whenever you face trials of many kinds.
James 1:2 NIV
History recounts that in 47 AD, Emperor Claudius celebrated the 800th anniversary of the founding of the city of Rome. Records indicate that in 49 AD he passed an edict expelling all Jews from Rome, and in 50 AD he adopted Nero as his heir. During this period of constant change and turmoil in the Roman Empire, the first century church faced its own struggle—the merging of Jews and Gentiles.
The Jews believed that Gentile converts to the faith should be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law. The Gentiles were not anxious to be entangled with all of the rules and regulations of Judaism—especially circumcision. (Acts 15:2-35) Conflict followed and a delegation led by the Apostle Paul was sent to Jerusalem. James, Jesus’ brother, was an influential leader in the Jerusalem church and after much discussion the conflict was resolved and a letter which included these words was sent to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
“You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.” Acts 15:29 NIV
It was around this time that James wrote to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations…” I find it both interesting and timely that his first instruction to the church was “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” That is a head scratcher! Joy and trials are not words we generally see in the same sentence. But here they are; written by a man who surely knew much about both.
Why did James say that, and how does that apply to you and me today? He continues by telling the Jewish Christians residing in Gentile communities that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. In James 1:12 we read, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
James did not say if you face trials but rather when you face many kinds of trials. He is not writing to those early Christians to say when bad things happen just put on a smile and pretend to be happy. Instead he is encouraging the church to have a positive attitude in the midst of trials in order to profit or learn from the bad and use it for good. I suppose you could say it is the ancient version of, when life hands you a lemon—make lemonade.
It may seem easy to be a man or woman of faith when life is good and trusting God comes naturally. However, what we do with the trials of life that inevitably come to each of us is the true test of our character.
Little did James know that in a few short years Nero would become emperor of Rome, and the persecution of Christians would rise to a new level. But God knew, and through James He was sending a message to the early church to trust Him in the trials of life, to face those trials with the right attitude and to learn from the immediate in order to persevere through the trials on the horizon.
This message is as timely today as when James wrote it almost two thousand years ago. Trials will come. But we have been given the recipe for making it through the tough times. When life hands you a lemon, through faith in God make lemonade, and consider it pure joy.
© Joyce Powell