Holiness, grown in trials, bears joy in the Christian life.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
This verse is commonly used to share it with those who are going through a difficult season. But have you thought about what this verse is actually saying? It is not saying cheer up and think better thoughts about your trial. In this letter, James is challenging us to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. James says lets see your faith in action. What we see here is that joy comes when we realize that the ultimate purpose of trials is spiritual maturity.
In verse 2 James writes count it all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds. The fact that James starts off his letter with trials suggests that the believers in his day were going through difficult times and needed to be encouraged. What the present may contain, what the future may bring, and what the past may keep stored in memory. Count it all joy! Rejoice! We see the same encouragement from Peter in 1 Peter 1:6, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.”
James doesn’t only have persecution or martyrdom in mind. Remember he is writing to many people with different struggles and difficulties. Maybe some of us are thinking I am not suffering like those in James’s day. I am not currently worried about becoming a martyr…I believe that is why the Holy Spirit inspired James to write trials of various kinds. This could mean sickness, being out of a job, abuse, infertility, problems with friends or family members, etc.
One of the great Puritan authors Thomas Manton gives great insight into this when he says,
“if you do not suffer for Christ, Christ suffers in you, and with you. He is afflicted and touched with a sense of your afflictions. It is wrong for believers to think that Christ is altogether unconcerned by their sorrows unless they are endured for his name’s sake, and that the comforts of the Gospel are only applicable to martyrdom.”
This quote from Manton is very comforting because it helps us understand that even though there may not be an angry mob outside our churches ready to persecute us, the trials that we are facing now are from God, Christ is with us, and we have the same comforts of the Gospel available to us.
When James wrote count it all joy, He wasn't saying they needed to enjoy the pain that they were experiencing in the trial, but to look beyond the circumstance towards God’s purpose for it…which would bring them joy. It seems like James is making the point that there is a purpose for the trial...there is a reason for the affliction…that God doesn’t want us to miss out on.
You will encounter trials
It’s important to note that James doesn’t say if you have trials, but when you meet trials of various kinds. You may not be going through a trial at this moment, but you will at some point. Peter writes in 1 Peter 4, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you." Do not be surprised! James and Peter are saying expect trials to come. Paul says in 2 Timothy 23:12, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." You will encounter trials.
The Bible teaches that God sends these trials (Gen. 22:1; 2 Chr. 32:31) to test us and show us what is in our hearts. Trials allow us to see clearly what is in us (sin) and the grace that has been provided through Christ. God is not causing affliction in our lives because He is angry and wants to punish us, be reminded that He took that anger and punishment out on Christ.
When Christ was on this earth, He was not without trial. When He started His earthly ministry, He was tempted by the devil. He was rejected in his hometown. He was falsely accused. And Hebrews gives us this encouragement.
“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Heb 12:3)
Christ suffered. He went through trials, but He endured them. And this should encourage us not to grow weary or fainthearted.
I don’t know about you, but normally I am most joyful when the trial is over. When the storm has subsided and the stress is gone. But James says consider it all joy in the midst of the trial.
Trials will produce a consistent living for Christ.
James continues in verse 3 saying for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
James uses testing of your faith as another way to describe what a trial actually is. A trial is a testing of our faith.
How many of you hated tests in school? Oh man I hated them! I always thought it was the teacher’s way of punishing the class. In reality, the tests are a way for us to see if we are learning and in what areas we needed to improve in. In the same way, God is testing our faith. The test is not designed to cause us to fail but to prepare us to succeed. Testing reveals the sin in our lives and the lies that we believe, in order that we would acknowledge them and repent, but also to plead to God for help.
And then this testing of our faith produces steadfastness. Steadfastness in the Christian life is described as a consistent living for Christ. An endurance. A patience. In James 5:11, James says “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James uses Job as an example of someone who was steadfast under trial and suffering. James reassured his readers that God had a purpose for their suffering, just as he did for Job’s. And the same goes for us.
