Joy in TrialsJames 1:1-4
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, May 05, 2013
Copyright © 2013, P.G. Mathew
James 1:1–4 speaks about trials in the life of a Christian. I do not pray for trials, nor do I enjoy them when I am experiencing them. But in this passage we will learn that we can rejoice in trials because of God’s purpose in bringing them to us. God’s purpose is to make us holy, to make us like Jesus Christ.
The epistle of James is one of the general or “catholic” epistles in the New Testament. There are several general epistles, including those of Peter, John, and Jude and the book of Hebrews. These writings are called general epistles because they are not addressed to a specific church at a specific location.
Who was James? There are several men by that name in the Bible. We believe the writer of this epistle was the half-brother of Jesus. Jesus had four half-brothers: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (Matt. 13:55). His half-brother, Judas, also wrote a general epistle, called Jude.
James knew Jesus well because he grew up with him in Nazareth. Yet the brothers of Jesus did not believe in him before his resurrection (John 7:5). They were not present at his crucifixion. But after his resurrection, Jesus appeared personally to James (1 Cor. 15:7), and we see the brothers with Mary in the upper room for prayer (Acts 1:14). This tells us they all became believers in Jesus.
Paul called James an apostle and a pillar of the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:9). Paul met with James during both his first and last visits to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:19; Acts 21:18). After his miraculous deliverance from prison, Peter told his followers to tell James about it (Acts 12:17). James was a very important person at the Jerusalemcouncil (Acts 15:13). Jude identifies himself in his epistle simply as “a brother of James.”
This James, called James the Just, was the pastor of the Jerusalem church. In AD 62, high priest Ananias called the judicial council together and charged James with violating the law. Then James, like Stephen, was stoned to death.
The epistle of James, written in the late 40s AD, is the earliest New Testament book. It has an emphasis on practical Christian life and is full of exhortations and admonitions. James intensely opposes dead orthodoxy. This letter has a higher frequency of imperatives than any other New Testament book. James exhorts with the complete authority of God.
James wrote his letter to Jewish Christians, former members of the Jerusalemchurch, who were now living outside of Palestine in the diaspora. They were scattered because of the persecutions that we read about in Acts 8 and Acts 11. These believers were experiencing fiery trials. They were mostly poor people who were employed by wicked, rich landowners who paid them little, slandered their faith and their Lord, and dragged them to court. But James calls these saints “my brothers” and “my beloved brothers.” They were born of God and belonged to the one holy family of God.
James was a very humble person. He did not call himself an apostle, a pillar of the church or brother of Jesus Christ. He calls himself “a bondslave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). He saw himself correctly as the property of God. He was owned by God and by Jesus. So he thought God’s thoughts, he willed God’s will, and he felt the way God wanted him to feel. He had no rights of his own. He was a slave of Jesus, who emancipated him from slavery to sin and Satan, as we read in Romans 6:18, 22.
To be a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ is a great honor. Moses, David, Paul, and Peter were all known to be slaves of God. One is either a slave of Satan or a slave of Jesus. There is no third way of neutrality and independence.
Consider It Pure Joy
James begins his epistle with an exhortation: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you fall into diverse kinds of trials” (v. 2). The word “consider” is a command, not a suggestion. It is the first of many imperatives we see in this epistle. James is commanding us to consider it all joy (pasan charan) whenever we encounter trials. He uses the word peripiptô, which means “to fall into.” It appears in Luke 10:30: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.”
We are to consider it pure joy whenever we encounter or unexpectedly fall into various kinds of fiery trials. But although these trials are unexpected, they are not accidents. For Christians, there are no accidents. All accidents are God’s appointments. So we are not to lose our minds when we face trials. We are not to be emotive. We are not to complain, murmur, quarrel, find fault, and rebel against God. We are to “lead our minds,” as the Greek text says, to think hard when we face trials.
And how are we to think? We are to think biblically. We are to apply the wisdom of Scripture to our situation. Jesus faced temptations by thinking Scripture. He used the sword of the Spirit to defeat the devil. He declared, “It is written” to each of the devil’s temptations (Matt. 4, Luke 4). In contrast, Adam and Eve failed to think God’s word when they were tempted, and so they were defeated.
As we encounter fiery trials of our faith, we must make use of our minds. We must be guided by the Holy Spirit and think Scripture, which reveals to us why we are facing these trials, whether they are trials of loneliness, bereavement, economic collapse, divorce, death of loved ones, accident, slander, being dragged into court, mockings, beatings, or imprisonment.
We must ask: What is God’s purpose in what is happening to me? And we can take great comfort in the thought that nothing can happen to us outside of God’s plan and control. All things must work for our eternal good and our salvation. So we read in the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Consider carefully the response:
That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, wherefore by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.
We must say, “I am brought to this valley of the shadow of death by my good shepherd Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for me, and he is with me to comfort me.” The faith of every believer will be tested. No one is exempt from this divine testing by the heat and fire of trials. We all must periodically encounter them.
