Joy in Afflication

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. James 1:2-4

James, the brother of Jesus and Jude, is addressing “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” These twelve tribes were the church scattered by persecution into Syria. The church was almost exclusively Jewish at this point and thus identified as the twelve tribes.

After greeting the church in this way, James deals immediately with the suffering and persecution that the saints were experiencing. He refers to their sufferings in persecution as “temptations.” This is because these sufferings presented the saints with all kinds of temptations. James urges the saints to count it all joy when they fall into (meet) these temptations. The reason is that these temptations are at the same time a trial of their faith. And that is good, because the trial of their faith produces patience. But the saints must let patience have her perfect work, that they may be perfect and entire, wanting (lacking) nothing.

All this applies to us as well. God sends suffering into the life of every one of us. To some there is persecution for Christ’s sake. In addition, there are the sufferings that are common to mankind. These sufferings become the occasion for many kinds of temptations. However, they also constitute a trial of our faith that works patience. Hence, count it all joy when you fall into these temptations.

A divine trial!

James speaks of diverse temptations into which the saints had fallen.

Temptation is the work of the powers of darkness to lead us to destruction by alluring us into sin. There are several things we ought to notice in this regard.

First, temptation is the work of the devil and the wicked world—not of God.

Second, the purpose of the devil in temptation is to destroy our faith, thereby robbing us of our salvation.

Third, the method the devil uses is to allure us into sin of one kind or another. This is because the wages of sin is death.

Finally, temptation always involves a lie. When Satan tempts us, he tries to make us believe that sin is good. How often are we not deceived by this lie?

There are a number of ways the devil tempts us. He may appeal to our pride through false doctrine. Or he may dangle before us the pleasures of sin. He also seeks to use suffering to work in us dissatisfaction with and rebellion against God.

It is the latter that concerns James in this passage. And so we will concentrate our attention on this kind of temptation.

Although God is sovereign even in our sufferings, the devil has his hand in our sufferings. Satan brings sufferings into our lives with the purpose of tempting us to be dissatisfied, bitter, despondent, rebellious, and unfaithful. This is seen clearly in the case of Job, where with God’s permission, Satan brought great suffering to Job in order to tempt him to curse God and die.

In like manner did Satan tempt the saints to whom James wrote this epistle. They were being sorely persecuted. Because of their faith, they were required to flee Jerusalem and endure poverty as the rich took advantage of them. (See chapter 5.) The devil was behind this and presented them with many temptations.

In like manner are we tempted when we must suffer for Christ’s sake or when we suffer the afflictions that are common to mankind.

James indicates that these temptations also constitute a trial of our faith. The same situation that confronts us with a temptation also comprises a trial of our faith. However, there is a significant difference between the two.

Whereas temptation is of the devil, a trial is of God. God is sovereign in all our temptations and uses the circumstances of our temptations to try our faith.

Furthermore, God’s purpose in trying our faith is not that of Satan in temptation. Satan tempts us to destroy our faith. God uses the same situation that brings temptation to strengthen our faith and thus enrich us spiritually.

What really is the trying of our faith?

It would help us to understand that the word translated “trial” has a twofold meaning. It means, first, to put something to the test. For example, metals were put to the test to determine their genuineness. In anticipation that what is tested would prove genuine, this word also took on the meaning of approval.

Both ideas apply here to the idea of trying our faith.

Whenever we are faced with suffering, God is putting our faith to the test. Will we believe God’s promises that He loves us, cares for us, and makes all things work for our good? The devil tempts us to doubt God’s promises and to despair. After all, the circumstances of our suffering seem to contradict God’s Word. And so our faith in God is tested. Will we believe God or will we not believe Him?

God tests our faith in this way not so that He can determine the strength or weakness of our faith. He knows our faith. He tests our faith to show us the weakness of our faith. How suffering and the devil’s temptation that comes with suffering expose the weakness of our faith! How quickly we doubt and despair! It does not take much to bring murmuring against God.

