James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
A] See how DIRECT & BLUNT James’ style of writing is. No words of thanks .. prayers …. or details of how he gained his information about them, James comes straight out with his counsels: hits them right between the eyes. This is certainly directive counselling: the letter starts abruptly, and his letter stops as suddenly as it begins. We love James’s plain speaking.
B] See how REALISTIC James is. He takes it for granted that there isn’t one of them who is a stranger to trials: “you know” these things, he says (v.3). They are facing trials of many kinds. That’s where they all are and that’s where we are, if we are normal Christians following the Man of Sorrows. Nobody in the 1st century thought that becoming a Christian meant lots of gold, living in a palace with servants, and never experiencing a twinge of ill-health. James does not say, “Count it all joy that you’ve got the health and wealth gospel.” He wouldn’t know what people were talking about who preached it. He certainly wouldn’t recognise it as Christianity That ‘gospel’ is a curse. “Count it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds” – that is what James says. We love his Christian realism.
C] See how AFFECTIONATE he is; “MY BROTHERS” is how he addresses them. On 13 more occasions in this letter he calls them ‘brothers.’ Not ‘children’ They are, with him, on the same level, brother slaves – of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, because they were all “sons of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Gals.3:26). This was not a merely correct or polite greeting. James really loved these people and identified himself with them. Augustine talked about his friend Alipius and said that they were ‘cemented with the same blood of Christ.’ The sons of God have all been fused together in the flaming heat of Calvary. Brothers and sisters for eternity. We love his warm affection for the people of God.
James says two things in these verses: one is a command and the other a reason for the command. Firstly the command:-
1] “CONSIDER EVERY TRIAL PURE JOY.”
This is the command, and in a moment he will give us some reasons for it, but he starts his entire letter to them with this exhortation. Jay Adams talks about someone visiting the dentist with a raging toothache. How weary you would quickly become of his opening pleasantries and chit-chat. “Sir, I have this terrible toothache and you must do something about it, soon !” You want relief, as quickly as possible ! He can exchange small talk with you while the injection is deadening the nerves around the tooth. James is like a good dentist. “That tooth has to come out.” He sets out the needle, the pliers, and puts the chair in the reclining position. He is not being cruel. There are other patients in pain waiting to see him. He wants to be of help to as many people as he can.
These Christians might have expected their affections to be stroked. They wanted sympathy and commiseration, but James gives them new obligations in the middle of their trials – “count it pure joy !” – he says. From the very beginning he wants to establish in them the right attitude to the difficulties of life, which trials will last as long as life itself. They are not going to be able to cope with life unless they do what he tells them.
This is a command. It is as much a command as, “Thou shalt not steal” or “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” We are under obligation to the Lord we serve who told our brother James to tell us ‘we must count it pure joy whenever we face trials.’ That is our duty. We are sinning if we disobey these words.
“Consider” James says. How do you consider ? With your mind, not with your feelings, but with your thought processes. Trials will come, and they help to destroy Christians because of the gloomy thoughts that follow. James is not saying, “feel joyful,” but learn to think joyfully in your trials. For some examples:- 1] Paul tells us he learned to be contented in whatever state he was in. God began by telling Paul that this was his Christian duty, and that God would give him grace to respond to every situation in that way. Paul could see that being discontented was a sin against everything he was preaching to others- about a loving Father in charge of everything in his life, a Saviour who said that if anyone comes to him he would give them rest. Paul would be denying that if he were terribly restless and discontented. So he learned, as his Christian life progressed, to be contented. Each day he said to God, “Thy will be done” and while Paul knew that something was God’s will he would not be plaintive or self-pitying or sulking.
2] Think of the great example of this at the beginning of the early church. The apostles were preaching the gospel much to the indignation of the Jewish leadership. the Sanhedrin has them arrested, and are thinking of killing them, but they decide rather to have them flogged. That was a sever punishment, just below capital punishment. Some men died under a flogging- 39 flashes tearing your back open. What a trial ! How do apostles respond ? We are told [5:41], “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” They considered their sufferings in the light of the sufferings of Christ for them. How little was their pain compared to the anathema he had suffered for them. And He had felt novices like themselves were worthy to bear infamy and shame for his sake. What an honour ! So they weren’t depressed and angry about this turn of events. They considered it pure joy.
3] You get the same response with Paul and Silas in the prison in Philippi. They have been roughed up, given an unjust trial, lashed, put in the stocks in the most stinking dungeon, at the bottom of the jail where all the filth drips down. But they account it as a cause for praise. They have been faithful servants to the great Servant. He suffered innocently and triumphed over his enemies. They are given the same confidence. Europe is going to hear the gospel. Greece is going to fall before the Lordship of Christ ! At midnight they are not sulking they are in the praise of gospel anticipation. They sing psalms of rejoicing.
