Count Tribulation All Joy
James was writing to Jewish Christians who had been scattered throughout Palestine due to persecution. As bishop of the Jerusalem Church, these were his people—meaning that the letter of James is different from the other letters of the New Testament in that this letter was written from the very bishop and pastor of the people to whom he writes. It is, thus, pastoral in the most genuine sense. And his people were harassed ethnically as Jews by Gentiles, and then treated with disdain as Christians by both Jews and Gentiles. Consequently, they were doubly mistreated. It was, no doubt, hard to bear up under such circumstances. It is thus with a true pastor’s heart with which James writes.
But unlike pastors today who would think they must pamper and coddle their flock, James is a pastor who is unafraid to speak the word of truth, and as we shall see later, admonish the sheep for their sins even in such trying times. James knows that temptation and persecution is no time to go wobbly with one’s faith but to grow stronger in faith and holiness.
So how does James encourage the believers in their time of trial? Not by telling them that trials will soon go away, or to lay low for awhile, or that compromising, refusing to meet together, or just plain being inconspicuous might afford them the invisibility they might crave. No. James expects trials. He understands the “binary,” the contradiction, the discontinuity, between the world and the Christian, and how the former must war against the latter—the flesh against the spirit.
And as this is the case, how should the Christian respond? With joy! Nothing proves the genuineness of the Christian life like trials. First, they confirm the faith, be they from within (the flesh) or without (the world and the devil). To feel these trials is to feel our alienation from the world—an alienation that is completely natural for a believer to experience living in the world. Second, such trials afford believers the opportunity to grow in the faith. They must learn to lean on Jesus, to be patient in suffering, to focus on the upward call, to slough off sin which though may not have caused the trial is certainly the hopeful result of it, and to become more steadfast in the faith, more grounded, more firm. And all of this has a perfecting work in us, the perfecting work of holiness and purity. And that is the purpose of trials. They are due to man’s sin; God uses them to quash our sin and fit us for heaven. Count it all joy, indeed!