Well, if you’re reading through the Bible, you’ll eventually come to the book of James. That’s where we are in our Resting at the River’s Edge readings. My reaction to the news – sigh. So many people seem to love the book of James. I’m not particularly one of them. Don’t get me wrong. I do like it…but I don’t always like it. Those first few verses – seems like they’ve been quoted and taught so many times, but the teachings always seem to come across as wishful thinking to me – you know – “wouldn’t it be great if we did this?” kind of teachings.

It seems cowardly to avoid the passage, though, so I thought I’d dig a little on my own. I did what I often do – looked up the key words. I found some interesting things that helped me with the passage.

First, two translations of the passage, then I’m going to break it down and eventually put it back together.

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4, New International Version (NIV)

2My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James 1:2-4, New King James Version (NKJV)

“Consider/count it all/pure joy”
While I typically prefer the NIV translation over the NKJV, in this case, I think the NIV does the passage a disservice. The Greek word translated “consider/count” is actually a very strong word. “Consider” doesn’t seem to carry the command or authority that the Greek word actually encompasses. When I read “consider it pure joy,” I think of a philosopher musing about the beauty of the white puffy clouds in a beautiful blue sky. The context here is more of “decide that you will respond in joy” – it is a command to be joyful, not an invitation to muse about being joyful.

I used to think that “consider it all joy” meant “consider everything that happens (i.e., all of it) joy.” Actually, the word translated “all” means (conveniently) “all,” but is translated “pure” in the NIV because it modifies the word joy. In other words, James is telling his readers to count the trials as “all joy” or complete joy. Much different perspective. It’s not saying to consider it all joy, it’s saying to consider it all joy. Hmmm. Complete joy. Maybe I need to know more about that word joy.

“Joy” – here’s where the greatest change in my perspective comes in. I’ve never thought of myself as being very good at the joy in the midst of trials part. I’ve heard the teaching about the difference between being joyful and happy, but I really haven’t grasped them deep inside – intellectually, yes; practically, no. Looking at the definition of the Greek word helps me here. One of the first definitions of the word translated “joy” is “calm delight.” I like that. I can be calm and I can delight, by faith, in what God is doing and will do. “Calm delight” and “joy” seem like two radically different concepts to me. When my husband had his heart attack, I experienced calm delight. In the midst of a rocking worship service, I experience joy. The Greek word encompasses both meanings. I had never heard the former.

“whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance/produces patience”
The word for trials/temptations is interesting – it literally means “a putting to proof.” I love it – our trials are our opportunity to prove our faith.

Hang on – it gets more exciting!

The word used for testing here means “a testing; by implication trustworthiness.” Did you catch that? Your opportunity to prove your faith is accomplished through opportunities to be trustworthy or show our trustworthiness. It’s not about painfully enduring trials, it’s about being given opportunities for proving or demonstrating my faith by showing the character of God to the world.

And doing so, develops or produces (accomplishes is another definition) perseverance or patience. The words mean “hopeful endurance or constancy, patient waiting.” Again, not painful endurance, but hopeful endurance and patient waiting. That sounds to me a lot like “calm delight.”

Of course, the passage ends with the wonderful promise this hopeful endurance or patient waiting brings us into maturity, completeness, not lacking anything. What a wonderful promise!

The Sandy Hovatter interpretation of James 1:2-4 reads like this:

Respond in calm delight when you face trials because they are opportunities to prove your faith and to show your trustworthiness. These opportunities produce in you a quality or spirit of hopeful endurance and patient waiting. That calm delight and patient waiting brings you into maturity, so that you are fully complete and do not lack anything. (my interpretation of James 1:2-4)

I can get excited about that.

Calm delight – Lord, with Your help, I can see myself doing that
Trustworthiness – Lord, what a privilege to prove my faithfulness to You. I know that I will fail, sometimes, but I can look forward to opportunities to learn to trust You even more.
Hopeful endurance – When I have to endure, I want it to be in hope, Lord.
Mature, complete, not lacking anything – Lord, it is my destiny in You. Thank You!

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