The Christian's Primary Goal
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
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.”
Have you ever stayed with someone as a house guest? Or done any extended traveling? After a short or long time away from home, there’s nothing quite like sleeping in your own bed again. I enjoy getting away and seeing new places, but at heart I am a homebody, and love the feeling of unpacking my suitcase and putting it back in the closet. There truly is no place like home.
James begins his letter with a challenging exhortation to “count it all joy” when we face various trials. I recently have been considering the connection between this exhortation and his address in verse 1 to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion”.
Certainly the displaced Jewish people felt their status as nomads and strangers, but since James is writing to a mixed (Jewish and non-Jewish) audience, we can take his address as a reminder of our own status. Peter calls us “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). Both of these authors remind their audiences that they are far from home, comfy beds and familiar walls nowhere in sight.
Do I think of myself this way? And what effect does my answer have on my response to trials and suffering?
If I’m honest, while I know intellectually that heaven is my true home and this world is more like a temporary hotel room, I often live as though this is a place to unpack my bags, sprawl out, and begin decorating the walls and buying curtains. I often live as though my primary goal is to be as comfortable as possible.
This being the case, I can feel quite inconvenienced when trouble comes. Inconvenienced at best, distraught at worst. Difficult circumstances disrupt my peace, and they are therefore to be avoided at all cost (and loudly protested when they can’t be avoided).
So the thought of counting it “all joy” when I am faced with trials is kind of a foreign concept to me. But James’s reasoning is sound. He’s not putting forth an argument for masochism (“Pain is good! Enjoy suffering!”); he is instead identifying the many ways we can profit from trials—
our faith is tested, producing steadfastness,
which leads to a completeness, a wholeness, and a lack of nothing.
Sounds pretty great! And really, it makes sense only if I am committed to the reality that I am not at home here. My bags are not stowed away empty in my closet; they are full and open on the borrowed bed, and I am just passing through until I get back to my real home.
I’ve experienced some very interesting things while traveling. A cockroach once traveled up a shower drain and greeted the bottom of my foot, much to my surprise (and horror). It’s funny the things you can roll with when you’re aware that the situation you’re in is temporary.
The word translated “steadfastness” in verses 3 and 4 is one that paints a picture of bearing oneself up under a weight. In a way, trials are like spiritual weight training. God doesn’t desire to crush us, but to strengthen us. To teach us to trust in Him and not in our comfort or our good circumstances (which are so transient and subject to change).
I really love 2nd Corinthians 4:16–18:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
I love the picture of “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”. Let us keep eternity at the forefront of our minds, and we may be surprised the types of weight we can bear up underneath. And one day, we will truly be home. And it will be so good.