One of the hallmarks of Christian faith is this thing called joy. Lamentably, this term has been widely mistaken to mean that Christians remain aloof of the evil so prevalent in the world as we blissfully step from one fluffy cloud to another until we get to heaven.
But according to the Bible joy takes on a much deeper meaning. In fact, rather than joy be something we only experience in positive seasons of our lives, James 1:2-4 points us in the exact opposite direction!
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance finish its work so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
James begins this passage with a command. When trials hit us, we are to consider them an occasion for joy. In other words, when you find yourself in a time of immense suffering and you’re trying to decide how you should respond, James says respond with a sense of rejoicing. So what’s the deal? Does James have some sort of twisted or sick view of joy? What reasons could he possibly have for telling us to rejoice in our sufferings? Fortunately, he has not left us without the answer.
First, God uses our trials to keep us in the faith (v. 3)
Notice what it is we are to know as we walk through trials… that they are producing in us an enduring faith. Every time we encounter suffering as a Christian we can be assured that God is using it to actually keep us in the faith. Do you see the beauty here? The very trials which many would think would cause us to reject our faith in Christ are the very things God uses to keep us in Christ!
In Baptist circles we have a cherished saying Once saved, always saved (disclaimer: I believe this phrase inadequately captures the essence of the very biblical doctrine perseverance of the saints).But the question we don’t ask a lot is how does this happen? According to James, as we walk through the tough times in our lives, the Lord is sovereignly at work causing them to produce in us a faith that endures through all the seasons of life.
Second, God uses our trials to mature us in the faith (v. 4)
The result of patiently enduring trials will be a faith which is fully developed. This truth is born out in reality every time we’re around a saint who has been worn and weathered by the trials of this life. For instance, if we’re honest, you and I can sense the difference between a superficial faith which is only centered on a one time decision to accept Jesus into one’s heart versus the kind in which the whole of one’s life is built around a steady dependence upon the goodness and mercy of the Lord Jesus. It is the latter kind of faith which leads one to spiritual maturity.
These are the reasons James says we can consider it all joy when our lives suddenly intersect with unwanted trials. We have a heavenly Father who loves us! And His love refuses to let us live lives of comfort and ease which require little dependence on Him. Instead, He allows suffering in our lives so that we would recognize our need of Him in our weakness. Christian, your heavenly Father allows trials in your life, not because He has abandoned you, but because He desires to keep you and mature you!