James 1:2 Trials of Various Kinds

I’m just finishing a study on the book of James, and have decided to do a short series of posts exploring some of the verses that particularly struck me along the way. First up is James 1:2

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds

There is a school of thought, amongst those who emphasise supernatural healing, that although Christians should rejoice when they face persecution, they should not do so in the face of other trials, such as sickness. From those trials we should simply pray for escape.

This verse in James, however, points in a different direction. It is not that James disagrees with praying for escape from trials. Later in the letter he explicitly gives instructions on receiving prayer for healing (James 5:14-16).

But the “various trials” he is referring to in this letter are not primarily persecution. As you go through the letter, you see that the biggest trials facing the believers at that time were that many were extremely poor, and were being exploited and oppressed by the rich.

When James gets round to selecting examples of those who set a good example of patience in the face of suffering, he picks out the “prophets” (James 5:10), who did indeed suffer persecution, but also he selects Job (James 5:11).

The interesting thing about Job is that his suffering was not persecution. He suffered illness, bereavement, and financial loss. Yet in a strange way, he too was suffering for righteousness’ sake. Though he had no way of knowing it, it was his righteousness that was the cause of Satan’s attack (Job 2:3-4).

Modern day examples of Job’s suffering might be godly pastors like Matt Chandler and PJ Smyth, who are facing serious illness, or Dave Matthias, who has been blogging recently about the grief of losing an unborn child. When James asks them to “count it all joy” he is not saying something like “always look on the bright side of life”. The point is not “cheer up, because although this terrible thing happened to you, you will grow in character as a result”. Growth in character (James 1:3-4) is only a side benefit; there is a deeper reason for joy.

The ultimate reason we can have joy as we face “various trials” is that we are a people of hope. Joy in the face of suffering is only possible if we see the bigger picture, believing God’s promises regarding our future. Trials do cause us grief, but we can also face them with joy if we are a people of hope, as James explains in James 1:12

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

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