The book of James was written by the brother of our Lord as a circular letter; a letter of instruction to be copied and passed around among the churches (v. 1). Many believe he was specifically addressing Jewish believers scattered from Jerusalem in the persecution following the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1). In this letter, James gives instructions on several different practical issues in the Christian life.
He wasted no time in flowery introductions and greetings; but goes right to the point and deals with an issue every child of God will face. That issue is the issue of “passing the test” - how to get through times of difficulty as we live our lives in this world.
As examine these verses, we discover that James tells us five things about facing trials in this world:
1. The reality of testing - “whenever you face trials of many kinds”
James does not say, “if you face trials” but “when you face trials.” His emphasis is on the fact that times of trial and testing are a part of the reality of life in this world.
When James speaks of “many kinds” of trials, he emphasizes that there are there are difficulties we face in life that vary in their size, duration, and intensity. James says there are big trials and little trials. Also, the word “trial” can refer to a call to sin, as it does in 1:12, or to suffering persecution, or a flat tire, or the death of a loved one.
James’ point is simple, in life, we are going to fact tests and trials of various size, kind, and intensity. It is a part of life. It doesn’t matter who we are, where we live, or even when we live, the nature of this world is such that trials and tests are a reality of life.
“In this world you will have trouble.” - John 16:33 (NIV)
“The world to too big for us. Too much going on, too many crimes, too much violence and excitement. Try as you will, you get behind in the race, in spite of yourself. It’s an incessant strain to keep pace . . . and still, you lose ground. Science empties its discoveries on you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless bewilderment. The political world is news seen so rapidly you’re out of breath trying to keep pace with who’s in and who’s out. Everything is high pressure. Human nature can’t endure much more.”
Believe it or not, that editorial appeared in The Atlantic Journal on June 16, 1833. In the November 13, 1857 edition of the Boston globe, the headline article read, “Energy Crisis Looms: World To Go Dark?”
No person, no generation is exempt from facing difficulty in life. The Christian is not exempt any more than is the non-Christian. The only difference is in the way we can face testing.
2. The response to testing - “Consider it pure joy”
James echoes what the Bible teaches elsewhere.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” - Philippians 4:4
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” - Philippians 4:6 (NLT)
“Whatever happens, always be thankful. This is how God wants you to live in Christ Jesus.” - 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (Easy to Read)
But we say, “That’s impossible! There’s no way I can rejoice in times of difficulty!” One lady once told me that the only thing she knew to do in times of tribulation was to “tribulate!”
But James says we can respond to testing and trial this way if we make to choice to do so. The word, “consider” implies decisiveness. We have a choice in how we respond to times of trial. James counsels us to make the “choice to rejoice.” And while this is not always an easy thing to do, it is a possible thing to do, and as we will see, a beneficial things to do. As we think about making the “choice to rejoice” and “considering it pure joy” when facing trials, consider the following:
A) James is counseling us to look to Christ.
Joy isn’t the same as happiness. As the old saying goes, “Happiness depends on happenings; while joy depends on Jesus.” When James counsels us to find joy in times of trial, he is calling on us to take our eyes off our circumstances and put them on Christ. As we do, we are reminded that while this world is temporary, Christ is eternal; that though this world often changes, Christ never does. Every trial we face is an occasion to be reminded afresh of the reason why Jesus is an all-sufficient Savior.
B) James is counseling us to trust in Christ.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” - Nehemiah 8:10 (NIV)
“So be humble under God’s powerful hand. Then he will lift you up when the right time comes. Give all your worries to him, because he cares for you.” - 1 Peter 5:6-7 (Easy to Read)
No matter what the trial or adversity, God cares about you! What’s more, His power is at work on your behalf to “lift you up when the right time comes.” So trust in Christ.
C) James is counseling us to receive from Christ.
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22); a gift from God. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 tells us that joy is given by the Holy Spirit.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting
shadows.” - James 1:17 (NIV)
If we I will look to Christ, trust in Christ, and receive from Christ, He’ll give us joy to anchor us in times of trial so that we will not go adrift.
Besides, consider the alternative: wallowing, whining, complaining. Choose instead to grab onto God’s joy. Like salvation, joy is a free and perfect gift from Him, and we must reach out and accept that gift. Grab onto it. Like a lifeline. Choose joy. Over bitterness, anger, and sorrow. Make a decision to choose joy every day. No matter what.
3. The reason for testing - “the testing of your faith”
What does a test reveal? It reveals how much more you have to learn. The one who is to benefit from this revelation is not God; he already knows how much more you and I need to learn; no, the one who benefits is us.
Every difficulty in life is a test that can reveal how much I have learned to look to Christ; trust in Christ; and receive from Christ. What fills your life? Christ or self? As someone once said, “We are all much like a cup, you never learn what we’re really full of until we’re upset.”
4. The result of testing - “develops perseverance”
John Macarthur illustrates what James is saying this way: “Jewelers use ‘the water test’ as a means for identifying a true diamond. An imitation stone is never as brilliant as a genuine stone, but sometimes the difference cannot be determined with the naked eye. So jewelers immerse the stone in water. A genuine diamond continues to sparkle brilliantly, it perseveres, while the sparkle of the imitation is virtually extinguished.”
The faith of some under the water of difficulty is revealed to be nothing but an imitation. However, when a true child of God is immersed in a trial, he will shine as brilliantly as ever. James is saying that if your Christianity is genuine, it will prove itself in times of trouble. If my faith in God is good only when I’m doing well, then it's of little value. True faith will sustain the believer when life goes wrong.
When a false Christian goes through a test, it inevitably reveals how false his faith is. When a true believer goes through a test, it inevitably reveals how true his faith is, where it is weak, and how it needs to be strengthened. Trials burn up imitation faith but strengthen true faith.
For the false Christian, trials reveal their need for saving faith; but for the true Christian, trials reveal their need to strengthen faith. But if one’s faith is indeed, a saving faith, it will lead one to persevere.
5. The reward of testing - “that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
What is the reward that comes from you and I “passing the test” by looking to Christ, trusting in Christ, and receiving from Christ? It is a strengthened satisfaction with Christ. What James describes here is that we will be helped to grow into an attitude of spiritual maturity that basically says, “if all this world leaves me is Christ, Christ is enough.” the reward that comes from passing the test is the contented Christian life.
“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” - 1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV)
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” - Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)
“We don’t need to teach men to complain. They complain fast enough without any education. But the precious things of the earth must be cultivated. Paul says, “I have learned . . .” as much to say, he did not know how at one time. It cost him some pains to attain to the mystery of a great truth.” - Charles Spurgeon
Conclusion: What do times of trial and testing reveal to you? Do you not really know Christ? Do you need to grow in Christ? How? Let him save you or strengthen you today.