NKJ James 1:2-3 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials [πειρασμός, peirasmós].3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.”
When James says that we should “count it all joy” when we fall into various of trials, he doesn't mean that we should like hurting, or act like we don't feel bad when painful things happen to us. He is saying that we should consider, regard, or view our trials with all joy or full joy (vs. 2), not with a view to how they feel when we are going through them, but because we know what they are for (vs. 3). They are for the testing of our faith so that we can learn patience, which is a good thing. Thus the source of our joy when enduring trials comes from the knowledge God has given us about their purpose in our lives.
It is a curious thing that the Christian can experience joy even in the midst of pain. For example, when the Apostles were taken before the Sanhedrin and ordered to be beaten, they were able to rejoice, Luke tells us in Acts 5:
NKJ Acts 5:40-41 “And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”
No doubt the Apostles were still in a great deal of physical and emotional pain from the beating and rejection they had endured, but this did not stop them from having joy! This is because their joy stemmed from what they knew to be true, that they were simply sharing in the sufferings of Christ. And they knew what this meant, that they would also share in His glory (such as we have already seen in our previous study of Romans 5, which we understood in the context of 8:17, e.g.).
The Greek term translated trials – πειρασμός (peirasmós) – is a key term in the first chapter of James, so it is important to understand it. It can have several meanings, two of which appear in this passage. For example:
(1) as God's examination of man test, trial (1P 4.12); (2) as enticement to sin, either from without or within temptation, testing (LU 4.13); (3) of man's (hostile) intent putting (God) to the test (HE 3.8 [See also Deut. 6:16]). (Friberg # 21267, BibleWorks)
It is the first meaning – a test or trial – that James has in mind here, although he will change to the second meaning – a temptation to sin – later in the chapter (vs. 12f). Here the word has a positive meaning, referring to a good thing, but there it has a negative meaning, referring to an evil thing.
This same kind of positive connotation is intended by James when he refers to the testing of our faith in verse 3. There he uses the Greek word δοκίμιον (dokímion), which could be used to refer to the testing of gold, by which it was determined to be without impurities. It too can be used with slightly different connotations. For example, it can refer to::
1) means of testing, criterion, test; (2) as the act of testing trial, proving (JA 1.3); (3) as the result of testing proof, genuineness (1P 1.7). (Friberg # 7060, BibleWorks)
So both of the term used by James in verse 2-3 refer to trials or testing in a positive light, as something good. In fact, the Scriptures often speak of God as testing His people. For example:
NKJ Genesis 22:1 “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested [נָסָה, (nāsāh, test, try, prove); LXX πειράζω (peirázō, verb form related to the noun peirasmós used by James)]Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.'” [The test was to ask Abraham to offer his only son, Isaac, as a sacrifice.]
NKJ Exodus 20:18-20 “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, 'You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.' 20 And Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear; for God has come to test [נָסָה (nāsāh); LXX πειράζω, (peirázō)] you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.'”
NKJ Deuteronomy 8:11-16 “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, 12 lest-- when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; 14 when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; 15 who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test [נָסָה (nāsāh); LXX ἐκπειράζω, (ekpeirázō) to test thoroughly] you, to do you good in the end ….” [Note the good purpose of trials as in James 1.]
NKJ Deuteronomy 13:1-3 “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying,`Let us go after other gods'-- which you have not known -- 'and let us serve them,' 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing [נָסָה (nāsāh); LXX πειράζω (peirázō)] you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
NKJ Judges 2:20-23 “Then the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He said, 'Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, 21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 so that through them I may test [נָסָה (nāsāh); LXX πειράζω (peirázō)] Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the LORD, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.' 23 Therefore the LORD left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua.”
Again, it is in this same positive sense that James speaks of trials and testing in this passage under study. He assumes, in fact, that God is at work through them, for it is God who tests our faith, as He tested the faith of our father Abraham, and it is God who seeks to produce patience and maturity in us. This is why James can tell us to count it all joy when we fall into various trials, knowing that trials are not in themselves bad things, since they serve a good purpose, to help us to attain to spiritual maturity.
This leads directly into the next verse.
NKJ James 1:4 “But let patience have its perfect [τέλειος (téleios)] work, that you may be perfect [τέλειος (téleios)] and complete, lacking nothing.”
