Online Bible Commentary
Consider Trials as Pure Joy
James 1:1 James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. 2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (NKJV)
The book of James, according to traditional thought, was written by the half brother of Jesus. James was the first born son of Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus. He was a half brother to Jesus because Jesus’ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not Joseph.
The book is not a letter full of theology, like the Pauline letters, or epistles. The book of James is more like a summary of sermons, teachings on morality. James was the leader of the church at Jerusalem, and likely this book is a summary of his sermons over many years.
Some say the book was written between 44 A.D. and 49 A.D. because it does not mention the Council of Jerusalem that occurred in 49 A.D. Others attribute its writing to a later date prior to James’ martyrdom. Josephus reported that James was stoned to death, at the instigation of the high priest Ananus, about 62 A.D. If the book was a summary of his sermons, it likely was written closer to this later date, perhaps in the 50’s A.D.
The book was written to Jewish Christians, who had been dispersed from Palestine, likely because of persecution by Herod Agrippa I in 44 A.D. They fled to the north. Likely, James wanted to reach them with the same message he was teaching to his church in Jerusalem, thus the reason for the writing.
James begins his writing by describing himself as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 1a). This was a huge admission for James, and it did not come easily. James did not accept his brother, Jesus, as the Messiah (John 7:5) during Jesus’ incarnate lifetime. It was not until the resurrected Jesus appeared to him (1 Cor. 15:7) that James became a convert.
Next, James sends his greetings to the recipients of the writings, “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (v. 1b). The twelve tribes is a reference to the tribes of Jacob (Israel), the Jewish people. He is writing to them of Christian morality, which would indicate that these Jews are Christians.
After the greeting, James opens with a message about trials. This would be a very fitting message for these Hebrew Christians who fled their homeland to escape persecution. His message is to “consider it pure joy” to face trials. Of course, this is not our normal reaction to trials.
James describes these trials as “the testing of your faith” (v. 3a). So, trials are God’s way of testing us. He wants to see how strong our faith is. He wants to know if we really have followed Him, or if we are still looking back to see if maybe we should turn back to our previous life. He wants to see how dedicated we are to Him.
The desired result of His test is that it produces perseverance (v. 3b). The desired result of a lifetime of tests is to let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (v. 4).
So, these tests are designed to mature us in Christ, to make us “perfect and complete”. Of course, our faith is never fully complete in this lifetime. We do not become perfected until we reach Heaven.
The message here is that God wants us to put things in the proper perspective. We all will experience hardships in our lives. We can use these hardships to push us away from God or to draw us nearer to God. Each hardship is a test from God. Will we get mad at Him and push Him away, or will we draw nearer to Him, realizing that He is the only ultimate solution? He is looking for us to respond with the latter.
As we form the habit of responding to hardship by drawing nearer to God, He is building within us the perseverance we need to become mature Christians.
We may not feel like rejoicing in the midst of hardship, but we need to learn to not trust our feelings. We need to put our trust in the Word of God, the Bible. We can begin by forcing ourselves into ignoring our feelings and trusting that God knows what He is doing. The more we do this, the more it will become habit. We are producing perseverance. We are becoming mature Christians. Eventually, we may even be able to consider trials as pure joy!