This Epistle is likely the first book of the New Testament written: and what does the Holy Spirit lead James to pen as some of the first Words of the New Testament? – “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” – The first thing the Holy Spirit wanted to communicate to Christians is that we would have trials, many trials, and we should find joy in the midst of them.
James wrote this book to explain the purpose of trials and temptations, to explain to a people who had been rooted in ritualism the meaning of genuine faith that changes lives, and to warn them of carnality and worldliness using practical applications. It was written to help us understand and attain spiritual maturity “that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” James 1:4. James desired us to become spiritually mature Christians, Christians of character, Christians of integrity, and with no spiritual weak spots.
One thing is very clear the dominant theme of the book of James is “Faith that is real works practically in one’s life, and that true faith is a faith that works.”
James shows us how to have a living faith, a breathing faith, and a productive faith in a fallen world. In this short book alone there are fifty-four imperatives. James is a “Do this!”, “Do that!” kind of book, which if taken to heart and implemented into our lives will dynamically effect our lives on every level.
James 1:2 “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;”
JAMES IRRATIONAL CALL
“Divers temptations” – means various trials.
Notice that James assumes we will all experience trials – He doesn’t say “if” but “when.” This is because Christians must expect trials, so said Jesus in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Paul also said as much in – Acts 14:22. We are told the nature of these trials are “various”:
- Some trials come simply because we are human: sickness, accidents, disappointments, death
- Other trials come because we are Christians (I Peter 4:12. II Timothy 3:12). Because Satan fights against us, and the world opposes us, so we can expect trials!
The trials that afflict you,
The sorrows you endure:
What are they but the testing
That makes you calling sure?
(John Mason Neale)
“God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis
What is to be a Christians response to trials? – “Count it all joy”, this is the Irrational Call of James. What does James command, to “count it all joy” when we are hit with trials and troubles, really mean? Fist let’s clarify what it does not mean. James does not mean that we are to have an all-encompassing joyful emotional state during severe trials and situations. He is not demanding that we enjoy our trials. James knows all too well, as the writer of Hebrews put it, that “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous:” (Hebrews 12:11)
What James is doing here is commending the conscious embrace of a Christian understanding of life which brings joy into trials.
“Count it all joy” – means here to make a deliberate and careful decision to experience joy even in times of trouble. – Is this even possible? – According to Scripture it is:
II Corinthians 7:4 “Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.”
Acts 5:40-41 “And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.”
Acts 16:25 “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.”
Illustration: Many years ago a pastor underwent the worst year of his life. His wife had undergone five surgeries, plus chemotherapy and radiation, fighting a hopeless battle, several of his staff members had quit, large problems loomed everywhere he looked, and discouragement was attacking him from all directions. This is what he wrote:
“The greatest discovery that I have made in the midst of all the difficulties is that I can have joy when I can’t feel like it – artesian joy. When I had every reason to feel beaten, I felt joy. In spite of everything. God gave me the conviction to being loved and the certainty that nothing could separate me from Him. It was not happiness, gush, or jolliness, but a constant flow of the Spirit through me. At no time did He give me the easy confidence that everything would work out as I wanted it on my timetable, but that He was in charge and would give me and my family enough courage for each day: grace. Joy is always the result of that.”
James is telling us with this command “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” to thoughtfully find joy in our own trying experiences –when we feel alienated, when we feel unwanted, to find joy even in great difficulty and tragedy. Such joy finding may seem irrational, but Christ is perfectly rational and perfectly able to flow His joy straight through us just as we need it the most. Right thinking always comes before right practice. We need to think the way we are commanded to think about problems and just rely on the Lord and trust in Him.
James is not saying the trials are good in themselves. But there is a joy that is independent of circumstances which may be found in remembering God’s sovereignty and purposes.
James 1:3-4 “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
THE RATIONALE FOR THE IRRATIONAL CALL
“trying” – This word has the idea of a precious metal that is heated in a furnace to refine its impurities. God has a good purpose for the “trying” of our faith.
God has a goal in mind – You can count on that. James is speaking here about the attitude of your heart toward your trouble. How are you reacting to it? We should have an attitude of faith and trust God in the trial. Trials are meaningless, suffering is senseless, and testing is irrational unless there is some good purpose for them. God says there is a reason for them, and it is a good reason.
Faith tested produces “patience.” (Romans 5:3-4 – And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope)
- In the Bible – “Patience” is not a passive acceptance of circumstances. The Greek word denotes the ability to exhibit steadfastness and consistency in the face of the most formidable difficulty! It is a courageous perseverance in the face of suffering! It is the continuing on even when it is rough, despite the circumstances.
The word “Perfect” in James 1:4 means “completeness, wholeness, maturity.” In the New Testament, it is used of those who: Have attained to spiritual maturity in Christ and who have reached full maturity and understanding in spiritual matters.
Such maturity comes only when patience has had time to work! Consider, for example, an endurance runner in his training: To be a mature runner requires letting patience do its work. If we wish to run the race well spiritually speaking, we need to develop patience.
