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II. What You Must Know In This Time of Trial

March 30, 2007

We see both of these features of James style (the use of direct commands coupled with a gentle tone), in verse 2 “Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds”  There’s a command, “count” and a term of familial warmth, “brothers”, a word James uses 17x in the book.

And he begins his letter addressing the problem of suffering.  Have you noticed how many books of the New Testament begin in this way?  Last year we looked at 2Corinthians, and it began by assuring us that God comforts us in our affliction so that we can comfort others in their afflictions.  And Philippians, 1Thessalonians, 2Thessalonians, 2Timothy, James, 1Peter and Revelation all mention suffering and affliction within the first few verses.  

This is to be explained only partly by the fact that the early church was undergoing persecution.  James speaks of trials of various kinds.  Trials come in all varieties.  Not only persecution, but also the same word will be used in verse 13 for the temptations to sin that we constantly face in this world.  Indeed it would not be too much to say that to James, all of life is a trial.   The message of the book of James is that this life is a trial, a day of judgment is coming, and he is writing to tell us that we need to persevere, and to inspire us with the promise of great reward for persevering under trial and passing the test.

And, paradoxically, we would be a much more joyful people if we could really accept this fact that life is a trial.  Life is full of afflictions.  The apostles had a very clear view of two worlds, two ages.  This is the age of affliction, and the next age is the age of glory not worth comparing with the sufferings of this present age. 

Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  And not only did the apostles understand this better than we do, but even our grandparents understood this better than we do.  We are one of the first generations actually to expect happiness in this world.   And we are all the more miserable for it.  For although technology has eased much of the physical pain of daily survival, still this world does not satisfy, still this world is full of affliction, and all those whose hope is in this life will sooner or later be bitterly disappointed, and that disappointment will turn to despair if we do not have our hope anchored in heaven. 

So, this life is a time of trial, but we are to count it all joy, and if you are going to be able to do that there is something you must know, verse 3…

II. What you must know in this time of trial (3)

What you must know is that there is a purpose behind your trials, your afflictions.  Your trials produce in you perseverance, perseverance in the obedience of faith, perseverance down the road to glory.   And they really work!  There are lots of self-help willpower-based behavior modification schemes out there that promise shortcuts to sanctification but they don’t really work.  The good news is that tribulation really works to sanctify you!  Affliction will make you holy in a way that nothing else will suffice.  Paul promises the same thing in Romans 5, “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us…”  When you see yourself by the grace of God persevering under affliction and growing in Christlike character, that is going to produce a hope in you that will not be disappointed, an assurance that will enable you to rejoice even in this world of tribulation because you are anticipating the eternal glory for which you are now being prepared through trial and of which you are being given a foretaste by the Holy Spirit even while you suffer.  So welcome trials into your life.  They consummate your discipleship.  They are the answers to your prayers for growth in Christlikeness and holiness. 

Glance down to verse 12 (read)  When James tells you that you need to persevere to receive the crown of life, he is not teaching salvation by works.   No, steadfastness under trial is the evidence that you really love God.  If you are really born again and have in your heart the love of God that overcomes the world, then it is not as though your final perseverance in the faith is really up in the air.  This is not a test that a true believer can fail.  Rather your love for God that overcomes the world, which you already have if you are born again, will be seen to be genuine after you have come through the trial. 

Flip over a page or two to 1Peter 1:6-7 “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

The gold is already there amidst the impurities, it is just seen to be genuine gold when it is refined by fire.  So if you are born again, your faith is genuine.  It’s already there, but its genuineness is revealed to all and results in praise, glory and honor, by the fire of tribulation which works perseverance. 

This is what you need to know in order to count it all joy throughout the trials of this life. 

In the Greek, the word “all” is emphatically first in the sentence in verse 2.   “All joy count it, my brothers…”  The word all is important.  But it’s not clear whether he means us to take the word all mainly with the word joy as in “Count it to be all joy, nothing but joy, when you go through trials”  or if he means to emphasize it as the object of count, as in “count all of it, every last bit of it, to be joy, when you go through trials.”  I think the point must be the latter.  For all trials can be considered joy, but trials are not all joy.  The author of Hebrews allows that no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  The point is not that when you are really mature you’ll immediately respond to all pain by saying “Yay! more suffering, I sure do love to suffer, I’m so mature that pain is unadulterated joy for me and I can’t get enough of it!”

No, rejoicing in suffering requires a deliberate exercise of the mind.  You must count it to be joy.  You must think about it and consider it in the light of biblical truth and then after some consideration you will be able to rejoice.   And the point of the “all”, and it is an awesomely glorious point, is that you can do that to all of it.  All trials can be considered joy.  You can rejoice in all sufferings, because each and every affliction you suffer is purposeful, no exceptions.  Each and every affliction you suffer is worked together by God for your good, says Romans 8.  Nothing is wasted.  God works all things for the good of those who love him.  Even trouble, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, in all these things we are more than conquerors, they become stepping stones to the surpassing glory that will be revealed to us and so we can rejoice. 

But you have to think about that.  You have to think a lot about that.  You have to give careful consideration to these things.  Then you can count it all joy.  That’s what you need to know in order to count it all joy.  Now in verse 4 we see…
III. What you must do in this time of trial (4)

(more to come…)

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