We have six children and our seventh is due May 2018. Our oldest child is ten, and while we have enjoyed our children at all ages, we still want to see them mature. When they make decisions that disappoint us, we feel disappointed with their maturity. Consider how tragic it would be if children remained immature throughout their lives.
God Is a Father and He Wants His Children to Mature
The author of Hebrews rebuked some of his readers who had been following Christ for some time, but had not matured. Hebrews 5:12 & 6:1 says:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food…Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.
Unlike these Hebrew readers, the believers in 2 Thessalonians 1:3–4 had matured significantly:
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure.
The Thessalonians were a wonderful church. Paul applauded their growth, which he attributed to the trials they experienced. This is one reason we can find joy in trials—we know they are producing patience that leads to maturity. First Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered a little while, [God] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” During trials we can tell ourselves, “This is strengthening me spiritually, giving me endurance, building my faith, and preparing me for the future.” Jerry Bridges said:
Every adversity that comes across our path, whether large or small, is intended to help us grow in some way.
The word “patience” suggests waiting, which gives the impression trials make people good at standing in line or waiting at stop lights. Yes, trials can improve our attitudes when we are forced to wait, but that is a poor understanding of the benefit of patience. The Greek word for patience is hypomonē, and it means, “The characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”
James 1:4 describes the maturity patience leads to in believers’ lives: makes them perfect, complete, and ensures nothing is lacking. Although this sounds like three different benefits of patience, they are synonyms:
- The Greek word for “perfect” is teleios, but it does not mean free from mistakes. Instead, it means, “Brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness.”
- The Greek word for “complete” is holoklēros, which means, “complete in all its parts, in no part wanting or unsound, entire, whole.”
- The Greek words for “lacking nothing” are leipō (lack, be wanting), en (in, by), mēdeis (nobody, nothing).
James 1:4 is not describing three different ways patience helps us; it is describing the maturity patience produces in three different ways.
Patience Allows for Maturity in All Areas of Our Lives
When we suffer, we will sometimes wonder what God is teaching us. We will say things like, “I went through this trial and learned to trust the Lord more,” or “This person hurt me and God used the situation to teach me to forgive.” We can learn from trials, but that is not the point of James 1:4.
Think of children as they age. They grow overall and not only in select areas. The same is true for believers as they age—or grow—spiritually. There is not one part of our lives that matures. The verse is not, “Let patience have its perfect work that you might mature in a weak area God wants to target,” or “That you might learn the lesson God has been trying to teach you for years.” Instead, trials produce patience which leads to maturity that impacts all areas of our Christian lives. The words “perfect,” “complete,” and “lacking nothing,” are all encompassing. Every part of us is affected. If that were not the case, we would not be perfect or complete. We would be lacking.
If I can use a weight lifting analogy, squats are the “King of All Exercises.” They receive this title because they train the whole body. Curls train the biceps, bench presses train the chest, pullups train the back, but when you perform squats, you use more muscles than with any other exercise. Trials are like squats because they are difficult and painful, and because they strengthen the entire body spiritually and not just one area. We are always “lacking” on this side of heaven. We never reach “perfection,” but trials bring us closer to “completion.”
Paul makes this same point in Romans 5:3. First, he says, “We also glory in tribulations,” which is similar to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2), and “In this you greatly rejoice [when] you have been grieved by trials” (1 Peter 1:6). Then he says: “knowing that tribulation produces perseverance” (Romans 5:3b). The Greek word for “perseverance” is hypomonē, which is the same word for “patience” in James 1:3. Paul says, “Tribulation produces perseverance,” and James says, “Trials…produce patience.” In the next verse, Paul states what perseverance (or patience) produces: “and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:4). Does patience produce all that? Yes, because trials lead to well-rounded virtue (or maturity) in all areas. There is no godly quality that trials cannot build, and there is no weakness that trials cannot strengthen. In James and Paul’s lists, patience is first because it is necessary for other blessings:
- James says patience is the key to being “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4).
- Paul says perseverance (or patience) is the key to “character and hope” (Romans 5:4).
God wants us to learn patience because if we do not, we will learn almost nothing else. William Barclay said:
All kinds of experiences will come to us. There will be tests of sorrows and disappointments. There will be tests of seductions, and tests of dangers, sacrifices, unpopularity which the Christian life must so often involve. But trials are not meant to make us fall; they are meant to make us soar. They are not meant to defeat us; they are meant to be defeated. They are not meant to make us weaker. They are meant to make us stronger. Therefore we should not bemoan trials; we should rejoice in them. The Christian is like the athlete. The heavier the course of training he undergoes, the more he is glad, because he knows that it is fitting him all the better for victorious effort.
Patience and Maturity Go Hand-In-Hand
Consider that a patient person is usually mature, and a mature person is usually patient. Conversely, an impatient person is usually immature, and an immature person is usually impatient. Children are a good example. When we see children throwing a fit because they are not getting what they want, we think, “That is an immature child.” When we see children waiting patiently, we think, “That is a mature child.” This is why some patient children are more like adults, and some impatient adults are more like children. Maturity is not an issue of age. We reveal our maturity many ways—through our behavior when we do not get what we want, the way we treat those who mistreat us, and the way we respond to trials. These revelations of maturity are related to patience.
What do we teach our children from an early age so they can learn what we want to instill in them? A simpler way to ask this question is: What is the first word we teach our children? “No!” This teaches them one thing: patience. Children are born impatient. They are selfish in that they only think about themselves. We train them to be patient, and as we do, they mature. Parents recognize if their children learn patience, it will go far in helping them excel. The opposite is also true. When children do not learn patience, it negatively affects the rest of their lives.
The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment
The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment was a series of studies conducted on children. They were given one marshmallow they could eat immediately, but if they waited until the person conducting the experiment returned about fifteen minutes later, they would receive a second marshmallow. The children fell into two categories—those who ate immediately and those who waited. In follow-up studies conducted years later, the researchers found the children who waited tended to have “better life outcomes as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index, and other life measures.” Their patience, or impatience, dramatically affected their futures.
Discussion Questions to Answer in the Comments Section
- How do trials help us become more like Christ?
- How do we demonstrate patience during trials that allows others to see Christ in us?
- Would you share a trial that God used help produce patience, maturity, and character in your life?
Most of this post is taken from my book, Enduring Trials God’s Way: