James 1:2 is one of the most misunderstood passages in the book of James, partly because what it commands seems so diametrically opposed to what we should do. In fact, many commentators begin by discussing this point first – it would have been their first post. But as I see it, you can’t begin to comprehend how and why we are to be joyful during our trials unless you understand first the reasons for the joy. Therefore, that is why it’s post number 4 for me.
With that, why is James not joking when he says we should be joyful during our trials? Specifically, James is not saying you have to:
- Be happy when you get cancer;
- Be happy when you get fired from your job of twenty years;
- Be happy when a loved one dies.
Well, then what is James saying here? Let’s dig in!
IN THE WORD
Read James 1:2-4:
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (NASB)
As we begin our investigation of this passage, observe that James is not telling you to be ‘happy’ at all! Our English word ‘happy’ is an emotion that is based upon circumstances that occur in your life. The word James uses for “joy” has nothing to do with our English word happy.
Consequently, some things to know about this “joy” James speaks of:
- It is the major theme of James 1:2-4. This is evident once one understands the context of James 1 (as we’ve discussed in the previous posts), but also observing the subtle emphasis he places on the word since it’s the first word in his original Greek sentence. While this is not always true of Greek word order, a case can be made for it here: James wants you to understand “joy” and his next few sentences will explain why.
- We are not just to be joyful, but experience “pure joy” or be “entirely joyful”. Why? In the original language the word “all” is used, functioning as an adjective modifying “joy”. So James is declaring that we are to experience “complete joy” no matter what is going on. Or, to underscore the original text, we are to experience “all joy” all the time!
- You will not always ‘feel’ this way, but we are commanded to ‘think’ this way. I cannot stress this point enough!! That’s why in English this verse begins with the word “Consider” or some translations have “Regard” because the verb used here is a verb of thought: you must think this way, even if you don’t feel this way.
Now, carefully notice what joy is not:
- Being ‘happy’ even though horrible things have occurred (our English word ‘happy’ would not even be used in that case);
- Pretending to be ‘happy’ in front of people (you know, putting on that ‘happy’ face though you hate life!);
- Always being ‘happy’ all the time (who could do that?).
This is why I said earlier joy has nothing to do with being happy. What is joy? Here is my definition: Joy is a state of being, mostly demonstrated by trust, contentment, and peace, based on who we are in Jesus Christ because of what he has done for us, and is still doing through us by the power of his Spirit!
How and why can I be “completely joyful”? I can because I “know” (see verse 3):
- My trials have a Purpose, as we’ve discussed in Devotion #2;
- My trials develop Perseverance in me, or as I translated it “a willingness to cling to God no matter what”;
- As I progress through my trials, my Perseverance will enable me to become Perfect, which as we discussed in Devotion #3 is not sin-free, but daily striving toward perfection as modeled in the life of Jesus!
IN THE WORLD
Let’s close with one question and then a project:
In my life, when I’m in the midst of tough times and I’m ‘struggling through my struggles’, most of the time it’s because I’m letting my feelings guide my thoughts. Can you relate to such a time? If so, how can we prevent that from happening as often as it does?
As further encouragement, read these verses below (preferably in the NIV) to learn more about joy and the importance it should have in a Christian’s life. Allow me to share three passages, and you can read the rest:
Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Notice joy is a fruit of the Spirit and so joy is given to us from God).
Hebrews 12:2: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (What “joy” was set before Jesus . . . many answers could be given, but one is that Jesus saw the purpose of the cross – he endured (persevered!) for a purpose!).
Psalms 126:3: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (What could I possibly say to explain that further – Amen!).
2 Corinthians 7:4
1 Peter 1:8