You think of the two thieves on the cross. They both began by cursing and swearing, and then one started to use his mind and to consider where he was, what was his future, and who was hanging alongside him. His curses changed into exhorting his companion to stop his foolishness and he began to pray to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into you kingdom.” Then he heard the most joyful words a sinner can possibly hear – “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” He used his mind in a trial and thought of Jesus the Saviour with him and soon he had cause to consider his cross pure joy.
So one day these scattered Christians of the 12 tribes were sitting in their seats on the Lord’s Day gathering and this letter from James was read to them. The very first thing he told them was that they were to use their minds, and consider it pure joy whenever they were in the middle of any and every trial. “First of all learn this great lesson” they were told.
Then they were told that the trials were “of many kinds” – they are multi-hued, like Joseph’s coat of many colours. James mentions some of them particularly in the letter. Sudden death (v.11), being an orphan or a widow (end of chap 1), exploitation and also illness (in chap.5: vv.4 & 14). Trials are common to us all, but the way they settle on one church or another and go from one believer to another varies. We may be slandered, our human ambitions are crushed, we may be ostracised, there is some thorn in the flesh, some personality problem; there is unrequited love, redundancy, intellectual problems, domestic heartache, waves of pain roll over us – suffering is so diverse. We’ve got to face the reality as Christians that our faith is liable to be tested by God in such ways. There can be no immunity for us as disciples from the Valley of the Shadow, whatever form that valley takes. We may be working under the most unpleasant management – men who make our lives a misery. We may face constant articulate opposition to our Christian convictions. The whole operating style of our place of work may be aimed at the embarrassment of Christian believers. We meet people who contradict our beliefs and mock our faith and we have to stand absolutely alone. There is not one class of trials to which God is limited. so that in them alone we can rejoice. These trials are “of many kinds”.
There is nothing of which the Christian can say, “Well, that will never happen to me.” Has it happened to Job ? To Simon Peter ? To Noah ? To Abraham ? To the apostle Paul ? Was it there amidst the list of harassments and heartaches he met in his life ? Then we are not exempt from it. One thing God knows about each one of us – what load we are able to bear. It is God who puts the load on us, and he knows our breaking point. Some bridges have signs of the limited loads they can bear. Trucks carrying heavier loads are forbidden, God has placed on each of us a different load limit. He won’t allow us to carry more than we can bear. That is the great limitation, and the only limitation. Job could carry a lot. I am able to carry much less, I judge, because my load has been much lighter than Job’s. But no Christian is exempt from trials of many kinds. The one guarantee is that our faith will not fail.
You see what James says ? The NIV translates his words, “you face them”. Better, you fall into them. The word is used in the story of the Good Samaritan about the poor man who fell among thieves. They were lying in wait, and without any expectation on his part, they fell upon him and took everything of value and left him half dead. So trials come upon us, as unexpectedly as the ringing of a phone. You do not have to organise them. Nobody needs to plan out these tests. You don’t need to go out of your way to look for sufferings or to create difficulties. It is absolutely inevitable that in the course of our daily living we are going to bump into these testing times. There have been Christians who have deliberately provoked the world’s hostility. Others have actively sought after martyrdom. There are Christians who have envied those who are suffering because they foolishly imagined that there was some kind of prestige in it for them. They have listened to old believers talking with them about how their faith has been tried and tested, and they have mused aloud and wished they had been through the mill like that. It is all so utterly foolish. We are going to face it. “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Nobody needs to organise difficulties and arrange tests of his faith. Walk along the narrow way ! Walk in step with the Spirit ! Keep in communion with the Lord Jesus and we will meet enough to test our faith. Quite casually you will fall into trials of many kinds. They are going to be there before us, in the way. So the testings are of many kinds and there is no possible way we can avoid meeting them.
One day there is the possibility that we will find ourselves in depths in which we find ourselves saying, “No child of God could possibly suffer like this.” Then we think to ourselves, “I cant be a Christian to have to go through this.” Then I think of Job, and how at first he himself was spared but he lost family and property. Then you remember God allowed his health to be touched, though his life were spared. God is in control of the degree of hardship at every stage. With Job it stops at the taking of his life, but with Stephen he even forfeits his life. We are being asked, “Do we count our own lives dear to us ?” We can be tested there too, as many have been in the past few years.
