Summary: James calls God’s training regimen “various [kinds of] trials” (James 1:2). As he prepares his friends for the inevitable test, he outlines for them ... and for us … the following five strategies to employ when times of testing challenge us.
A very popular show in the sixties and seventies was a little half-hour police drama called … [do the theme music] … “Dragnet.” Remember that show? It starred Jack Webb as “Joe Friday” … a detective with the Los Angels Police Department. Joe Friday was a no-nonsense cop. His famous line was … “Just the facts.” He didn’t want to hear anything irrelevant to solving the case. If somebody started to go off on a tangent, he’d cut them off and get them back on track with: “Just the facts.”
James is the Joe Friday of the New Testament. He cuts to the bottom line without messing around. He’s not really interested in “hearing” your “profession” of faith … he wants to “see” your “practice” of faith.
Several Bible scholars and writers refer to James’ letter as the least theological epistle in the New Testament … except for Philemon. It’s not that James discounts the importance of sound doctrine but what good is sound doctrine … or any doctrine, for that matter … if it doesn’t affect the way we live our lives. Talk is cheap and theories are a dime a dozen. James wants to see results. Of the 108 verses in his letter, 54 … exactly half … contain imperative verbs. James is like a crusty sergeant barking orders at the troops. When he barks he expects action. His “barking,” however, comes from the heart.
Speaking of “crusty sergeants” … when you join the Armed Forces, they don’t just hand you a gun and a pair of boots and send you off to combat, do they? They train you. They challenge you. They toughen you up, don’t they? And there is no tougher training in the world … military or otherwise … than the Navy SEALs. Anyone know what “SEAL” stands for? It stands for “Sea, Air, and Land.” It means they are trained and prepared to go any place … on the land or on the sea or in the air … and handle any situation. By undergoing a grueling regimen of sleepless days and nights, sensory overload, and physical training, these recruits are transformed into some of the toughest human beings in the world.
The training has to be rigorous and it has to be tough … almost cruel … because of what they will have to face out in the real world, in real combat situations. What they will have to face in war and on missions will be far worse than what they had to endure at Coronado Naval Amphibious Base in San Diego, California. By pushing these men to the very brink of insanity during times of peace, the Navy is giving them the best chance to be ready to face the cruelty of real war if it comes.
James is trying to do the same thing in his letter … and he doesn’t pull any punches. Right from the start … right out of the gate … James reminds his suffering brothers and sisters that they should not be surprised when they experience intense periods of testing. He knows … and he wants them to know … that they face a spiritual conflict that will require a toughness learned only through instruction and monitored experience. Sugar-coating it or putting heir heads in the sand would only prove fatal.
James calls God’s training regimen “various [kinds of] trials” (James 1:2). As he prepares his friends for the inevitable test, he outlines for them ... and for us … the following five strategies to employ when times of testing challenge us.
The first one might seem pretty radical … certainly counter-intuitive. James tells us to “celebrate” the reason behind our trials. I want to make sure you heard that correctly. He is not saying we should celebrate our “trials.” He is saying that we should celebrate the “reason” for our trials.
The reason for the suffering of his people is the “dispersion” or “diaspora.” The world that James uses is a technical term that was first used to describe the situation of the Israelites after they had been taken away as slaves by the Babylonian army and forced to live outside of Palestine among the gentiles. A similar thing happened to the early church. “Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen,” Luke reports in the Book of Acts, “traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word” (Acts 11:19). In some of the major cities, such as Corinth and Alexandria, large populations of expatriate Christian Jews were being persecuted by their own countrymen, abused by the gentiles, and in many places had less standing than slaves.
This is the context of the trials that James mentions in this first section, but the translation of verse 2 is very important here. “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind” is more accurately translated: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you ‘fall into’ trials of any kind.” James uses the same term that Jesus used when He told the parable of the “Good Samaritan” where the traveler “fell among thieves” (Luke 10:30). In other words, James is acknowledging that their trials were not the result of their sinful activities. They didn’t bring this suffering and this persecution upon themselves.