The author of the book of James is widely recognized as James, the brother of Jesus. He became the pastor of the church in Jerusalem and was later given the title “the just” because of his faithfulness to the law and prayer. Since the earliest Christ followers were based in Jerusalem, James would have been well known and highly respected.
Many of you might also know that during this time a man named Saul was passionately persecuting the church. He had permission from the Jewish religious leaders to separate families, throw parents into prison, confiscate possessions, bring people to court and even call for their deaths. This caused many believers and other Jews to flee Jerusalem and their early church family and spread out across the Roman Empire. This is known as the “Dispersion.”
It is to these believers, and possibly former Jerusalem church participants, that James writes his letter. Words of encouragement and challenges on how to live this newfound life permeate the letter. Let’s examine just a few opening verses.
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. 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. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:1-4
In light of the fact that this letter was originally read by people who were driven from their homes and families under the duress of great persecution, it strikes me odd that James would open with the challenge to be joyful when confronted with trials. Why not be tolerant, or be resilient? It seems the most ridiculous request to consider it pure joy to face trials. This is foreign to our nature and natural response to difficulty. How often do we complain or begrudgingly endure hardship? Are there times when we blame God that He is allowing His beloved child to go through such a terrible situation?
Remember, James is still in Jerusalem in the midst of the persecution, and he challenges those who have fled to be joyful when facing trials. Trials are not foreign to James and he deals with them on a regular basis. However, he has seen the benefits of enduring through them.
James identifies the end game of facing trials – maturity. He knows that as our faith is tested and we diligently rely upon God, it produces perseverance. As we faithfully follow God through trials, our perseverance grows and we become mature Christ followers. We grow to the point that our faith is no longer lacking, our desires change and we focus on what is truly important.
I have no idea what trials you are facing, but God does, and He walks alongside you through them. He desires that you faithfully trust him and do so with a joyful heart, knowing that God is in control. We will not receive all the answers or solutions that we desire through our trials, but faithful obedience to God will produce in us a change that grows and shapes us to be the Christ follower that God desires us to be.
Pastor Brian Freerksen