Here James is talking about spiritual maturity, and he once again uses a term that can have different connotations, employing these different connotations in order to make his point. For example, téleios can mean:
complete, perfect, whole (ἔργον τ. full effect, successful results Jas 1.4 [in the first part of the verse]); [or it can mean] full-grown, mature (of persons) [in the second part of the verse]; τελειότερος more perfect (He 9.11). (Friberg # 6023, BibleWorks)
So, in order for us to become téleios in the sense of mature, we need to learn patience, and we learn patience through trials and the testing of our faith. But we must let patience have its téleios work, that is its perfect work – or its full effect – in our lives. Sadly, we live in a culture that is so focused upon feeling good and being comfortable that far too many Christians refuse to let patience have its perfect work. Through our impatience we thus often simply refuse to grow! But we need to rethink the whole issue of trials and get a Biblical perspective on them. Indeed, if we are to consider them all joy, we need to learn to embrace them, even to welcome them into our lives, should God choose to bring them – which He will! So, if you haven't yet experienced many trials as a believer, but you really do want to grow in Christ-likeness, then be prepared for trials, because God has some testing for your faith on the way!
It is also worth noting that James uses this Greek term téleios (perfect, mature] as a catchword later in this passage, when he refers to God as the giver of “every good gift and every perfect [τέλειος (téleios)] gift” (vs. 17). This is James' way of indicating that it is indeed God who is at work through the testing of our faith, and it is His perfect work that is being done in our lives. And this should bring us great comfort and joy in our trials.
As Charles Spurgeon once said:
It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity. (as cited by John Piper in a message entitled Charles Spurgeon: Preaching Through Adversity)
Thank God that He is sovereign over all our trials – even the terrible trial of depression – and has a good and glorious purpose in all of them! When you encounter the trial of depression, do you count it all joy? Do you see God's purpose in it? If not, then you need the wisdom taught here by James. And if you can't seem to get a handle on this wisdom, all you have to do is ask the Lord, as the next verse says.
NKJ James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom [not just knowledge, but how to use knowledge], let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
It is telling that James brings up our need for wisdom here. He knows that we cannot and will not have joy in our trials without the wisdom to see them from God's point of view. And he knows that only God can give us this wisdom, a wisdom he is sharing with us in this very passage – and that I am sharing with you now.
James tells us that wisdom is available from God Himself and can be had just for the asking. And he wants us to be encouraged to ask God for wisdom with confidence that He will indeed give it. He gives us two reasons for such confidence:
- God is gives wisdom liberally – that is, “wholeheartedly, generously, without reserve” (Friberg # 2824, BibleWorks). The point is that God wants to share His wisdom with His children, especially when they encounter trials (which is what the context is about). As John later tells us:
NKJ 1 John 5:14-15 “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”
Well, James tells us that it is the will of God that we ask him for wisdom, especially when we encounter various trials, so we can be confident that He will indeed give it as necessary! This is an important reminder, since we may be tempted during trials to wonder if God does indeed care about us. But if we have His wise perspective about our trials, we will see that just the opposite is true! God brings trials into our lives precisely because He does care about us so much.
- God gives wisdom without reproach – that is, “without chiding a man for his previous sins,” as James Adamson puts it in his commentary (NICNT, p. 56). When we struggle and ask God for wisdom, He is not going to give it to us with an attitude that says, “I wouldn't have to keep giving you wisdom if you weren't such a dolt!” On the contrary, He is going to give us wisdom without reproach of any kind.
But not only does James give us encouragement to be confident in asking God for wisdom, He also warns against asking without faith.
NKJ James 1:6-8 “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
In the context, the doubting James has in mind must be doubting God's purposes for our trials. We must ask for the wisdom that He wants to give us in sincerity. We cannot ask for God's perspective – His wisdom – regarding our trials while at the same time refusing to believe what He teaches us about them!
Some Christians simply refuse to believe that God could ever have any good purpose for suffering or difficulty in their lives, and thus they ask for wisdom they are predisposed to reject. But any such Christian is double-minded, wanting perhaps to have the spiritual maturity and joy that God offers, but refusing to accept that it will come through great difficulty. He is like “a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind,” “in constant agitation without making any progress to any result” (James Adamson, NICNT, p. 58). This man will receive nothing from the Lord, not the wisdom he needs in order to endure trails, nor the joy this brings as one endures trials, nor the maturity these trials are designed to produce.
