The following message was delivered at Harmony Baptist Church in West Paducah, KY on June 22, 2014:
As an Associate Pastor, I’ve had the privilege to counsel with many teens and church members alike. About a year ago, I counseled a middle school girl whose baby sister passed away unexpectedly. I did the best I could to share with her the comfort and compassion of God from the Scriptures. Just recently, for hours I counseled a young man whose uncle passed away from a heroin overdose that no one ever knew about. I’ve counseled many hours with a woman who has a wayward daughter with a severe drug addiction.
We all face trials in our lives. Charles Spurgeon says, “Sometimes God sends His mercies in a black envelope.” As a concerned pastor, I always try to share with our members the best advice from the Scriptures during their time of need. In our New Testaments we have a letter from a very concerned pastor. This letter is often called the “Proverbs of the New Testament” because of its wisdom. It is the letter of James.
The reason I have titled this message Having Coffee with Your Trials is because I would like you to picture yourself having a meeting with your trials. That’s the way our text presents trials to us: as a meeting. What are they? Financial, family, physical trials? Whatever they are, I want you to look them at them right in the face—look at them through the biblical perspective (as James presents) so that we can reap the full biblical benefit. As we delve into this pastoral advice from James’ pen, imagine yourself conversing with your trials about the truth from God’s Word.
The Text: James 1:2-4
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Trials are a very important thing to James as he is writing to this letter. If you’ve read your New Testaments for very long, you have probably seen that most authors of New Testament books or letters, introduce themselves and then express their thanksgiving for the believers (to whom they are writing) and offer up a prayer. But not so with James—he gets right down to what he think is most important—and that is telling his readers about the biblical perspective and the biblical response, and the biblical result of trials experienced by the Christian.
There are at least five observations to be seen here in this verse:
1. Trials Are to be Counted as Joy by Believers (v. 2a)
First, James dives right into exhorting his readers to do something: to count their trials as joy. However, before we can discover what James is saying by this, I think it is beneficial to discover what he is not saying: James does not say that joy is the only response to trials. He is not suggesting that Christians facing trials will never have any other response to them but joy. Christians have many different responses to trials—perhaps anger at God, shaking their fists at Him, begging to know: “Why did You let this happen?” Sadness is often a response to the trials Christians face. Exhaustion perhaps because of so many trials faced at one time. The response I have had so often to trials is just desiring to escape—I just wanted to get out. But James says that the response we are to have towards our trials is joy—we are to count them as joy. Further, James is not ordering all-encompassing joyful emotion during severe trials; nor is he demanding that his readers must enjoy their trials, or that trials are joy. Joy isn’t the only response, but it is the biblical response and you had better face regard your trials as joy if you are to reap the full benefits.
What he is saying is that trials should be an occasion for genuine rejoicing because we know that they produce perseverance in us. The Greek word for “count” here is a verb in the Greek; it is hegesasthe, and it is implying that an action be done. The word means to “consider, think, regard” your trials as joy. Now, joy is different than happiness. Joy depends on your relationship with God—while happiness depends on your circumstances. Happiness comes and goes, but joy remains. We are to have this “joy outlook,” on our trials.
Have you ever looked through a pair of 3D glasses? It’s alters your perspective. When you watch a movie, you see what seems to be real objects and real things happening to you in a theater. We need to put our biblical glasses on and view our trials through the lens of joy.
2. Trials Happen to Believers (v. 2b)
Not only does James say that we are to count our trials as joy, but he implies that trials happen to believers. Look at v. 2. To whom does he command to count it all joy? “My brothers.” This is James’ favorite address of his readers—he uses the word “brothers” 14 times in this letter. He was a concerned pastor of the Jerusalem church and loved his people. And he told them that trials happen to believers.
Many people believe that being a Christian means that you are immune to trials and difficulty. “Christians must really have it easy” they say, “Surely, as the children of God, nothing bad can ever happen to them. If God is truly their Father and He is filled with love and compassion, it must be true that all Christians live on easy street.” But that is the opposite of what James says here.
3. Trials Are Sure to Happen (v. 2c)
Trials are endured by both Christians and non-Christians. Jesus says, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). But even further to his point that Christians endure trials, James says that trials are sure to happen. Notice what a major difference one word makes in this text. Put the word “if” in place of “when.” “If you meet trials of various kinds. . .” But James doesn’t say that. He says “when you meet trials.”
