Choose to be Different During Difficulties
Faith lives by determining to manifest joy when life gets hard
At some point in your life, all of you have wanted to be somebody else. When you were a kid, you wanted to be Superman, Spiderman or the Incredible Hulk. When you came to Christ, some of you wanted to be a David, Daniel, or Paul. As you learned about the history of the Church, you hoped to be Hudson Taylor, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon or Mrs. Spurgeon. As you grew and learned about current writers, you wanted to be a Piper, or a Mohler, or a MacArthur, or a Jerry Bridges or an Elizabeth George or Nancy DeMoss. But what you didn’t consider, what didn’t cross your mind, what we often neglect in our thinking is what it takes to become one of those godly men or godly women. We look at the lives of others and think, “I’d like to be that Christlike.” But what you don’t take into account is the pain, suffering, and difficulties they had to experience in order to become that godly man or woman.
This is the goal of James as he begins his letter. Open your Bibles and take out your outline for James 1. Jewish believers all over the Roman world were experiencing great difficulty in life. There were unjust trials coming from the government, there was the loss of land, the loss of income and the loss of safety. There were increased threats, and the inability to feed their families. Some were driven from their homes, they’d lost their possessions and some were exploited by the rich.
These Jewish believers faced disunity, favoritism and greed. These tests of faith were tearing apart the earliest churches, as the believers were succumbing to pressures from without and from within. How were they responding to this difficult world? These new Christians were tempted to rebel, to resist, to protest, to be angry, to manipulate, to whine, to complain, to pout, to move locations to find a better place, to be depressed, to sour, to attack and respond in the flesh.
So James goes for the throat as he opens this little letter, by calling all Christians to choose to respond differently to these difficulties, trials, suffering, persecution–not in the flesh but, verse 2, in the Spirit, with joy. Then verse 3–to comprehend the reasons for this unique, Christian only reaction, and verse 4, to have confidence that responding with joy to trials will result in growth in Christ. They will become that godly man or godly woman they’ve always wanted to become.
Look at verses 2 to 4 and circle the verbs—verse 2) consider, verse 3) knowing, and verse 4) let. Got it? Now read these verses aloud with me. James 1:2 through 4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” You desperately need this passage. We all struggle with trials, but only those who respond in the Spirit with joy grow from them. From big to small trials, James says . . .
#1 CHOOSE to react differently to difficulties Verse 2
Sometimes Christians miss the point and come off weird, odd or extreme. Some know they should be sober, so they look like they were marinated in pickle juice. Some know they should be dignified, so they never laugh, or ever enjoy themselves. Those overreactions tend to give believers a bad reputation. But Christ commands us to be known for some qualities that are super-attractive and give us a great reputation with those who don’t know Christ. We are to be known for our love, which is not accepting everyone’s sin–but it is sacrificial actions to care for the genuine needs of others/another attractive quality?
James here commands you to react with joy to suffering, persecution, injustice, and all difficulties. When we do, you will be odd or different, but you’ll prove you are a Christian–you’ll grow into a godly person and you will be an incredible witness for Christ. James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” When life gives you lemons [what?], make lemonade. True faith shines when you respond with joy to the difficulties of your life.
James is giving an intimate command here—it’s personal, to “my brethren.” Since James is the first letter of the New Testament, and the Church is primarily made up of Jews at this time, “my brethren” is my Jewish brothers. But inspired by the Spirit, and set apart as one of the New Testament, this letter is also for all believers–all the brethren. How should you react when there is difficulty or pressure in your life? God says, “Consider it all joy.”
James is giving you a command to act upon yourself (middle voice). You make the choice. You make the decision. You decide for yourself to determine joy. You don’t wait for a feeling–that isn’t going to happen. You don’t put your hope in circumstances–you don’t collapse into depression because the world is treating you badly. You don’t wait for someone else to be elected. You don’t manufacture a smiley face, yet keep worrying, fearing and dying internally a thousand times. No, you choose joy.
