Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 July 10, 2016
“Count It All Joy”
Text: James 1:2-4
I was preparing another sermon for you this week—to wit, one on 2 Timothy 3:14-17 concerning the nature and uses of Scripture. I love that text, and I wanted you to have the riches available in it. Yet I could not think and pray my way clear on the text. By God’s grace I usually gain clarity from Him, after study and prayer, how to deliver a given portion of His Word to you. This, to my surprise, did not happen with the 2 Timothy text. Late in the week I received unusual assistance from on high regarding this text from James 1, and I pray it blesses you in Jesus Christ. It routinely blesses me such. Therefore, let us all hear from our gracious God in His Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Notice James’s Spirit-led remark, “…when you meet trials.” Notice that the Lord did not lead James to write, “…if you meet trials.” The fact, simply, is this: Trials will come in the Christian life. The Lord does tell us our posture when they come. When we meet trials, in God’s good providence, count it all joy. This posture stands counter to our usual first reaction to a trial falling upon us. Often trials bring—or threaten to bring—gloom and the like. Yet the Lord, through His servant James, tells us to count it joy when we meet trials. We shall see, God willing, reasons for considering trials joy as we proceed.
James, led by the Spirit, uses a word for met that literally means fall into (Greek peripipto [peripiptw]). It is not as if we go looking for trials, but in God’s ordering of events they providentially find us. In fact, trials often accost us—not unlike the robbers accosting the traveler in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). These accosting trials take various forms; let’s reflect on just a few.
Sometimes our trials are chiefly physical. That is, we face health issues such as sickness, injury, or weakness. We also from time to time may face material or financial lack. Even the climatic condition under which we live can constitute trial. The Deep South during the so-called dog days endures pestilential heat and humidity. Many in the upper Great Plains, the upper Midwest, and northern New England must wonder annually if winter ever will end. Many around here and in other parts of the country deal with seasonal allergies. These certainly can rise to the level of Biblical trial.
Sometimes our trials are chiefly emotional. We endure grief over loss—loss of loved ones, loss of function, and other losses as well. We feel sorrow—sometimes deeply—over life situations. We hurt when we lose employ and cannot obtain new employ. We struggle in life generally when we struggle in our relationships with other people—and we ache from loneliness when we have few or very few relationships. Our sorrow can degenerate into despair, disillusionment, and the like. The state of our nation and world can drag us in this direction, if we be not careful to resist. Emotional trial is no less real—and no less painful—than physical trial.
Sometimes our trials are chiefly spiritual. We find ourselves battling—every hour, day and day out, it seems—against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We find ourselves struggling to resist sin and, consequently, to live the Christ-like life. We also at times find ourselves perplexed concerning God’s will—or, perhaps even more achingly, we find ourselves waiting with protracted longing for God to bring our heart’s desire (cf. Psalm 37:4) to pass. These, like the other two realms, hurt—and sometimes quite a bit. Why should we count these painful difficulties all joy?
Scripture tells us today that the testing of our faith, via trial, leads to steadfastness, or perseverance (or endurance, or patience, Greek hypomone [upomonh]). In other words, God works in our trials to produce patient, calm, unprovoked endurance of difficulty. More than this, He works in our trials to strengthen our spiritual muscle. This informs what the English Standard Version translators render here as steadfastness.
Steadfastness, having its full effect, produces maturity and completeness, to use the New International Version’s translation. God uses trial in our lives to develop that seasoning and shaping and veteran Christian experience that He designs for each of His redeemed in Christ Jesus. We see, moreover, that our wholeness rests in God in Christ alone. In Him we have no lack of anything needful. We have every resource from on high both to be and to do His will. This is a good end that began in trial—a good end indeed. Hence, count it all joy when met by trials, because God is at work in your life—both to glorify Himself and to bless you.
There are other purposes of God in our trials not listed in our text today. By trials, God weans us off self-reliance onto God-reliance. We truly begin to see, in the grand scheme of things, how little we can do and how must He must do. This sharpens our prayer life, and then we begin to see Him do things far above what we ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Also, by trials God enlarges our ministerial capacity. Our suffering helps us to be more compassionate toward others—particularly when they hurt. Our experience of God’s goodness in trial will make us a blessing to other believers who cannot see His goodness in their difficulties. Furthermore, by trials God weakens this world’s hold on us and sharpens our desire for Heaven. Many a veteran saint, nearing Home (to use the title of Billy Graham’s book), tells me, “I’m ready.” This is not morbidity, nor is it suicidal death-wish. It is Paul’s desire to depart and to be with Christ replayed in the lives of many others nearing the earthly finish line. Trials accomplish this happy state too.
Some (presumably well-meaning) Christians will tell you if you fall into trials, then something is wrong in your spiritual life. Perhaps you have unconfessed sin, or perhaps your devotion (or your very faith in Jesus) is simply incomplete or unacceptably weak. Don’t you believe it. God is at work for His glory and your good in your trials. Therefore, count it all joy, by the help of the Holy Spirit, when they come.