You may have heard the funny story of the lawyer, doctor, little boy, and priest who were up in a small plane for an afternoon flight when the aircraft developed some mechanical problems. Despite the pilot’s best efforts, the plane could not be kept airborne and so began to descend at a rapid speed. The pilot alerted everyone to the danger and told the passengers that they should grab a parachute and jump, which is exactly what he did and was gone. Unfortunately, that left only three parachutes. Snatching one, the doctor said, “I am a doctor and I save lives, so I must live,” and with that he jumped. Next, the lawyer grabbed a chute and said, “I am the smartest man on this plane, and I deserve to live,” and with that he jumped. Looking at the young boy the priest said, “Son, I have lived a long and full life, you are young and have your whole life ahead of you, so you take the last chute and jump.” Handing the parachute back to the priest, the little fellow said, “Don’t worry Father, the smartest man on the plane just jumped out the door with my backpack.”
That’s funny, and the lesson we want to take from it is that it is easy to jump the gun, it is easy to outsmart yourself, it is easy to bail out of a situation too quickly. The danger of bailing out of a situation too early is one that concerns the apostle James as he writes to his former flock scattered throughout the Mediterranean world (James 1:1). Faced with a test of faith, a difficult situation, James desires them to remain patient and allow the furnace of affliction to purify and strengthen their faith in God (James 1:2-4).
James is writing to Jewish Christians who once lived in Jerusalem but who were pushed beyond the borders of Palestine by the hand of persecution (Acts 6:8-8:3). Times were hard! Perhaps they were facing the scourge of poverty (1:9-11), the pain of injustice (5:4), the cruelty of further persecution (5:6), and the misery of sickness (5:14). Whatever the sorrow, whatever the struggle, James writes to help them navigate this test of their faith. He wants to anticipate good in the bad. He wants them by faith to joyfully embrace the sorrow, knowing that God will use this trial to strengthen their grip on grace and their hold on Him. Just as fire purifies and strengthens metal so this crucible experience will mature their faith walk. The word testin verse three speaks of the approval of precious metal like silver after it has been tested in the fire. What James is reminding them of is that God is allowing this trial in their life not to disapprove them but to approve them.
But the key element is that they must endure the trial and let patience do its work in producing a seasoned and strong faith in God (James 1:4). They are commanded to “let” or allow patience under trial to produce spiritual completeness. They are not to bail on God, they are not to run for the exit in the middle of the trial. James wants them to remain in their seat until the wild ride has come to a complete stop. They must remember that God has a greater purpose in mind than simply to change their circumstances, God wants to change and reposition them spiritually. This is a good word to us all not to short-circuit God’s sanctifying work through suffering by grabbing for the proverbial parachute. To be a spiritual overcomer, we must remain under our trials.