God promises that trials will come. Not only here in James, but Christ Himself does: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Let me ask you a question: Do you believe that your salvation is secure in the hands of God? Do you believe Christ when He says of you, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29)? If salvation were in your hands—you’d lose it—but the holes in His hands are the proof that He’ll never drop you. You believe that promise with all your heart? Then you had better believe “In the world you will have tribulation” with the same assurance. It came from the same mouth.
Further, Paul writes, “But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” (2 Cor. 6:4-5).
4. Trials Occur Unexpectedly But Should be Expected (v. 2c)
James writes that trials happen when you least expect them. James says, “when you meet trials.” If trials are met, then they were not expected—but . . . we should expect them. The Greek word for “meet” here is peripipto, a verb that means “to fall into the hands of.” Now read it that way: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into the hands of trials.” Isn’t that how it happens folks? You fall into the hands of an unexpected bill . . . you fall into the hands of a cancer, disease, or sickness . . . you fall into the hands of death or maybe family problems and the like. We don’t know these things are coming so wouldn’t it be wise to place our faith and trust in the One who knows they are coming? The One who knows all things? God knows when our next trial is coming—we ought to be trusting Him to give us the strength to face it when it comes.
How many of you have hit a deer with your vehicle before? Probably most of you. I’m sure you didn’t say, “Well, honey let’s go out tonight looking for a deer we can run over—oh and then we will take out a loan to get our car fixed because we totaled it.” No, every deer you’ve ever run over—it was unexpected. But since then, you are on the lookout for them every night. Driving slow in wooded areas because you know one of them might come out. Let’s have the same attitude about our trials—let’s expect them to come even when they are unexpected.
5. Trials Are Various: (v. 2c)
James also says that trials are of various kinds. The trials his readers were facing was most likely poverty and religious persecution. I say poverty because he makes clear that the majority of his readers are poor. One example: “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5). I say religious persecution because rich people at that time were persecuting the Christians by withholding from them their wages and pay: “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (James 5:4). But it’s interesting that James doesn’t explicitly say, “Count it all joy when you face trials of poverty and religious persecution,” because he could have. He was writing to a specific people with a specific purpose. But he was also writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. James casts the net widely including all of the many trials that Christians face simply by saying, “trials of various kinds.”
We face trials of all kinds: death of a family or friend, financial struggles (providing for your family, etc), dealing with disease or sickness, problems in the marriage, possibly your career is going down the drain. And to all of those, James says, “Count them all joy.”
What kind of response to you have towards your trials? Do you count them as a joy? Are you viewing your trials through the lens of joy?
You may say, “Alright, I want to regard my trials as joy, but why would I do that?” Why would you view your trials through the lens of joy? What reason is there to count your difficult trials as joy? James answers in v. 3: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
Other New Testament writers express this very same thing: Paul writes in Romans 5, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Similarly Peter says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
James gives his readers the reason for his seemingly irrational call to count their trials as joy. Here’s how it is possible to “count [your] trials as joy”: for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness/perseverance.
So there are two important observations to be made about v. 3 of our text:
1. Believers Ought to Know That Trials Are a Testing of Their Faith (v. 3a).
First of all, James assumes that his readers “know that the testing of [their] faith produces steadfastness.” It is on the basis of this knowing that they are able to count their trials as joy. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (vv. 2-3). They are able to count their trials as joy because of what God Almighty is doing in the midst of those.
You’re not alone in your trials! We serve a Christ who has been where we are: He suffered the same ways in which you have and the same ways in which you will suffer—in fact, He suffered much worse. God is faithful to those who are faithless, God is with us, God is in us, and God is for us. We have all we need in God alone and He is even working in our trials and difficulties: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). God is working in your trials and He is refining your faith—and James says that you need to come to the place where you know that this is God’s purpose in trials.
The Greek word for “know” here is ginosko: To illustrate the importance of the word “know” here, it is helpful to see how it is used by other biblical writers:
Peter writes, “Knowing (GK: ginosko) this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Peter is talking about the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, saying that nobody just came up with the Bible—it was penned by men of God under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When Peter says, “knowing,” it’s the same Greek term as used here in James. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the writing of Scripture is a conviction that is held by evangelicals, in fact, if you deny that the Word of God was inspired by the Holy Spirit, then you deny the fact that it is the Word of God. And Peter writes here that we should ginosko this first of all—that we should know this; understand this deeply. And in the same way, James writes, I believe that we need to come to a place of spiritual conviction that we know that our trials are a testing of our faith.
