James 1:2-3 – Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
If there is anyone in history that could legitimately name-drop, it would be Jesus’ half-brother, James. Surprisingly though, James doesn’t introduce himself as an apostle or even make the familiar connection as someone with the authority to write to his fellow believers. He calls himself a “servant” of God and Christ, a man bound to his Master, living his life in loving obedience no matter the cost. He isn’t a volunteer or an executive in Christ’s business. He is his Lord’s servant, serving the Lord who served him by living, dying, and rising to save. This echoes Jesus’ humble claim to do nothing on his own but only what he sees the Father doing. (John 5:10,30) With this introduction, James appeals as an equal to his readers, believing Jews who have been displaced from their homes and families.
Verses 2-8 reveal that God gives two things: trials and good gifts. Sometimes, they are one in the same.
At one time or another, everyone has either given or received gifts with strings attached. A neighbor needs help with a home project and you pitch in, expecting some sort of future reciprocity. When we give of ourselves, our selfless, loving motivation is often mingled with some sort of personal gain or at least hope for recognition. We’ve all learned the hard way that when the strings are attached to the gift, we get pulled into something we regret.
God is the perfect gift-giver. James 1:5 states that God “gives generously without reproach.” God is a giver, not a taker. God needs us for nothing but can give to us anything.
Life is filled with pains, problems, and perils. When they inevitably come, our first response is anything but joy because these seasons are hard to enjoy. According to James, though, these are opportunities to grow in faith. In our limited understanding, health, wealth, ease, and comfort define our ideas of a full life. God, however, wants us to invest in our character and hard times can produce the holiest people.
In and through trials, God gives us both the testing of our faith to reveal where we find our true identity and stability, and the wisdom to withstand the trial. Experiencing joy at the introduction of a trial rests firmly on a deep faith in the character of God and the power of the Spirit of God. This is the example Jesus set for us as He walked through the cross before heading Home.
When James says, “trials of various kinds,” he has several things in mind, which he brings up later. Many of his readers have lost family connections and are being persecuted because they now follow Christ. The trials they endure are favoritism, humiliation, abuse of power, and poverty, among others. James doesn’t urge them to claim promises of happiness and success. He calls them to see the fruit in remaining faithful.
Knowing what is holy versus what is sinful is often much easier than figuring out what is wise versus what is foolish. Often, we need to make practical decisions among the hardships of life and if we get it wrong, we feel the pain. So, we need wisdom from God to know how to walk through a world filled with landmines and James is largely written as a field guide for the journey.
Have you recently gone through or are you currently going through a pain, problem, or peril? Pray that you can see God in the situation and thank Him that He uses these situations to grow our faith in Him.