This letter from James seems like a New Testament Proverbs. He wanted to pass along as much wisdom as he could to the persecuted and dispersed church. He was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. So he cared to pastor these people even though they were not all in Jerusalem any longer.
Verse 2 reads,
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,”
Are you like me and question if you’ve read that right? Count it ALL joy when you meet trials? How can we do that? How can we view it all as joy when we experience trials? Maybe James didn’t know how hard some of this stuff would be! So maybe James didn’t know suffering.
The early church suffered persecution. Believers were dragged off tortured, imprisoned or killed. He understood suffering. Josephus, a first century historian wrote that James was stoned to death about 62 A.D. He had been the leader of the church for about thirty years by that time. So chances are James experienced many kinds of trials.
I’ve been through stuff that tore me apart, broke my heart, and made me wonder if I would ever get through it. I was supposed to be happy about the pain, the struggle, and the upward climb? How can James expect us to count it all joy when we meet trials? Why would he begin his letter with such a bizarre statement? We are not happy that we lost a loved one. We are not happy to be persecuted. We are happy because when God brings us through the trial, we will be better off. Suffering while not fun has a great purpose. Verse 3 tells us,
“for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
Trials test our faith. God already knows us, He doesn’t need to know how strong our faith is. We go through tests so we can find out how faithful we are. Those tests, trials, and troubles remind us about how great God is, they remind us He is with us. And when we remember how God has brought us through everything else, we can go through each new trouble with more trust. We become more steadfast. What is steadfast? It means firm, unwavering, constant, doubtless.
We’ve seen people go through difficulties and the way they respond says so much about them. Do they whine and complain? Do they crumble under the weight? Do they give up? Do they try and fix the problems? We don’t blame a person for those responses. Those are natural responses to difficulties. But as Christians we have the advantage of The Holy Spirit. We can respond supernaturally. We can take joy because we trust our Lord.
I’ve seen those steadfast and faithful people respond to troubles as well. They are not laughing, but they are calm, trusting, and can even encourage and comfort others while they should be the ones being comforted. The depth of their faith glorifies Jesus and inspires people. And glorifying Jesus is our goal. Glorify doesn’t mean to merely praise God. It means to be like Jesus, to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, the character of Christ. It is the ultimate praise and worship to be like Jesus. It is the greatest expression of love to love others as He loves us. Verse 4 says,
“And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
One day we will be perfect and complete, we will be like Jesus. Now we strive toward that goal. We want that excellence and realization of who we can be.
Since we want to be like Jesus, we understand that each trial is an opportunity to become more faithful, more steadfast, and more like Christ. That is why and how we can count it all joy.