“2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3
This is a glorious passage and a difficult passage. It’s glorious because of the encouraging truth it contains about the nature of our suffering. Yet, it’s difficult because it commands us to respond to our suffering in a particular way. It’s easy to claim truth. It’s hard to respond to truth as it deserves.
So, let’s talk about the truth of the passage first. Verse 3 tells us that God has a purpose for trials in our lives. They are meant, by God, to test our faith so that we will remain steadfast. Our trials are never haphazard or meaningless. They are intended by God to strengthen our faith, teach us what it means to depend on him, and prepare us for eternity. Therefore, we don’t have to wonder if God has abandoned us or turned against us when we endure suffering. Instead, we can have confidence that God is at work in our trials – on purpose. James is saying what Paul says in Romans 8:28, “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This is a glorious truth we can cling to in difficult days. But, notice with me that Romans 8:28 doesn’t directly demand us to respond the way James 1:2-3 does. That demand is what makes this passage difficult.
James 1:2-3 takes the truth of Romans 8:28 and tells us how God expects us to respond. James tells us that we are commanded by God to count it as joy when we face trials in our life. Furthermore, James uses broad sweeping language that doesn’t allow us to find exceptions. He says we are to count it all joy when we meet various trials. God calls us to meet every trial we face with all joy.
That seems like a strange command. How can we have joy while we’re suffering? First, let me be clear that James is not saying we pretend as if we aren’t hurting or grieving. This isn’t a Pollyanna view of suffering. The Bible calls on us to weep with those who weep. We don’t refuse to weep because we know truth. It’s not sinful to be sad or to grieve or to weep our eyes out.
James is calling us to take our tears and turn them into longing. The pain we endure reminds us that this world is broken and that our Savior is making all things new. As the tears run down our cheeks, we can hold within us a peace that surpasses understanding that God is in perfect control. As we weep, our faith remains steadfast because of the unshakable joy that is produced in our hearts. We know that even this suffering is meant by God for our eternal good.
Therefore, when the immediate pain fades and the fog of grief lifts from our heart and head, we can rest in the knowledge that our Sovereign Father remains loving and merciful as he works for our good. That alone should fill our hearts with overwhelming joy that endures into eternity.