James is talking to his readers about the inevitability of trials and temptations coming into the lives of believers. We are not to think that it is unusual that we have hardships. They are part of living in a sinful world. Even the righteous Job had many trials. But, James argues, if we learn to respond to them positively, we will find that they will bring with them significant benefits. This verse helps us understand to some extent, how the presence of pain in our lives could be a cause for joy. How can James encourage us to count our hardships as “all joy?” Verses 3 and 4 give us part of the answer. James says, “For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

I remember my dentist asking me if I want some novocaine before he prepared a tooth for a filling. My thought was, “of course, you idiot, do you think I like pain?”  Thankfully, I just said, “yes, yes, I would.” I don’t know anyone that likes pain. My Dad used to say that some things in life are like beating your head against the curb. It feels so good when you stop. This might be the motive behind the “cutting” phenomenon that happens in certain cases. Sometimes people feel that they need some radical sensual stimulation to shock them out of their present state of mind. That’s kind of like voluntary “shock therapy.” But that, too, is not the usual state of mind. Masochists get a perverted sense of sexual gratification (or emotional high) with pain, but that’s not normal either. No, most normal people don’t like pain. Yes, give me the Novocain. Yes, I believe most of us will go out of our way to avoid pain. That’s normal, yet none of us can live a life free from it.  Life is often full of physical as well as emotional pain, and maturity is facing up to that reality. Holloway says, “Worldly wisdom can see no value in suffering. It says pain is to be avoided at all costs, and only pleasure brings happiness. By contrast, to Christians, even trials are a joy because they lead us to maturity in Christ. Christians judge value quite differently than the world does. To us, the highest value is not freedom from pain but a faith that perseveres. The suffering that life brings, although bad in itself, can be turned by God into pure joy.”[1]

The idea James wants us to understand is that trials and hardships in life give us a complete experience in life. The English translations that use “perfect” for the Greek word “teleios” is unfortunate. He doesn’t want us to think that hardships will make us “perfect” in any way, but rather, well-rounded individuals who can live life amidst the ups and downs and not lose faith in a good God who loves us and always has our best interest foremost in mind. However, maturity is not a passive thing. That’s why James exhorts us to “let steadfastness produce its full effect.”

Osborne says, “God sends the refining process; his people must put that to work in their lives. The literal wording is, ‘let endurance continue to have its perfect work.’ There are two ideas here—the believer’s responsibility to yield to God in the midst of the trials and the effects of these difficulties that are at work in the Christian. In this context, it means to allow the process of learning perseverance to come to ‘completion,’ to let it come to full fruition in one’s life.”[2] There is no Novocain for most pain in our lives. We will have to experience all that comes in our life without recourse to diminishing it. We can’t drink it away or drug it away; we simply must experience it. But James wants us the let the painful experiences in our lives make us better people, not bitter people. That happens when we trust God to work out all things in our lives for our good, even bad things.

[1] Holloway, Gary. 1996. James & Jude. The College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub.

[2] Osborne, Grant R. 2011. “James.” In Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: James, 1–2 Peter, Jude, Revelation, edited by Philip W. Comfort, 23. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.