STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
(James 1:1-4, ESV)
“Count it all joy.”
What a strange way of addressing the recipients of this letter! James is writing this letter to Jewish Christians who have been driven from their homes and possessions. They were exploited by the rich, dragged into court, and slandered for believing in the name of Jesus (2:6-7). And James isn’t telling them to consider their trials “a little joy” but “all joy.” Perhaps James is out of touch with what these people are going through.
James, however, was not unaware of the trials they were facing. James was in Jerusalem, and he himself had witnessed the death of Stephen, the persecution that followed, and the scattering of the Jerusalem church throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). And the fact that Christians would face persecution should not come as a surprise. Jesus Himself warned His disciples before His crucifixion, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18, ESV) But just because you know someone is going to punch you in the stomach at 3:00 P.M., that doesn’t mean it’s going to hurt any less. Knowing that persecution is coming doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to deal with.
We would say that, under normal circumstances, trials and hardships are anything but “all joy.” However, James gives us the reason why we can rejoice in hardships: because they produce steadfastness—resilience and reliance on God and patient endurance.
In the midst of trial, we often think God has forgotten us, is punishing us, or even hates us. We may think that He is unwilling or unable to help us. But we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God will, in fact, work good from hardship. It may be difficult to trust that in the midst of disaster, but it remains His firm and true promise. He demonstrates that most clearly when we look at the state we were in when we were born. We were born sinful, vengeful, rebellious creatures, warring against God. And what did God do? He sent His Son to pay for our sins, just as He promised. God has taken a situation that meant hell and changed it to mean eternal life in the perfection of heaven. If God is able to do that with our eternal problems, we know that He is able to do that with our temporary problems as well.
In good times and in bad times.
We might be tested with a flood of terrible things, but that testing only serves to bring blessing and remind us of what our Savior has done for us. When things are bad, we still have eternal life. When things are good, we still have eternal life. That is a promise and a gift that does not change, that no one can take away from us.
Therefore, we really can “count it all joy” when we go through trials. We know that they are for our good because that is God’s promise. They will strengthen our faith as we look forward to the day when there will be no more trials in the joy of heaven.
Robert Sauers is pastor of Luther Memorial Church in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and a member of the CLC Board of Missions.