The normal response to trials is not joy. You must make a choice to face trials with joy–you do it. You say, “Lord I am trusting you. I am relying on Your promises, Your Word. I am depending on Your Holy Spirit, and I determine to manifest joy in this trial.” Then James adds, “Consider it all joy”–and the Greek word for “all” means? All, whole, unmixed–not some joy and grief, not a little joy and some disappointment, but all joy.
James Boice says, “Joy is based upon the knowledge of who God is and what He has done for us in Christ. Happiness is dependent upon circumstances, while joy is not.”
MacArthur says, “Joy is a deep, abiding inner thankfulness to God for his goodness that is not diminished or interrupted when less-than-desirable circumstances intrude on one’s life.”
Mueller says, “Joy comes from knowing you are loved and cared for by a Savior who is in total control of all things, being the all-wise, all-powerful, sovereign God, orchestrating every single detail of your life providentially for your good and His glory–all proven by a salvation given to you before the foundation of the world.”
Joy is a gift from God. Joy is part of your new nature as a born again believer. Joy is the character and fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit. “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy is yours to access in Christ, but you must choose to manifest joy. When? James 1:2, “When you encounter various trials.” Not on your birthday, but on your bad day. Difficulties, trials, suffering are not only inevitable, they are promised.
David said in Psalm 22:11, “Be not far from me, for trouble is near.” You’re not home yet. You are not basking in Heaven’s perfection yet. The Bible says, even in marriage, “In this life, you will have trouble” (1 Corinthians 7:28). And note, James doesn’t say if you encounter trials, but “when” you experience trials.
James uses the word “encounter”–which is a participle of possibility. Encounter means when trials might fall all around you, when trials happen all over you. Sometimes you fall into trials–you make the trial happen. Other times trials just fall all around you. Like a tree in fall, dropping its leaves, we all have seasons when we are overwhelmed by the number of trials that fall upon us. Other times, it is the intensity of a single trial we are facing. We encounter trials.
The same Greek word encounter is used in Luke 10 to describe the good Samaritan who “fell [encountered] among robbers.” That is exactly what some trials are like–you are happily walking along in life–then bam, you’re beaten up by a gang of trials.
James even adds to the number of trials and the intensity of some trials the fact that your trials are very unique and varied. James says in verse 2, “when you encounter various trials.” Just like Joseph’s many-colored coat, our trials are different, variegated and unique. Trials come in many shapes, many different shades and various degrees of intensity–which forces you to remember who God is–providentially in control of every single second of your life. The Lord is orchestrating everything and is so mighty, so awesome–He orchestrates the people around you and the circumstances of your daily life to create the perfect designer trials uniquely fitted for you, to grow you into a godly man or woman.
Romans 8:28, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” All things include trials. That trial you’re going through right now, those robbers (I mean bullies who jumped you at school) that unjust boss who ruined your job, that marriage you thought would be bliss but now feels like a blister, those children who used to say, “Yes, Mommy,” who now ignore you”–all orchestrated, allowed or pre-designed to prove your faith, grow you in Christlikeness, cause you to become a fantastic witness for Christ and more.
Trials are designed for you. They’re chosen by God specifically to grow you. So choose joy, respond in joy, be internally thankful for varied trials. James 1:2, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” The actual Greek word for trials is so helpful–it means pressures–the stresses of life. It can refer to internal or external pressure. It can be a financial problem, a physical illness, a disappointment, a criticism, fear or stressful relationship. But the Greek word “trial” hints of trouble–something that breaks your peace, upsets your comfort, strains your joy, and now invades in your life like a disease. The verb form of the Greek noun for “trial” shows us what God is doing–it means to put you to the test, to discover what you’re really like, to expose your true nature. Trials are so savage at x-Raying who you really are–your reaction to trials will prove if you’re saved or if you’re pretending.
