James (2): Joy is…
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds James 1:2
Our lives are full of trials and temptations – pressures of all kinds, fears, pain and gut-wrenching grief. We paint trials in sombre colours, as things to be endured and prayed about, in the hope that the Lord will act. ‘These things are sent to try us’, we may say, with long faces. Or ‘if only this problem would just go away’.
In Greek, the word generally used for both trials and temptations is the same, a word that most often has a positive, rather than a negative, connotation. ‘Count it pure joy’ wrote James. ‘You can’t be serious’, we reply. If indeed the writer of this letter was James, Jesus’ younger brother, he had seen his brother tortured to death on a Roman cross, Stephen stoned for his witness to Jesus as Messiah, and the fledgling church scattered by persecution. But somehow he could still count it pure joy.
Why? Because ‘the testing of your faith produces perseverance’ (v.3). Paul says exactly the same in Romans 5: ‘We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance’ (v.3). It isn’t clear what kind of suffering Paul has in mind, whether it was directly related to a profession of Christian faith. But here James says ‘trials of many kinds’. Whatever the trial – whether as a result of our faith or, more likely, of our fallen world – we are told to rejoice, because that is how mature Christian character is formed.
Ours is often described as a ‘risk averse’ culture. We might also describe it as pain averse, challenge averse, discipline averse, controversy averse. The making of mature Christian disciples is critically important in such a climate. Without belittling our own pain, or that of other people, let’s pray about difficulties, and but let’s also confront them with joy, and rise to their challenges, sustained by faith and hope.