In James 1:2-3, James begins his letter with a near-paradoxical consolation. Trials are nasty. And we are all bound to experience them to one extent or another. But here, James gives us a sound reason for why Christians should remain joyful in the midst of affliction. Let’s look at our text under four headings: (1) the command to joyfulness; (2) the occasion; (3) the ground of joy; and (4) the outcome of the testing of faith.
The Command To Joyfulness
James begins by addressing his words to his “brethren…” These are not merely brethren according to the flesh (they do seem to be Jewish converts along with James), but they are brethren according to the Christian faith, as v. 3 makes plain. And he commands his brethren to, “count it all joy…” Or, “consider it joy…” This is a command and an encouragement to count those things as joy which the world would count as occasions for despair and cynicism. Joy here is not to be taken as a fleeting emotion or passion, but a perennial disposition of the Christian person grounded in the knowledge of faith. This is a gladness to be had by the Christian.
As mentioned, the occasion is that which the world would deem undesirable. The world teaches us to escape our issues and problems. The Christian faith teaches us to trust God and embrace what God sends our way with gladness. And in this case, James has trials in view. These trials are not specified. They could be anything from persecution to false teaching; from financial hardship to famine, etc. In our context, we might think of political upheaval, job losses, general uncertainty, economic unsurety, cultural perversity, etc. James says that upon the occasion of falling into any one of these trials, we should “count it all joy.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that we ought to be glad for wickedness itself, but for what God is doing for us in spite of it and even through it.
And this brings us to the ground of our joy in trials. What does the Christian have that the world doesn’t have which allows the Christian to count these trials as instances of joy rather than despair?
The Ground of Joy
James began his letter with what he will assume throughout: the possession of the good news of Jesus Christ and our slavehood to Him (Jas. 1:1)—in both trial and tribulation. But in v. 3, he adds a further reason why the Christian ought to have gladness in tribulation, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” The reason for gladness, in this case, is essentially Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” God is doing something for us, even in the midst of trial, and for that we ought to be grateful. We ought not try to thwart God’s providences, we ought not shake our fist to heaven. We must be grateful for what God is achieving in us through trial, trusting that a trial is a providential test for our good.
The Outcome of the Testing of Faith
By the way, What is a test?
A test is a metallurgical procedure whereby a metal is purified from its ore. Our faith is the precious metal buried in the human being, which is like ore, having many imperfections. And this spiritual testing of faith purifies the faith in the believing subject which in turn results in a stronger substance, able to take the beating of the world. Hence, such testing “produces patience,” or, more accurately, “perseverance.” How pure and how strong would our faith be without trial? Constant world-comforts often lead us to a growing complacency and laziness. But God is pleased to refine us, like metal, through the fires of trial. Through these means, He casts our attention upon Him rather than the pleasures of this life. Through trial, He increases our trust and comfort in Him whilst weaning us from our trust and comforts in the world.