Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE JOY DIRECTIVE”

James 1.2

Imagine yourself a Jewish Christian newly settled into a community in the Middle East almost two thousand years ago, having fled for your life to escape the murderous rage of the Jewish officials and Pharisees in Jerusalem. You had traveled from home to celebrate the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem, but could not return with your companions after they had heard Peter’s preaching, were pricked in their hearts, turned from their sins to Jesus, and became followers of The Way. Thinking they had lost their minds, you were furious at them for interrupting your plans, until you, too, were converted to Christ some weeks later.

In the beginning, the entire city of Jerusalem was in a state of shock. Having never recovered from the Savior’s crucifixion and resurrection, the entire city was in a daze with reports of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances. Then it was noised about that He had actually ascended to heaven. You had heard those rumors when you first arrived for Pentecost. The city then blew up with excitement and activity as thousands of people were baptized, as dozens of gatherings in the Temple and in homes took place to explain to people what was happening, and to teach them what the Hebrew scriptures predicted about Jesus. It seemed to you at the time that Judaism was convulsing with change as miracles were performed, as astounding upheavals took place in the lives of your traveling companions, and as you became more and more aware of your own guilt in the sight of God for your sins. Again and again, those who had been with Jesus from the beginning told why He was crucified, showed where in scripture the various prophets had foretold it all, and that they had seen Him with their own eyes after He was raised from the dead. Several women were willing to show anyone who wanted where Jesus had been buried, and the circumstances of that day when they had gone to the tomb only to find it empty and Jesus raised from the dead. Of course, the rabbis in the synagogues continually ridiculed and berated the men who had been with Jesus, calling them ignorant and unlearned. However, over time you began to realize that despite their criticisms they had no answers for what so many people claimed they had seen with their own eyes. Hundreds of people who avowed they had known Jesus before His crucifixion were adamant that they had seen Him alive from the dead. You became even more troubled, wondering if the great miracle God had worked in the lives of others would ever be your own experience. Then one day, under the preaching of one of the twelve when the gospel was once again set forth in its simplicity, you felt the tugs of your heartstrings and you, too, embraced the risen Savior and became a new creation, by God’s grace. Oh, how the sun shined that day. How clean the air smelled. All was different, because you were different, now a child of God.

It proved to be difficult living in the city. Resources were limited, jobs were scarce, and the family back home cut you off and refused to send you your money so you could buy food and help those you were living with. You survived only because of the sacrifice of other believers, who really did not have that much but gave willingly. What a great tragedy that your loved ones believed the rabbis instead of you, and were certain you had lost your mind with too much religion. Thinking you had turned your back on the faith of your fathers, they did not realize that Jesus is the promised Messiah and that He is the realization of the hope and expectation of your fathers. You could understand the rising tide of persecution in Jerusalem. After all, the city was overcrowded, those newly converted to Christ were penniless and hungry, and (worst of all) those who continued to reject Jesus felt their religion and way of life was being torn apart. Everywhere they turned there were new believers testifying and conducting Bible studies, in the synagogues, on rooftops, and even in the Temple courtyard. They seemed not to understand that they had nothing to fear from Jesus, but that He came to complete them, to redeem them, to forgive them, and to make them fit subjects of His kingdom. Sadly, the persecution turned bloody and you and thousands of others had to flee for your lives. How you made it, you will never know. Too much was a blur of confusion. Running for days on end and hiding, always hiding. Several times Gentile Christians had helped you escape the hunters who searched for you and the others. Eventually you were far enough away, and with enough time lapsing, that you seemed safer. You were able to put your skills to use and resume your trade so that you could support yourself and help others get on their feet, and you gathered almost daily with other believers for prayer, encouragement, and study of the Hebrew Scriptures. From time to time, you even brought a Gentile with you to the meeting, and you found them receptive to the gospel. Life was wonderful. Fellowship was sweet. The Bible came to be more cherished to you than you had imagined was possible.

However, you had somehow also convinced yourself that once you had escaped the persecution launched against believers by Jewish officials things would settle down. Not that you were inexperienced with persecution, since Jewish people had known almost constant persecution at some level for centuries. Yet, you had thought things would now be different with both Jewish believers and some Gentiles worshiping Jesus together. You discovered things were not different at all. The persecutions continued just as before, only now coming from an additional source. Now you were persecuted because not only you were Jewish, but those who were Jewish because you were a Christian also persecuted you. How would you describe your response to these various afflictions? After all, life would difficult enough for you if everyone just left you alone. Working, fetching water, preparing meals, mending clothes, and scratching out an existence was a challenge all by itself. However, it was not all by itself. Piled on top of the difficulties of life were those things heaped on you by unsaved family members, those who hated you because you are a Jew, and then there were those who hated you because you are a Christian (be they pagans or Jews themselves).

