I’d like to nominate James 1:2 as one of the most outrageous statements in the Bible.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Count it all . . . joy?
That is what James wrote, through the inspiration of God’s Spirit, but it doesn’t add up from our perspective. Getting a more biblical definition of joy really helps make sense of the encouragement to find joy when life is hard. Joy is something very different than what we commonly refer to as happiness. So when Scripture says, “Count is all joy,” the Lord is not saying, “Be happy about your trials.”
You cannot make yourself joyful. Joy only comes from God. When James says, “Consider it all joy,” he’s telling you, “Reach out to God. Get God’s heart in this matter.”
So, what is joy? Here’s a definition: Joy is a supernatural delight in the Person, purposes, and people of God.
“Count it all joy . . . when you meet trials” (v. 2, italics added). The New King James Version translates “when you meet” a little bit better: “when you fall into.” Because that’s how it happens, right? I was going along. Life was just rockin’ out, then BAM! I was flat on my face. I did not even see it coming!” Is that how it’s been for you? That’s been part of the pain for the MacDonalds—people we trusted, circumstances we couldn’t see, events beyond our control and . . . surprise! But here the Word of God is honest and true to reality.
“Of various kinds” (v. 2b). In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, various kinds is the same phrase that is used to describe Joseph’s coat of many colors. Our trials are very different. My trials are different from yours. Some trials are tough and some are tragic. Some are difficult and some are devastating.
Watch out for the temptation to think, I wish I had her trial! It’s never helpful to compare God’s work in others to what He’s doing in and around you. To do so is to question God’s wisdom in what trials He allows into someone else’s life. That is a very bad plan. Don’t get between the hammer and the work on that one. Just leave other people’s situations with God and focus on what He is doing in you.
“For you know that the testing of your faith produces . . .” (v. 3). If you don’t know it now, you will know it tomorrow. Trials separate men from the boys; sheep from the goats; wheat from the tares. The proof of whether you are a true follower of Christ often comes with trials.
When life is hard, you discover whether you’re really in Christ or just an imposter who showed up for a sunny day at the beach. Matthew 7:20 declares, “By their fruits you will know them” (NKJV). One of the fruits of a genuine believer is that you endure hardship. You continue. You don’t give up.
Defection is proof of a false conversion. John said in 1 John 2:19 (NASB), “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us.” When the heat is turned up, false believers run in a hurry. That’s why I thank God for Bible-teaching churches that actually deepen people’s faith. Otherwise when trials come, a lot of people who have been served up pep talks from smiley preachers will bolt for the exits. They didn’t lose their salvation; they never had it as their response to hard times testifies.
You say, “Okay, so my hard times are testing my faith, but what benefits do they bring me beyond a confidence in my conversion?” More to come.