"1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes
in the Dispersion: Greetings. 2 Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet
various trials, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete,
lacking in nothing."
James describes himself to his readers as a servant of God and of Jesus Christ.
James understands his life in reference to another. He knows he is not his
own and that he cannot know himself, and others cannot know him without knowing
the One he gives his life to in worship, service. He is known only in relationship
to this God and Lord Jesus. This is the One with whom He wants to be identified.
He writes "to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion." It seems likely
that this letter was written before a.d. 50 to the Jewish Christians who were
dispersed due to persecution. James writes this letter as a pastor to a scattered
flock whom are enduring hardship. James desires to help them to know the purposes
to which God in Christ has called them and how to deal with the various trials
they encounter as they live as Christians in a broken, sinful world.
James addresses first the fact that they are in the midst of difficulties. "Count
it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials..." James assumes
he is writing to people who are struggling in their lives. The word "various" in
the Greek means whatever trials; it is meant to convey the sense of including
all manner of trials, large and small. Because these are probably Jewish Christians
whom have fled from their homes, they are likely dealing with all the trials
that one has in a new land, amongst strangers. But James does not want to restrict
his words to any particular situation. He is saying that they are to count
all of their trials as joy. We are to account for all our struggles in the
same manner. They may seem very different from one another. We may see someone
else in a very difficult time and think that we have nothing in common with
them. Or we may be facing the biggest trial of our lives and feel no one can
understand what we are going through.
But James says that all trials can be understood to be the "testing of
our faith". The word "testing" here does not mean that God has
us go through trials to examine our faith and see if it is of passing grade.
Testing here is the word used for testing metals, where you test in order to
remove impurities so that the metal is stronger, has more integrity. When we
go through trials, we can exercise our trust in God, and in that way can find
Him trustworthy. In turn, we are able to trust Him with more of our lives.
It seems to me very apt that James calls trials a test of our faith. I see
in my own life and in the lives of others that, in every struggle we face,
we wonder: is God here? Does He care? Is He able and willing to work in this
situation? Has He abandoned me? Can I trust Him to be my Father even with this?
And if we hand the trial, whatever it is, over to God (and we may hand it over
again and again!) we find that yes, He is real and present and active in our
lives. We can see more clearly who He is and what He is up to so that we trust
Him to do that very thing that He desires to do in and through us. When we go
through a trial but do not choose to trust, to count on God, He can become more
distant and abstract to us. We have a more difficult time seeing what difference
He really makes.
We know this to be true, not only in our relationship with God but in our
relationships with others. Our relationships either grow stronger as we trust
one another and find the object of our trust to be trustworthy or we grow apart
through neglect or the relationship is damaged by active deceit. So James says
to his sisters and brothers "for you know that the testing of your faith
produces steadfastness..." When we test our faith, we decide to step out
on God, to count on Him, to live as if He truly is our loving Heavenly Father
who is for us and is ready to make us totally His own. The more we see Him
work, the more we know we can count on Him. Our faith, our trust in Him, grows
stronger and as we persevere, we become steadfast. We become less likely to
swing into great doubt or despair. This is a wonderful truth. God can grow
us up in our faith so that we are more steady, more ready to hand over a trial
when it faces us, more able to live in His peace for we know He is working,
and so we are less anxious.
Now James said that they are to count it joy when they face the trials that
come because they can become steadfast as they have their faith tested. What
does it mean to count it joy and why is having a steadfast faith a good thing?
First, to count it joy is not to pretend you are having fun in the middle of
a difficult time. The circumstance of the trial may be due to evil, wrong.
The suffering caused in and of itself is not a source of joy. Joy has to do
not with the trial itself, but in the use to which God intends to put it. He's
saying set your sights on what going through the trial will add up to (count)
because God is in the business of making sure it adds up to our benefit and
God's glory. So joy is based on the God-given promise of what he intends to
do with the trial.
And what is that greater end and purpose? He puts it in two ways. First, it brings
about our perseverance. Now, I do not think in the context here that he means
mere patience or endurance. We are not just given the ability to gut it through
in a Stoic-like way, gritting our teeth and just taking it. No, that would be
Stoicism not Christianity. Besides, there's not much joy in gutting it out. But
the ultimate end James indicates for our trials, shows even more strongly that
he does not just have in mind a single moral virtue such as patience. The end
result God has in mind is nothing less than our "completion" and "perfection," "lacking
nothing." Now obviously, just one moral virtue does not add up to that.
But what might?
Let's go back. What is being tested, in the sense of being purified? It's
our faith. So if our faith is purified, what is the result? The purification
or perfection of our faith. Now that makes more sense. If it is our faith in
God which becomes a faith that endures, remains in tough times, has great staying
power (and in that sense perseveres) would that lead to our completion and
perfection and lacking nothing? Yes. Because in everything we would be turning
to God for everything he has to give us. And if we receive from God, especially
in the midst of trials, everything God has for us, we would share in all His
perfections. We would find our completion in Him! The endurance of faith leads
to our completion as persons in Christ. We grow to the place where we are able
perfectly, moment by moment, to receive God's love, joy, as peace.
To depart for a moment from this passage: remember from Hebrews, that even
Jesus did not just gut it through His most desperate trial. "But for the
joy that was set before him, he endured the cross" Jesus is the author
and "perfecter" of our faith. Jesus was no mere Stoic. His trust
in the Father enabled Him to face the cross and count it all adding up to joy,
in the salvation of His people. Jesus own faith led Him in perfect trust and
obedience. That same pathway is the way for us too, with Him. For our Christ-likeness
comes through following Jesus in the way He faced His own trials. In our perfection,
we enter fully into the giving and receiving of the Triune life. And that is
what God intends for us as we face whatever trials: great or small.
If this is God's intention, then it is easier to see how we are to "count
it all joy." I hope this is a word of encouragement for you in the midst
of whatever present trials you are facing!
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