Let me remind you how extremely privileged we are. How far each one of us is from Job’s agony. How far we are from the fiery trial of the New Testament Christians. What buffetings Paul had to endure of body and spirit. Now, do not run away and say, “So Christians are always suffering and suffering terribly.” I am not saying that. Though it is a possibility for any of us, I am saying that commonly Christians meet trials. You remember how Peter writes to some Christians who were going through a fiery trials and behaving “as if some strange thing had happened.” They were saying, “this doesn’t happen to Christians.” The New Testament says that it isn’t strange at all. The Christian life is “the fellowship of his suffering.” It’s most illogical that Christians will say to themselves in their suffering, “The Lord’s got something against me.” You think of the opposite problem, of Jonah, how he was defying the Lord and everything was working smoothly for him. I am saying that every single Christian is tested. Of course, there is much more to life than that. There is an immense body of privilege, and years of green pastures and still waters, but one day we will face a trial. Reckon on it.
Then, James says, whenever it happens, “consider it pure joy.” That is, consider it 100% joy – all of it joy, without a single base ingredient, nothing but joy – not a mixture. We are not allowed to cut out 90% of a trial and count that part as joy. Everyone of us can look back with thankfulness to some aspect of every difficulty we have experienced. We can think of the wonderful support we had from our family and friends, and count those memories as joyful. We can say, “it could have been worse, and you can always see someone in a worse condition.” That is not what James is saying here. He says, “Face up to the whole thing.” Don’t leave any of it out. All of it is to be accounted as joy.” That is what the words “pure joy” involve.
Do you see the absurdity of such a statement ?
You have lost a sense of the love of God. Your body is racked with pain. You have just lost a loved one. You are being persecuted. The lives of your family are in danger. There is no earthly hope at all.
Imagine all that, and then this great word comes to us, “Consider it pure joy.” Regard this trial as a reason to rejoice. Account it as being “pure joy.” Because it does not seem to be joy. It seems grievous. But account it as joy that you are facing a trial. Your heart is breaking, and it is difficult to keep going, but you account it as joy that you are being faced with this trial.
How can we attain to this ? By getting our minds going. By leading your mind toward the right biblical considerations. By thinking about trials from God’s perspective. You can in this way reach the point when you rejoice in them. You consider the God of providence, your Saviour the Lord of love, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the promises of his Word. Consider all that – as you face trials of many kinds. Pure joy does not just happen. It takes a deliberate act of will. It may mean getting back under Biblical preaching again. It may mean being more diligent in personal devotions. It may mean getting wise counsel from godly people. It means everything that a true consideration of these most important events that have come into your life requires. You pay that trial that measure of respect. You consider it coram deo. That is, you bring it into the presence of Almighty God and reflect on it there.
It does not mean you rejoice in the cruelty, suffering, shame, injustice, destruction, the waste. It does not mean saying, “Well, Hallelujah anyway.” It does not mean no tears or sense of loss. “Consider !” means setting the trial in the whole mighty picture of a reigning loving God.
So we have looked at the command with which James begins this letter, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Now we come to the second part, the reason for the pure joy.
2. THE TESTING OF YOUR FAITH DEVELOPS CERTAIN ESSENTIAL GRACES
James says, Consider it pure joy … because This is not an irrational statement. It is not a “Cheer up old man.” James has got a reason for what he says. What do we say to suffering Christians ? We say, “You mustn’t worry.” Why do we say that ? Do we have some information they don’t have ? Do we know something they don’t know ? Let’s tell them if we do. Let’s say “because the biopsy is totally wrong and the lump is benign. Don’t worry.”
What saves these words from taunting us ? How can they be prevented from being hopelessly idealistic ? “Consider it pure joy when my worse fears are realised” ? “Consider it pure joy when my heart is breaking ? It’s nonsense without a “because” and there has to be some pretty massive explanation for considering it joy.
1] The first reason James gives is this, that the trial is testing our faith.
This word ‘testing’ is found in just one other place in the NT in Peter’s first letter and it’s found there in the context of the refiner, who tests and tries gold with fire. It is a great verse for casting light on this verse. “you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (I Peter 1:7) The fires of trials are there to prove that your faith is genuine faith. So we are being tested in our Christian lives as to the reality of our beliefs.
You surely appreciate that – all sorts of things being tested to prove that they are genuine ? Drugs. You are given a powerful drug. Has it been tested ? Is it genuine ? Will it do what it says ? “Yes,” says the manufacturer. “There have been clinical trials. It is perfectly safe and accredited.” Antiques. You love and collect brass. When you go to an antique shop you take a magnet with you and test the brass. If the magnet sticks to the brass then you know that it is simply gilded iron. You wont buy it because it is not the real thing. Currency. The cashier runs a special pen on that =A320 note or holds it to a special light. You are glad she does because you don’t want a forged note given to you in change. Raw recruits. You are glad that they pass through exercises before they are sent to the front line. They are tested under real gunfire. Household appliances. They have a seal to show that they have been tested and they are safe and effective. Cars. They are tested for their safety. Rivers and beaches and air and food and water – all are tested.
