The Purpose of Trials: to Bring You Joy

Scriptures: James 1:2

“Come quietly, or there will be trouble.” I’ve always loved that line. It was uttered by the robotic humanoid, Robocop, leering at a criminal with gun in hand. Trouble came. It does to us all. And most of us scoff at the warning to come quietly. We come kicking and screaming. Then we wallow in self-pity. What can we say? We are criminals.

The truth is, troubles are used as instruments in the hands of God. He uses them to chisel us, shape us, and make us more presentable to Him and to each other. And by looking at you, I’d say you need some good trouble!

In James 1:2, the Lord wants to talk to us about our attitude toward trials. Although trials are often troublesome, even painful, they are nonetheless meant for our joy. We can either come quietly or experience trouble.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” (Ja. 1:2)

Remember, that the bulk of chapter 1 is meant to inform us on painful trials maturing faith (Ja. 1:1-18). This way, we are better prepared to endure them. This verse gives us a handful characteristics that are get us closer to that end. Let’s start with some low hanging fruit.

Trials are Tests

It might be obvious, but James is referring to tests. Some translations use the word “temptations” which can be misleading. By “trials,” he does not have in mind an internal lure to evil, but an external examination of faith. The word “trials” literally means experiments. In fact, the next verse explounds the idea by using “tests of your faith” (Ja. 1:3). Tests are used to establish quality, performance, and reliability. In this case, they are used to establish the worth of your faith.

Trials are Manifold

Next, notice that James describes these tests as being “of various kinds” (Ja. 1:2). This is the word used to describe Joseph’s “coat of many colors” (Gen. 37:3). In the gospel of Mark, Jesus “healed many who were sick with various diseases” (Mk. 1:34). Trials are not cookie-cutter or mass produced. They are multifaceted and multidimensional—like fingerprints. We can often convince ourselves that we are repeating God’s tests, but they are never the same. We learn exactly what God intends us to learn.

Trials are Certain

If you blink while reading the verse, you might miss this next one. James says “when you meet trials,” not “if you meet trials” (Ja. 1:2). Trials are inevitable. You will be tried. Someone once said to me that we are always entering a trial, in the middle of a trial, or existing one. Trials are a part of life. We are people of trials, just like James and the twelve tribes. Peter even tell us “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). Trials are our lot in life. They are certain, as the day grows old.

Trials are Planned

This next element is a tricky one. James uses the word “meet” to refer to the way we encounter trials. To us, they are unexpected. We “fall into them,” as the Greek word implies (Lk. 10:30). They are unplanned and unforeseen—to us. However, to God, nothing is unplanned or unforeseen. Paul said, “we know that we are destined for this” (1 Thess. 3:3). From God’s perspective, trials are planned. The word “destined” suggest that God, knowing exactly how we need to grow, puts us in the midst of trials.

Trials are for Your Joy

Now, for the tasty part. “Count [trials] all joy,” says James (Ja. 1:1). I once heard happiness defined as an attitude of delight based on present circumstances. In other words, happiness is connected to happenstance. We cannot strategize for happiness. It depends on good things happening. Joy, on the other hand, is an attitude of delight based on the nature of God. Therefore, joy is constant. Theologically speaking, it is a gift from God (Ps. 16:11; Lk. 2:10) to those who believe (Rom. 14:17; Gal. 5:22) and receive His Word (Jer. 15:16; 1 Jn. 1:4) mixed with trials (1 Thess 1:6) and hope for future glory (Jude 24). Joy is excited when we fix our thoughts on the unchanging goodness of God toward us (Rom. 8:28). Even trials are meant for our good.

Trials are for Believers

As a closing note, it is worth mentioning that James addresses this to “my brothers,” not the general public (Ja. 1:2). By this, he means specifically the household of faith. Joy is an exclusive characteristic of believers. Unbelievers cannot experience true joy. It is as elusive as happiness. Joy is found inside the door of Christ. The good news is that all are invited to walk in this door. If you want joy, come to Christ—He is joy.

Christian, how do you respond to trials? What attitude do you most see in your heart when afflictions come unexpectedly? Are you rejoicing when your faith is tested?

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