That is why I call the false gospel of health, wealth, and power the “Roto-Rooter gospel.” It says, “Receive Jesus and all your troubles will go down the drain.” Are you facing bankruptcy? The crooked, fraud TV evangelist will say, “Send me twenty dollars a month, and soon you will be rich and will move into a bigger house.” It is all a lie.
Jesus frequently warned that those who believe in him will face trials. He said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be [exceedingly] glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10–12); “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” (Matt. 24:9); “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets” (Luke 6:22–23); “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God” (John 16:2). As the brother of Jesus, James was simply teaching what Jesus had already taught.
When we encounter fiery trials, we are not to murmur. We are to consider all trials pure joy. This is not natural. To look on trials as reasons for pure joy is not natural. How, then, can we rejoice in trials? We are able to do so because we are born of the Spirit of God. We have the mind of Christ. We can think biblically. We are baptized in the Holy Spirit and filled with the Holy Spirit. We have gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, enlightening and empowering us.
So we are able to respond to trials supernaturally. When we face trials, the Holy Spirit shall come upon us to help us. Jesus taught this: “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:11–12); “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict” (Luke 21:14–15).
We see this truth in the life of the apostles. In Acts 5 we read that they were beaten up and flogged severely. Then it says, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Paul himself was beaten up and thrust into the innermost cell of the prison atPhilippi, with his feet in stocks. Then we read, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). This is also how we are to respond.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6). He told the Corinthians, “I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds” (2 Cor. 7:4). He exhorted the Ephesians: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. . . . Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Eph. 6:10, 13).
Satan wants us to fail in fiery trials, but God wants us to triumph in every test of faith. Remember how Mrs. Job, inspired by Satan, told her husband to curse God and die? But God helped Job to grow in his knowledge of God and worship him through his many trials.
By the Holy Spirit’s assistance, we are able to rejoice in tribulations, not just endure them stoically. We cannot avoid temptation by prayer. But prayer helps us to be filled with the Spirit and to rejoice in trials and triumph in them. Jesus spoke of rejoicing in trials. So did James, Paul, and Peter.
This joy comes, not from us, but from the Holy Spirit. Paul writes, “For the kingdomof God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). He also tells us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” (Gal. 5:22). He also says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance” (Rom. 5:3).
Peter said the same thing: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while 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 honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Pet. 1:6–8). He also wrote, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” If you believe in the health and wealth gospel, you would say it is strange. “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Pet. 4:12–14).
We can consider our trials of faith as pure joy through the Holy Spirit because God is with us when we go through trials. He himself goes with us, as he promised to the people of Israel: “But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior’” (Isa. 43:1–3).
The three Hebrew children experienced the trial of their faith in Babylon when they were thrown into the fiery furnace made hotter seven times. But then Nebuchadnezzar noticed, “We put three people in the furnace. But now I see four, and one is like the son of the gods” (see Dan. 3:23–25).
When God is with us, we will sing and rejoice supernaturally. Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from God’s love. God has destroyed death by the death of Christ and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. So Paul says, “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). In other words, Paul committed his body and soul to Christ to keep, and Jesus will keep it.
Because We Know
Why can we “consider it pure joy when we encounter trials of many kinds”? James answers: “because we know.” In other words, because we know the purpose God has for us in the trial.
James says, “Because we know.” It is not “because we feel,” or “because the Lord told me.” It is because we have ordered our minds to think hard, to think biblically, to think assisted by the Holy Spirit. It is because we have thought biblically so that we could find the purpose of God behind these trials that we as Christians experience throughout our lives.
God’s grand eternal purpose for his people is not to make them rich, famous, and healthy. It is to make us holy and blameless, that we may enjoy eternal life with our holy God. Throughout the Scriptures, God declares this purpose: “Be ye therefore perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect”; “Be ye holy for I am holy”; ” Walk before me and be thou perfect.” And we read of Noah that “he was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his generation and he walked with God” (Gen. 6:9).
God is interested in our sanctification. He himself sanctifies his people and makes them like himself. (PGM) So we know from the word of God that the testing of our faith produces, effects, accomplishes, and results in endurance (the Greek word ishupomonê, which is the ability to stand under a heavy load).
God does not want us to remain infants who need to be cared for by everyone else. He wants us to grow up and be strong in the Lord, and to do good works for God’s glory and for the good of his people. So trials produce endurance, staying power, tenacity, stamina, fortitude, and perseverance.
Additionally, the testing of our faith through hardships exposes the falsehood of fake believers. These are temporary Christians who come to a church to suck the vitals from that church and then go to another church to suck its vitals. They only want to be taken care of. They want to remain infants.
Not only does this testing of faith by hardships exposes the falsity of fake, temporary Christians, but it also makes true believers to grow continually stronger, able to carry a heavy load for a long time. It makes us fit to run the one-hundred-mile ultra marathon of the Christian race. Jesus spoke of those who are exposed and fall away: “Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away” (Luke 8:13). But Paul said to the disciples, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). He wrote to Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
Look at what Paul himself said: “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” ( Rom. 5:3–4). He also said, “As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger” (2 Cor. 6:4–5). Are you looking for a gospel of health and wealth and power? This is not the gospel James is talking about.
