The kind of trials James has in mind (Jam. 1:2-4)

Most commentaries will note that the word translated "trials" in James 1:2 means a "test." BDAG offers "a test to learn the nature or character of something."

That suggests synonyms like problems, difficulties, issues, inconveniences, or perhaps examinations. If we work only with verse 2, then James seems to be talking about counting it all joy when you encounter life's difficulties, regardless of their nature.

However, verse 3 narrows the focus of this passage and further defines the specific kind of trials that James has in mind. Specifically, James is addressing trials that test a person's faith.

What is a "trying of faith?" A trying of faith is a test that challenges what you believe about God. If the trial you are facing doesn't raise questions about God's goodness, power, wisdom, faithfulness, or love, then it isn't the kind of trial that James is thinking about.

I have my share of problems, difficulties, issues, inconveniences, etc. But the vast majority of them never raise any questions about God's character in my mind, let alone serious questions.

But when I'm standing by the bedside of my wife who's starting to be out of her head with pain, and she's pleading with God for mercy and relief, which does not rapidly materialize, that's an opportunity for questions to arise about God's goodness.

Or, I'm sitting on the chapel platform and hear prayer requested for a young father who accidentally ran over and killed his four year old son who was running to greet him as he returned from work -- questions about God's wisdom, love, and goodness easily enter the mind.
  • How can God be good an allow this?
  • Why doesn't God answer my prayer ... Does He care?
  • Things sure don't look to me like God's in control ... is He really sovereign over all of life's circumstances?
When these or similar thoughts enter your mind, welcome to a James 1:2-4 kind of trial.

But don't quit with verse 3. Verse 4 adds an additional dimension to the kind of trials James has in mind.

But let patience have her perfect work
that you may be perfect, complete, lacking nothing.

The first half of the verse is fairly obscure until you understand that "patience" (hupomone) is "endurance, staying power, fortitude." It is the ability to keep on keeping on when the road is rough and the journey long.

In other words, verse 4 indicates that at least some of these faith tests may be long. It is one thing to affirm God's wisdom, love, power, faithfulness, and goodness 24 hours after the enemy rolls up his faith-toppling battering ram. It is quite another thing to continue unwaveringly in that affirmation as days stretch into weeks and weeks into months, even as Grond continues its unrelenting blows.

At least two places in the rest of this epistle touch on examples of faith-tests: legal abuse of poor Christians by the rich (Jam. 5:4-6), and extended bed-fast sickness (Jam. 5:14-16).

It is in the midst of such faith-testing trials that James directs us to count it all joy!


Juwah said…
Thanks so much for this helpful post. A year ago I was facing my own trial. I loaded the book of James on my MP3 and listened to it over and over. Placing my trust in Jesus and seeking to learn what I could from the trial, did eventually bring about a "perfect work".
Matt and I are praying for you, Maryanne, and the boys. Thank you for reaching out to others in the midst of your own pain.

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