Normally when you test something, you are testing the genuineness of it. For example, computer companies put their laptops, tablets, through a series of tests to see if they are going to hold up under years of use—lots of space/memory used, etc. They see how much a computer can take and they work on it to make improvements. Most tests we think of are for reliability—“Is this product useful? Is it reliable?” But if a company really cares about the customers, they will work to improve their product. That is the idea that James has here. He is not saying that trials are a test to see whether or not you are a Christian. He cannot be saying that, for even non-Christians experience trials. Even more, the test of genuine faith in Christ is a life of holiness expressed in good works: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26).
James is saying that God uses trials to perfect our faith and to make us stronger Christians—to produce in us steadfastness.
Why should you know that? So you can count it all joy. But the full joy doesn’t come without also knowing the rest of it: James continues. . .
2. Trials, Which Are a Testing of Faith, Produce Perseverance (“steadfastness”) (v. 3b)
James states here that trials produce steadfastness. James is not simply identifying with Kelly Clarkson by saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” okay? James is saying that trials in life are intended by God to refine our faith: to get us so heated in the crucible of suffering so that impurities are refined away and so that we become pure and valuable before the Lord—trials are intended to purify the faith that we already have. Kent Hughes writes, “Here is how this works: we develop toughness or fortitude by repeatedly being tested and prevailing. The more tests we pass, the tougher we become. As a boxer engages in bout after bout, he toughens and becomes wiser and stronger. After a time he develops such fortitude, perseverance and staying power that he can take on the best. There is no way a ﬁghter, or any of us, can develop toughness without testing!” (1)
What kind of perseverance is this? The perseverance mentioned here is like “spiritual toughness,” it doesn’t mean that you are going to become prideful and full of yourself, but that you will gain true strength for trials—you will learn to remain faithful to God when the going gets tough. He tells his readers to count all their trials as joy because it is a testing of their faith that produces. Proverbs offers us similar wisdom: “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise” (Prov. 27:21).
Do you know that trials are a test of your faith or do you think that they are just “that old devil,” as some say? Do you count your trials as joy because you know they produce perseverance?
We have seen that trials happen to believers and are to be regarded as pure joy because we know that they are tests of our faith—and those tests produce perseverance. But James has yet more to say about this virtue of perseverance: “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v. 4)
As with the other verses we have looked at carefully, there are two observations to be made about what James writes in this verse:
1. Believers Ought to Allow Perseverance To Do Its Intended Work (v. 4a)
James writes to his readers: “Let perseverance do what it was intended to do! Let it have its full effect.” This is your response—let perseverance do it’s work in your test of faith. Matthew Henry writes, “Let us allow it to work, and it will do wonders in a time of trouble.” (2)
You need to regard your trials as joy because you know that they are a testing of your faith. That will produce spiritual toughness in you—but your response to all of it is this: Let perseverance have its full effect. Don’t hold back. Let God work in you. Why? What is the purpose of allowing perseverance to work in you?
2. Why Believers Ought to Let Perseverance Do Its Intended Work: Spiritual Maturity (v. 4b)
Testing, according to James, is intended to produce your Christian character—when you respond to your trials with confidence in God and determination to endure. Trials do not make you “perfect and complete,” it is allowing perseverance to do its intended work that makes you (eventually) perfect and complete.
Do you know how real pearls are made? When an irritating object, like a bit of sand, gets under the “mantle” of an oyster’s shell, he simply covers it with the most precious part of his being and makes of it a pearl. The irritation that it was causing is stopped by encrusting it with the pearly formation.
What seems like the worst thing you’ve been through in your life is actually an opportunity to grow in your dependence on God and allow Him to develop perseverance in you so that you will be like a pearl in your Christian walk—perfect and complete. That’s God’s ultimate goal for you—to make you perfect and complete like Jesus Christ. God is working in you every day to make you more and more like Jesus. Are you allowing Him to?
Are you allowing spiritual toughness to develop in you? Are you allowing perseverance to make you perfect and complete in your Christian walk?
We have seen today that trials are to be regarded as pure joy—and why? Because in them, God works perseverance in us to bring us to spiritual completion. We have also seen that trials are a testing of our faith that produces steadfastness. And in v. 4 we saw that we are to allow perseverance to have its full effect in us.
Are you viewing your trials through the lens of joy?
Do you really know that trials are a testing of your faith?
Are you allowing perseverance to be fully developed in you?
One of these days we will be free from this world of trials and sin—while we’re here, lets allow God to do what He wants with us during our trials. To quote C. H. Spurgeon, “It is true that we endure trials, but it is just as true that we are delivered out of them.”
1. Kent Hughes, James: Faith That Works (PTWC) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 19-20.