If there is one thing that we can all relate to it is suffering. We all face it. James speaks about this in the opening verses of his letter. He begins by talking about the reality of suffering (1:2). The first thing that we learn is that suffering is normal. James writes of “when” you encounter trials as opposed to “if” you encounter trials. James writes this in the Greek subjunctive mood which gives us the idea of something that is inevitable, not just possible. Contrary to much of the “health and wealth” preaching we see on Christian television, the truth is that the Christian life is not a guarantee for an easy life.
When we face these trials, James refers to them as “encounters”. It is the idea of falling into something unexpectedly. The same word is used in Luke 10:30 when Jesus tells the story of the man who “fell among robbers” on the road to Jericho. He wasn’t planning on this happening. It took him by surprise. Such is the case with many of the trials that come our way. We don’t expect them. That’s what often makes them so difficult.
Not only is suffering normal, but the truth is that it is also numerous. James refers to “various” trials. It is a word that literally means “many colored.” In other words, the numerous trials that we will face in our lives come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some are very intense while others are less intense. Some come and go quickly while others last for long periods of time. Some produce little pain and sorrow while others result in great amounts of sorrow and pain.
So what is our response to be to suffering? James gives the answer in verse two. He tells us to consider these trials with joy. This is a command written in an imperative mood. It is not a suggestion. It is a mandate. To handle trials in any other way is to be out of the will of God. And notice that we as Christians are not just to respond to trials with some joy but with all joy. This is the idea of pure joy, unmixed joy, total joy, or sheer joy. In other words we are to show an intelligent appraisal of our situation as opposed to an emotional reaction. This is not the idea of a happy experience but rather the realization that trials are a means of producing something valuable
In verses 3-4, James gives the results of suffering. Why should I respond to suffering with all joy? We can respond this way because we can know that suffering produces patience. “Knowing” is the idea of full understanding. We can be confident that the trials we face will produce “endurance,” a word frequently translated patience. It is the idea of bravely remaining upright and firm under adversity. James also uses this word to describe Job’s faith in suffering (5:11).
Suffering also produces perfection. This is not speaking of moral perfection or sinlessness, as some have suggested, but rather of something that is fully developed (often translated “mature”). Suffering also produces our being complete. This is the idea of being whole, entire or undamaged. Trials result in our becoming mature, lacking nothing. This cannot be reality without our going through trials with “all joy”!