When you get to the point of asking this question with sincerity because the pain and difficulty of this world have sapped the joy out of your life, then you can begin to discover what true, biblical joy is. It is not superficial, trite, or wishful thinking. God is fully aware of what you feel, and He means what He inspired James to write. You can (must) “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials.” (James 1:2)
I read those familiar words afresh, “Consider it all joy.” It stopped me in my tracks. I thought, “Really, James? I have zero joy in this trial. How could I?” It wasn’t skepticism. By God’s grace, I had the wherewithal to recognize God’s Word is true, and the problem lies not with Scripture but with me. So, my next question was, “Okay James, how?”
What Are You Telling Yourself?
Our sadness is most often related to very specific events and situations: your precious child to whom you gave the best years of your life and love is now estranged; your spouse doesn’t love you; your beloved parent or friend has died; you have cancer; your unique (or so you thought) church has split. Fill in the blank. Whatever it is, James includes it. The application is all-encompassing, “…when you encounter various trials”—major ones, minor ones, intense, or mild. Like a tornado, trials can come and go without warning, leaving behind a life-altering swath of problems and difficulty. Other trials are more like the guest you let in who won’t leave. That is, the trial is not overwhelming but becomes constant and lingering with cumulative effects. The question is, “What are you telling yourself about them?”
Be Prepared for Trials
The first help toward joy that we can take from James is to be prepared for trials. Job 4:7 tells us that “man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” We must think biblically and soberly about these difficulties. James tells us that trials are inevitable. Notice that he writes “when” not “if” trials come. Also, James addresses all Christians by using the plural, “my brethren.” Trials are not unique to you—we all experience them. Peter was explicit about this, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (I Peter 4:12). There is comfort in realizing, “I’m not the only one” and “this difficulty (or some other one) is to be expected.”
Observe how James is also direct in his instructions throughout the chapter. He begins with the command, “consider it” (James 1:2). That is, think of your trial with joy. How? “knowing….” Later we are told to pray “in faith without any doubting” (James 1:6). He tells us what we can “expect” when we doubt. The doubter is “double-minded” (James 1:8). Then, in James 1:13, we are admonished to not think ill of God, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God.” Why? “for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He himself does not tempt anyone.” Just as Paul explains, transformation (real heart-level change) into the likeness of Christ involves renewing the mind (Romans 12:2). We must renew our minds to think correctly about who God is, what He is doing, and who we are in the trials.
Trials Have Purpose
James 1:2-4 is a succinct progression of thought culminating in the final reason how trials can (must) be accompanied with joy. “Consider it joy when you encounter various trials, knowing.” Knowing what? “That the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Notice that James sort of equivocates here. With a literary slight-of-hand he changes terms, thus shaping our thought. He redefines the matter without explanation for doing so. He simply switches from “trials” to “testing of your faith.” The trial is a testing of our faith. A “testing” indicates purpose and intent of the one who is testing. Of course, we know that James means God is behind it. And we know that God has a spiritual purpose because it is a testing of our faith.
Time and space prevent me from continuing the exposition, but there is ample truth here to begin the road to joy. Know this: God has orchestrated these various trials. God is not only in it, but He is causing it. We can rejoice in that much alone if we have a right understanding of God. We must think properly about the character of God. Trials are orchestrated for us by an all-knowing, all-powerful, and good God. Therefore, we can say, “Whatever my God ordains is right.”
James does not end there. Next, he tells us that this testing produces endurance, spiritual endurance. The historic confessions of faith identify this doctrine as “perseverance of the saints.” As in sports, resistance training (trials) is what produces strength and endurance. But endurance is itself a means to the end. We do not endure for the sake of enduring.
The result of enduring spiritual trials is perfection. “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4). James doesn’t mean sinless perfection. The word he uses is teleios, which can also be translated “mature.” Maturity denotes fulfillment of purpose, that for which something has been designed. A fruit tree matures once it bears fruit. Biblical maturity is sanctification, whereby we are made into the likeness of Christ—exhibiting Christlike character within the context of the person God has made you to be. As Martin Luther so aptly put it, “Theology is not learned on a peaceful path, or through tranquil reflection: it is acquired per afflictions. This is not something that the believer ever chooses for himself, but the result of these trials, however, is not to ruin the believer but to make him a true theologian: one who knows God and is conformed into the image of God.”
The Bottom Line
James goes from experience to purpose—from trial to testing, to endurance, to perfection, or maturity. Despite the deep trials we must walk through, we can be filled with joy in their outcome—knowing that our faith is being proven and found to result in praise and glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Indeed, we can believe that weeping tarries for the night, but joy comes with the morning because God is sanctifying us in the present and preparing for us an eternal weight of glory when Christ returns. With eyes of faith, we can consider it all joy if we value what God values when we encounter various trials.
This blog was originally posted at Immanuel Biblical Counseling, LLC. View the original post here.