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Why You Can Count It All Joy When You Face Trials of Many Kinds (James 12-4)

Why You Can Count It All Joy When You Face Trials (James 1:2 and 1 Peter 1:6)

James 1:2 says you can “count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds,” and 1 Peter 1:6 says, “you greatly rejoice [when] grieved by various trials.” Read or listen to this chapter of Enduring Trials God’s Way to see why you can consider it joy when you face trials.

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The text in this post is from Enduring Trials God’s Way: A Biblical Recipe for Finding Joy in Suffering, and the audio is from the accompanying audiobook. I am praying God uses the book and audiobook to strengthen your faith and exalt Christ!

James 1:2 uses “joy” and “trials” in the same sentence. These words do not go together! Who experiences joy during trials? James even uses the word “all.” He does not say, “Count it some joy…” or “Find a little joy.” He says, “count it all joy.” As contrary as this sounds, it is a theme in Scripture to find joy in trials. Romans 5:3 says, “We glory in tribulations” and 1 Peter 1:6 says, “In this you greatly rejoice… [when] you have been grieved by trials.” You might be thinking: “The Bible does not make sense, because I definitely do not feel joy when I am going through a trial!”

The Bible makes complete sense, because it does not say to “feel” joy during trials. Instead, it says “count it all joy,” because we cannot go by the way we feel. Trials make us feel sorrow and pain, so we must evaluate them independently of our feelings. The word for “count” is hēgeomai, and it means, “To lead, go before, rule, command, have authority over.”4 Here are a few places it is used:

  • Matthew 2:6—“Bethlehem…out of you shall come a Ruler (hēgeomai) Who will shepherd My people Israel.”
  • Acts 7:10—“[Pharaoh] made [Moses] governor (hēgeomai) over Egypt.”
  • Hebrews 13:17—“Obey those who rule (hēgeomai) over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.”

James tells us to “count (hēgeomai) it all joy,” because we must “govern” and “rule” over trials. We must control the way we view them, versus being controlled by our feelings. We must make a mental judgment about trials by considering the way God wants to use them in our lives. Then we can face them with joy.

Count It All Joy When You Face Trials Because of the Maturity Produced

As of 2023 we have nine children and our oldest is fifteen. While we have enjoyed our children at all ages, we still want to see them mature. When they make decisions that disappoint us, we feel as though they are not maturing quickly enough. Consider how tragic it would be if children remained immature throughout their lives.

God is a Father and He also wants His children to mature. The author of Hebrews rebuked some of his readers who had been following Christ for some time, but had not matured:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food…Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God (Hebrews 5:12, 6:1).

Unlike these Hebrew readers, consider the believers in 2 Thessalonians 1:3–4 who had matured significantly:

We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure.

The Thessalonians were a wonderful church. Paul applauded their growth, which he attributed to the trials they experienced. This is one reason we can find joy in trials—we know they are producing patience that leads to maturity. First Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered a little while, [God] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” During trials we can tell ourselves, “This is strengthening me spiritually, giving me endurance, building my faith, and preparing me for the future.” Jerry Bridges said, “Every adversity that comes across our path, whether large or small, is intended to help us grow in some way.”1

The word “patience” suggests waiting, which gives the impression trials make people good at standing in line or waiting at stop lights. Yes, trials can improve our attitudes when we are forced to wait, but that is a poor understanding of the benefit of patience. The Greek word for patience is hypomonē, and it means, “The characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”6

James 1:4 describes the maturity patience leads to in believers’ lives: makes them perfect, complete, and ensures nothing is lacking. Although this sounds like three different benefits of patience, they are synonyms:

  • The Greek word for “perfect” is teleios, but it does not mean free from mistakes. Instead, it means, “Brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness.”
  • The Greek word for “complete” is holoklēros, which means, “complete in all its parts, in no part wanting or unsound, entire, whole.”
  • The Greek words for “lacking nothing” are leipō (lack, be wanting), en (in, by), mēdeis (nobody, nothing).

James 1:4 is not describing three different ways patience helps us; it is describing the maturity patience produces in three different ways.

Patience Allows for Maturity in All Areas of Our Lives

When we suffer, we will sometimes wonder what God is teaching us. We will say things like, “I went through this trial and learned to trust the Lord more,” or “This person hurt me and God used the situation to teach me to forgive.” We can learn from trials, but that is not the point of James 1:4.

Think of children as they age. They grow overall and not only in select areas. The same is true for believers as they age—or grow—spiritually. There is not one part of our lives that matures. The verse is not, “Let patience have its perfect work that you might mature in a weak area God wants to target,” or “That you might learn the lesson God has been trying to teach you for years.” Instead, trials produce patience which leads to maturity that impacts all areas of our Christian lives. The words “perfect,” “complete,” and “lacking nothing,” are all encompassing. Every part of us is affected. If that were not the case, we would not be perfect or complete. We would be lacking.

