The Submissive Will
James 1:4, “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
No one that I know enjoys pain. But we know that pain is a part of life and we also know that in order to improve in our life or in a specific area of our life we must suffer. Recently I read about what is called the “10,000 hour rule.” In order to be an expert at something you must practice that something 10,000 hours. If you have played an instrument or if you have played a sport and become pretty good at it you know the value there is in practice. One of the examples of this that was given in the book I read was of the writer Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway used to say that if he didn’t write every day, he didn’t feel good. At some point through great perseverance and endurance Hemingway reached that 10,000 hour mark. Practice is endurance and endurance often leads to proficiency and if we endure enough mastery.
The next means that we have in order to be able to withstand trials is to have a submissive will. John MacArthur says that the only way out of a trial is through it. The Lord does not give us any promises of bypassing trials. He does however promise that He will see His people through them. But we must be willing to endure these trials in order for God to do His work, His “perfect and complete” work in us. We must be willing to submit to Him in these trials.
The word “perfect” here is from the Greek word teleios, which does not mean spiritual or moral perfection, or sinlessness. What it does refer to is that which is fully developed. Later in this same letter James acknowledges that none of us is perfect. James 3:2 says, “For we all stumble in many ways.” The word might be better translated then as “mature,” referring to spiritual maturity fulfilled in Christlikeness, which is the ultimate goal of endurance and perseverance. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:14-15, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.” In Galatians 4:19 Paul wrote, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.”
The word “complete” is from the Greek word holokleros, which carries with it the idea of being whole, entirely complete. The prefix of this word is holo from which we get the word holograph, which is a 360-degree, three-dimensional depiction of an object. As if to not allow any misunderstanding here James adds, “lacking in nothing.” He is just reinforcing for us the comprehensiveness of his point. That point is that the result of trials is maturity, completeness, not lacking in anything that is of spiritual importance and value. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”
Often our trials come in the form of a test of obedience to God and His Word. The most extreme example in Scripture, next to Christ’s obedience on the cross, is that of Abraham. Abraham was called upon by God to sacrifice his one and only son Isaac. In Genesis 22:2 it says, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” Abraham would have several reasons for being completely shocked by God’s command here. Not only was Isaac (as God had pointed out) his only and greatly loved son but he was the only son by Sarah and therefore he was the son of promise. It said in Genesis 12:3 that it was to be through him that “all the families of the earth [were to] be blessed.”
From a purely human perspective, the sacrifice of Isaac would end the promise from being fulfilled and would therefore nullify the covenant that God had made with Abraham. On top of this was the fact that human sacrifice was a completely pagan practice and would have been the antithesis of everything Abraham knew of the holy and righteous God. To make matters even worse Abraham was to kill Isaac with his own hands, he was to give this task to one of his servants. This, even though God’s law forbade this. Everything about this demand from God must have been inconceivable to Abraham. If there was ever a time to question God and even to argue with Him, this was that time. Yet, Abraham makes no argument and in fact asks no questions and doesn’t even ask for an explanation. There has never been an instance of willing submission, outside of Jesus’ submission on the cross, that could exceed Abraham’s on this occasion.
Without any hesitation, any questions, or any anger and resentment, Abraham made the necessary preparations and began the three-day journey to carry out the Lord’s command. In fact, Abraham was obedient right up to the point when he raised the knife to kill his son. It was at that point that God provided. Genesis 22:12, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Even though earlier he had told Isaac that God would provide a sacrifice, he was nonetheless about to plunge the knife into Isaac’s heart. In Hebrews 11:19 we are told, “He (Abraham) considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.”
Whatever Abraham’s understanding of all of this was, we have God’s own testimony in Hebrews 11:17, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son.” Abraham did not count on a way out; he counted only on God’s righteousness, faithfulness, and power to raise the dead.
When we endure trials, it is often a question of whether we will remain faithful to God and His Word, just as Abraham did. Will we submit to His will in this trial? I know for myself there have been far too many times, too many to count, when I have been tested and I have not remained obedient and faithful, and have refused to submit to God and His will. Instead I have tried to do my own thing because in my fallible reasoning it made more sense. Let’s rejoice that God sends us these trials in order to make us “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” and let’s ask God to help us, in His power, to remain obedient and faithful to Him, even if it is at great cost.