Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
James is writing a letter to a group of believers. This much I know because he opens the book with the standard letter-style introduction used at the time. Since he addresses the letter to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, I can safely conclude that these believers are Jewish converts. Since they are in the dispersion, I can also safely conclude that they are experiencing difficult times.
It makes much more sense, in light of the audience, that James launches right into these two verses. This is a group of folks who are enduring difficulties and James acknowledges that, telling them to [c]onsider it all joy. The verb that is translated as consider could also be rendered deem, account, or think. So, what James is telling these believers is not so much to ponder on the thing, but to reframe it in their mind in light of further information. And that further information is provided in verse three: the testing of your faith produces endurance.
What James is instructing these believers is actually fairly common practice. For anyone who works out, the suffering experienced in the gym is reframed in the light of the result desired. For anyone struggling to understand a subject through study, the mental distress is contextualized by the acquisition of knew knowledge. We even go so far as to categorize jobs as “having room for growth” which essentially means that we will endure something that is less desirable in pursuit of that which is more desirable. We perform this task often. There is, however, often a disconnect when the spiritual is involved.
James’ instruction is useful and helpful to an individual enduring difficulty. And this instruction is especially appropriate for a believer to receive, because Jesus promised us difficulties. More, James’ instruction to put the present difficulty into the right perspective would have been particularly on point for believers who had been driven out of their homes and all over the world.
There are in my life, as in most everyone’s, challenging things going on. Some of them can be classified into the category of trials. Those things that I would place in the category of trial, I need to reevaluate in light of what God is trying to accomplish in and through that difficulty. Just as a person training their body and the person laboring through difficult study understands that the outcome must be kept in view, so, too, must I keep God’s end result in view. God’s revealed will for me — for all believers, really — is that I be holy as He is holy. That is a tall order on my best days. But God’s desired outcome is that I be holy as He is holy on even my worst days. That will take some serious work. And there will be difficulty and suffering along the way.
Many years ago, I coached a swim team and one of the swimmers has stuck in memory. She had trained with me the previous season and had endured the suffering and had found that her prom dress needed to be taken in because she worked so hard and got desirable results. As the team trained the next season, I often heard her saying — as best anyone can say anything while sweating and suffering in athletic training — things like “New bathing suit. New bathing suit.” She was doing essentially what James is instructing: Get the end goal in view and keep it there.
Why should I consider it all joy when I encounter various trials? Because I know that the testing of [my] faith produces endurance. Sure, the difficulty is unpleasant for the moment, but it is working endurance into me. And there is no other way to get endurance than to endure longer and longer each time we are put to the test.God wants to bring me to a place where I can run and not grow weary and walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31). To do that, He must train me by pushing me to run a little further and walk a little longer each time.
God, thank You for Your patience with me as I have too often whined my way through trials. Thank You for not giving up on me and continuing to push me just that little bit more each and every time with the goal of making me holy fixed firmly in view. Please cause me to catch that vision; to see the end goal and to keep it fixed in my view. You want me to be holy as You are holy so that I might be with You where You are and see You as You are. And I want these things, too. Thank You for desiring more for me than I do for myself.