The author of Hebrews makes a similar point when he writes:
NKJ Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
If you struggle with depression, you may also be tempted to think that it cannot possibly be God's perfect will for you, and you may find it difficult to ask for wisdom with the kind of faith James is talking about. Well, then, perhaps you should begin instead with another prayer, such as the one the poor father of a demonized boy once employed with Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
NKJ James 1:9-11 “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich [brother] in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.”
These verses may at first seem out of place in James' teaching about trials and about asking God for wisdom as we deal with trials. But it makes sense when we consider that trials, and wisdom as we endure trials, are necessary for both the poor [the meaning of lowly in this context] and the rich. In fact, we may say that – for James – trials are a kind of leveler that destroys class distinctions. The rich man, who may seem to have advantages over the poor man where certain trials are concerned, is not for all his riches exempt from them. And his riches cannot get for him any more wisdom than is available to the poor man. Nor will the rich man's pursuit of riches gain him any lasting benefit that is not also available to the poor man in Christ. Therefore the poor man may glory or boast in his exalted status as one who may posses the wisdom of God, and the rich man may boast also in the humbling knowledge that he too must rely upon God alone for the wisdom he needs.
But James also knows that we will often be tempted when we are tested, and this is why he picks up this theme in the following verses.
NKJ James 1:12 Blessed is the man who endures [ὑπομένω (hupoménō); recall ὑπομονή (hupomonē, patience, endurance) in vss. 3-4] temptation [πειρασμός (peirasmós)]; for when he has been approved [δόκιμος (dókimos); recall δοκίμιον (dokímion) in vs. 3], he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
Notice that here the NKJ translates peirasmós as temptation rather than as trial (as in vs. 2). I think this is incorrect here. While I agree that James does shift the meaning of the terminology in this passage, I think that he doesn't do so until verse 13 (as in the ESV, NASB, NET, and NIV). Here he still has trials in mind, and this sentence is meant both to emphasize the ultimate good that comes from such trials and thus to sum up the intent of his teaching regarding their necessity.
That this is the correct view is reinforced by the way that James uses catchwords to recall his earlier statements in verses 2-4, such as his refernce to approval after testing (dókimos hearkening back to dokímion) and patience (hupoméno hearkening back to hupomonē).
Also, previously he was explaining why it is that we can have joy when we encounter trials. And now he says that we are “blessed” when, with the help of God's wisdom, we endure trials. The Greek word translated blessed – μακάριος (makários) – refers to a state of happiness that does not depend upon earthly circumstances, but rather upon knowledge and experience of the salvation that God offers and works out in our lives. It may or may not be felt consistently, but it is the actual state of the believer who trusts in the Lord.
Earlier James referred more to the joy we can know as we contemplate trials that we will face or that we are in the midst of, and how this joy is dependent upon remembering what the end result of trials is intended to be. Now in verse 12, however, James is referring to the happiness we may possess from the standpoint of having already endured a particular trial (note the singular).
When we we endure a particular trial by God's grace, we grow in our understanding and experience of just how blessed we are in the Lord, and this, in turn, reminds us of the ultimate goal, the future life that God has promised us. This is what the “crown of life” is referring to, as Jesus also later reminded the church at Smyrna:
NKJ Revelation 2:10 “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested [πειράζω (peirázō)], and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
This crown of life is promised by God not only to those who endure trials, but also, James says, “to those who love Him.” These are just two different ways of referring to genuine Christians, and they are interrelated. We will not endure trials as we should if we do not love God. It is love for Him – in response to his having first loved us (see 1 John 4:19) – that will help us to endure trials for His sake, and it is through trials that we will deepen in our love for Him.
Doesn't it make a huge difference when we view the trials we face in the context of a love relationship with our Heavenly Father!? We might even say that how we endure trials is a good gauge of how much we really do – or really don't – love God. And this is no less true of the trial of depression.
At any rate, as we see God keeping His promises and preserving us through various trials, we are encouraged to be confident that He will take us to the ultimate goal of our salvation as well. So, through trials we grow in patience/endurance, in spiritual maturity, in faith, and in happiness.
NKJ James 1:13 “Let no one say when he is tempted [πειράζω (peirázō)], 'I am tempted [πειράζω (peirázō)] by God'; for God cannot be tempted [ἀπείραστος (apeírastos)] by evil, nor does He Himself tempt [πειράζω (peirázō)] anyone.”
