God Refines His People
Thank you Lord that you lengthen out and hold back your anger because you are longsuffering. We praise you that you refrain from cutting us off as you refine us with gentleness and grace.
In 1969 the NY Jets went to the Super Bowl and Joe Nameth guaranteed that the Jets would beat the Colts. I am going to make another guarantee today:
The guarantee I will make to you today is this: God will test you in order to purify you. God works in our lives to refine us and to strengthen us. God does not test us to BREAK us but to MAKE us; He refines not to DESTROY us but to DEVELOP us.
Faith in Jesus does not cause difficulty to disappear. Your problems will not evaporate when you trust Jesus.
So the FACT is this: God Refines His people.
Psalm 7:9 says, The righteous God trieth the hearts and reins.
Psalm 17:3, Thou hast proved mine heart, thou hast visited me in the night; thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing; I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.
Psalm 66:10, For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried, refined, same word as in Isaiah 48:10) us, as silver is tried.
Prove = examine Job 23:10, But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
Jeremiah 20:12, But O LORD of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them; for unto thee have I opened my cause.
Psalm 11:5, The LORD trieth the righteous.
1. WHY does God Refine Us?
God puts his people into the furnace of affliction to bring us to submission. Here are some reasons why God refines us.
A. Prove your faith
His refining fire tests whether something genuine or something phony. To refine means to melt and subject them to the fire for the purpose for determining the essential quality of something. A test brings OUT what’s IN. A test in school determines whether you have a particular knowledge of something. Spiritual tests determine whether you have true Christian virtue and character. Let me tell you something: your faith will be tested in the fire of adversity. You cannot live the Christian life without going through testing for Christ. The test will determine whether you are of strong character in Christ. Will go back? This world system will put your faith on trial to see if it is the real thing. You cannot fake the Christian life for long. What we really are will come out.
This is what I am hearing since the WTC attack: America is a good country. We help everyone and give money to everyone. Why would God allow this? Friends, I pray that this attack would not reveal America as a self-righteous nation whose only goodness is in our works. This is a self-righteousness. I pray that this attack would put us to our knees so that a faith based on God’s righteousness would be revealed. I pray that we would search our hearts for personal and national sin, and I am sure you can think of sins of which to repent personally and nationally. If we think we can continue on in our immoral, degrading pride and folly, then we are deceived! As a nation, we ought to repent of our abortion, our spiritual apathy, our self-righteousness, our adultery, our love of money, our love of homosexuality, and our removing of God from our public institutions. Am I saying that this is why the WTC was attacked? No. I am not God to dogmatically make such statements, but should we not ponder what sins have gripped the hearts of our nation and should we not still be led to repentance?
God tests those who say they are saved because there are many who are false professors. God’s refining fire SIFTS out those who are not true believers in Jesus Christ.
1 John 2:19, They went out from us, but they were not of us for if they had been of us they would no doubt have continued with us, but they went out that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
B. Purify your faith.
A test is something that purifies and strengthens the faith that is already present. How are you going to learn to have peace? Lying on a beach in Tahiti with a glass of tea? No, when there is chaos all around, when death surrounds us and when things dear to us crumble. That is where you learn to be at peace.
Come to Jesus, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Do you know what a yoke is? It is something they put on the necks of animals. A teacher asked a little girl what is the yoke God puts on us. The little girl said, It is God putting His arms around our necks.
God purifies us to shape us for service. He burns away the useless things and seeks to melt us in order to mold us more into His image. Before silver could be worked into a useful vessel or utensil, it had to be refined and purified.
God seeks to purify our motives and our priorities so that we live consistent, disciplined lives for Jesus Christ. He wants to burn away the self-conceit, the self-confidence, and the self-esteem in order to use as a vessel ready for his use.
God purifies our faith in order to draw us closer to him, leads us to sincere prayer. Every storm is a school, every trial a teacher, every painful experience an education in the grace of God. Trials will harden an unbeliever toward God; the same trial will humble a true believer to fall at the feet of Jesus.