And the last verse, verse 4 says, And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Now James is saying here…let this staying power...this consistent living for Christ have its full effect. He says take action. There’s an imperative here. And let...We need to be looking for these imperatives or verbs while studying the book of James because he is urging us to be doers of the Word, not just hearers. It is said that trials produce maturity, but rather it’s the perseverance or steadfastness in the times of testing that produce maturity. You can go through many trials and still not be mature. So let steadfastness have its full effect.
The full effect that James shows us here is spiritual maturity...growth in holiness. The three aspects we see are perfect, complete, and lacking in nothing.
The difference between the words perfect and complete here is not much because the Christian who attains “completeness” will also be “perfect.” This does not mean sinlessness or moral flawlessness. Perfect can be translated as mature and complete suggests wholeness of Christian character and lacking in nothing means not lacking anything that defines godly character. But the main idea here is a spiritual maturity or godliness.
Spiritual maturity is the ultimate goal of trials.
God allows trials to produce holiness and stamina in His people and to prepare them for future glory. Christians grow in holiness but are not yet perfected in it; full perfection will be realized only when Jesus returns.This is the ultimate goal of trials. James 1:12 says that those who persevere through trials will be rewarded and receive the crown of life (James 1:12). This crown of life is eternal life. The believer’s ultimate reward, which God has promised to him and will grant in full at death or at Christ’s coming.
Spiritual maturity is who we are, not what we know. Its fruit is seen and developed in crisis. James does not settle for right doctrine if the result of that right doctrine is not resulting in godly character. Those who are spiritually mature or striving for maturity are obedient to the Word of God and do what it says!
What makes trials so difficult to endure? When it comes to trials, we would rather escape, explain, or exit the difficulty. In fact, we will tend to do almost anything to avoid enduring a trial.
Let’s stop here and truly think about our actions in the trial that we currently are in or if you are not in one think about one from the past. How did you react to it? See the problem we have here is a lack of living out what we believe. We can have good theology and know the gospel, and yet not live it out in our lives. It shows that the head knowledge we have has not made it to our heart and actions. I know typically when trials come my tendency is to worry, to get anxious, to become impatient, and sometimes just flat out angry. What does that show of my faith? It reveals a heart problem. This is sin! Brothers let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that these actions are justified since the trial is difficult. James mentions later on in verse 15 that some blame God and try to say that He is tempting them to sin, but this is not the case. It is our own sinful nature that desires the sin.
I'm not saying we can’t cry or have a sadness for the pain we are experiencing. But this cannot be the only thing we do in the midst of affliction. Being a Christian does not mean we lose our natural emotional reactions to stressful situations in our lives, but it does mean we are in control of them.
Since we know full well that God is Sovereign over everything and has allowed this trial in our lives, why do we still miss the point? It’s because we forget the Gospel. We forget that we were dead in our trespasses (Eph 2:1), enemies of God (Romans 5:10), far from Him. We forget that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23). While we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
The joy in the Christian's trial comes from future hope.
For those of you who do not believe this truth isn’t for you. You have no reason for joy in your trials. Those who are not in Christ, there is nothing better for you, nothing to look forward to. But. There is hope. If you turn from your sin and embrace Christ by faith you can have the hope of eternal life. You can have joy in the midst of trials. Do not think you are too far gone for God to save you. You are in a great company of people who are sinners who have been saved by grace alone. It is not anything that we have done to obtain salvation, no good works, we are saved by the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ. I ask and I plead that you think of these things. Look to Christ for the salvation of your soul.
Christian be reminded God is using these trials to test our faith, to reveal sin and disobedience to His Word. To refine us. Which will result in patience and perseverance that leads to holiness.We cannot do this on our own. Faith is tested to live on Gospel comforts in the absence of worldly comforts. We need to look to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith. Think of the trial you are in, look for God’s testing of your faith and see how He is helping you persevere and become more like Him. Consider this all joy!