In the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, some of the Gospel seed fell on soil that looked like a real Christian was born, but when the trials, affliction, and persecution hit, the so-called fade away from the faith. Matthew 13:20 to 21, “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.” He showed he wasn’t a Christian.
When difficulties hit, choose joy–determine to be joyful. Focus upon the promises of God’s Word, trust the Lord who sacrificed all to save you and depend on God’s Holy Spirit to manifest joy in and through you and you will prove you are a Christian. You will grow into a godly person and you will be an incredible witness for Christ and more. But James is not done–he also says . . .
#2 COMPREHEND the reasons for reacting differently to difficulties Verse 3
James 1:2 and 3, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” When a trial hits, you must think biblically about it–you must acknowledge that Christ is at work in your life and has a good purpose for this pain. You must recall that the Lord is accomplishing His purposes in your life through this hurt. You must comprehend the reasons for reacting differently–with joy. You have to think about what this trial is doing in you and for you.
So James begins verse 3 with “knowing”–not just facts, but relationship knowing. Knowing your Lord knows the number of hairs on your head. Knowing your Savior’s thoughts toward you are greater than the sand of the seashore. Knowing He created you, knows everything about you, and still died for you and loves you. Like a loving parent who spanks a child for their long term good. Like a loving doctor who causes some pain in order to fix the bone for long term-strength. Like a godly mentor who confronts some painful sin, in order to help you overcome it. The only way to count it joy is to know the God of joy is allowing this trial for your best.
You must know Christ cares for you, verse 3, as He is testing your faith. Testing is the idea of proving character, showing what’s genuine–who is qualified and who is not qualified. Like smelting gold in order to skim off the dross–your faith is tested by the fire of selected trials in order to skim off the impurities of your life. Like the Queen of Sheba who tested Solomon’s wisdom. Like God who tested Abraham’s love by asking him to sacrifice Isaac. Every single one of you, every true Christian, must expect to be jostled by trials while riding on God’s highway headed to Heaven.
Satan tempts to bring out your worst. God tests to bring out your best. Your faith, in verse 3, is not only your reliance and correct beliefs in Christ—but your faith is also talking about your level of trust. Trials intensify trust. Look what testing did for many of God’s men in the Scripture. God put Joseph through thirteen years of testing–sold as a slave, became Potiphar’s steward then falsely accused, put in jail and overlooked for thirteen years–to make a king out of him.
Peter spent three years of testing and failure to move from sand to the rock. Paul spent years of testing in the desert to become the greatest theologian, church leader trainer, and church planting phenomena this world has ever seen. When you go through your trials, you must comprehend what? God is at work. It helps to verbally speak to the Lord in prayer and say, “Okay, Lord–this is a good test given to me, in order to glorify You and accomplish Your purposes. I am acknowledging that this sorrow, this hurt, this danger, this disappointment, even this temptation is designed to make me into the person You want me to become.”
James puts it this way—“Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” These difficulties are designed to produce, to continually work thoroughly, to increase. Like an apple press that squeezes to get all the juice out. Like an industrial washing machine that tumbles, washes and spins to get the dirt out. James says you need to admit to your own heart and to the Lord that the trials which press you, the trials which tumble you about, are working thoroughly in your life in order to increase your endurance.
Endurance doesn’t just mean to bear things, but to turn them into strengths. John MacArthur states, “Endurance is a permanent inner quality of strength which increases each time a trial is patiently and trustingly endured. The testing of your trials increases your spiritual maturity, your spiritual strength, your quality of faith and proves the genuineness of your relationship with Christ, intensifying your intimacy with Christ and making you more like Christ.” Every trial is a test of trust designed to strengthen you. If a believer fails the test, then it becomes a, verse 13, temptation or solicitation to evil. If you pass the test, it becomes a divine tool to build your life into greater usefulness for His glory. Rightly faced, trials are building–but respond wrongly to trials and they become temptations to evil.
