James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. -James 1:1-4
Luther called James’ letter “an epistle of straw”, communicating that the ideas wouldn’t stand the judgment and would be consumed as chaff. And when it comes down to it, I can appreciate his perspective. He was struggling to free himself and those he would lead from the corruption and legalism of the 16th century Catholic Church, and James, being a Jew, expressed his Christian faith in terms of imperative after imperative. In layman’s terms, James says do this and don’t do this, and Luther had suffered beneath the weight of a similar, although unsanctified, approach to faith.
Nonetheless, it is this very practice that makes James such an amazingly practical book. Whereas Paul teaches in Galatians that genuine faith is a matter of the heart, that it is purely internal, James teaches us what sort of fruit is borne out of a genuine faith. This is what the book of James is all about…the Outer Signs of Inner Faith. Similar to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, perhaps even an exposition of Jesus’ sermon, James blesses anyone who reads it with an opportunity to examine himself in light of the standards James lays forth.
Verse 2 teaches that we are to be utterly joyous when we face trials. First, what is a trial? Is it simply a difficulty we will inevitably face as believers? Though this is partially correct, it’s not the full story. A trial is often a hard time, but what makes it a trial is that our response to the difficulty is to be judged. Just like in a courtroom, we are to examine our behaviors and thereby know our guilt or innocence before the Lord.
But how in the world can we experience joy in the midst of hardship? It hinges on our focus. If we value the things of the world more than those of the Kingdom, we will always lack joy. However, if we value eternal things more than the temporal, we will understand that God works through times of suffering to mature us, equipping us to be used for the sake of His glory. The life of worship is one of sacrifice, and the mature believer joyfully lays down a life of comfort for the sake of the Kingdom.
The for Outer Sign of Inner Faith is that we are joyful in trials. The next time you face difficulty, whether it is being stuck in a traffic jam which makes you late to work, your kid mouths off to you, or you drop a gallon of milk as you pull it from the fridge which explodes as it hits the floor, your response will serve as an indicator of the authenticity and maturity of your faith.
Let us press on in pursuing those things that are indicative of genuine faith that we may live with assurance, that we may grow in to maturity, and that Christ may be magnified!
Grace & Peace,