Now we arrive at the point where James shifts the meaning of the Greek verb peirázō in order to indicate that the trials that serve the good purpose of testing our faith can become for us occasions for temptation. This is assumed by James, who does not want us to be confused by this and think that these temptations come from God. While it is true that God does test our faith in order to mature us as Christians, the temptation to sin that we may experience in the process does not come from Him!
The New Geneva Study Bible note on this verse is very helpful in this regard:
1:13 tempted. There is an important difference between the concepts “test” and “tempt.” God tests people, but never tempts them in the sense of enticing them to sin. Jesus, in the wilderness, was tested by God and tempted by Satan. There is also a difference between temptations that arise from our own sinful inclinations (internal) and those coming from without (external). Jesus, being free of original sin, was tempted externally but not internally. The testing of our faith may be the occasion for temptations to come, both internal and external, yet the temptations never have God as their author. (p. 1959)
Now, although I appreciate the reasoning behind the distinction between the terms internal and external in the above cited note, I am not sure I am completely satisfied with them. For example, although Jesus was not tempted by any sinful internal inclinations, didn't he experience hunger, for example, when He was tempted by Satan, and wouldn't this be an internal factor that may have made it more tempting to turn a stone into bread (Matt. 4:2-4)? Still, however, the New Geneva Study Bible is right to see the temptation of Christ as instructive for us. And it rightly sees such an example in His wilderness temptations. For example:
NKJ Matthew 4:1 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Note: Mark says the Spirit “drove” Him into the wilderness [1:12].)
This passage is striking, in that it tells us that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where He would be tempted by the devil. The Holy Spirit led Him into a situation of great hunger and weariness, into a situation of testing, but it is the devil who tempted Him, not God. And Matthew sees no difficulty at all in stating the situation in this way. He sees no problem in acknowledging that God is sovereign over our lives and over evil in such a way that He does no evil Himself and is not the author of sin or temptation. Evil – and the temptation to evil – comes from Satan and from us, not from God! And this is the very point James will make in the next two verses.
NKJ James 1:14-15 “But each one is tempted [πειράζω (peirázō)] when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
Temptation comes from our own evil desires. It is a result of our own inherent corruption. And when we allow these desires to entice us into sinning, it is entirely our own fault.
Thomas à Kempis described the process of temptation in a passage that is undoubtedly based upon this text:
At first it is a mere thought confronting the mind; then imagination paints it in stronger colours; only after that do we take pleasure in it, and the will makes a false move, and we give our assent. (Cited by James Adamson, NICNT, p.72, footnote 101a)
Remember that God tests our faith in order to mature us and ultimately to grant us the crown of life. But James here describes a process of temptation and sin that ultimately results in death, which most likely refers to eternal death, given that it is the opposite of the future, eternal life mentioned in verse 12. Aside from God's grace, this is the end result of giving into temptation to sin.
NKJ James 1:16-17 “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect [τέλειος (téleios)] gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”
The only way that a person could make the mistake of attributing temptation to God is that he is deceived and has forgotten that God is good and does not change. Such a person has failed to realize that God can give only good and perfect gifts.
In fact, the Greek word James uses here to describe God's gifts as perfect – τέλειος (téleios) – is a catchword that alludes back to verse 4, where he admonished the reader to “let patience have its perfect [τέλειος (téleios)] work, that you may be perfect [τέλειος (téleios)] and complete, lacking nothing.” Thus, the trials that test our faith are good and perfect gifts from a good God, who has only what is best in mind for His children, however difficult it may be for them to see it sometimes. It is just such a perspective, according to James, that enables us to have joy in trials, or as he put it in verse 2, “to count it all joy.”
It must be possible, then, to have joy in the midst of any trial that we endure, including the trial of depression, however oxymoronic that may at first sound! It must be possible to experience the joy of knowing that God is at work for our good even when we struggle to feel good at all. I know it sounds crazy to many of you, but I can attest that it is true not only from Scripture but also from my own experience. God really can miraculously work in our hearts in such ways, and if we fail to believe it, then we need to see that we are guilty of the very double-mindedness about which James warns, and we need to ask God to forgive us and to give us His wisdom on the matter, believing that He can work in ways that we cannot understand in earthly terms.
At any rate, James' teaching on the joy we can have in trials leads us to our next major Biblical theme as we think about how to view depression in a Scriptural way, and this is the theme of Christian joy. I will take up this theme in my next post on how we may move toward a Biblical perspective on depression.