My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, (NRSV)
Clearly, we see the familial affection James feels for these scattered Messianic Jews; he calls them “my brothers and sisters,” and this echoes Jesus’ own pronouncement that those who lose blood relations will receive relations in return from being a part of the kingdom. Paul gives similar arguments when he discusses the unity of the church. The most common New Testament metaphor for the church is indeed a family. Blood was no longer what was important, but rather that family of God, the church of Jesus Christ.
This seems to run counter intuitive with how we are reared, but if we really think about it, who is it that we enjoy most? Is it our friendships and brotherhood/sisterhood in Christ or our sometimes irksome, capricious relatives? Some of us have the added bonus that our relatives are both blood and spiritually related to us, but if we had to choose, then surely the ties are stronger with the friends who we have conferred the title “brother and sister” upon through Christ!
James’ admonition to his family is, “whenever you face trials of any kind,” this is clearly a universal statement or principle. What a major statement it is! This is not just trials of a particular kind or trials of some kinds, or even trials of most kinds…this is going to be an admonition for trials of any kind! And don’t I need something like that! I face trials (with differing severity and intensity) all of the time; it is wonderful to know that James has a good word for any time that I find myself in a trial.
What are your trials of any kind? For some of you it is the loss of a loved one, a job, or a relationship; for some of you it is the loss of your health, a limb, or a future. Some trials may be something you have gained: twenty or a hundred extra pounds, more wealth than you wisely know what to do with, celebrity and fame that constantly causes one’s privacy to be invaded by cameras and their flashes. Whether in loss or in gain, many of us are dealing with trials right now.
Job lost his kids and his possessions, but gained a nagging wife and three inept friends.
Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it and lost his ticket into the Promised Land.
David lost his integrity and gained another man’s wife; he lost his family in the process.
Jesus lost his dignity and rights as the Son of God and he gained the sins and rebellion of the entire human race.
We are not alone in our trials and sorrows; we are amongst a great biblical company of witnesses who have been there and did that. Their testimonies encourage us to continue on and to continue to walk the walk of faith some of us begin not too long ago and other of us began at least a decade ago.
So what is James’ advice for those of us who are going through “trials of any kind?”
…consider it nothing but joy.
Joy? Did we see that right? James wants us to consider all of our trials a joy? Is he crazy? The last thing I want to consider being stuck in traffic, without A/C, listening to talk radio is joy! Yet, in every trial we find ourselves in, James counsels that we consider it nothing but joy. We are not to consider the anguish, the pain, the loss, or the gain…we are only to consider the joy. But where does he get this from? Is there anyone else who would collaborate this?
11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. – Paul in Colossians 1:11-12
2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.– The Author of Hebrews in Hebrews 12:2
6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. – Peter in I Peter 1:6-8
So, it seems that the other New Testament writers would say, “Amen!” to James’ admonition to consider trials nothing but joy. The reason we cannot seem to grasp this is that ,if you are like me, we seem to count trials as everything but joy. But Hebrews 12:2 is incredibly instructive concerning the power that propelled Jesus onward when embracing the cruelties of the cross and the wretchedness of sin: he had joy set before him. Joy is present because there is hope that God’s mercy will prove faithful; it is faith that our hope is not misplaced.
So the next time you or I are tempted to see our trials as everything else…if we really want to change our perspective on suffering, we should count it as nothing but joy.