If James stopped at, ‘consider it all joy’ someone might mistakenly think he’s talking about the power of positive thinking. Or to borrow a phrase from an old pop-song, that he’s merely telling believers, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
“You’ve lost your home, you’ve lost your job, the rich are taking advantage of you?
Here’s what you do. Pretend like those things aren’t happening. Think about how rich you are going to be someday. Live in a fantasy world, and you’ll be able to make it through.”
Don’t laugh. That’s how an many people respond to trials.
They try to think ‘happy thoughts.’
And if that’s all James is teaching us – his instruction isn’t all that unusual. Any unbeliever can tell us to be happy. Any unbeliever can tell us to be joyful when life gets difficult. But there isn’t a single unbeliever who can provide a legitimate reason for doing so.
This is where the Christian message is so much better than the world’s. James is not saying ignore reality. He’s saying remember reality. The believer has real reasons to rejoice in trials.
We can and should consider trials as a reason for joy because we know something about trials. I’m not talking about knowledge that we learn in a book, but knowledge that comes from personal experience. We can look on our life and realize from personal experience what trials produce. We don’t hop up and down with joy because we like the trial itself. If we liked the trial it wouldn’t be a trial. We consider that trial a reason for joy because we know God is the one who brings trials into our life and He does so for a reason!
God brings trials into our lives to test our faith. The word for test literally means to evaluate something to prove or disprove whether it is genuine or not. Trials are a means of evaluating whether our faith is real or not.
We can appreciate the importance of that.
If something is valuable and important to us, we want it tested. Before a doctor prescribes a new drug, we want to know whether it has been tested. Before we buy a car, we will read reviews, to see if it passed certain safety tests. Before we buy a home, we’ll hire an inspector to come and perform certain tests. If we desire tests for things like that, shouldn’t we have a greater desire for our faith to be tested? Geoffrey Thomas explains, ” Isn’t that [our faith] worthy of testing? Think of all we say hangs on true faith in Jesus Christ. Eternity with God in heaven for all who believe. ‘Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’” If that much rests on our faith, and it does, than it would be a great tragedy to go through our lives thinking that we have a genuine faith in God when in reality we don’t. We don’t want to stand before God with a false faith. So we thank God for trials which He uses to give us confidence that our faith is the real thing.
God also uses trials to refine our faith. One way they do that is by pointing out its’ strengths and weaknesses. It may be that we think our faith is stronger than it really is, and it’s not until it is tested that we realize the areas in which we need to grow. That’s why Peter says a Christian only suffers trials, “if necessary…” (1 Peter 1:6) If we are suffering a trial it is because our faith needs it. And so we rejoice. Most people don’t get too upset when their stocks jump in value; and we shouldn’t get too upset when God makes our most precious quality, faith, more profitable.
James goes a step further. We rejoice when our faith is tested because “the testing of our faith produces endurance…”
The word endurance literally means to remain under. It’s the “ability to hang in there when the going gets tough.” Jerry Bridges explains that endurance is “…the quality of character that enables one to pursue a goal in spite of obstacles and difficulties. It is one thing simply to bear up under adversity…God calls us to more than simply bear the load of adversity. He calls us to persevere (to press forward) in the face of trials.”
Endurance is important. So important that the writer of Hebrews warns us, “…you have need of endurance so that after you have done the will of God you may receive the promise: For yet a little while and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”
In other words, if we don’t have endurance we aren’t going to make it to heaven. But what’s more, if we don’t have endurance we aren’t even going to make it on earth. Endurance is an essential character quality. It’s impossible to do anything well without it.
But notice, while endurance is very important, here in James, it isn’t the final goal. Endurance produces something in the believer. “But let endurance have its’ perfect work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
I want to be perfect. I want to be complete. I want to lack nothing. And if something helps me become complete, perfect and lacking in nothing, it’s a good thing.
James says trials can do just that. Trials can produce endurance and endurance can produce spiritual maturity. But get this: trials don’t automatically do that.
