Summary: Trials and tests are no fun. James doesn’t tell us to consider it fun but to "consider it all joy." Trials and tests are gut wrenching and drawn out at times, but the one thing that we must know is that God is with us through the whole ordeal.
Opening illustration: After William Carey was well established in his pioneer missionary work in India, his supporters in England sent a printer to assist him. Soon the two men were turning out portions of the Bible for distribution. Carey had spent many years learning the language so that he could produce the scriptures in the local dialect. He had also prepared dictionaries and grammars for the use of his successors.
One day while Carey was away, a fire broke out and completely destroyed the building, the presses, many Bibles, and the precious manuscripts, dictionaries, and grammars. When he returned and was told of the tragic loss, he showed no sign of despair or impatience. Instead, he knelt and thanked God that he still had the strength to do the work over again. He started immediately, not wasting a moment in self-pity. Before his death, he had duplicated and even improved on his earlier achievements.
Introduction: The Word of God teaches us to be joyful under troubles: such exercises are sent from God’s love; and trials in the way of duty will brighten our graces now and our crown at last. Let us take care, in times of trial, that patience, and not passion, is set to work in us: whatever is said or done, let patience have the saying and doing of it. When the work of patience is complete, it will furnish all that is necessary for our Christian race and warfare. We should not pray so much for the removal of affliction, as for wisdom to make a right use of it. And who does not want wisdom to guide him under trials, both in regulating his own spirit, and in managing his affairs? Here is something in answer to every discouraging turn of the mind, when we go to God under a sense of our own weakness and folly. If, after all, any should say, this may be the case with some, but I fear I shall not succeed, the promise is, to any that asks it shall be given. A mind that has single and prevailing regard to its spiritual and eternal interest, and that keeps steady in its purposes for God, will grow wise by afflictions, will continue fervent in devotion, and rise above trials and oppositions. When our faith and spirits rise and fall with second causes, there will be unsteadiness in our words and actions. This may not always expose men to contempt in the world, but such ways cannot please God. No condition of life is such as to hinder rejoicing in God. Those of low degree may rejoice, if they are exalted to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of God; and the rich may rejoice in humbling providences that lead to a humble and lowly disposition of mind. Worldly wealth is a withering thing. Then, let him that is rich rejoice in the grace of God, which makes and keeps him humble; and in the trials and exercises which teach him to seek happiness in and from God, not from perishing enjoyments. It is not every man who suffers, that is blessed; but he who with patience and constancy goes through all difficulties in the way of duty. Afflictions cannot make us miserable, if it be not our own fault. The tried Christian shall be a crowned one. The crown of life is promised to all who have the love of God reigning in their hearts. Every soul that truly loves God shall have its trials in this world fully recompensed in that world above, where love is made perfect. The commands of God, and the dealings of his providence, try men’s hearts, and show the dispositions which prevail in them.
1. Kinds of Trials (v. 2)
Becoming a Christian does not automatically exclude a believer from difficulties. James does not say if you face trials, but whenever you face them, assuming that we will have trials and that it is possible to profit from them. The proper attitude in meeting adversity is to count it all joy, which is not an emotional reaction but a deliberate intelligent appraisal of the situation from God’s perspective, viewing trials as a means of moral and spiritual growth. The point is not to pretend to be happy when we face trials but to have a positive outlook because of what they can produce in our lives. We do not rejoice in trials themselves, but in their possible results. The trials can be turned into times of learning ~ to be patient and perseverant. Testing carries the idea of proving genuineness. Trials serve as a discipline to purge faith of dross, stripping away what is false. Patience is not a passive resignation to adverse circumstances, but a positive steadfastness that bravely endures. Instead of murmuring and grumbling over trials and temptations, rejoice in them.