If I can use a weight lifting analogy, squats are the “King of All Exercises.” They receive this title because they train the whole body. Curls train the biceps, bench presses train the chest, pullups train the back, but when you perform squats, you use more muscles than with any other exercise. Trials are like squats because they are difficult and painful, and because they strengthen the entire body spiritually and not just one area. We are always “lacking” on this side of heaven. We never reach “perfection,” but trials bring us closer to “completion.”

Paul makes this same point in Romans 5:3. First, he says, “We also glory in tribulations,” which is similar to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2), and “In this you greatly rejoice [when] you have been grieved by trials” (1 Peter 1:6). Then he says: “knowing that tribulation produces perseverance” (Romans 5:3b). The Greek word for “perseverance” is hypomonē, which is the same word for “patience” in James 1:3. Paul says, “Tribulation produces perseverance,” and James says, “Trials…produce patience.” In the next verse, Paul states what perseverance (or patience) produces: “and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:4). Does patience produce all that? Yes, because trials lead to well-rounded virtue (or maturity) in all areas. There is no godly quality that trials cannot build, and there is no weakness that trials cannot strengthen. In James and Paul’s lists, patience is first because it is necessary for other blessings:

  • James says patience is the key to being “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4).
  • Paul says perseverance (or patience) is the key to “character and hope” (Romans 5:4).

God wants us to learn patience because if we do not, we will learn almost nothing else. William Barclay said:

All kinds of experiences will come to us. There will be tests of sorrows and disappointments. There will be tests of seductions, and tests of dangers, sacrifices, unpopularity which the Christian life must so often involve. But trials are not meant to make us fall; they are meant to make us soar. They are not meant to defeat us; they are meant to be defeated. They are not meant to make us weaker. They are meant to make us stronger. Therefore we should not bemoan trials; we should rejoice in them. The Christian is like the athlete. The heavier the course of training he undergoes, the more he is glad, because he knows that it is fitting him all the better for victorious effort.

Patience and Maturity Go Hand-In-Hand

Consider that a patient person is usually mature, and a mature person is usually patient. Conversely, an impatient person is usually immature, and an immature person is usually impatient. Children are a good example. When we see children throwing a fit because they are not getting what they want, we think, “That is an immature child.” When we see children waiting patiently, we think, “That is a mature child.” This is why some patient children are more like adults, and some impatient adults are more like children. Maturity is not an issue of age. We reveal our maturity in many ways—through our behavior when we do not get what we want, the way we treat those who mistreat us, and the way we respond to trials. These revelations of maturity are related to patience.

What do we teach our children from an early age so they can learn what we want to instill in them? A simpler way to ask this question is: What is the first word we teach our children? “No!” This teaches them one thing: patience. Children are born impatient. They are selfish in that they only think about themselves. We train them to be patient, and as we do, they mature. Parents recognize if their children learn patience, it will go far in helping them excel. The opposite is also true. When children do not learn patience, it negatively affects the rest of their lives.

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment was a series of studies conducted on children. They were given one marshmallow they could eat immediately, but if they waited until the person conducting the experiment returned about fifteen minutes later, they would receive a second marshmallow. The children fell into two categories—those who ate immediately and those who waited. In follow-up studies conducted years later, the researchers found the children who waited tended to have “better life outcomes as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index, and other life measures.”2 Their patience, or impatience, dramatically affected their futures.

You Count It All Joy When You Face Trials Because God Is “Bringing You into the Deep End”

Sermons and books can teach the benefits of patience and how it is acquired, but only trials can build patience into a person’s life. Over the last few years, I have been taking my children to the pool to teach them to swim. I can talk about swimming with my children, tell them what it is like, or even show them videos of people swimming. If they are going to learn to swim though, at some point, they must get in the water. The same is true with patience. If we want to learn patience, at some point, we must be immersed in trials.

When I first brought the kids to the pool, I could barely get them down the steps. When I got them down the steps, they stayed glued to the sides. When I got them away from the sides, they did not want to learn to swim. When they learned to swim, they did not want to go in the deep end. I had to repeatedly force them to do things they did not want to do.

The first time I took my oldest child, Rhea, to the deep end, she was terrified. She clung to the side while I talked to her about what I wanted her to do and why I wanted her to do it. She cried and begged me to let her go back to the shallow end. Although I had seen the kids’ reluctance since bringing them to the pool, this was the first time I saw genuine fear. I told Rhea, “I have been pushing you since our first visit to the pool. Each time I have had you do things you did not want to do. I know you have not liked it, but if this were not the case you would still be sitting on the steps.” Rhea ended up swimming across the deep end. Soon after she began jumping off the diving board and going down the slide. This has been the pattern with each of my children.

