He begins by saying, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials...” (James 1:2). Trials. By that, he means troubles – difficulties and dangers – hard times. He’s talking about having JOY in the face of BIG problems. Seriously. Remember, the people he was writing to were experiencing a measure of persecution for their faith. The trials they were going through may have included prison and the loss of property such as what the writer of Hebrews describes in Hebrews chapter 10. And James suggests that they “consider it all joy” to go through such trials, just as the writer of Hebrews says that his readers “joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] property” (Hebrews 10:34)! Wow. There’s an picture of a people prepared to give up everything.
In our 21st century North American lives, trials are more likely to be a health issue, a fractured relationship, or crisis situation at work, which can leave us feeling like we’re giving up a sense of security or stability or certainty.
James then goes on to write “…knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Here we begin to see the connection between giving things up and yet lacking nothing. James reminds us that external troubles can actually strengthen us internally. When our physical muscles are tested with the resistance of heavy weights, we get stronger. And when our faith is tested by heavy trials, we grow in character – endurance being an expression of our character. And that’s the reason to “consider it all joy.” Trials may result in a loss of things – such as security, stability, or certainty, or even property – but they can also result in the development of character – such as, growth in endurance.
James continues: “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:3-4). That last phrase gets my attention every time! What would it be like to truly be “lacking in nothing” in terms of my character development? It seems so lofty to even aim for that I find it jarring to see James suggesting it. But I think it’s the very same thing that the Apostle Peter was talking about when he wrote, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). Yes, trials can lead to the loss of earthly things, but trials can also produce spiritual formation in us that leave us with a faith that’s more precious than any of those things – a faith that allows us to praise and glorify and honour Jesus even as we endure significant trials!
And when our faith in God, our hearts being fully assured of His love and faithfulness, we’re expressing what I think James meant when he said we’d be lacking “nothing.” If I know God is truly for me, I will endure – and not with gritted teeth, but with an abundance of the hope, joy, and peace that all come from believing God (Romans 15:13). Though it’s never easy, the challenges of trials don’t need to feel a threat – because the losses we incur can be far surpassed by the work God wants to do in us, causing a growth in us to believe God for so much more!