foe. That means you're more useful. You go through another trial and another trial and another trial, and all those are strengthening, strengthening, strengthening, until now your usefulness is on the increase.
Your endurance makes you more useful. And then the more useful you are, the more used you are. And the more used you are, the more you accomplish in the power of the Spirit for the glory of God.
So, let me sum it up. What is God's purpose as He tests us? First, to test the strength of our faith that we might know where our strength is or isn't. Secondly, to humble us lest we think more confidently of our spiritual strength than we should. Thirdly, to wean us away from worldly things. Fourthly, to call us to a heavenly hope so that we live in the above and not in the below. Fifthly, to reveal what we really love. Sixthly, to teach us to value the blessing of God and to appreciate it as it comes to us out of the times of suffering. Seventh, to enable us to help others in their trial to bear one another's burdens. And eighth, to develop enduring strength for greater usefulness so that God can thrust us into greater places of ministry and effectiveness. Now, aren't these all worthwhile purposes? All of these fit into the plan of God by His grace.
That's John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, here on Grace To You. Today's lesson is part of John's series from the book of James called, Benefiting From Life's Trials. Well, John, the trying of our faith works patience, and you've done a great job of explaining that truth and giving me an understanding of that, but it's possible to have an intellectual understanding of that principle. And yet, when the trial comes, our emotions take over, and we respond wrongly with things like worry.
Talk about that a little more. How can I overcome that sort of emotional drag on what I know intellectually? I think the first thing, and the large thing, is to believe God for the outcome. And I've seen, I've been around long enough, I've seen the most difficult trials in my life have the greatest positive outcome. So having seen that as much as I have seen it in these many, many years, when I face a trial, immediately I anticipate an outcome that's going to be both beneficial to me spiritually and glorifying to God. So I think as you live your life, your trust in the Lord will continue to be vindicated, and God will bring you through, and you'll see the joy that can come out of that trial, and so you'll trust Him for it more and more, even before it becomes obvious. But I would suggest a bit of a help might come from a little book titled Found God's Peace. Found God's Peace.
It's just a booklet that wants to put you in touch with the peace of God when you need it most. Anxiety is epidemic in our world, obviously. You probably know someone who struggles with depression or worry. Perhaps you struggle with fears.
What do you do with those stubborn sins? Well, this little book has concise, practical answers to that question. The title again, Found God's Peace. You'll find straightforward biblical help on defeating anxiety through prayer, humbling yourself before God, casting your care on Him, finding peace in every circumstance. Also, it includes a selection of psalms for the anxious. Very encouraging. So if you or someone you know is struggling with worry or anxiety, make sure you get a copy of this booklet.
Here's the good news. It's free of charge. Just ask for it.
90 pages. A quick read, but loaded with the biblical principles you need to defeat worry. And again, we want to send you a free copy of this helpful little book called Found God's Peace. All you have to do is get in touch and let us know you want one. Call, email, go to our website, or write today.
That's right. And friend, this is not a large book. Instead, it's a quick reference guide that you can turn to for encouragement, especially when you start to worry. To get Found God's Peace, it's free for a limited time.
Get in touch today. Just go to our website, gty.org, or call us toll-free, 800-55-GRACE. Found God's Peace unpacks the practical application of the most powerful verses in the Bible on defeating anxiety.
It will show you how to replace worry with prayer and right thinking and actions. Again, to get a free copy of Found God's Peace, call 800-55-GRACE, or go to gty.org. Also, let me encourage you to drop us a note when you have a moment. Your letters and emails let us know if we're hitting the mark in helping you understand God's Word. Our email address, letters at gty.org. That's letters at gty.org.
Or if you prefer regular mail, our address here is Box 4000, Panorama City, California, 91412. And thank you for remembering to pray for us. That is really the greatest way you can minister to us. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Keep in mind you can watch Grace to You television Sundays on DIRECTV Channel 378, or check your local listings. And then be here Monday when John looks at the amazing help that God makes available to you in every trial you face. It's another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on the next Grace to You.
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