One evening, just after sunset, you arrived at the gathering of believers for prayer and study to see the others especially excited. Entering the house and sitting down, you learn that a letter has been received. It is from James. Just hearing his name and remembering your love for him causes the tears to stream down your cheeks. How wonderful were those days in Jerusalem. What wisdom and tender love he showed to you. He was the man who was your pastor, and now someone is going to read a letter written by him. You can hardly wait. The stranger begins to read, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” Yes, that is how you remember him. Very direct, but with gentleness on his face and love in his eyes for the flock. Never pretentious or exalted, he was a servant, and so he identifies himself in his letter. His letter is addressed to the diaspora. You had never thought of yourself that way before, but had reserved that word in your mind for Jewish people of past generations. However, James is right. You are of the diaspora, the Christian Jew diaspora. After his greeting and address, your pastor begins his inspired letter in a way that immediately grips your heart: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” You can almost hear the sound of his voice as his letter is read to you. He is pastoring you, providing direction for your life, and ministering grace to you who are wise enough to receive it. Listen carefully, Christian, as this first of the inspired writers of the New Testament reaches out across two thousand years to shepherd his flock that had been scattered by persecution.

His first statement to them in the body of his letter is a directive. He is not asking them how they feel. He knows how they feel. He is not asking their opinion. He is their pastor, and is used by the Holy Spirit to give to them what they need. If you will listen to him, take his words to heart, God will bless you for it as he ministers grace to you. In this verse, James refers to three things that are as applicable to you as they were to those he originally addressed his letter to:

First, HE REFERS TO YOUR FAMILY

He writes, “My brethren.”

Though James writes with the directness of one who is used to being heard, and also heeded, this man who was once their pastor is their pastor no more. Therefore, he writes to them and to us as our brother in Christ. Thus, it is not the church relationship that is prominent in this letter, but the spiritual family relationship. He, and they, and I, and you if you know Christ, are brothers. We are more certainly brothers than any two born of the same father and the same mother. From numerous places in God’s Word, we understand that human family relationships are both wonderful and helpful, though they are temporary and not in any way eternal. The only eternal relationships that exist are the ones that are spiritual. What makes us spiritual brothers is the adoption we receive from God the Father, the salvation purchased for us by our elder brother and the Object of our faith Jesus Christ, and the new birth, that miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit of God. Brothers in Christ, brothers in the family of God, indwelt by the Spirit of adoption, we are a blood-bought and a blood-washed family of confessed sinners saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

This family relationship permeates James’ entire communiqué, the word brethren being used by him not less than seventeen times in the body of this short letter.[1] There is no doubt that he recognizes the responsibility we believers have as children in God’s family, and that he was motivated by his love for the brethren to be a blessing to us. Are you a Christian? If you are, you have a family, a real family, an eternal family, that the physical family you are so familiar with is only a temporary likeness of. Let me encourage you, as a man who enjoys his family and loves his family, to recognize that your spiritual family is actually more real, more important, and more durable than any facade that will only last as long as one of you lives. That family relationship which is made possible by the shed blood of Jesus Christ is wondrous, indeed.

Next, HE REFERS TO YOUR FATE

Look to the end of James 1.2, where is written, “when ye fall into divers temptations.”

Allow me to explain some terms before I point out how this phrase relates to what I have identified as your fate: The word temptations translates a Greek word that can mean very different things, depending on the context in which it is used. Rienecker tells us that peirasmoV is used sometimes regarding outward trials and inward temptations. Therefore, it can refer to either a trial or a temptation.[2] Thus, we see that in this verse the word refers to a trial, a testing brought by God, whereas in verse 13 a temptation that is an enticement to commit sin is meant. The word divers clearly shows that these testings come into a believer’s life from any number of directions, with no predictability possible. You can go to a job interview driving on a new set of tires, only to run over something falling from the truck in front of you to give you a flat and make you late to the interview. You can also go to get your teeth cleaned, at which time the dental technician performs an examination and detects something on your tongue that turns out to be cancer. These and other things are impossible to predict. The phrase begins with the words “when ye fall.” The Greek verb is found only twice in the New Testament, the other time when Jesus taught the parable of the Good Samaritan who “fell among” thieves. My friend, there are some things that you simply cannot avoid. I remember once, years ago, when the Carreker’s car was parked in front of the church and a tree between the sidewalk and the curb fell over and crushed the roof of their car. How do you anticipate that?

