The book of James is a short New Testament book filled with nuggets of wisdom, making it similar to the book of Proverbs from the Old Testament. To me, it is hard to believe that it was almost excluded from the New Testament cannon. Early critics of the book thought it was too “Jewish sounding,” it was too focused on works, and it only mentioned Jesus twice, which – they argued – could have been added by a copyist later on. Yet, as you read it, you cannot help but recognize the wisdom of God and the good practical teaching that it contributes to our daily lives.
The book of James is very “Jewish sounding” because it was probably one of the earliest written books of the New Testament. At that point in time, the early church was mostly made up of Jewish converts and so the teaching had a definitive Jewish flavor to it. But we do not have to read far into the letter to see the wisdom of God.
In verse two of the very first chapter, James instructs us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds.” What? “Pure joy”? Who, James, in their right mind would consider trials to be anything but misery, let alone pure joy? On the surface, no one. But if we finish that verse, we see why James is admonishing us to think in this way. “…because that you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” Okay, trials help to teach us to persevere. So what? What good is perseverance? Isn’t it better sometimes just to give up and accept what life hands you? No. According to James, perseverance helps to finish the work God is doing in us, making us mature and complete, lacking nothing.
I have often said God loves us too much to allow us to go through life and remain as we are. His ultimate purpose for us is to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. He wants us to experience all the blessings he has in store for us. He wants us to be mature in all our ways, so we will not lack anything. It is God’s love for us that allows trials to come into our lives to change us. This is the reason we should consider going through trials “pure joy.” The creator of the universe, the One who sits high above the heavens, loves us and cares about us so much that he intervenes in our lives on a daily basis. That thought should bring joy to our hearts.
In my second year of high school, I started working for a married couple, doing odd jobs for them. I did construction work, painting, cleaning, landscaping and gardening – anything they asked me to do. I worked for them for five years, through my second year of college. We built a good friendship to the point that the husband, Greg, even came and spoke at my wedding. It was also during this time in my life that I came to know Jesus. He had delivered me of many awful things and filled my heart with a love that I had never known. I could talk of nothing else. I remember one day sharing with Greg's wife, Martha, about my new-found love of God, but she could not understand it. You see, she was an agnostic. She believed that God existed, but that he was not involved in our lives at all. In other words, she believed that God created the world and put everything in motion, but then left us alone to do what we wanted.
What deception to make people think that God has abandoned them! To accuse God of being irresponsible like that is one of the great lies of the enemy. God created us, but he has not abandoned us. He created us for a purpose – to love us and be loved by us. And He remains actively involved in our lives, every day. He is working in us to help us develop and mature so that we will lack nothing.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go through a trial, follow James’ advice. Consider it pure joy. Not because you are suffering. Not because life is difficult or unfair. But because the creator of the universe cares enough about you to work in your life and help you mature in Christ. Trials remind us that God has not given up on us! So, persevere and do not give up on him. Verse twelve of chapter one reminds us that “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” God wants you to have that crown. Persevere and receive it, in Jesus’ name!