ACCORDING TO JAMES 1:2–4, 12, there are two reasons why Christians should rejoice when they face trials of various kinds. Other reasons are articulated elsewhere, but these two are remarkably comprehensive.
First, we should rejoice because we know that when our faith is tested, the result is perseverance (James 1:2–3). As an athlete endures in order to build up endurance, so a Christian perseveres under trial in order to build up perseverance. Perseverance contributes something important to our character. It “must finish its work so that [we] may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4). The alternative is a personality that may love the Lord when things are going well, a character that is bold and happy on bright days in the Spring, but knows little of steadfastness under duress, of contentment when physical comforts are withdrawn, of quiet confidence in the living God when faced with persecution, of stability in the midst of a frenetic pace or a massive disappointment. In other words, in a fallen world perseverance contributes maturity and stability to our character—and trials build perseverance. So James is very bold: we should, he says, “consider it pure joy” whenever we face trials of various kinds. This is not a perverse form of Christian masochism, but an entirely appropriate response if we remember the Christian’s goals. If our highest goals are creature comforts, this passage is incomprehensible; if our highest goals include growth in Christian character, James’s evaluation makes eminent sense.
Second, the Christian who perseveres under trial is blessed “because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). In other words, perseverance is a necessary ingredient to genuine Christianity. A real Christian, on the long haul, sticks: he or she perseveres. There may be ups and downs, there may be special victories or temporary defeats, but precisely because the One who has begun a good work in us completes it (Phil. 1:6), real Christians stick (cf. Heb. 3:14). They continue to be “those who love him.” Thus Christians facing a trial must perceive not only the threat or the unpleasantness or the disappointment, but also the challenge for which God’s grace equips us: to press on—always to press on—knowing full well that the ultimate reward, meted out by grace, is “the crown of life”—the crown that is life, life in its consummated splendor, the life of the new heaven and the new earth, the heritage of all Christians. Thus, once again James is entirely realistic to perceive that the person who perseveres under trial is “blessed.” It is an easy calculation, provided we remember the Christian’s goals.