The Christians’ outlook determines their outcome in testing times. Rather than run, rejoice! My paraphrase of James 1:2 is: Deem it an occasion of pure joy whenever you are ambushed by life’s tests. James did not indicate that trials are a joy, and he did not mean that the greatest joy in life is a trial. Excellent Christians do not frolic their way to funerals, go hilariously to hospitals, or zestfully watch their bank accounts go to zero. The text indicates that believers can make trials an occasion of joy if they understand the trials’ purpose. Even Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2).
At the higher levels of Christian living, one may count one’s trials “all joy.” Here the word “all” has an intensifying effect: unmixed joy. Sweetness more than bitterness and light more than shadow can be people’s portion during life’s testing times. Joy reflects pleasure in one’s progress toward Christian maturity through trials. One can encounter every trial and can write over it the words, “permitted by the Father.” He has a purpose for trials in individuals’ lives—to make believers mature through trials.
No one can deny the difficulty of facing life’s tests. James called for a radical, prior decision. One might paraphrase 1:2: Count (deem, reckon) your trials to be occasions of joy before they come. To turn trials into triumphs or irritations into edifications is not natural. James’s words have the sharp, urgent snap of a command to adopt an attitude now, while things are going well. Everyone needs an international date line which one crosses in reference to trials. Each person heeds to cross a continental divide which gives one a different view of life’s tests. People do this best before the trial comes, not in the midst of the trial. Have you ever deliberately and thoughtfully adopted an attitude toward those days which are sure to come?
Reaffirm the Reason for Trials
People’s outlook does determine their outcome. Christians may deem trials as occasions of joy because they understand God’s purpose in the trials, but believers cannot be what they might have been without life’s testing times. As athletes say: “No pain, no gain.” Airplanes take off by overcoming the resistance of gravity and wind. Yet, the wind that resists them lifts them higher. Trials function like that in Christians’ lives.
Life’s tests prove the genuineness of a believer’s faith: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (1:3). To paraphrase, Trials prove what is genuine in your faith. Here, the word testing means the results of the trial, the tested residue that remains after the trying time. A refined, genuine element of true character remains after tribulation blows away the chaff. Peter expressed the same hope: “so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7). Just as the craftsman heats gold ore in order to skim away the dross, so God permits testing times in the believer’s life. When the dross floats to the top, He skims it away so that He sees His face reflected in people’s lives. That was Job’s victorious shout after he had endured many tests: “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
Untested faith would be suspect. A ship built in drydock is not proved seaworthy until it hits gale-force winds. A raw recruit with six weeks’ boot camp is not really battle proved until he has faced enemy fire. So faith must be proved on the battlefield of life.
Life’s testing times also prove the durability of a person’s faith: “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (1:3). This sort of steadfastness reveals itself in triumphant fortitude, unswerving constancy, and unending tenacity. Trials show one’s capacity to stand up and take adversity—over and over. The Christian gospel is one of a good finish, not just a good start. God required Abraham to wait twenty-five years before giving him the son of promise. Joseph showed constancy for thirteen years from pit to prison before he reached the palace. Moses waited eighty years to discover God’s crowning purpose for his life. In each instance, faith, through trials, displayed active patience. Listening to sermons, reading this book, or even praying cannot substitute for the laboratory of life in this regard.
Life’s testing times develop the mature ripeness of people’s faith. No one can buy synthetic maturity. Recently, an entrepreneur invented synthetic ice cream extracted from soybeans. It really tastes like ice cream, yet not a drop of cream is in it. No such shortcut to Christian growth exists. James stated the organic process of Christian maturity: “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:4). Christians must not short-circuit the chain of events described in 1:3-4. My paraphrase is: Keep on letting steadfast endurance work its way out in your life. Such unswerving tenacity will lead to mature ripeness in Christian character. This process ultimately will make one “perfect” (1:4).
The word “perfect” does not imply that one can become sinless or absolutely without flaw in this life. The word does indicate that life’s trials help every grace reach its ripe maturity in one’s life. Believers need not be stunted in any essential of the Christian life. Not only can they be mature but also “complete” (1:4). The word “complete” indicates anything with all its parts present; no part is missing or inadequate. Together, both words represent a well-rounded, full-grown Christian experience.
In order to make steel a thing of value, craftsmen must temper it. The process requires that the raw metal be heated glowing hot and then plunged into a solution of brine or oil. This produces a screaming hiss of metal and liquid. However, the steel that is produced has a hardness that comes in no other way. God tempers believers through testing times.
If believers understood testings better, they might sing: Count your many trials, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done. In this regard, Christians need to be like oysters. Whenever an irritation lodges in an oyster, the oyster turns a problem into a pearl. Every irritation can be edification and every trial a triumph. One’s outlook determines the outcome.