Everything important is tested. Utterly trivial things are not tested – no one tests nonsense rhymes. Neither is God to be put to the test, as above all our criteria for what is right and true. Sinners don’t test the Almighty. But shouldn’t a Christian’s faith in God be tested ? Isn’t that worthy of testing ? Think of all we say hangs on true faith in Jesus Christ. Eternity with God in heaven for all who believe. “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And it’s true ! Then, do I have that faith ? Have I got the real thing ? How terrible to go through my life assuming that I did, but at the end discovering that I didn’t !
You remember in the Pilgrim’s Progress there is a character called Ignorance and in the very last paragraph of the book we are told that it is his turn to come to the river of death, and he has no difficulty crossing it – a ferryman called Vainhope rows him over. But the shining ones at the door of heaven ask him for his certificate, that is, they ask him for the proof of real faith. He fumbles for it but cant find it. Then they bind him hand and foot and take him away. And you know how Pilgrim’s Progress ends ? “Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction !”
Do we have genuine saving faith that is a gift of God, & that is sustained by the Holy Spirit ? Such faith is tested and tried. It is tested by God Himself ! [We can test our faith by checking what we believe in the light of the Bible. Is it true faith in the Jesus Christ of the Bible ? Do we show the fruits of true faith in our lives ? We must test ourselves.] But by trials God himself is testing us. God subjects our faith to all kinds of trials. He puts our faith under all kinds of pressure. He places our faith in different circumstances. We have this faith that means that we believe in the over-ruling providence of Almighty God We believe that God works all things together for our good. We believe that God is in control. We believe that God loves us. We believe that God cares for us. We believe that if we cast all our cares upon the Lord that he will sustain us, that he will look after us, and provide for us in all our needs, in every conceivable peril. That is our faith. yet there are these times when God puts us to the test. He places us in situations where it is surpassingly difficult to believe that that is God’s attitude, that that is the way God regards us, that he is really in control. We have these great Christian convictions We have the assurance of God’s providential care, We have the assurance of God’s love. We believe all that and we act upon it. We base and structure our whole life around this great conviction – God is in control. God cares for us. Yet, time and again, we find that what is happening to us speaks of something very difficult. We find ourselves in so many situations where it is almost impossible for us to believe that God is in control, and so difficult to believe that God cares for us.
That is what James is teaching here. We have the great convictions of our faith. God is going to test our faith. God is going to do it by placing us in situations where it is going to be hard for us to go on as Christians, where discipleship is going to be costly, and where God’s own sovereignty and God’s shepherding and his own love is obscured and almost contradicted by the circumstances of our day to day lives.
“Do you really believe that all things are working together for your good ?” We are not sure. So God tests us with a trial, and we did keep trusting him through it all ! We passed the test ! “Do you truly believe that you have a wonderful loving Shepherd who watches over and protects you in all that happens ?” We are not sure, but when the test comes we find we have looked to God for help and grace. We have passed the test and are stronger because of it. Such trials then become means of grace to strengthen us. It is that kind of testing James is concerned for here. Consider it pure joy because it is God himself who is so concerned that your faith is genuine that he is testing it in all kinds of circumstances.
2] The second reason James gives us for considering our trials to be pure joy is that these tests develop perseverance, and maturity and fulfilment
The test is an exercise, and every exercise strengthens. Troops go out on military exercises and they become tougher men. A young athlete runs for longer and longer distances, and he prepares himself for the marathon race. His exercises produce constancy. A young couple in the early years of marriage are sustained by their feelings, their utter infatuation with one another. Then their child gets sick, or the husband is made redundant, or his job takes him away from home for weeks at a time, or she meets someone else and is drawn to him. There is a test and they go through it biblically, that is, they deal with it as the Bible tells us to handle these trials, trusting God, seeking help from him, honouring their marriage vows under fire. They are grittily determined to save their marriage – and as a result they get stronger, because their love is now a tried and tested love. They appreciate their marriage vows as never before. A student has a ‘mock’ exam before the real thing. The ‘mock’ helps him, he’s gone through that test, so that he is not so ill-prepared when the big external exam comes.
So God tests us with a little test, and we pull through it. “Oh,” we say, “So I have that amount of faith.” We doubted whether we had that much faith. Then God brings a bigger test into our live, and we pull through that. So on and on. There comes a time when we bury our dear parents, our dear husband or wife – it comes to all of us, and we are not bitter because our faith is a proved faith. We say, “I don’t know how I could have coped without God.” We have been given perseverance and staying power and heroic endurance.
