James 1:2: What does James mean by “trials of various kinds”?
- Temptations and snares (1 Timothy 6:9, Hebrews 12:4)
- Difficult circumstances (death, divorce, loss of job, sickness, etc) James 5:14;
- Social and economic persecution (James 2:6)
- God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11). Can also be consequences of sin (addiction, jail, etc)
- Due to choices we make in following Jesus (1 Peter 4:12-19, Hebrews 10:32-39, 1 Cor 4:9-13)
Our greatest tragedies press the hardest, darkest questions on our soul. “Has God abandoned me“? “Is he really in charge and also good“? “Is he even there“?
Are there exceptions which do not apply regarding our trials in James 1:2? If so, what are they?
I have often wrestled with whether some of these promises really apply to me since I am sinful.
- But the gospel is all about Jesus being my righteousness. The promises apply to me, because I have been clothed with the righteousness of Jesus
- EXCEPT – and this is a big exception: this is only for true believers! It applies to James “brethren” (vs 2). In that case no promises apply, except the invitation that if we come to Christ He will not cast us away.
- For believers, there are no exceptions at all. There are no qualifying statements about what kind of trials this applies to.
- Romans 8:28
- 2 Cor 4:17-18
What does James mean by “Count it all joy”?
- Joy does not come naturally, but we are being encouraged to choose joy.
- Joy is not the same as happiness. It does not depend on our circumstances.
- Present joy: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you … ” (John 15:11)
- Future joy: ” … and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Jesus endured the cross “for the (future) joy that was set before Him” (Heb 12:2).
This is the sense in which we are to count it all joy. A future joy is promised to us, that is fantastic.
James 1:3-5: Why does James tell us to be joyful in the midst of trials?
- Trials “produce” steadfastness. We can think of our trials as a “steadfastness factory”. The more the trials, the greater the steadfastness.
- Even Jesus “learned” obedience by the things He suffered (Heb 5:8).
- For true believers there is no other possible outcome. This is a cause and effect. See also 2 Cor 4:17-18
It plays a critical role in making us become like Jesus, and ends in His as well as our glory (Rom 8:28, 2 Cor 4:17, Rom 8:18, Matt 5:12, Rom 5:3-11, 1 Peter 1:6-7).
“Faith does not flourish when it lies untested. It atrophies when it goes un-exercised. And eventually it dies. So, when God loves us with his saving love, and gives us saving faith, he commits, because he cares for us, to inject our lives with various trials to train, grow, sweeten, strengthen, and mature what matters most in us. Our “various trials” in this life are not superfluous to our enduring in faith. And they are not just threats to losing our faith. They are one of God’s essential means through which he preserves the faith he has given us and keeps us as his own.” – David Matthis
James 1:3,4 – What does James mean by “steadfastness”?
- It is important to note that this does not mean “perfect, steady faith”. The whole point is that trials are often designed to stretch our faith to its limit. We struggle, we falter, we stumble, our faith sometimes fails.
- Steadfastness means “staying the course. persevering to the end”.
- Through the worst of trials, we cling to God in hope and in faith even if we wander temporarily
What do we learn about God related to our trials and temptations?
- God is in control in the midst of our trials. There are no accidents – Jesus rules the universe: Matt 28:18, Eph 1:22
- He is working out His purposes within us during our trials
- Christians during the plague (Ad 265). “Then, a century later came another great plague. Once again the Greco-Roman world trembled as, on all sides, family, friends, and neighbors died horribly. No one knew how to treat the stricken. Nor did most people try. During the first plague, the famous classical physician Galen fled Rome for his country estate where he stayed until the danger subsided. But for those who could not flee, the typical response was to try to avoid any contact with the afflicted, since it was understood that the disease was contagious. Hence, when their first symptom appeared, victims often were thrown into the streets, where the dead and dying lay in piles. … the impact of Christian mercy was so evident that in the fourth century when the emperor Julian attempted to restore paganism, he exhorted the pagan priesthood to compete with the Christian charities. In a letter to the high priest of Galatia, Julian urged the distribution of grain and wine to the poor, noting that “the impious Galileans [Christians], in addition to their own, support ours, [and] it is shameful that our poor should be wanting our aid.” But there was little or no response to Julian’s proposals because there were no doctrines and no traditional practices for the pagan priest to build upon…. Christians believed in life everlasting.“
- John Paton. Two missionaries landed in 1839, and were killed and eaten by the cannibals soon after they went ashore. Paton goes there. His wife and child die within his first year of being there. He continues there alone under incredible circumstances of constant danger. “A wild chief followed me around for four hours with his loaded musket, and, though often directed towards me, God restrained his hand … Looking up in unceasing prayer to our dear Lord Jesus, I left all in his hands, and felt immortal till my work was done“. “My heart rose up to the Lord Jesus; I saw Him watching all the scene. My peace came back to me like a wave from God. I realized that I was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done. The assurance came to me, as if a voice out of Heaven had spoken, that not a musket would be fired to wound us, not a club prevail to strike us, not a spear leave the hand in which it was held vibrating to be thrown, not an arrow leave the bow, or a killing stone the fingers, without the permission of Jesus Christ, whose is all power in Heaven and on Earth. He rules all Nature, animate and inanimate, and restrains even the Savage of the South Seas.” “My constant custom was, in order to prevent war, to run right in between the contending parties. My faith enabled me to grasp and realize the promise, ‘Lo, I am with you alway.’ In Jesus I felt invulnerable and immortal, so long as I was doing his work“. The entire village came to Christ by the end of his serving there over 45 years
James 1:5-8 – What wisdom is James encouraging us to ask for?
- The wisdom he is referring to in this context, is the wisdom to know this at the deepest levels in our hearts.
- The wisdom to choose to make difficult choices even if it invites trials, in following Jesus.
- Choosing not to sin when we are tempted
- Knowing when we are wandering from our faith or hardening our hearts
- Choosing to repent before God and others, and to make it right with those we wronged.
- Being a bold witness at work
- Ultimately, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10). So having the right understanding of God and His purposes is true wisdom.
James 1:6 – How are we to ask God for wisdom?
- Confidence that God will give it to us without doubting
- This kind of wisdom is supernatural. We need to trust that God wants to give it to us.
James 1:2-8 – The long term effect of trials
- Sometimes we have the benefit of hindsight when we see God’s bigger purposes in our past trials.
- These experiences begin to build a reservoir in our hearts and in our minds
- We can recall examples of Scripture (e.g. Joseph, Ruth, Daniel, etc)
- We can recall our own past experiences of God’s faithfulness.
- This enables us to grow in our faith and to grow in steadfastness (“if God was so faithful in my life before, I can trust Him to be with me now, and to use this for my good”).
Questions to Think About
- What is my response to trials in my life?
- Do I ask God for His wisdom?
- How has God sustained or grown me through trials and temptations?