Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. James 1:2 -3
Someone recently shared a fresh perspective on this passage that really brought it home for me. It was so simple and so helpful, I thought I’d pass it along.
It boiled down to noticing the word consider.
Verse 2 is not a statement, informing us of the blissful nature of trials. Verse 2 is a command—and consider is the verb. It means to judge, count, regard, or esteem.
This makes sense, doesn’t it? You don’t have to tell somebody to regard their circumstances as joyful when circumstances really are joyful. When I got married nobody exhorted me to consider it a joy. Folks rightly took for granted that it was a joy to be starting life together with the man I love! It was the same when each of our children joined our family. Nobody had to tell me to consider them a blessing—the natural response to such gifts is gratitude, wonder, and rejoicing. And if today I won a fabulous vacation, or a nice chunk of change—guess what?—I would celebrate without any prompting. These are encouraging, exciting, joyful things!
Pain, hardships, and trials are not joyful. But (you may ask) isn’t joy in suffering a major theme of the New Testament? Yes, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to try to find joy in the difficulties themselves.
In Acts 5, after the apostles were forcibly taken into custody, imprisoned, and flogged, they went away rejoicing. But it wasn’t because they had been mistreated that they rejoiced. That would be masochistic. They rejoiced that they had been counted worthy. God found them faithful. He gave them the opportunity to be his witnesses in adverse circumstances and trusted them to stand their ground. God had confidence in them.
Yeah, I think I could feel pretty good about that too.
Jesus didn’t enjoy the cross. It was for the joy set before him (the results of his work on the cross), that he endured the torture and shame.
Paul mentions exulting in suffering several times in his writings. But this is always in relation to the ultimate implications or effects of the trials, not the unfavorable circumstances themselves.
Likewise, James isn’t telling believers that they ought to be thrilled about tragedies, debilitating illnesses, unemployment, broken relationships, or any other heart-wrenching or distressing circumstances. It is appropriate to hurt and grieve over such things.
We are, however, called to consider, or regard our trials as joy. This is the volitional act of choosing to look at things a certain way. We can, and should, rejoice in sufferings because we have hope in God. We trust his good intentions for us. We trust that he honors our faithfulness. We trust in his desire and ability to use even the most painful and discouraging seasons of our lives to build good things into us.
This is not at all to say that every misery we endure is part of God’s good and intended plan for us. That is not scriptural and I cannot affirm such a view. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that pain and sorrow are the results of mankind’s rebellion against God’s purposes.
But God redeems. Not only our souls, but also our circumstances.
And this is James’ point. If we submit ourselves to God and patiently endure suffering, he can and will use it to build godly character in us. When we trust in God, trials only make us stronger. And that is reason to rejoice.