Trials can be good. They can produce endurance, and endurance can help you become mature. But we don’t become mature just by going through a lot of trials. It’s how we respond to those
trials that counts.
That’s why James says, “Let endurance have its complete work…” Circle, underline, highlight, memorize the word let. We face a serious danger in every trial.
When we are in a trial we will face the serious temptation to look for an unbiblical way out. We’ll desperately desire to cut the process short. And listen, if it weren’t possible to do so, James wouldn’t have included the warning. We can cut our trial short in an unbiblical way. And if we do, we’ll just have to face another trial until we learn the lesson
God wants us to learn.
This is one reason why so many people never become mature and complete. They go to church. They say they want to be strong Christians. They say they want to grow in the faith. But every time God brings something difficult into their lives, they compromise. They fail to endure and as a result they remain babies in Christ.
Then they complain about how God isn’t working in their life. They can’t understand why they aren’t growing in their faith. God is working in their life. He’s bringing trials into their lives to mature them, but time and time again they respond to those trials by taking an unbiblical way out.
Sometimes people escape trials by running away from the church and accountability. They are in a tough spot, people are getting close to them, and their sin is being exposed. Then instead of repenting, they just look for another church, or they just stop going to church at all.
Sometimes people escape trials by disobeying God’s commands. They make decisions based on what is easy, not what is right. Perhaps they are in a financial trial and they cheat on their income tax, or they steal money from work, or they compromise in another way.
If we want to become a spiritually mature person we need to let endurance have its’ perfect work in us. That doesn’t mean God won’t take us out of our trial. He may do that. That doesn’t mean we can’t use biblical means
to lessen the pain of the trial. We don’t purposefully make the trial more difficult. It just means we will not do anything unbiblical to make the trial easier. If we do we are hindering our spiritual growth. We are hurting ourselves.
Jerry Bridges in his book, Trusting God, tells a story about a man watching a moth emerge from its cocoon. The moth was struggling to escape its confinement and the man felt some compassion as he watched. So he tried to help the moth by snipping the shell of the cocoon. But instead of helping, he actually did great harm. The moth came out with its wings all crimped and shriveled, doomed to crawling out its brief life in frustration of ever being the beautiful creature God intended it to be.
The person watching didn’t realize that the struggle to emerge from the cocoon was used to develop the muscle system of the moth’s body, and pushed the body fluids out the wings to expand them. By unwisely seeking to cut short the moth’s struggle, the watcher had actually crippled the moth and doomed its existence. Bridges explains, “The adversities of life are much like the cocoon of the moth. God uses them to develop the spiritual muscle system of our lives…We can be sure that the development of a beautiful Christ like character will not occur in our lives without adversity.”
Many people say they want to be mature Christians, but aren’t willing to go through trials to accomplish the goal. They are like Calvin in an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Calvin is in a canoe with his dad, and it’s easy to tell Calvin doesn’t like it one bit. Scowling, he says, “Remember last year when we went camping and it rained all week? That was miserable.” His dad responds, as dads often do, “But it built character.” To which, Calvin rolling his eyes, remarks, “Why can’t we build character in a nice hotel by the beach?”
Truth is, that’s the way most of us are, isn’t it? We want character but we want it on our terms.
It doesn’t work that way. We develop godly character by responding to trials the way God wants us to.
In the end, the question is: Do we really value spiritual growth more than being comfortable? That’s what it all comes down to, doesn’t it? We will only consider trials all joy if we truly value what God values more than what the world values.
Some of us need to be honest with ourselves. We need to admit we value having it easy more than we do being holy.
If that’s true of you, it may be because you are not truly a believer. If you are not, I beg you to get on your knees and cry out to God that He would change your heart. Jesus says, “What will it profit it a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:47) Your soul is more valuable than the whole world. Don’t be a fool and trade your soul for a short period of comfort here on earth.
If you are a believer and yet find yourself valuing what the world values more than what God values, repent and remember James’ command: “Consider it all joy my brothers when you encounter various trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance, let endurance have its perfect work so that you might be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”