James 1:1-18, part 1 (AD 48)
I recently had an exquisitely painful experience with far too much scalpel and far too little (actually zero) anaesthetic. There was no joy for me in that tribulation.
And yet. As much pain as I was in, I knew that the cuts being made would save me from much worse pain over a far longer time. As such, as I could be pleased that the extreme pain happened, even though I desperately wanted a different route to health than through the scalpel. I don’t ever want to go through that kind of pain again.
Some of our “trials of many kinds” (v.2) are at the level of inconveniences and petty difficulties. Things we’d rather not put up with but don’t affect us very much. Some of those trials have nothing to do with being Christians, such as my recent difficulties. Whether these trials of difficulties are common to everyone or unique to Christians, however, they all have one thing in common: they produce ‘perseverance’ (v.3). The more perseverance we have, the more we are able to progress towards maturity and completeness with God, and “not lacking anything” (v.4).
That is why we are to “Consider it pure joy” (v.1). It doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it, but it does mean we can rejoice – through it – in the knowledge that God is using it to draw us closer to him. God uses suffering to give us greater joy, purpose and contentment, as we become more able to glorify him.
Of course that growth into maturity and completeness isn’t automatic, and we often forfeit the grace that could be ours. When faced with trials and suffering we may become despondent or bitter, joyless and angry. That produces nothing good, and alienates us from our loving heavenly Father. It indicates to the unsaved people around us that knowing God isn’t perhaps as significant as we claimed it was.
Perseverance, in fact, is a necessary part of our continuing as Christians. The one who has nothing but complaint, bitterness and anger, according to verse twelve, is not a Christian. Rather, it is the one who perseveres who receives the crown of life. Suffering exposes who we are, strips away the masks that we sometimes put up. It’s a form of stress, which shows our real self to the world.
But James wrote this as a reassurance not a threat. Don’t worry about the suffering now, he said, because not only will God draw you closer to him now (v.2-4), but he will hold you close to him forever (v.12).
When you’re suffering, look to God for the ability to persevere in your faith whilst loving him.
When your brothers and sisters are suffering, talk to them of the love God has for them so that together we may persevere.