Earthly wisdom would consider trials great pain, great sadness, great depression, or great discouragement. Earthly wisdom says avoid trial and don’t consider them joy because other people don’t have the trials you do (bitter envy, 3:14). Don’t consider trials joy because you are not exalted the way you want to be exalted (selfish ambition, 3:14). You should not care about endurance and maturity/completion, you should care about comfort, being at best equal to those you envy if not greater, fulfilling your selfish ambitions for money, power, comfort, pleasure, recognition, entertainment, etc.
Earthly wisdom looks at the now and so it minimizes the value of steadfastness and endurance. It pushes impatience and the now or never syndrome.
Consider your trials great joy (v. 2) but why (and how)? –
The command is clear in verse 2: “Consider it a great joy my brothers whenever you experience various trials.”
- Consider – James is calling for a mentality and perspective, a view of life
- Think harder in hard times. Look harder in hard times at what is actually going on.
- Pause your feelings and immediate reaction and instead think and learn, consider. Don’t emote first.
- Great joy – joy doesn’t mean no pain or grief (“grieving yet always rejoicing” – 2 Cor 6:10).
- Joy and happiness are NOT different.
- Joy is independent of the trial itself
- “There is nothing in afflictions that ought to disturb our joy” – John Calvin (on James 1:2)
- When – Not if. Trials are coming, must come, and indeed are already here.
- Various trials – All shapes, sizes, and colors. A trial is a difficulty
- We are not masochists – So then how can we rejoice? Why should we rejoice? Some say don’t rejoice in trials but in what trials bring. I think there’s truth there but Romans 5:3 says we rejoice in our afflictions.
In this text we have 3 reasons (and steps) to considering our trials great joy.
I. Because you know they produce endurance (v. 3)
- You already know this. It’s just that the knowledge isn’t functional and that’s why it’s not heavenly wisdom. Trials are exercises for developing muscles and strength. This is true for relationships to church life, to personal spiritual growth.
- Trials are “tests of faith”
- Trials confirm our faith
- Trials purify our faith in fire
- Trials grow our trust in God because we see the trustworthiness of his Word and character when we lean on it over and over again and again.
- Example: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 2.
- Psalm 119.67 – Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.
- Psalm 119:71 – It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statutes.
- Trials “produce endurance”
- Trials build and strengthen spiritual muscle
- Trials make you bitter or better. Trials reveal what you truly value.
- “Every bit of the trial can be redeemed by God for good use” – George Guthrie (on James 1:2 in EBC, 213).
- Endurance is not good enough by itself
II. Because endurance works maturity and completeness (v. 4)
- You must allow endurance to complete its work in you. You are under divine obligation.
- Endurance works maturity and completeness – Try to get the FULL benefit of the endurance, and not only some. Don’t cut it short!
- Maturity and completeness means you lack nothing (not saying you are all sufficient but lack nothing that finite humans are to lack this side of the second coming)
- “God will take you where you wouldn’t go to produce in you what you couldn’t accomplish.” – Paul Tripp
- What is this maturity? This maturity is being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Look at Romans 8:28-30 –Question: How do we attain maturity? We think the path to maturity is simply reading and prayer. Not so!
- All things work together for our good – For example Joseph or Job.
- Why? Because we were predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, and that is maturity, that is completeness!
- The maturity and completion is a maturity that is attainable now and yet not attainable until Christ comes again (Phil 3:15; Matt 5:48).
- Question: How does it work? What does it mean to allow endurance to do its complete work? To joyfully let God shape your mind, feelings, habits, desires, and body while in trial. Trials heighten spiritual sensitivity and opportunity to apprehend grace through faith.
- The way you mature is by knowing the trials purpose, enduring it with as much joy as you can, and preparing for the next trial to come at it with more joy and greater and clearer perspective.
- Sing songs in the midst of pain, trial, grief, and discomfort! Sing, “In Moments Like These” or “Blessed be your Name” or “I love you Lord”
- Gospelizers: Don’t just say, “I feel you. I know it’s difficult.” Don’t just sympathize, though you should. Say, “Let me help you explore what benefits you can reap from this.” (Jay Adams, Christian Counselor’s Commentary [which includes James, p. 152).
III. Because the value of maturity is greater than the value of the absence of the trial (v. 2, 4)
- It comes down to what you value: The joy of trial is like the joy of getting one’s teeth drilled for a filling or going under the knife for surgery to save your life or taking the nastiest tasting medicine to treat a sickness or dreadful symptoms.
- Two people can count the opposite thing joy in the exact same situation. So a player like Kobe Bryant might grieve that he lost his wife but rejoice because through it he was able to be the best player he can be. Another NBA player may rejoice that although he wasn’t the best NBA player he could be or wasn’t able to win a championship, he still has his family. Not everyone values the same things and so people rejoice in different things and are willing to go through painful circumstances to that they’d rather not go through to have what they deem as more valuable than avoiding the pain altogether.
- What’s so great about maturity? It means we’re like Jesus Christ. What’s so great about being like Jesus? We already have the real Jesus and don’t need to be like him to replace him. Answer: Jesus deeply enjoyed the goodness and majesty of God and so can we! And it’s better than a pain-free life because a trial free life is a spiritually immature and shallow joy in God kind of life.
- Is there anything we want more than to know deeply, commune with, enjoy, and love than our Almighty Infinite Father perfectly revealed in his Son the Lord Jesus? Is there anything we want more now? Trials are how we grow in this!
- The only way you will truly consider trials a great joy is if you want God in all his glory more than you want to get rid of your trial. And if you want your trial God more than you want God, then to that degree you will be unable to consider the trial a great joy and fully embrace this perspective.
- Bottom line: YOUR TRIAL RIGHT NOW THAT YOU ARE IN IS ABOUT GOD. IT’S ABOUT YOU AND GOD.
- Gospelizers: Help people’s (1) attitude in response to trial, (2) the purpose and goal of trials, and (3) that trials are about GOD.
OBJECTION: The call to maturity is a call to slavery to God’s purposes and design. I don’t like his trials or his intended purpose so I don’t want to trust him and consider trials joy. I like my life and goals, thank you very much.
Response: (1) I don’t think your goals are better because you can’t avoid trials and difficulties altogether. We can’t choose to not suffer in this world. It’s coming for us all. (2) What meaning do you have for your present or future suffering and pain? (3) We will all still have to go through the door of death and only trusting the Lord Jesus and letting his death and resurrection shape us will we be able to receive the crown of life and not face the judgment we all deserve.
Exposition: What does this passage tell us about Christ? – Jesus endured trials with joy for us (Heb 12:1-2) and now enables us to do it. Jesus is good to me and gives me trials for my good – he’s wise.
Application: How am I failing to rejoice in and live as if this were true about who Jesus is and what he did? I don’t rejoice in trials because I don’t see Christ’s design, I don’t feel his power, and I don’t want his aim of maturity. I complain, I wish trials were gone, and I don’t endure them actively for growth but tolerate them for lack of another viable option.
Sensation: How does this text show me the beauty of God in Christ? God is good in giving me himself in a way that I truly get him and not merely his gifts. If God were so glorious but allowed me to think I was enjoying him when I was only enjoying comfort, then I wouldn’t be seeing a beautiful and accessible God who lovingly pursues me.