“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
Basically, what God is telling us here is to make lemonade when life hands us a lemon. Of course, we all have heard that saying and smile at the idea, but it’s harder to actually practice it, isn’t it? Nevertheless, this philosophy is spot-on for many reasons, primarily because it’s a philosophy that comes from the Word of the God who is wisest of all. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, followers of God turned defeat into victory and trials into triumph. Christians can have this same experience today! Whether dealing with ordeals on the outside or temptations on the inside, disciples of Christ can overcome because of their faith in God and Christ Jesus.
It’s interesting that James didn’t say, “...IF you encounter various trials...” He said, “...WHEN you encounter various trials...” Followers of Jesus, along with everyone else in this life, must expect hard times (John 16:33; Acts 14:22). Sickness, accidents, disappointments and death come simply because we are human. Christians must endure ordeals which come in the form of persecutions simply because of their loyal, heart-felt faith (1 Peter 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:12). Satan fights against Jesus’ followers and the world opposes them, so trying times must be expected.
Yet joy is the response Christians must have to difficulties, an attitude promoted all throughout the New Testament. The apostles “rejoiced that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” after being jailed and whipped for preaching the gospel (Acts 5:41). Imagine how long Christianity would have lasted if they had held any other attitude but joy upon enduring persecution! Christians owe them for their joy in the face of trials which gave them the strength to continue preaching the truth to the world.
How did they do it? How is it possible to rejoice during hard times? First, we must remember James’ promise that endurance is the result of faith being tested. Hard times test our faith, but can also be the times when the best we can be comes out into the open! Athletes and soldiers go through ordeals of training because they know it will make them stronger. In like manner, we can have joy during difficult times when we remember that the hardships in our lives can work for us rather than against us. The Bible says to Christians, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Think of the unimaginable agony Jesus went through on that cross...and yet that suffering pales in comparison to the eternal glory He is enjoying at this very moment at the right hand of God! He was obedient to God even though it cost Him His life. We can and must follow His example.
Paul wrote that Christians must “exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). Perseverance denotes the ability to be steadfast and constant in the face of even the greatest hardship. It takes a special kind of patience to continue on and focus on the reward even when times are tough. Yet when we do this, James tells us that we will be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Too often, we want to get our problems over quickly. However, sometimes the best course is to patiently endure rather than grumbling or complaining, choosing to do good and obey God in spite of the hardship, all while continuing to patiently persevere. As a result, we won’t be sinless (1 John 1:8)...but we will grow more mature. Christians who do this attain spiritual adulthood in Christ, those who reach full maturity and understanding in spiritual matters, people who are no longer spiritual “infants” because they gave patience time to work.
Just as endurance runners allow perseverance time to do its work in their training by patiently running mile after mile, Christians must develop patience in order to run their spiritual race in a way that pleases God. The only way to do this is through spiritual “resistance training,” ordeals which put faith to the test!