Count It All Joy
There are a lot of people who read James’ comments concerning life’s trials and wonder how it is possible to align his message with the "real world." After all, to suggest that one should be happy about a life filled with problems seems unusual at best. Yet there it is in black and white - "count it all joy when you fall into various trials." The thing is James knew more about the real world than any of us ever will; he, like the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ Himself, knew that in the reality of the Kingdom, servants of God must joyfully embrace difficulty as a godsend.
Part of the problem is the way we Moderns define joy. We tend to think of joy in sensuous terms, something like a perpetual state of giddy pleasure. The Bible doesn’t.1 In Scripture joy is more like "an activity… a man’s pleasure in his …progress toward" Christ-likeness.2 In part it is an attitude or a state of mind wherein one focuses on something other than the current difficult circumstances; the goal of spiritual growth located just beyond the horizon of tribulation. Yet it also includes the emotional aspects we typically equate with joy - a sense of pleasure which finds its foundation in the rock solid knowledge that God is lovingly active in our lives. Thus James teaches that experiencing trial and tribulation is grounds for rejoicing because difficulty is used by God to test our faith and shape us into the image of His son.
Several years ago I went through a period of trial that nearly broke my faith - or at least that’s how I perceived it at the time. But rather than destroying my faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, those difficult times ultimately strengthened my faith and commitment and taught me to patiently endure trial and wait for the Lord’s work to be accomplished. I emerged from that difficult path able to glory in tribulation as I began to comprehend the depth of God’s love and power. I was encouraged to persevere as I saw Christ’s character formed in me and the Holy Spirit gave me hope as I truly understood that there is a purpose in the storms of life (Rom. 5:3-4). I found that I could honestly say I had tasted what it was like to embrace difficulty and pain with joy.
Another reason we should rejoice in trials is because hard times expose our weakness and magnify Christ’s strength. As the Lord informed the Apostle Paul, "My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). When Paul relates his experience to the church in Corinth he doesn’t discuss the "personal" benefits of tribulation (learning patience, etc.). He merely points out that Christ’s power is made evident in our lives as we traverse the path of trials. Because of this, Paul gloried in all sorts of difficult situations. Why? Because in Paul’s weakness, Christ’s strength was made manifest. And that brought glory to our Lord. And, that should be a cause for joy. In my own situation related above, this somehow seemed easier than finding joy in the other benefits of trial and tribulation. The joy I found in admitting that I am nothing and that Christ is everything truly was one of the most profound experiences of my life.
There is a third reason we should have joy in trials and that is the fact that the turmoil of life serves to display God’s majesty and might. In other words, the rugged road of the difficult life itself proclaims the glory of God.
When Job was confronted by God near the conclusion of his tribulation, he did not receive gentle words of encouragement. Instead, God forcefully proclaimed His own power and might. Now, the typical interpretation of the story is that Job was never given an explanation for the difficulties he faced. May I strongly suggest that this is not so. Job did in fact receive a reason for his trials and tribulations: like everything else in creation, Job’s experiences proclaimed the glory of God. Thus God’s recitation to Job of some of the things in His realm which proclaim His own glory.
We tend to forget the fact that one way God’s majesty is made evident is in His confounding the lives of men (Ex. 9:16, Deut. 32:39-43, 1 Sam. 2:4-10, Rev. 5:8- 14, 6:1-ff) - all the more so when it is His own people who face tribulation (Ps. 66:8-12, Is. 48:9-11, John 11:4, 2 Cor. 12:7-10, 1 Thess. 1:6-7). This is true whether we can see any purpose in it or not. We need to understand the point of God’s words to Job; Job in the midst of his tribulation, along with the other things God proclaimed as signs of His magnificence, was an expression of God’s power and glory. That was the purpose behind Job’s trials. God didn’t say that he allowed calamity in Job’s life in order to produce patience and character. God didn’t say that the purpose in the trial was to magnify Job’s weakness and proclaim God’s strength. No, the purpose was simply to manifest God’s omnipotence. And for the believer that is reason enough for joy. Indeed, it is the best reason for joy.
Of course, on this side of the cross we have the benefit of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. That being the case, we know that even when the purpose behind calamity is to manifest God’s might, we still benefit personally. Romans 8:28-29:And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Thus Christ’s elect can rest assured that every trial and tribulation is being used by God to form us and shape us according to His son’s image. At times, this is difficult to accept, in reality impossible to accept except by faith. Nevertheless, it is true and therefore a reason for joy in trials.
No one ever said that it was easy to "count it all joy when you fall into various trials." Yet as we come to understand the reasons for joy in trials our willingness to submit to this truth should increase. At the very least it will assure us that we serve a God who loves us enough to show us how reasonable it really is to have joy in the midst of trials.
1. Gerhard Friedrich, ed, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Geoffery W. Bromiley, 9 vols. (Grand Rapids: Williams B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1974), 9: 359-372.
2. James B. Adamson, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle of James, (Grand Rapids: Williams B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1976), 53.
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