- Which comes only through a form of spiritual “resistance training.”
- That is, trials in which our faith is put to the test!
Adversity is like a stress test, pushing us up to and beyond our limits, so that we will recognize our dependence upon God, and call on Him for help in the time of trouble. Adversity is designed to produce endurance in our lives. And this endurance perfects us, so that we will become complete, and lacking nothing.
James forces us to look at ourselves – in an entirely different light. So many people think of themselves as basically okay, except for their sin. They admit that they need Jesus to forgive their sins, but they feel that the rest of their life does not need any radical change. When we think that we are sufficient in and of ourselves, we deceive ourselves. God brings adversity into our lives to show us our deficiencies, and as we see these deficiencies, we realize that we must cry out to God to supply what we lack.
The entire Christian life is a process of recognizing our deficiencies, and seeking His grace to supply our needs. He has amply provided for our every deficiency. To resist and detest adversity is to resist the sanctifying and perfecting work of God in our lives, but to rejoice or have joy is to embrace His perfecting work in us.
So, what is the Rationale for this Irrational call of James?
The rationale for such joy comes from knowing that the various trials we face have spiritual value. James says there is a two-step process through which our trials evaluate us.
- First step is to understand that the testing of our faith develops perseverance or staying power (vs.3). Another commentator called it “heroic endurance” and another “fortitude.” How does this work?
- We develop this perseverance or fortitude in our life by repeatedly being tested and prevailing.
- There is no way anyone can develop this kind of staying power or toughness without testing. The spiritual endurance, toughness or staying power of the Apostle Paul, or William Carey did not come overnight, and did not come without trials (Romans 5:3).
- We can see the same principle in nature. If we were to free a butterfly from its cocoon and eliminate its struggle to free itself, you would destroy its life, it would never develop the strength it needed to soar in its life as it should.
- God wants us to soar! So He develops our spiritual strength through trials.
- When fortitude is lacking in one of God’s children, He has a time-tested remedy – “the trying of your faith” Now with this in mind, James irrational call “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;” makes perfect sense, and is an indication of God working in our life to perfect us to His image.
- The rationale becomes even clearer when we observe the second step: Perseverance produces maturity. Spiritual perseverance or toughness produces a dynamic maturity. Mature: refers to a personality which has reached its full development.
- The perfection that James is speaking of is more that just a maturing character, it is also a rounding out as more and more “parts” of righteous character are added.
- This maturity is a dynamic state in which a thousand parts of us are honed, shaped, tempered, and brought together, making a dynamic wholeness.
- It is commonly taught that trials bring maturity, but that is not so. Rather, fortitude and perseverance in times of testing produces maturity. Our reaction to trials and how we navigate them, produces spiritual maturity. As we endure trials of economic stress, disappointments, criticisms, domestic pressures, persecution for our faith, illness, etc. – many different parts of us are being touched with grace and honed into His image:
To illustrate this someone once wrote about how a pearl is made:
“Life on earth would not be worth much if every source of irritation were removed. Yet most of us rebel against the things that irritate us, and count as heavy loss what ought to be rich gain. We are told that the oyster is wiser; that when an irritating object, like a bit of sand, gets under the “mantle” of his shell, he simply covers it with the most precious part of his being and makes it a pearl. The irritation that it was causing is stopped by encrusting it with the pearly formation. A true pearl is therefore simply a victory over irritation. Every irritation that gets into our lives today is an opportunity for pearl culture. The more irritations the devil flings at us, the more pearls we may have. We need only to welcome them and cover them completely with love, that most precious part of us, and the irritation will be smothered out as the pearl comes into being. What a store of pearls we may have, if we will!”
Our Savior also experienced great trials. He experienced them in His human body. He understands our frailties. He set the example for us on how to endure the “trying” of our faith. Christ endured His trials with joy in His mind, just as James commands us to consider our trials with joy, so too did Christ. Joy coexists with suffering where there are higher and better prospects in view. For us the great motivation to endure with joy is to look to the end of the process in which God is at work. Jesus suffered with joy in mind as He too looked toward the end of the process, in which God was at work, with us in mind. (Hebrews 12:2 – Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.)
Paul told Timothy the truth “… all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” II Timothy 3:12. Life will always be full of testing for the true Christian. Trials are not a sign of God’s displeasure but are opportunities to mature in spirit, and in character. James command the irrational “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;” But it does not seem irrational once we learn the reasoning behind it:
- Testing brings spiritual toughness – “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” James 1:3
- Spiritual toughness brings dynamic maturity – “But let patience have herperfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” James 1:4
James calls for a decisive act, to consider our troubles opportunities for joy and endurance. May we in prayer so acknowledge today and it days to come.
Spiritual maturity is not a goal that will ever be entirely achieved in this life, because we shall never be free of ‘self and pride’ until Christ comes and sin is no more. None the less this is God’s purpose, and the hope of our glorious future provides us with the joy and encouragement we need to progress towards it through trials and heed to the Irrational Call of James to “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations!”