What is the point that James is making here? Some things cannot be avoided. They are not solicitations to commit sin, though they can become occasions to sinning. Rather, they are the unforeseen and unavoidable challenges that are brought into the Christian’s life to test him. Perhaps you are doing the best you can on your job, but you get a termination notice because events beyond your control result in a downturn in the company’s fortunes and you are one of many who loses your job. What can you do to avoid that? Nothing. It may be that a physical problem presents itself in the form of Parkinson’s disease, in the form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or you suffer an automobile accident that is no fault of your own. It happens at the worst possible time, but it happens and there is nothing you can do about it. These things occur to both the saved and the lost, to the Christian and the non-Christian, though they do not mean the same thing for the non-Christian as they do for the child of God. For the child of God such things are temptations, which is to say that they are testings brought into your life by God. However, for the unsaved person such things are random, the result of chaos, and in a universe of anarchy and meaninglessness. Take two people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, MS. One is a child of God, and to him the onset of MS is a temptation, rightly seen as a trial brought into his life by God for good reasons and for a good end. Ultimately, it is part of that which works to him being conformed to the image of God’s dear Son, Romans 8.29. For the unsaved fellow, that MS has no meaning whatsoever, is utterly without benefit to him or the cause of Christ, and is a completely irrational and accidental occurrence so far as he is concerned. Christian, understand that some things just happen. Such things are not designed to tempt you to commit sin or to chastise you if you have sinned. They are simply part of what God brings into the lives of His children, to fulfill His purposes, and to accomplish His ends.

Finally, HE REFERS YOUR FORESIGHT

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.”

Knowing that such things are going to happen to you, and that you can do nothing to anticipate all of them, much less do anything to avoid them all, James issues an inspired directive to his readers, to those he used to guide in the Jerusalem church, and also to you and me. “Count it all joy.” I say that James issues a directive because “count it all joy” is not advice that this man of God is giving. The verb is an imperative. James is directing his readers to adopt a certain attitude that is called for. A state of mind is to be embraced in consideration of unforeseen things guaranteed to happen.[3] What is that attitude he urges upon us in light of things that are bound to happen? What are you to decide to do, instead of waiting until something happens to decide what to do? You are to “count it all joy.” Does this mean you are to enjoy the difficulties you are experiencing? Not at all. Does it mean you should be happy when a lab test comes back with a bad result or when you miss a step and twist your ankle? Of course not. What it does mean is that whatever happens is recognized for what it is, part and parcel of God’s overall plan to conform you to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

However, there is another feature of the verb form James uses here. Not only is the verb imperative, a command, it is also an aorist, suggesting that James wants you to adopt the desired attitude once and for all, rather than waiting for each challenging event to occur and then deciding how you will react to it, depending on your evaluation of the circumstances. In other words, do not wait until you evaluate what God does through different circumstances that come your way. Decide right now, in advance, that what God tests you with is okay, is acceptable, is commendable, and meets with your approval. Then, when something happens (and something will happen), much to the surprise of the unsaved around you, you can meet it with a smile of approval, trusting your heavenly Father to do well with you in whatever He does with you. In His hands, you are in good hands.

Of course, the stranger continues to read the letter in the dim light of the room, but he reads slowly. Yet your mind races to agree and to accept what James has written. I am his brother in Christ, and will forever be. Afflictions and trials do always happen, and they come at the hand of a gracious heavenly Father. Therefore, I will count it all joy when such things happen. I choose to receive the truth. I accept his ministry of grace to me. Whatever comes, I have decided to count it all joy. That Jewish Christian, who had run for his life before the letter from James caught up with him and the others, lived a different kind of life than those who did not know Christ. Things happened to him. However, things also happened to other people. The difference was how he reacted when things came upon him. He counted it all joy. He decided ahead of time that God knew what He was doing, and that his heavenly Father would bless him through it all, even the painful and frustrating events that befell him.

It is such a wonderful thing to be a Christian, to know Christ, to be the child of your heavenly Father, and to be indwelt by the Spirit of God whose fruit includes joy unspeakable and full of glory. For God’s abundant grace, we are grateful.



[1] James 1.2, 9, 16, 19; 2.1, 5, 14, 15; 3.1, 10, 12; 4.11; 5.7, 9, 10, 12, 19

[2] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 721.

[3] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistle Of James, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), page 71.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org