Summary: The Christian can maintain a positive attitude in the face of trials because they provide opportunities to prove God's faithfulness.
Why do you go through trials? If God really loves you, wouldn't he protect you from the bad things that everyone else goes through? We have many blessings because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Because of your faith in Christ, you know that your sins are forgiven. Your faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives you the assurance that you will have eternal life when your days here are over. But did you notice that you are not blessed with having to never go through the same difficulties that unbelievers face? Christians still have bad marriages. Have you ever gone through financial difficulties? Have you ever lost a job? And there is still physical suffering. Christians get sick and have accidents just like everyone else.
If you go through just as much adversity as an unbeliever, should your attitude toward trials be any different? How will your faith in Christ make a difference in the way you handle the trials you face every day of your life?
We get a sense that the original readers of James' letter struggled with the same questions about trials that we often ask. James addresses his readers in verse 1 as belonging to the "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations", and then as "my brothers" in verse 2. James wrote this letter to Jewish Christians, that is, people who were Jews by birth who upon hearing the gospel message of Jesus Christ became converts to Christianity. Because they were believers in Christ, these people were being driven from their homeland by the emperor of Rome. Eventually, the constant persecution they suffered led to an attitude of discouragement as they realized that they were actually worse off physically and materially since they became Christians. Before they became believers in Christ they at least had a place they could call home. Perhaps they wondered, "If God really loves me, why do I have to suffer?"
James writes to assure these people that God has a purpose for trials. The point that we are to understand from this passage is that if you have faith in Christ, and if that faith is real, it will be seen in the way you handle the trials of life.
Before we consider the attitude that God wants us to have toward trials, we need to clarify an important underlying truth that James reminds us of in verse 2. James writes, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kind." Notice that James did not write "consider it pure joy...if you face trials." Perhaps the original readers of this letter were under the impression that since they were now Christians they would be excluded from the trials of life, or at least they would have fewer trials now then they had before. Certainly, false teachers would have come into their midst to suggest that, "If this Jesus Christ is really who he said he was then why aren't your lives any better? If the God you worship is the true and living God, then why has he left you to suffer?"
James wanted to make it clear to his readers that trials are inevitable, even for Christians. Becoming a Christian does not mean that you will never lose your job. Becoming a Christian does not make you immune to cancer, or tornadoes, or financial failure. James reminds us to expect trials. Expect that you are going to face just as much adversity as everyone else.
Why is it important to know this truth? Isn't it obvious that we suffer the trials of life whether or not we're Christians? We need to understand this truth, that the trials of life are inevitable even for believers in Christ, because there are people who would have you believe that there is something wrong with you if you are a Christian who is going through trials. There are people who want you to believe that God is using trials to punish you for the way you lived your life in the past, that God is evening up the score by making you go through trials today because of the way you lived your life yesterday. And there are others who suggest that once you attain a certain level of maturity, trials will disappear. They claim that poor health and poverty and every other misfortune of life occurs because you don't have enough faith, and that God will continue to bring trials into your life until you straighten up your act and grow up spiritually. The fact is everyone will go through trials, it doesn't matter who you are. And James calls us to consider it pure joy, which means, have a positive attitude while you are going through trials.
How can we respond to trials with a positive attitude? What does James tell us that will help us to respond to trials with the kind of attitude God wants us to have? First of all, we need to understand that, through trials, God is working out his eternal plan in your life. You can have a positive attitude while you go through trials when you recognize that God can use even your disappointments and disasters in his eternal plan. Let's go back to verse 2.