October 14, 2009

Melting the Wax

In Bible days, pottery sold in the marketplace had to be held up to the sun to be tested. Unscrupulous potters would fill the flaws in their wares with wax, but that wax could be seen in sunlight. Smart buyers would not put up with fake quality.

God isn’t interested in fake quality either. The word used for testing pottery is also used by James as he tells Christians how to respond to trials. He says these trials are tests to see if our faith is genuine.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (James 1:2-3)
When my life is held up to difficulties and trials, I can trust God or not. The nature of faith in Jesus Christ is like that — a choice. God offers me the gift of faith so I can trust Him for eternal life, but also so I can recognize that He is sovereign and controls the events of my life, even the difficult events. Will I choose to trust Him in those?

The nature of faith is that it isn’t about me. Faith is knowing about God and who He is. When my life is held up to the light, God wants me to let that light expose and repair my flaws.

To help me understand how this works, James points to Job as the Bible’s example of testing and perseverance, as well as the Old Testament prophets.

My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord — that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10-11)
Job hung on to faith because he knew that God is compassionate and merciful. In fact, testing by trials is less about me than it is about God because the tests ultimately prove His faithfulness.

One of the first trials related to my faith was financial. I needed $100 to pay for a propane tank rental. I didn’t have it. I cannot remember praying, but I likely did. Before the bill came due, I received an order in the mail for an animal portrait (I used to paint), with the money paid in advance. That had never happened before or since, and I have no idea how that person knew about me. The cheque was $110, just enough extra to buy a canvas and for shipping.

From this test, I discovered that God is faithful. He wanted me to know that and used a trial to prove it. Ever since then, all tests prove the same thing. He will not let me down. Therefore, in complete confidence, I can be patient.

Tests by trials prove that God is faithful, that my faith is genuine, but they also produce patient endurance. James says it in the above verses, and so does the Apostle Paul in Romans, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance” (Romans 5:3).

After learning that God is faithful, I can choose patience in heavy traffic, in line ups, or other very ordinary patient-testing situations. I know that God controls all things. If I am late or detoured, He has good reasons. Patience is knowing this and being okay with it.

These tests might also reveal some fakes. People complain that Christians are hypocrites, sort of like pottery pieces with wax covering up flaws. They see through that and will not buy such a message.

However, if a hypocrite does have genuine faith, God will not let them be hypocrites forever. He too will hold them up to the light and test what they are made of, only He uses trials. As their faith is tested, the genuine Christian will experience a striping away of all the wax. Instead of faking it, God uses the test to create in His people patient endurance and a character that is honest and genuine.

Photo from "Vase is Valuable Despite Flaw"

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