James is a book that is likely familiar to us. The introduction to this letter is no exception: James starts by noting himself as writer and mentioning his audience, then goes immediately to what could be considered one of the most difficult commands in the New Testament. How is it that we are expected to fulfill this commandment?
What command do I speak of? “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (James 1.2)”. How is this supposed to be possible? I generally don’t enjoy going through difficulty. Does anyone? If it’s true that we have to take joy in trials, then this verse would seem to be saying, “enjoy the unenjoyable.” How are we expected to do this?
We have two options here: either the command is impossible, or it is doable. I know that’s a very basic place to start, but we should briefly consider both possibilities.
If we hold the idea that this would be impossible, what would this passage mean? I suppose James could be speaking figuratively here. But would that make sense? Think about the whole letter. How often are James’ topics purely figurative? I think most or all would agree that James writes to address actions and physical works, not theoretical ideas that might could possibly happen. For the book to start in this way would be a gross mismatch to everything he goes on to write.
I don’t believe that this passage is merely a wishful thought on James’ part; I don’t believe that it’s something we can either pass over or apply figuratively. That kind of unachievable goal doesn’t fit very well in this letter. We’re not commanded to do impossible things.
So, if that’s the case and this command is doable, then think: how could we possibly enjoy trials? Here’s the answer: we don’t. We’re not called to. I quoted James 1.2 earlier. What about James 1.3? “…knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” How are we able to take joy in our trials? Because we know their result. We’re being asked to take joy in the reward for our work, a reward that is gained only by facing challenge. Difficulties themselves are not joyous things for us, but God ultimately makes our suffering worth the effort. We don’t have to enjoy difficulty for the sake of difficulty; we can find joy in difficulty because of the good things God provides us through it.