The Greek word endurance comes from two Greek words, to remain and under. The idea is to remain under the weight of the trial. God says the trials build up your spiritual maturity and impact as you learn to remain under the weight of the trial. The picture that comes to mind is Olympic weightlifting. On the dead lift, they raise the weighted bar above their heads and hold it there until the judges signal with a light that they can drop the weight. So through these difficult tests, Christians learn to withstand pressure and trials until God removes it at the perfect time. The Lord tests you with the trial and you remain under the weight of it until He releases you.
Endurance is not merely suffering through the trial, it is smiling through the trial. The response of joy to trials is powerful. Throughout history, even persecutors were amazed at Christians who died singing while burning at the stake. The non-Christians were shocked at their smiling through the flames. At the Circus in Rome, there were Christians who jumped in. Joy in trial is not a giddy or frivolous joy, nor is it a joy because you get to have another trial. No, the joy that comes in the midst of a trial results from a deep well of trusting awareness that God is producing great things in your life through this trial. Which is why James adds verse 4, and . . .
#3 Have CONFIDENCE to mature from reacting differently to difficulties Verse 4
Responding with all joy to trials causes you believers to radically mature in Christ. Verse 2 is to choose to react in joy to your difficulties. Verse 2, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” Verse 3 is to comprehend the reasons for responding in joy to your trials—”knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” They will change you. And now verse 4 is to have confidence your Lord will use your heart of joy to trials to radically transform you.
Verse 4, “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James commands his intimate brothers and assumed sisters in Christ to let trials do their work. Verse 4, “And let endurance have its perfect result”–continually allow this growth in endurance, this maturing of character, this growing up as a Christian come to its completion. Perfect result is completing. James says keep enduring until it finishes its job. Like the smelting of gold, allow the trial to cook all the impurities out of your life, since it will make you more valuable, more useful, and more impactful for God’s purposes. Respond to trials with joy so the trials will do God’s intentional work in your life.
What work is that? James tells you God has three major goals in verse 4–see them? “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be  perfect, and  complete,  lacking in nothing.” So that is a purpose statement–a hina–here is the purpose of difficulties. Here are the reasons James gives for trials in your life. Instead of doubting God when you’re hit with a difficulty, trust Him with all your heart. Instead of questioning His control or blaming Satan, embrace His purposes being the cause for all things. Instead of allowing yourself to suspect His care for you, crawl into his arms for He cares for you. Instead of whining, worship. Instead of grousing, glorify Him. Instead of anger, adore. Your trials, your hardships, your difficulties are for three reasons . . .
First Perfecting You
Perfect is the word teleios, meaning fully developed, mature. Perfect here is not talking about sinlessness or spiritual perfection. In the Scripture, if a person is teleios or perfect, then they are full grown. If an animal is teleios or perfect, then it is offered to God as acceptable worship. Perfect is the idea of being fit for the task. The goal of trials is to prepare you for a task, a ministry, a work, a labor for Christ–it is giving you the gas so you can drive. It is causing you to grow mature so you can learn how to help others who are not. It is making you more like Christ the perfect one, and less like you the imperfect one.
Phillips says in his commentary, “The word ‘Perfect’ carries the idea of being fully developed, of being fully instructed and fully ready for the task God designed you for.” Paul said it best, as he beautifully described spiritual maturity in Galatians 4:19, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.” Perfect is Christ formed in you. Perfect is, “He must increase and you must decrease.” Perfecting is what trials do when they are responded to with trusting joy. “Count it all joy,” Christian–God is making you more like His Son. And He is also . . .
Second Completing You
Completing you is removing the weaknesses and imperfections of your character. Completing you is training an army so that it’s ready to win the battle. Completing you is God using trials as tools to get you ready for spiritual warfare and fruitful ministry. Completing you carries that idea of making you whole, making you entirely. The prefix on the Greek word complete is holo, from where we get holograph, a 360 degree, three-dimensional depiction of an object, is complete in every way. Completing you has the idea of complete in all your parts.
