The old saying “when it rains it pours” seems to be true sometimes when it comes to the trials we face in life. There are occasions when we seem to be in one trial and get hit with another. That feeling or reality, as the case may be, is not far from what James actually tells us. He lovingly says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (Jas. 1:2).
Two of the words James uses are powerfully descriptive. The word “fall” is a compound word in the Greek: peripipto. The word pipto means “fall” and the little prefix peri means “around.” It’s the prefix we use in words like perimeter or periscope. The picture I get is trials falling all around us like rain. If you think about rain, there is space in between each raindrop. However, because there are so many raindrops and they are so closely spaced together, you can’t help but get hit by some of them. So too, because we live in a fallen world with trials falling all around us, we can’t help but get hit by some of them. Indeed, when it rains it pours!
The other descriptor is “various.” It means multi-faceted or multi-colored. It’s the same word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to describe Joseph’s coat of many colors. As we go through life, we get hit by raining trials that are multi-colored. In other words, we face many different kinds of trials. The truth is that you are just coming out of a trial, in the midst of one, or about to go into one. That’s not a thrilling prospect, I know.
But, James tells us to “count it all joy when we fall into various trials.” What in the world does he mean? How can I be happy about pain and suffering? How can I be happy when devastating things are going on in my life? Well, he doesn’t tell us to be happy; he tells us to “count it all joy” and that’s something very different. The word “count” is a term used in the courtroom and in the accounting field. In the courtroom, a guilty man may be counted or declared innocent. He may be one thing but he’s counted another. In the accounting world it refers to putting something on one side of the ledger or other. James says that we are to look at the difficulties we face and declare them joy; put them on the joy side of the ledger; or in simple terms, to consider them joy. Trials are not joyful but we are to consider them as joy.
Now before we unravel what James is saying completely, we have to understand that joy and happiness are two different things. James is not saying be happy in or about your trials. There are some circumstances where it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to be happy.
Besides, God gives us emotions for a reason. Of course, we must control our emotions and not let them get the best of us. For example, grief is good and is an expression of the very real loss we experience as human beings in relation to others or even ourselves. But depression resulting from grief is not good. A depressed person has lost hope; he’s lost the will to fulfill his God-given responsibilities. God doesn’t want us in that state and is there to strengthen us if we look to Him. Part of looking to Him is thinking rightly about our trials and that’s what James is getting at.
So James recognizes that heartache is just that: heartache. We can’t always be happy about our circumstances. What James is getting at is joy. Christian joy is the certain knowledge that God is in control and nothing has happened to us that He did not allow for a good purpose in our life; that He loves us more than we could ever imagine; and that we can trust Him to do what is best and right no matter what. We get peace in knowing these things. That’s joy.
That helps. But how can we really count our tough times joy? James says we can do that because we know “that the testing of our faith produces endurance.” Part of the reason God allows trials to come into our lives is to test our faith. The second half of that is to produce endurance in us. He tests our faith not so that He will know whether or not we are trusting Him (He knows already), but so that we will know how much or how little we are trusting Him. He tests us for our benefit. In the trial, we really learn where our focus is; we really learn where our hope is; we really learn where our peace, joy, and satisfaction is. If we find our trust is in Him and not ourselves or something else, we get real happiness from that. If we find our trust is in something other than Him, we turn our hearts to Him and find peace in so doing. The test helps us see.
Then, the benefit of being tested is what it ultimately produces in us: endurance. This word in the Greek is also compound and means to bear up under the load. God tests us with trials along the way to produce in us a greater and greater ability to bear up under the load of suffering. That’s important because suffering is simply a part of this life. At the same time, the Bible says that believers must enter the kingdom through much tribulation (Acts 14:22) and that suffering is part of what it means to be a Christian; we participate in the sufferings of Christ (2 Cor. 1:5). But the good news is those sufferings will give way to great reward when we see Christ face to face (2 Cor. 4:17).
We need endurance to make it all the way to the end of life without laying down and dying from depression and without walking away from the Lord Jesus Himself. If life were a hundred-yard-dash it would be easy. We need no endurance for that. But it’s not; life is a marathon: a long-distance race; and we do need endurance for that.
Have you ever thought about what a coach does with a marathon runner? He doesn’t make him run twenty-six miles the first day of practice. But, he does put him through a workout. It doesn’t feel good; it’s tough. And the next day they do it all over again and as the days go by the Coach adds to the runner’s regimen. He makes him run further distances; he times him and makes him run those distances faster; he does interval work, pace work, and sprint work. He puts him in the weight room and then he makes him run some more. It’s tough on this runner; it’s not pleasant; he’s not happy. But, he does have joy – because he knows that what he’s going through is going to give him endurance to run the marathon. And when he runs the marathon with endurance, he gets the gold medal.
Paul says we work for a medal (crown) that’s imperishable (1 Cor. 9:25).We’re told in Hebrews to run the race with endurance. How? By looking unto Jesus, our great reward (Heb. 12:1-2). That’s why James says “Let endurance have its perfect work in you that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (v. 4). That’s what God is doing; He’s getting you to the victor’s stand – and that’s something to look forward to.
Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Receive a FREE commentary and learn more at http://www.trueworldview.com
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