Some who say they are saved are put into the refining fire and there is nothing but dross. That was what happened to Israel in the days of Ezekiel, Ezek.22:17,18.
When God sends his chastisements and there is no change and no repentance and when we do not allow the chastisements of his fury to melt away the pride and unbelief, then God will just leave that person in the fire and melt them in the fire of his wrath. God will leave the dross in the fire to be utterly consumed!
Jeremiah 6:27-30 also tells about how his people have become so obstinate that no matter how intense the refining fire becomes, it is in vain. Then God must come against his people in judgment.
Trying: to try to learn the genuineness of something by examination and testing, often through actual use - ‘to test, to examine, to try to determine the genuineness of, testing.’1
The Psalmist says in Psalm 26:2, Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.
Zechariah 13:9 says, I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, the LORD is my God.
God’s refining process leads us to call on his name.
Malachi 3:2,3; But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer the LORD an offering righteousness.
God refines us to determine what we are made of; he searches us to determine our integrity. He refines us so that we see what is eternally important.
There is the story told of a Greek soldier that had an extremely painful disease that was likely to take his life at any moment. In every battle, he willingly went to the front of the battle and fought with selfless courage, knowing that he was not going to live long. His pain led him to fight in near death situations. He was so admired that his General, Antigonus, had him see a renowned doctor of their day and he was healed of his disease. From that moment on, the valiant soldier avoided danger and sought to protect his life rather than risk it. His tribulation made him fight well, but his health and comfort destroyed his usefulness as a soldier.
Sometimes the fires of affliction cause us to fight more effectively. When we realize the brevity and uncertainty of life, we more easily see what is important and what does not matter in light of eternity.
2. WHERE does God Refine us?
In the furnace of affliction. The furnace of affliction is God’s workshop and it is our school house. God does not refine us with silver in a fire, but in a fire of affliction. If you want to find God’s people, look for the furnace and there you will discover the people of God!
God refined Abraham in a strange country of UNCERTAINTY. He went out not knowing where he went. It is not easy to leave behind family and familiar surroundings and go out without knowing where you will find bread or water. He trusted God, however, and then God told him to take his only son on Mount Moriah as a burnt offering. How uncertain he was when he went up that mountain, yet how much faith he had when he said, I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.
God refined the nation of Israel in the furnace of SUFFERING SLAVERY when they were in that iron furnace of Egypt. Sometimes God allows his choice people to be taken into demeaning circumstances in order to strengthen them. God refined them when their tale of bricks was doubled and the whips slashed upon their backs; God refined them when they were given no straw to make those bricks and when Pharoah was angry at the plagues of God.
Illus: When Adoniram Judson was dying, news came to him that some Jews in Turkey had been converted to Christ by reading the account of his sufferings in Burma. This awes me, for when I was a young man, I prayed for the Lord to send me to the Jews in Jerusalem as a missionary. But he sent me to Burma to preach and to suffer the tortures of imprisonment. Now, because of my sufferings, God had brought some Jews in Turkey to repentance.
God continued to refine His people in the furnace of WANDERING. There were his people in the wilderness and the serpents hissed and the sun scorched and their spirits murmured at God’s man, Moses. God refined them when they thirsted and when they hungered, and God did it all to humble and to prove them to know what was in their heart, Deut.8:3.
God refined the man Job in the furnace of LOSS. What grief did Job experience when he lost everything, his children, servants, his sheep, camels, his house, and then his own health. In spite of it all, he could say, when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. Yes, this is a very painful furnace. So many are suffering in our city, fire fighters, police officers, and other victims of the WTC attack. A man named John called our hotline this week because he lost his wife and daughter in the Towers. He had a gun to his head. He abruptly hung up the phone, and I thought he may kill himself, but he called back and he did not do it.
