James is writing to the scattered believers who are facing a multitude of trials in life. His opening advice is something very contrary to our natural impulses. When we face trials, hardships, disappointments, or any negative experience, we get depressed, angry, discouraged, and other emotions that match the negative experiences in life. James’ advice is to do just the opposite. He says in James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” The Greek word translated as “count” means to evaluate and conclude. It’s not just to think about something but to sum it all up. The term is actually a financial term that describes the bottom line. James wants us to look at life’s hardships differently than we normally do. A. E. Housman wrote one of my favorite poems and gives similar advice. He writes, “And while the sun and moon endure, lucks a chance, but trouble is sure.” I’m not sure about good fortune being “chance” but I do agree that “trouble” is sure. Isn’t this what Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world, you will have trouble.” Housman goes on to suggest how one should come to grips with that reality. His poem continues, “I’d face it as a wise man would, and train for ill and not for good.” Jesus doesn’t advise us to “train for ill” but to be prepared for it and to “take heart” because He has overcome the world.

It’s interesting also that the word for joy and the word for “greeting” are closely related. James is referring to how we respond when we “meet” hardships that cross our paths. We should greet them with joy but not happiness. One commentator deals with the various English translation of this passage and says “Happiness would be a weak term to use in place of joy; moreover, it would be misleading.” The Living Bible says “be happy.” The New English Bible says “supremely happy.” The Jerusalem Bible says to trials should be welcomed as a “happy privilege.” This commentator goes on to say, “Happiness is a subjective state, whereas James is instructing us to make a more objective judgment when he says to consider it pure joy. ‘Happiness’ might encourage readers to expect a carefree life or a constantly cheerful mood. Neither of these is what James has in mind. He acknowledges the presence of extremely unhappy experiences in his readers’ lives. At the same time, and with no perception of any contradiction, James counsels these readers to rejoice during those very experiences of hardship.”[1]

I’ve always found the word for “trials” used by James is the same word that English translators call “temptations.” The key to me is that the two, trials and temptations, have one thing in common. They are a test of faith. When you are tempted to do what you are not supposed to do, your faith is put to the test. Do you believe that God has your best interest foremost in mind when he keeps something that you want from you? This is the test that Adam and Eve faced. They failed. I have to admit, I often fail also. Then trials are a test also. Will we trust God to be well-intentioned toward us even when he takes something away from us? This is the kind of test that Abraham faced when God called for him to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Both temptations and trials ask us the same question. Will I continue to trust God during this hardship? This is also the story of Job. God allowed all the blessings that Job had to be taken from him. Job’s great answer is what James is pointing to in his advice. Naked came I into the world and naked from it I shall go. The Lord gives, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Though He slays me, yet will I trust Him?

[1] Stulac, George M. 1993. James. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Westmont, IL: IVP Academic.