However, our faith is also strengthened through these tests so that it emerges as approved. To overcome the temptation that confronts us in our sufferings requires that we exercise our faith. Faith is exercised through prayer, through meditation on God’s Word, and by seeking the help of our fellow saints. Through this exercise faith is strengthened, even as the body is strengthened through physical exercise. And so our faith also emerges from suffering as approved.

It is this truth that James places before the church in her suffering. The church of James’ day was suffering persecution and sorely tempted. However, James reminds them that behind this suffering is God, who is trying their faith and accomplishing a good thing for them.

We must remember the same in our suffering.

A blessed fruit!

The fruit of all Satan’s temptations that God uses to try our faith is patience.

Patience is endurance. The word used here has the basic meaning of “remaining under.” It emphasizes the idea that, instead of casting off a burden that you are carrying, you remain under it and continue to carry it. Patience is endurance, staying power, perseverance under a heavy burden.

Patience has especially two elements.

First, it is the ability to bear up under suffering and disappointment. Many are crushed by suffering; their spirit is destroyed and they are brought to the point of despair. One that has patience is able to hold up under suffering, bravely facing obstacles with utmost courage and confidence.

Second, patience is the ability to remain faithful to the Lord in the face of suffering. Suffering causes some to turn in bitterness from God, as the devil tempts them to do. Patience, rather, leads one to be faithful to God, persevering in the way of godliness.

According to James the trial of our faith works this patience.

It is rather striking that James indicates that trials work patience. We would expect him to say that meeting trials requires patience. And this is true. However, James emphasizes that the trial of our faith also works patience. It produces and builds up the patience we already have as God’s people.

To understand how this is true, we must bear in mind a few things.

First, patience is a gift of God’s grace to us. The natural man does not have this patience. There is patience on a natural level that the unregenerate have. But he does not have the ability to endure under any circumstance and certainly does not have the ability to be faithful to God in the face of suffering. This kind of patience must be given to us by God in His grace. This patience God gives to all His people when they are born again.

Second, this God-given patience is something that we are able to exercise only in faith, as we lay hold of God’s promises that He cares for us and makes all things work for our good. We do not always exercise our patience. How easily we become disgruntled over the littlest things. We are much inclined to be unfaithful in the face of the daily obstacles of life. This is because of the weakness of our faith, such that we do not lay hold of God’s promises to provide and care for us. But when we respond to suffering in faith, we find an amazing patience. We can bear up under a surprisingly heavy load of suffering and remain faithful to the God whose promises we trust.

And then there are times when the load of suffering God sends is overwhelming. For a while we don’t know which way to turn. And here comes Satan tempting us to curse God and die. God puts us in these situations so that we have nowhere else to turn but to Him. When life is carefree, we often think we can get by without faith. But when God sends great suffering, He forces us to use our faith. Then we not only grow in faith, but also develop patience to a degree we never experienced before.

By the providence of God the life of the saints is one of ongoing trials designed to lead them to grow in faith and patience.

An important calling!

Count it all joy, when ye fall into diverse temptations.

That means that after careful deliberation, you are filled with joy as you deal with your sufferings and the temptations they bring. When faced with suffering, we are often inclined to be full of sorrow and dread. However, when we understand what God is working through suffering, we are able to count it all joy. He is testing and strengthening our faith. And through the strengthening of our faith He is working patience in us.

But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

Patience has a work that it does. Patience works contentment, peace, and godliness in us.

And when patience’s work is perfected (reaches its goal) then we will be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. Notice—perfect! entire! wanting nothing! One is entire when all the virtues of God’s grace are present in his life, so that he is full of good works. One is perfect when these virtues of God’s grace are developed and mature. When that happens, a person wants or lacks nothing.

This is the work of patience.

The exhortation is to let patience have her perfect work. When we face temptation, we must by faith respond with the patience that God has given us. The more diligent we are in this, the more our patience will grow. And as our patience grows, it accomplishes its great work, making us perfect, entire, wanting nothing.

This is God’s ultimate goal in the suffering He sends us.

In this we find our joy.