Written by Guy M. Richard |
Sunday, September 18, 2022
Trials, according to James, are not scheduled or planned. They come into our lives when we least expect them to. They so often catch us by surprise. We don’t know when we will face trials; all we know is that we will face them, and we must be ready. There is, therefore, both a certainty and an uncertainty associated with all our trials.
In exhorting us to “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds,” James is laying before us one of the most difficult challenges in the Christian life (James 1:2). It is an other-worldly challenge. How can we “count it all joy” when we are going through the most heart-breaking or heart-wrenching of circumstances? How can we rejoice when the world as we know it is falling apart?
I once heard a story about a friend of mine who went to visit a member of his congregation in the hospital. The member had a young son, around 2 years old or so, and the son was dying. When this friend of mine walked into the hospital room, he saw the mother of the child sitting in a rocking chair holding her son in her arms. Almost as soon as he walked in the child took his last breath and died in his mother’s lap. As tears were streaming down her face, the mother looked up at my friend and, in the midst of incredible grief and pain, asked my friend to lead them in singing the Doxology.
It is relatively easy to “count it all joy” when things are going well around us. When God’s will matches our own will for our lives, it is easy to be a Christian and to “count it all joy.” But when those two things don’t add up—when God’s will for our lives and our will for our lives don’t match—that is when things get hard. We all marvel at those occasions, like the one described above, when we see brothers and sisters in Christ rejoicing in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances. But how do we actually begin to do it ourselves when things fall apart in our own lives?
I think James 1:2-4 helps us to answer this question. It doesn’t do so comprehensively to be sure, but it does give us a real answer as to how we can “count it all joy” in the midst of heart-breaking circumstances. This passage has at least three things to teach us about trials and how we can consider them worthy of rejoicing in. We will look at the certainty and uncertainty of our trials; the consistency and inconsistency of our trials; and the regard and disregard we should have for our trials.
The Certainty and Uncertainty of Our Trials
The first thing we can see is that James is highlighting both the certainty and the uncertainty of our trials. Notice that James is mentioning trials right from the beginning of his epistle. He could have started out talking about sin or temptation or wisdom or the tongue or a variety of other subjects. Why start with trials? I think the answer is because he is writing to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (v. 1) who are living as strangers in foreign lands and, therefore, are undergoing trials and tribulations accordingly.
But, if that is true, who exactly are the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion”? The phrase is similar to one that Peter uses at the beginning of his first letter: “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1 Pet. 1:1). We know that Peter is clearly speaking of Christians who have been scattered throughout the surrounding nations, because he then goes on to describe them by way of their “obedience to Jesus Christ” and by the fact that they have been washed “with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2). James would seem to be using Old Testament language—“the twelve tribes”—in order to connect the Old Testament people of God to the New Testament people of God. Christians are not a separate people but, as Paul says, we are “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), those who are also children of Abraham by way of our faith in Jesus Christ. By referring to Christians as “the twelve tribes,” James is focusing attention upon the certainty of the trials and tribulations that would have been experienced by Christians in the dispersion. They would be similar to those experienced by their Jewish forebears as well.
We can also see this emphasis upon the certainty of trials in James’s use of the word “when” in verse 2. He doesn’t say, “Count it all joy, my brothers, if you meet trials of various kinds” but “when you meet trials.” The trials are certain. They will happen. We can take that to the bank. It is not a question of “if” but of “when.”
James also highlights the uncertainty of our trials by speaking of them as something we “meet” (v. 2). This word occurs two other times in the New Testament: once in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 and once in the account of Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27. In Luke 10, we read about a man who is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and, on the way, “meets” robbers who strip him and beat him and leave him for dead.