Paul writes, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:7–10).
True believers must go through the door of afflictions that produces endurance, which in turn produces proven character, and which in turn produces hope of the glory of God. Paul, like James, says, “we know” this divine plan. He wrote, “All things work together for good to those who love him and who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, author’s wording). Joseph also knew this. He told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). The psalmist referred to this when he said that it was God, not Joseph’s brothers, who sent Joseph to Egypt (see Ps. 105:16–19).
There is a purpose, a divine design, a plan for our trials. They do not happen to us by accident. Life is not a meaningless existence. Troubles for us have meaning. 1
James says, “because we know.” In the Greek, it is “know continually.” We know that spiritual muscle may be developed through the assistance of divinely ordained and controlled adversities. Moreover, our faith is also purified by removing impurities that manifest during the crucible experience: “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart” (Prov. 17:3). In Malachi we read, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver” (Mal. 3:3).
The Lord Jesus Christ will have a holy people. So we read, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25–27). Those who will not preach this need for holiness are frauds. They are not sent by God. They called themselves.
There is no other way to purify our faith and produce in us endurance, character, and hope except through trials and adversities.
We need endurance. Jesus said, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22). So do not drop out of God’s spiritual exercise program. Let endurance have its complete work. Persevere to the end of the program. When the going gets tough, the tough people of God keep going to the end by the power of the Holy Spirit. Softies drop out, complaining and finding fault with God. They want to remain infants, being ministered to but not ministering to others. So they remain weak-willed, indulged infants, useless to God and to his church. They make a mess, and they want other people to follow them and take care of their mess.
We must look to Jesus when we face fiery trials. In Luke 22 we read, “being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (v. 44). Jesus did not drop out; rather, he persevered in prayer as he faced the greatest trial—the trial of the crucifixion.
The Hebrews writer exhorts, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:2–3).
James says that trials have two purposes. First, he says, they come to us so that we may develop endurance to do good works. Paul writes, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10); “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
The second purpose of trials, according to James, is that we may to be mature, not infants. Paul writes that God gives gifts (in the form of people) to the church to build it up “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Grow up! God gives pastors and other leaders to the church so that believers can be fed by the bread of the word of God and grow up. The purpose is that we may become mature, people of moral integrity like Noah, Job, Joseph, and Daniel; that we may experience holiness in all aspects of our lives; that we may be Christians with spiritual balance, lacking no spiritual virtue, but having all the fruit of the Spirit.
Look at how trials brought strength and moral integrity to Paul! In the last letter we have, he wrote: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure [meaning, his death]. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith [endured to the end]. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6–8).
God disciplines only his children. All discipline is painful at the moment, but later on it will produce “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). This knowledge enables us in the midst of pain to “consider it pure joy when we face many trials.” So Paul says we are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10).
Yes, there is pain in the Christian life. We are not ignorant of it. But there is also joy in the Holy Spirit. And always bear in mind that God himself will give us abounding grace to endure trials. Paul says, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). Or as we read in Hebrews, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16), that is, in our trials. And, finally, consider Paul’s encouraging words: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
The Purpose of Fiery Trials
- Fiery trials wean us from worldliness, that is, from love for the world.
- Fiery trials focus our minds on heaven and on Christ Jesus, as Stephen did. He saw heaven open and Jesus standing as he was being stoned to death.
- Fiery trials prepare us for eternity, for heaven.
- Fiery trials drive us to Bible study, prayer, Sabbath worship, and fellowship.
- Fiery trials keep us from conceit, from pride.
- Fiery trials reveal to us our need for being filled with the Holy Spirit.
- Fiery trials put an end to our carnal strength.
- Fiery trials point us to the need of divine grace.
- Fiery trials develop endurance.
- Fiery trials make us perfect, people of moral integrity.
- Fiery trials help us to sympathize and minister to others who are suffering.
- Fiery trials help us in humility to depend on others’ help.
- Fiery trials are occasions for joyful worship of our God, who is for us and with us, who is our God and our Savior, and who never abandons us.
May God help us to have a new understanding of his special love for us. God does not discipline illegitimate children; he disciplines the sons he loves. But he also gives us grace and the Holy Spirit so that we may stand up under trials, strong in the faith, bearing the burden, and having done all, to stand. May we, therefore, consider it all joy when we encounter fiery trials of our faith.
1 See my sermons on passing the tests of faith from the life of Abraham: “How to Pass Tests, Part One” (http://www.gracevalley.org/sermon_trans/2013/How_to_Pass_Tests_1.html); “How to Pass Tests, Part Two” (http://www.gracevalley.org/sermon_trans/2013/How_to_Pass_Tests_2.html); “How to Pass Tests, Part Three” (http://www.gracevalley.org/sermon_trans/2013/How_to_Pass_Tests_3.html); preached February 17, 24, and March 10, 2013.
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