Trials often affect different areas of your life–so God uses trials to complete His work in your life, part by part–shoring up weaknesses and sometimes focusing on the parts of your engine that don’t function well. What? You’ve great a great tranny and can shift gears really well, but your tires are too slick. Meaning you’re flexible, you can shift–but not stable, you slide. So God will trial up your stability. You, responding in joy to trials, will then allow the Lord to complete you in every area. And because James wants there to be no misunderstanding of what trials do, he adds . . .
Third Lacking in Nothing
The end result of trials is maturity, completeness, not lacking in anything of spiritual importance or spiritual value. Peter said it this way in 1 Peter 5:10, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Lacking nothing is a verb type which indicates it is God who does it. The God who loves you is all-wise, all-powerful and in total control. And He will use trials providentially in your life to perfect you and complete you so you are lacking in nothing.
God will use trials to complete what He started, Philippians 1:6b. “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” One of the great tools in God’s sanctification workshop is trials–they work best when you choose to react in joy to your difficulties. Comprehend the reasons for responding in joy to your trials and have confidence your Lord will use your heart of joy in trials to radically transform you.
Each of you here and listening will stare tragedy in the face and experience great difficult in your life. How you respond to those trials will make an incredible difference in life now and will impact your eternal life.
A Choosing joy in difficulties is a CAREFUL exhortation
The worst response you can make today is to attack others in their trials by saying, “Count it all joy!” You have just lost your car, house, your retirement, your spouse–and some sincere Christian, who thinks Jobs counselors are the best, stabs you with, “Count it all joy.” At that point, you’re usually looking for a stick so you can count some joy on their head—“Here’s some joy–this is making me feel better!”
Listen, your job is to speak lovingly to each other–to bear one another’s burdens and pray for each other. Then carefully say, “I’ll be praying the Lord will use this trial in a great way and you will be able to find His joy in all of this. If I can help, let me know.” Then mean it and keep checking back.
B Choosing joy in difficulties impacts OTHERS for Christ
Is James out of his mind, “Count it all joy”? Some of James’ readers have lost their homes! No, James desires the world to see Christ through you. We live in a world that worships convenience, and seeks to remove all discomfort, relieve any pressure and deny sorrow. For the lost to really notice Christ, we have to be radically different.
And when we display true, Holy Spirit-empowered full joy in the midst of difficulties, discomforts, pressures and sorrows, those without that supernatural ability will take notice. Not silly joy, not forced happiness, but a deep and full confidence in our God, our salvation, in His control, His wisdom and love in the midst of trial lets others know that Christ is alive, Christ is real, and Christ is the only way of salvation.
C Choosing joy in difficulties requires the FILLING of the Spirit
You trust Christ for your salvation, and you need to trust Him with your sanctification. You can’t express supernatural joy unless you are filled with the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit”–meaning, saturate your mind with His Word with a heart desiring to obey the Word in all things.
Live dependently, reliantly, expectantly upon the Spirit, confessing all known sin and seeking to serve the saints and share the Gospel with the saints, with the overall desire for the Spirit to live through you. Only by relying on the Spirit of God for everything will we see His fruit through us in trial. Only through dependence upon the Spirit of God will you be able to manifest supernatural joy.
D Choosing Joy in difficulties demonstrates WISDOM
You can’t control your life, your circumstances, your family, other people or your trials. But you can control your reaction to them. When you do, you demonstrate wisdom–which is exactly what James calls Christians to do (next week) in verses 5 to 8.
E Choosing Joy in difficulties proves your faith is GENUINE
Only those in Christ can have a settled conviction to express joy in trials. Some in the Church who are not in Christ are happy, faithful, even caring when life is easy, but when life gets hard, they become unfaithful or even fade away. Where are you at? If life gets tough, do you disappear or do you depend more? When your church expects you to obey God’s Word, do you recede or resolve? Does commitment fire you up or frighten you away? Because true believers demonstrate their genuine faith when trials and pressure hit. Let’s pray.