I am studying in James! I will be posting my thoughts on James as I work through this book. They will not be eloquent or polished or brilliantly organized…they will just be my thoughts. 🙂
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. 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.
A Better Home
James is writing to Jewish Christians who have a long history of persecution and being dispersed amongst the nations. Even after Christ’s death and the establishment of the church, God’s people, God’s church, continues to be a persecuted and scattered people. But God’s promise in Ezekiel of what he will do for his people stands!
16 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’ 17 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ 18 And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
So we see Paul is speaking to a people who are no strangers to suffering, trials, and temptations but who also come from a heritage of people who knew that the countries where they sojourned were not their true homes and who had their sights set on a better country, a heavenly one.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Believers today, all over the world, are also no strangers to various kinds of suffering and live as exiles who are looking forward to a better country! James is going to encourage and instruct these brothers, as well as us today, in how to face trials and temptations in a godly and hope-filled way.
Counting It all Joy?
James tells these fellow believing brothers to “count it all joy” when they meet various trials and he tells them to do this because they know God us using these trials to give them a steadfast faith and to bring them to spiritual maturity.
At first glance this seems fairly straightforward, but when we are in the thick of pain, trial and loss, what does it actually look like to “count it all joy?”
First, I want to say what I DO NOT think James is telling us to do or be when he tells us to “count it all joy” here in this passage.
- I do not think James is telling us to simply see the bright side of a situation.
- I don’t think this is a call to be positive thinking optimists who see the glass as half full instead of half empty.
- He isn’t telling us to produce or manufacture happy feelings about whatever emotionally or physically painful situation or persecution we are facing.
- And James is not telling us to play some mind game by denying the real pain, sorrow and hard reality of a situation or persecution.
We aren’t masochists who invite or delight in pain, and we aren’t deluded into denying the very real difficulty of emotional and physical pain in this life.
So what DOES it look like for a believer to “count it all joy” when we face hard things? How do I “just be joyful” when I am in pain?
Romans 6:11 and Genesis 15:6 might shed some light on this concept of what it means to count something to be true even when it doesn’t always feel like it is true, or when we have not yet realized or experienced the full reality of what we are to count as true.
Counting our Various Present Realities
Sometimes when we “count” something to be a certain way, it doesn’t always feel or seem to be the way we are counting it as. For example, we, through Christ, are counted as being righteous. However, when we look at our present lives, it doesn’t always seem to fit the reality of what we are experiencing. We don’t often feel righteous because we all still experience the reality of indwelling sin in our lives. And yet in Romans 6:11 we are told to consider ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, through Christ Jesus. We are told to put on and live in that reality of the righteousness that Christ provides for us, over-against the also present reality that we still wrestle with indwelling sin as we see in Romans 7.
When Abraham believed in the Lord, the Lord, counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Was Abraham in his present reality righteous? Was he sinless? No, he wasn’t, but God counted his faith as righteousness for him.
We as believers are often called to live in between conflicting present realities.
So, when we are told to count something that feels like the opposite of joy, as joy, we aren’t being told to deny reality of the hard things, or to deny or ignore the pain of those hard things, any more than we are being told by Paul in Romans 6:11 to deny or ignore our remaining sin. In fact, John in his first epistle, warns against such deluded thinking (I John 1:8-2:2). Rather we are being told to set our sights on a co-existing but stronger reality of the joy that is to come; the same joy that we can taste and experience in part, right now, in much the same way that we taste and experience the freedom from sin and fruits of the Spirit in our lives, despite our continued wrestle with sin in this life.
As we continue in James we will see the reality of joy that comes to us from the work God is doing through our trials and temptation to produce steadfastness of faith, character, and spiritual maturity. James is telling us to count the reality of what God is doing through our trials, and the joy that comes with that, as greater than the reality of the pain of the trials themselves.
Counting our Future Reality:
As we have seen above we often live between two competing present realities as believers; imputed righteousness vs. remaining indwelling sin, the joy that God brings through his using trials in our lives vs. the pain and sorrow that we still experience in the midst of those trials. But we are told to count ourselves as righteous, and count the joy of what God is doing in us over-against the sin and pain we still experience. And one reason we are able to put on that righteousness and to put on that joy, is because of the future reality that God has promised. We see this future reality summed up by Paul in Romans 8:18-30.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Here we see the final redemption; the final freedom from our sin natures, and the glory that is to be revealed to us. Part of that glory to be revealed, Paul tells us in vs. 30, is our own final perfection and glorification, and THIS is the joy we are to count; this is joy James speaks of in his epistle; the joy of God perfecting us and the glory of God to be revealed through that.
So let us count the joy! As we squarely face the pain and suffering of life let us set our final gaze on the joy of perfection and glory to come both through, and at the end of our sufferings on this earth. And as we count it all joy the Holy Spirit will indeed instill in us a joy from God that comes, and remains, and exists alongside our pain and suffering. This abiding joy the Spirit gives us is but a taste of the joy to come! So take heart! And count the joy!