Some Bible verses can feel like they stick in your throat and bring truth that’s hard to swallow. Here’s one of them from James:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,”James 1:2
This is strong meat, but verses like this can bring us blessings we can’t find elsewhere, if only we take a little time to chew on them! A little bible-munching on James 1:2-4 gives us three wonderful keys to having joy in trials:
KEY #1: Consider the Value of Trials (James 1:2)
The command: “Count it all joy”
James commands Christians to “count” it all joy, and the word used speaks of the result when you have passed a matter through the court of your mind. It’s talking about the conclusion that you reach when you have spent time deliberating everything. The conclusion we must reach is that it is “all joy“. (All-joy, means that it is un-alloyed. Silver may exist alongside pure gold, and the gold is still pure, but if silver is mixed with gold, it’s now no longer pure. In this sense, the evaluation we are to make, when everything is considered, is that it’s “all-joy”. There may be grief from trials, alongside our joy (see 1 Peter 1:-6-7), but once we evaluate things properly, we must conclude that it is “all joy”.
The encouragement: “my brothers”
James is no stranger to trials. This is the brother of Jesus speaking, who witnessed his elder brother’s crucifixion, and knew the pain of persecution as well as any, but he reaches from the page and encourages us with “my brothers”. We are never in better company than when we are in trials.
The occasion: “when you meet trials of various kinds”
The Greek word translated “meet” crops up in Luke 10:30 when speaks of the man who “fell among” thieves. This picture here is that whenever we are suddenly surrounded by trials of various kinds, then, on that occasion, we should make our mental evaluation that this is “all joy”.
Like runners who consider the painful process of training a joy, while others would only be focused on the pain, we are called upon to make an evaluation of the situation we face, and come to the conclusion that it’s “all-joy”. To do that, however, we must move from what we feel, and what we think, to what we know, and James helps us now to do this.
Key #2 Consider the Effect of Trials (James 1:3)
“For you know that” – just like a runner who focuses on the reality that his painful training will produce fitness and help him win the race, we “know” certain things about the effect of trials. If only we focus upon the effect of trials, we can move from being ruled by how we feel, to being governed by what we know. You may object that, like Job, you don’t know why God is allowing these trials to happen to you, but you have more information than Job did. One thing we know that God is doing is that trials are “the testing of your faith”.
“the testing of your faith” – “testing” (Greek: dokimion) refers to the happy result of testing metals to see that they are pure. It’s translated in 1 Peter 1:7 as “tested genuineness”. Just like God tested Abraham (Genesis 22:1), God tests believers’ faith to prove its genuineness. When you are providentially thrown into the crucible of trials and yet you still trust God (i.e. you don’t curse him – see Job 1:22), and you obey God (see Genesis 22:12; James 2:21-23) you pass the test, and your faith is shown to be genuine. It’s this happy result, the tested-genuineness of your faith that has an effect.
“produces steadfastness” – literally, works steadfastness. Steadfastness is an effect, a result brought about by our faith being tested and proved genuine when we are in trials. Steadfastness itself is the ability to remain steady under a load. The Iron Duke (Wellington) was given his name because of his ability to remain steadfast and keep going under immense criticism as Prime Minister.
Key #3 Cooperate with the Purpose of Trials (James 1:4)
At last we can begin to see how this works: When you are suddenly surrounded by trials, you may be grieved by them (1 Peter 1:6-7), but if you will stop and consider the value of what is happening, and think about the reality that this testing process is exposing the genuineness of your faith and actually producing steadfastness in you —then you can really begin to see it with a measure of joy, knowing what God is doing. God is producing steadfastness in you, but it doesn’t stop there. Steadfastness itself does something to you. It produces maturity:
“and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
A golden chain of cause and effect: trials test our faith => our faith is proved genuine => this produces steadfastness => this produces maturity “perfect and complete, lacking nothing”.
Don’t break the chain: Sadly there’s a huge temptation when we are suddenly thrown into the crucible of trials, to buck and complain and resist. Grumbling and complaining are the bitter fruits of a heart that rejects God’s wisdom in allowing us to be tested, but another sad result of resisting this whole process is immaturity. We are commanded to “let” steadfastness have its full effect – and the sense of this (Greek 3rd person imperative) is that we are to “ensure this happens” — i.e. “it must happen”. Put simply, don’t get in the way. It’s our job to make sure nothing stops this process, and that means we have to humble ourselves like Job, and refuse to grumble and complain, lest we end up with even more trouble —and discipline instead of maturity.
photo credit: Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons