James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
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. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
As I read the letter of James in my cycle of daily Bible reading I am struck once again by the practical, down to earth wisdom which he shares with his readers. As he wrote, he had in mind as he tells us in v.1, the people of Israel, the twelve tribes scattered among the nations and that should encourage today’s readers as a ‘scattered’ people, and unite us those from every tribe and language across the world who are believers.
As he wrote and thought of his audience he was aware that life was hard as they faced ‘trials of many kinds.’ I guess that that was actually putting the situation pretty mildly as first they were scattered indicating that they had moved or been moved from the familiar to the unknown, possibly from family and friends and also being known as followers of Jesus potentially seen as outcasts.
His challenge is counter cultural to say the least. ‘Count it pure joy ….. whenever you face trials of many kinds’ What possible joy, let alone pure joy can be found in such trials?
Is it not true, if we are really honest, that this is hard to swallow? At the trivial level my plans are thrown into disarray (James comments on our plans in chapter 4) by weather of transport problems. Am I joyful in this situation? I face redundancy. Do I see that that as pure joy? I face the prolonged illness or death of a friend or family member. Surely I don’t have to see that as pure joy. And these things which loom large for us in the west are miniscule compared with what our brothers and sisters in Christ face in countries like Nigeria, Afghanistan, China, North Korea where it is dangerous in the extreme to name the name of Christ.
But James doesn’t draw lines in his statement. He doesn’t specify what sort of trials he means but in his own day Christians were thrown to the lions among many other terrible trials. What he says then must cause us to examine our lives closely and consider the reason why trials should be seen as pure joy.
And the reason is that the ‘testing of faith develops perseverance!’
Perseverance is a work in progress leading to those who persevere maturing and being complete – if I may put it in other words, becoming more Christlike day by day.
The writer to the Hebrews directs our thoughts in this area.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12.3
and he endured this opposition culminating in the cross
for the joy that was set before him …… sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God V.2.
In Christ that same joy is ours!
But we are still frail and sinful beings even though forgiven, so how do we balance our fears and frailties and the trials we face with the call to see beyond them to the joy that awaits?
One part of the answer lies in the second part of the passage at the head of this piece and we will explore it tomorrow.