Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4, NLT)
One of the characteristics of the Book of James is the concise nature of his writing style. Using a great economy of words, James packs an extraordinary amount of information in small spaces, like a business traveller who is determined to not to bag check a suitcase.
Right off the bat we get an idea of what is most needful for James’ original readers. James acknowledged the suffering they were experiencing, but instead of providing them with a formula to successfully overcome their suffering, he introduced a novel idea: joy!
We do not know exactly what his readers were experiencing, although we find a clue in verses in 5:1-11 where he addressed the oppression they faced from wealthy land owners. Their suffering would have included that, but certainly wasn’t limited to it. Several things can be observed here that can be helpful for us today.
- The word for troubles (Gk. peripipto) suggests that these troubles are unwelcome and unanticipated experiences. Jesus used the same word in Luke 10:30 when he told the story of the “Good Samaritan.” The man who was robbed didn’t see the attack coming. So James assumes that troubles, at least initially, are unexpected and unwanted.
- These troubles can arise from internal and external sources. Internally, it can take on the form of a temptation or enticement to sin. Externally, it can come from people or circumstances beyond our control.
- James also wanted his readers to know that it’s not a matter of if troubles will come; it’s a matter of when troubles will come. When they do come, we should choose joy as our prevailing emotional response. In other words, we need to make a thoughtful, definitive decision to choose a joyful attitude, no matter how unnatural that sounds.
When James commanded us to choose joy, he was not saying we should find joy in the suffering itself. In fact, the Bible never suggests we should be joyful or thankful for death, disease, divorce, disability, debt or any other source that causes pain and suffering. We are to choose joy because of the final outcome it produces. Like it or not, God uses troubles and temptations to mature our faith. Joy is the compass that leads us to patience and endurance. Patience is what we exercise with difficult people, while endurance is what we exercise with difficult circumstances. Patience and endurance are the means to the end of our “perfection,” literally our complete maturity. We become mature when our character is fully developed.
When your life is interrupted by adversity keep the end game in mind. Character development and spiritual maturity is the goal. It’s only through lifting the weights of difficult people and harsh circumstances that we can develop muscular faith. In the Kingdom of God, what happens in you is always more important than what happens to you.