1 Peter 1:6,7: Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season if need be ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
God refined the Prodigal Son in the furnace of POVERTY. When he ate the husks that the swine did heat, he came to himself and said, I have sinned against heaven, and I am no more worthy to be called thy son. He arose and came to his father who received him with compassion.
God refined the people of Israel during these days in the furnace of COMPROMISE. They were led captive into Babylon and faced great pressure to compromise their faith in a strange land of idolatry. Will you bow or burn? Those three Hebrew children faced the fiery furnace in their Babylonian captivity; Daniel faced the furnace of affliction surrounded by a den of lions.
I do not know WHERE your furnace of affliction is, but I do know that the purifying processes of heaven are full of gentleness and wisdom. God tempers the furnace in which we are placed with great love, patience, and mercy. He does not allow the fire get so hot that we would be consumed. Just as a doctor carefully measures the medicine you take when you are sick, God measures the fire in your furnace of affliction. He defers, or holds back his anger, and he refrains from doing anything that would not turn into His praise. God has a special furnace with each one of us, and he places us into our own furnace, not with silver, but in a furnace made individually and specifically for us.
Notice the personal pronouns of how God deals so individually with us in our afflictions: Psalm 17:3, Thou hast proved mine heart, thou hast visited me in the night; thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing; I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.
God’s children do not receive exemption tickets from trials.
3. HOW does God refine us?
What does God use to refine our hearts? How does he do it?
Financial struggles: James 2:5, God hath chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him.
God will use the matter of money to refine us, for when we have financial lack, we tend to look to God in prayer. Many are out of work in these days. Look to the Lord! Do not complain, but trust in the Lord and turn to Him with all of your heart. James also tells us in 5:2 that the rich who put their trust and confidence in riches will one day howl for their riches will become corrupted and their nice clothes will be eaten by moths. One is reminded here by the words of Jesus who said,
Matthew 6:19,20: Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal.
James also gives Job as an example for suffering this kind of trial as he suffered the loss of children, house, and home, yet God in the end showed mercy to him.
Temptations, difficulties, not on account of any sin. Job was a righteous man above all upon the earth, and God refined Job’s faith to make him even greater in his sight.
James 5:11, Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
Romans 5:3-5, And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
James 1:2,3, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
Perhaps there are spiritual trials tempting you to give up. Don’t quit!
Relational Trials: The reason we fight with one another is because we are inwardly fighting against God. There is war among us because there is fighting going on within us. James 4:4 friendship with the world is enmity with God.
MARRIAGE is a furnace of affliction and God can use your spouse to prove your faith and purify your heart to love the Lord. Marriage will test the sincerity of your word, for when we were married we vowed to be faithful and stedfast to stay with our spouse until death. Did we mean it? Is our word good?
CHILDREN are a furnace of affliction for many. Perhaps your children have broken your heart and their direction is a trial for you. Neighbors? Co-workers?
Satanic Trials, James 4:7: James does deal with the Devil and the and tells us we must submit to God and resist the Devil. The devil has one goal and that is to destroy and devour the people of God. Resist him stedfast in the faith, holding the shield of faith in order to quench all of his fiery darts!
Physical Trials, Maybe you have waited and prayed a long time to regain your health, but once your leg starts feeling better your back starts to cause you pain.
4. WHAT is the end result of God’s Refining?
The end result is His glory and praise.
For my praise will I refrain thee in the furnace of affliction.
For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it
I will not give my glory unto another.
The end result of all God’s works is His glory and praise.
1 Peter 1:7, the end result is that when we are tried with fire we shall be found unto the praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. His praise, honor and glory is all that ultimately matters. I have created him for my glory, and God will be glorified by His people. The work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus Christ through His people. God’s refining process, done so individually and gently in our lives, is to show forth the glory of Jesus Christ.
Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain, Psalm 76:10.
God will not allow any refining to take place that will not ultimately result in His glory.