James 1:2-4 (NKJV)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.
We begin this morning a series of exhortations from the book of James. The author of the book was James, the half-brother of Jesus. His book has been called the New Testament version of Proverbs – full of pithy directives and foundational principles for practical Christian living. James is well known for confronting issues without blinking. Whenver I imagine James, I picture him as a type of John the Baptist – saying it like it is with no mealy-mouthed flattery.
The text we read this morning illustrates James’ straight forwardness well. James hits one of the most sensitive topics in Christian living – trials. Visit the bookstores and you’ll see numerous books devoted to the topic of trials. Why do bad things happen to good people? Can God be Trusted in our Trials? How To Let God Solve Your Problems: 12 Keys For Finding Clear Guidance In Life’s Trials. The subject of trials is a hot one.
What wisdom then does James have for us? What are we to do with our trials? First, he declares, we are to count it all joy when we fall into various trials. “Count it all joy, James?” we find ourselves asking. My son just broke both his arms – count it all joy? My car just broke down – count it all joy? I can’t find a job – count it all joy? Our marriage is struggling – count it all joy? My work load is heavy – count it all joy? I’m lonely – count it all joy? I told you that James doesn’t pull any punches – that’s right, he says, with his garment of camel’s hair and leather belt about his waist, count it all joy.
But how, we ask? How call it all joy? That’s just not possible. Why should we look upon trials with joy? James doesn’t keep us in suspense – he is, after all, a straight shooting sort of fellow. Count it all joy, he says, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. For some weeks now we have been meditating on the call to wait upon the Lord. James shows us the practical consequence of this teaching – waiting on the Lord requires patience; the more we have to wait the more patient we must become; the more patient we become the more we grow in virtue and holiness – and so what better response than joy? Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter trials because these very trials are the things that God uses to make you into the type of person He wants you to be.
But James reminds us in the next breath that there are different kinds of patience. There is the first type of patience – which sits in the waiting room bobbing the knee, tapping the finger, pacing the floor – yeah, I’m being patient, can’t you tell? This kind of patience will never do – why? Because, James tells us, patience is not an end in itself – it is a means to an end. It is a means to personal growth – growth of character. God trains us in the school of trials so that we will grow in patience and thereby grow in faith – being perfect and complete, trusting in God’s goodness so much that we are able to rejoice in trials, not just grin and bear them.
So how are we doing? Are we counting our trials all joy? Are we remembering that our Lord’s purpose in this life is not first and foremost to make us happy but to make us holy? This is certainly not a lesson that our culture reinforces. Whenever a trial arises the pundits are sure to issue their wisdom – you deserve better; that’s just not fair; someone should pass a law; the government should fix that. We do not handle trials well. And the reason why is that we don’t trust in the Triune God, the God who does all things well and uses even the bitter cups we drink to make us holy. And so let us kneel and confess that we have failed to count it all joy to endure the trials that God in His providence brings our way.