Today, we begin our detailed study of the content of the book of James. Before we look at today’s passage, it will be profitable for us to discuss the book’s structure and theme. At first glance, James seems to move from issue to issue in his letter without a concern for developing a strong theological argument. To a casual reader, it might even appear as if his choice of topics is somewhat random.
However, though James does not offer as straightforward an argument as, for example, the apostle Paul, that does not mean there is no overarching theme in this letter. As we shall see as we progress in our study, James’ overriding concern is to show us how to deal with various afflictions from the perspective of an authentic faith displayed in word and deed. Coupled with this is his concern that our faith might be purified through such trials. That is to say, James understands that God uses trials to strengthen our trust in Him and to bring fruit into our lives that we might otherwise be lacking.
We see an illustration of this in today’s passage. For we are told to “count it all joy” when we “meet trials of various kinds” (v. 2). In context, the trials spoken of here have to do with outward afflictions or troubles. When we encounter sufferings and harassments, we are to receive them with joy.
We must receive these trials with joy because in these testings, steadfastness will be produced (v. 3). The word translated as “testing” occurs rarely in the Bible, appearing only three other times. In this case, “testing” deals more with purification through trial than with examination to see whether faith is present. When we meet trials faithfully, our struggle purifies our faith and produces steadfastness.
Throughout life, our faith must grow. We start with a small faith, but as we live the Christian life our faith becomes stronger, enabling us to trust God more and more. As the disciples once did, so too must we ask God to increase our faith (Luke 17:5). This He will do by bringing us through various trials so that our faith will produce the steadfastness of perseverance, guaranteeing that our sanctification will be completed in glory.
Simply because faith is purified throughout life does not mean that our works contribute in any way to our justification. Rather, this teaching recognizes that we must continually strive to keep our faith in Christ alone. Many things come against us that tempt us to take our eyes off of Jesus and look for our hope in other places. If you are going through trials today, remember that God uses them to purify your faith and to lead you to trust in Him alone for deliverance.