Today we are starting the book of James, and it is completely full of practical wisdom that is important for any believer to put into practice.
But this book starts, immediately after the introductions, with this statement:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.James 1:2-3
And we’re off…
That’s quite a way to start as you write to other believers. Let me paraphrase:
If you face trials, make sure that you are joyful.
That’s a pretty long way from some of the discussions of our day:
But, why do bad things happen to good people?
Why would God allow this bad thing to happen to me?
But this guy never did anything wrong, why would God allow him to get sick?
James takes the exact opposite approach. He tells the readers of his letter that they should be joyful. Or let me rephrase… It should be PURE joy.
How could that be? If I am facing a trial, shouldn’t I be upset? Shouldn’t I be worried?
And what is more, shouldn’t God be protecting me? Shouldn’t I have received God’s blessing and He watches over me, preventing bad things from happening?
On the contrary, according to James: We should understand that we should be joyful that those things have come into our lives because it is a test for our faith. It is an opportunity for us to truly put our faith into practice and make sure that it is real. This trial can be an opportunity to purify our faith.
Have we been depending on things instead of upon God?
Have we been depending on other people instead of upon God?
This is our opportunity to know. We should consider this trial to be a test for our faith because as we go through it, it will help us to see where we actually put our faith.
If we have thought that God should protect us from bad things, we are wrong. God wants to use those bad things to strengthen us. If we have thought that God should protect us from difficult times, we are wrong. God wants to use those difficult times to teach us to persevere regardless of the difficult time.
And this is the way that James starts his letter. The believers of that time have just as many – and I would dare say, many MORE – trials that we ever could imagine, especially in our western culture and Christianity today. Yet James is calling the believers to consider these trials, these difficult times, to be joy.
Now, this doesn’t mean happiness. No one is ever happy when we have trials. This is not some stupid, artificial, superficial, put-on-a-happy-face attitude. No, James isn’t talking about this.
James is talking about a deeply-rooted contentment. Not just a fleeting feeling but an exalting of Christ and peace within the context of the difficulty.
But why? Because we are working toward perseverance. Perseverance means something that lasts in the long term. Not a moment. Not for a period of time. We’re talking about the long term. From here on out. That is what perseverance does. Perseverance doesn’t reach a point in the future and give up when times are difficult. Perseverance continues in the face of difficulty.
When we have headwinds, we keep going. We persevere.
When we have competition. When we have opposition. When those war against us. When it seems that nothing goes right. We persevere.
And we do that because we have joy. We are joyful because our perspective is no longer just today, or even just this life. We are joyful because our perspective is now for eternity. We start today, but we live tomorrow, next year, the next decade, and the rest of our lives persevering in Christ.
But in truth, at that point, we are still just getting started. This life is nothing in the light of eternity. A blip on the radar. A tiny dot on the timeline…if that. Christ gives us eternal life, so we must persevere to not only grab ahold of that life, but to live it for all that it is worth for eternal consequence and for eternal joy. We live for what gives us joy and so James calls us to perseverance in the face of trials, and in this way we have joy because our faith has been tried and tested and found to be true.