There are two graces very close to one another that we must have. One is patience, and that is what we must show towards other people. Then there is the word mentioned here, perseverance, and that is not a passive submission to circumstances, it is a strong active challenging response to the difficulties we have to face. We conquer this trial, we are more than conquerors, by perseverance, keeping going and keeping going, day after day. That isn’t passive is it ? Shakespeare says, “Though patience be a tired mare yet she will plod.” Think of what William Carey achieved by plodding. What do we need as Christians more than the grace to keep plodding on ?
The testing of our faith develops perseverance. How else can anyone learn staying power ? I don’t know. But it doesn’t end there. There is a chain reaction. v.4 “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” Now where does all this start ? It starts with trials of many kinds. No other door to someone being “mature and complete, not lacking anything” except the door marked ‘trials.’
What do we want to be in the future ? First priority, “mature and complete.” Who wants to be a kid for ever ? You hear of the behaviour of some of these TV presenters and footballers – vast salaries, travelling the world, surrounded by admirers and yet behaving like spoiled kids. What do you want in the future ? “That I be mature and complete.” Of course. The door to that is the door marked “Trials.” And the road to that is Perseverance Road. Keep persevering and you become mature and complete. You have to finish each stretch of the road. to reach maturity.
I visited a student in hospital who had broken both her legs in a car crash, and back and fore I went each week to see her. A slow process, and there would be the doctor’s rounds and he would say, “Fine. Your legs are healing fine.” He could do nothing to speed it up, but he could encourage her not to do anything foolish and to keep as contented as she could. She must not end the process prematurely. She mustn’t get a wheelchair and discharge herself from hospital before perseverance has finished its work, and she is complete again. So we say to Christians under trial – “Don’t interfere with God’s plan for your life.” Don’t give up on your marriage when the first trial occurs. Don’t run out on your wife when a handicapped child is born. Don’t give up on the course when there is only one year to go. Don’t resign from the church when your conscientious beliefs are rejected by others. Persevere ! Finish the work ! So you may be mature and complete. there is a growing period for a fruit isn’t there ? Say it is five months from the first small fruit appearing to the time when they are ready to be picked and frozen or canned or sold to the shops. You have to go through the whole growing period – finish the work so that the fruit are complete.
When we are in a trial God says to us, My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Believe God ! Don’t give up. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Aren’t there people in the Christian church whom once you had great hopes in ? That in the future they would be mature and complete, leaders in the work of the gospel ? Yet they have been a great disappointment. There was a testing time in relationships, or in their trust in the truth of the Bible, or in their understanding of the gospel, and they failed the test. I think of a brilliant Canadian Baptist scholar who was zealous for the faith 30 years ago. What hopes we had of him, a second Machen. And today is a universalist ! Perseverance did not finish its work in his life. He failed the test. He was like the man whom Jesus speaks about, building the tower. He laid a foundation, and then there came to that man an economic test, and the work ended. It was never complete. Think of Jonah failing the test, cutting it short by doing things his way, heading for Joppa, running away from God. Instead of going east to Nineveh he tried to sail across the sea west to Tarshish. he heaped misery on misery by doing things his way. But in the end he had to do God’s will in God’s way.
Every trial you pass through you must consider it joy because it can make you mature and complete. Are there any weak points in your life ? Do you have an irritable spirit ? Quick to retaliate ? Not gentle enough ? Then God will permit trials to come into your life to strengthen and exercise those graces. You don’t pray privately as you should. God will send some trials into your life to cause you to pray. When a trainer looks at an athlete he spots areas of weakness in his life. he does not say, “Your arms are weak. Wrap them in cotton wool and put them in two slings.” No he exercises that man at the point of his weakness. God does the same to us where we are weak. He strengthens our weakness by trials, by perseverance to make us mature and complete
How do we end up in this wonderful state of “not lacking anything” ? Not lacking in love or trust or concern for others or spiritual energy ? It starts with trials, and facing them maturely, recognising that the Prime Mover of all that touches us is Almighty God. Submitting to them with joy, and letting the testing of our faith produce maturity.
This is the only way. Paul says it in Romans 5:3 & 4, “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance’ perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
And Peter says it, “all kinds of trial have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise glory and power when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Peter 1:6 & &0.
The result of the trial is new hope that does not disappoint. You have become a stronger and more useful person, with a closer relationship with the Lord and more loving relationship with other Christians. All this only comes when trials come into our lives and we respond to them as we should.