Trials are the deep end of the pool. We do not like them. We do not want to be in them. We would rather sit on the steps where we are comfortable and do not have to be challenged or afraid. If we could, we would probably spend our lives in the shallow end, but there would be two unfortunate consequences. First, we would not be much use to God. He cannot do much with Christians who “cannot swim.” Second, we would not be much like Jesus.

What does it mean to be “perfect and complete, lacking nothing”? The simplest answer is it means becoming like Christ. God uses trials to conform us into the image and likeness of His Son. This involves removing areas of our lives that keep us from being like Him, and trials accomplish this better than almost anything else. Douglas Kelly said: “As God’s dear children, we, who are by grace adopted, are called into the fellowship of suffering, soon enough to be followed by stupendous glory, with the only begotten Son the suffering precedes the glory; the cross precedes the crown, both in the order of experience of the eternal Son of God and also in that of adopted sons and daughters of God.”3

Count It All Joy When You Face Trials Because Perspective Determines Response

Trials are opportunities for joy, but only opportunities. There is no guarantee we will view them the way God commands. A wrong perspective will prevent us from finding joy in trials.

If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us, but if we value maturity more than ease, then we can “count it all joy.” God has a greater purpose than our temporary happiness. He is more concerned about us eternally than temporarily. If we live for the physical—the here and now—then we will despise trials. They will make us resentful. Although, if we live for the spiritual—the eternal—then we can embrace trials.

First Peter 1:6 says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.” Why does Peter say, “for a little while,” when a trial can last for years? Because, if we have an eternal perspective, no matter how long any trial lasts, it always looks like “a little while.”

Second Corinthians 4:17 says, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” When we consider our afflictions with an eternal perspective, they only last “for a moment.” In the next verse, Paul tells us how to have the perspective that is needed during trials: “while we do not look at the things which are seen (an earthly, temporal perspective), but at the things which are not seen (a heavenly, eternal perspective). For the things which are seen are temporary (a little while, for a moment), but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Why Jesus Could Face the Cross with Joy

Although we might be encouraged by the way others handled trials, nobody has ever experienced a trial as well as Jesus. He is our example. God the Son obeyed God the Father perfectly. Jesus did whatever Scripture commanded, including fulfilling the words of James 1:2 decades before they were written. He “counted it all joy” when going to the cross, which was the greatest trial ever experienced. Hebrews 12:2 describes His joy. Let’s break up the verse into parts:

  • “Looking unto Jesus”—He models how to handle trials, so we should set our eyes on Him.
  • “The author and finisher of our faith”—He allows our faith to persevere through the trials we face.
  • “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”—Jesus viewed going to the cross with joy, but the cross itself brought Jesus no more joy than the trials we face bring us joy. Our joy comes from knowing what the trials produce, and Jesus’ joy came from knowing what the cross would produce.

What did the cross accomplish that was so wonderful to Jesus He experienced something so horrific with joy? It was the joy of knowing our sins would be paid for, redeeming us from the pit of hell, and then He would spend eternity with us. If you have repented and put your faith in Christ, then He endured the punishment your sins deserve. What does it mean to repent and put your faith in Jesus? It means turning from your sins and believing that Jesus is the Son of God who died, was buried, and rose again. If you have not repented and put your faith in Christ, then He has not endured the punishment your sins deserve, and you will have to endure that punishment yourself.

Just as Jesus could view the cross with joy by considering what it accomplished, so can we view trials with joy by considering what they accomplish. When we recognize trials work for us and not against us, then we can face them with joy. God’s desire is never to defeat us through trials, whether they be large or small. He brings them to strengthen us. John MacArthur said, “God will always use testing to produce good in us when we meet the test in His power.”4

Discussion Questions

  1. How do we demonstrate patience during trials that allows others to see Christ in us?
  2. How do you typically respond to trials? Is your reaction based on your earthly comforts or heavenly gain?
  3. Discuss three trials in your life and how God used them to help produce patience, mature you, shape your character, and/or strengthen your faith.
  4. Discuss three trials you would describe as “God bringing you into the deep end.” In other words, they stretched, scared, and/or challenged you.
  5. Like Christ, what can you do to focus “on the joy set before you” as you endure trials? In other words, what can you do to “count it all joy” when enduring trials?
  6. How do trials help us become more like Christ?

Footnotes

  1. Bridges, Jerry, Trusting God. NavPress, Reprint Edition 2017, p. 149.
  2. Shoda, Yuichi; Mischel, Walter; Peake, Philip K. (1990). “Predicting Adolescent Cognitive and Self-Regulatory Competencies from Preschool Delay of Gratification: Identifying Diagnostic Conditions.” Developmental Psychology. 26 (6): 978–986. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.26.6.978. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 4, 2011.
  3. Kelly, Douglas. Partakers of Holiness, Tabletalk. October 2004, p. 38.
  4. MacArthur, John. Matthew 1-7 (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary). Moody Publishers; New edition. August 8, 1985, p. 88.

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