As I work my way through James in my devotions this summer, translating and pondering this great book, I have been greatly blessed and encouraged. I have just finished chapter one, and although I have read this chapter on many an occasion, it is really blessing me this time as I am translating the chapter. As we know from James 1.1, James is writing to Jewish believers (ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς ταίς ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ). appears that they have either experienced or were presently experiencing trials when James wrote this epistle. After the usually epistolatory greeting (χαίρειν), James begins his message his audience with a command to rejoice in the trials of life, whenever they come upon them (Πᾶσαν χαρὰν ἡγήσασθε ἀδελφοί μου ὅταν πειρασμοῖς περιπέσητε ποικίλοις). The trials of life will inevitably come upon us all, this is a universal fact of life. James’ command to rejoice in the trials of life are is similar to what Paul says in Rom 5.3-5: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The trials of life are no easy thing; I know that I do sit in my room and pray for trials. But every time they appear, as painful as they are, they bring me closer to the Messiah in a way that easy living can never do.
I was greatly encouraged and have thought much on James 1.3. James wants us to rejoice in the trials that come because “testing of our faithfulness produces endurance” (γινώσκοντες ὅτι τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως κατεργάζεται ὑπομονήν). And we are to let endurance have its complete and full work in us, so that we may be complete and perfect lacking in nothing (James 1.4). The phrase “testing of our faithfulness” has been on my mind all this week. The trials that I experience are not arbitrary; they are not without a divine purpose. They come to strengthen and conform me into the image of the Savior. These trials test my faithfulness to the Lord and create/produce in me endurance. I liken it to a man that goes to the gym in order to get in shape. The trials in this context are the pain that comes about because of extreme exercise, the time commitment to daily exercise, etc. What these do is test my faithfulness to continue to work out and get in shape. The end result is the endurance that I build up to be able to continue to lift weights, and when this endurance is complete, I look good.
Lest we think that we are alone in experiencing trials in life, let us remember what or Savior suffered. Hebrews tells us that it was fitting that the founder of our salvation should be made perfect through suffering (Heb 2.10). Also, Christ learned obedience through the things that he suffered (Heb 5.8). He was not without trials or suffering. One has only to look at the gospels and see that he suffered in a way that none of us will ever experience.
I am continually humbled by the fact that I do not suffer arbitrarily. My suffering and trials are tools that God uses to chip away the world and the vestiges of sin that remain in my life. He is closer when I am suffering and the storm is raging than when all is bright and well. O what a Savior we serve! What a loving and awesome God we worship!