Advance the kingdom: Choose joy

Tyler S. Ramey

A common passage in James says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (1:2-3).  This message seems clear, but such an admonition also seems counterintuitive, even paradoxical in some ways.  I mean, c’mon . . . consider it pure joy?  About trials?  So often is this passage quoted during difficult times that the import of what James intended gets missed.

The Greek word used for “trials” in this passage is peirasmos, referring to certain types of trials, temptations really, not just any old run-of-the-mill difficulty.  Keep in mind that I don’t wish to minimize the travail caused by some trials, but James notes by his word choice that the difficulties to which he refers are those that have a divine purpose, were allowed by God, or were even sent by him.  Thus, James refers to trials that serve a specific purpose and that can be expected to benefit the believer as he or she endures them.  But how can the believer be expected to consider, say, some of the very worst of life’s crises occasions for joy?  Well, while James seems to command it based on an imperative construction, I don’t think the context of his words note an explicit command but, rather, imply a strong suggestion to choose joy during trials because the testing of one’s faith has a divine source—and that’s reason for joy in and of itself, for nothing that comes from God could have anything but good behind it.

I don’t believe that James challenged the believer to celebrate during calamity or fake a smile through misery.  Joy—which doesn’t necessarily imply pleasure by the way—is a settled state of the believer who knows that the trial he or she endures is one that has eternal import.  Persevering through the types of trials James refers to are those that affect us in a positive way for the kingdom.  Such trials focus our attention on the prize of eternal life; they help us advance our walk with Christ as we deliberately attempt to conform ourselves to him.  Life’s crises are sure to generate intense temptations to respond sinfully to them, which directly competes with the spiritual growth God is attempting to deliver through the trial.  In trials, the believer exercises his or her faith in and commitment to the one who has already endured to the end.  Proper responses to these trials refine the believer, mystify the unbeliever, and generate wonder in a gracious God.  

We can succumb to the inevitable temptations that accompany trials for which we should be joyful. The satisfaction, though, of having persevered and the sense of refinement acquired through endurance far outweigh momentary and sinful responses to trials that are designed to test commitment, prove loyalty, and advance the kingdom of God.

Choose, then, joy, when trials confront you.  Such decisions at calamitous times ratify our faith in God, not for his sake, but for ours.  Push through these tests of faith with full knowledge that behind them is certain victory and a gracious God who sustains you.

“Forget what is behind . . . strain toward what is ahead” (Phil. 3:13)