Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3)
If I may be transparent, here is a scripture that I disobey regularly. I do not usually greet the various trials of life and ministry with “pure joy.” If I can even muster the slightest amount of neutrality on the matter, I tend to congratulate myself – and that all too enthusiastically, apparently, from this scripture. Here is a command I could work on, and perhaps you could too.
The word “consider” is used elsewhere in the New Testament, and it means to esteem something. The word was often used in the sense of esteeming something in a different light than it first appeared. Paul used it often in Philippians, such as when he said, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). So, here in James it is used in this sense, to “consider,” to “count,” to “esteem” trials and difficulties differently than they appear – in a positive light and not in a negative light.
This speaks of the power of faith, that out of an inner understanding sees circumstances in a different light. Our faith, for example, has taken the cross – which was an instrument of cruel torture and carried a stigma of a criminal’s death – and transformed it into the most endearing symbol of love and grace we can imagine. We do so because we know the scripture, that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). So, we can do something similar with our trials – see them differently than they appear to be.
A few other words, in addition to “consider,” could be clarified in these verses, because they are subject to be misunderstood. First, the word “trials,” peirasmos in Greek. It means an experience, a trial, or a test. It can be translated “temptations” as well, and can mean something negative or positive. It is the noun form of the verb that was used in James 1:13-14, that plainly says that the Lord does not tempt us with evil. That is, the Lord allows temptations to come, but He does not send them, nor does He place the evil thought of sin in our hearts. In fact, He always provides a way of escape out of temptation, according to 1 Corinthians 10:13.
This means that that which appears evil, even that which comes from the devil himself, in the hands of God can lead us to greater levels of maturity. Another word here is helpful to understand: “testing” or dokimion in Greek. It means that which can be proven by experience. An untried faith is a useless faith, and it is our trials that God allows into our lives that strengthen us and solidify our faith.
Sometimes we persevere through trials simply through the knowledge that these things are all temporary and will pass away eventually. Other times, we persevere in the sense that the Lord is using the trial to show us some weakness of our character, some area which needs more work. This word “perseverance,” hupomone in Greek, is a key word here. It literally means “to remain under,” and it is the opposite of the idea of throwing off responsibility and running away.
Perseverance is a general idea and takes different shapes in different circumstances. For example, Christ sent the apostles out to the various villages of Galilee and told them to look for the “son of peace,” that is, someone who would welcome them and be open to their message. If he was not there, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on. That was an example of perseverance in the sense of the calling and command of God. They persevered in that they left those unreceptive places and moved on to other more fruitful places for Christ. We persevere first in our obedience and devotion to Christ more than our attachment to a place and a people. A soldier goes where the command sends him, and the same is true of Christians.
Perseverance sees the promise and command of God more clearly and distinctly than the comforts or discomforts of this world. Have you learned to persevere? Have you learned to rejoice in the midst of unpleasant trials and temptations, and learned to consider them differently than they appear at first look? God will give us the grace to endure, withstand, bear up beneath, and persevere, and to do all of this in the good joy of the Holy Spirit.