Jesus Creed

JesusJames*.jpgJames exhorted the messianists to face their exploitation with some courage and faith and to see through the exploitation, which they were incapable of resisting, to something they could get out of it. So he tells them to face the trials with “joy.”

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

Joy here will not denote so much of a happy face and a positive outlook as a deeply grounded confidence in God, leading to an inner disposition of determination to make the most of the situation, growing into a confidence in the final justice of God, and creating the kind of people who are morally mature. This is the sort of thing one will see if one baptizes this text into the whole outlook of James and avoids the simplistic trap of thinking James is a confidence builder or an early proponent of positive thinking. There’s a huge difference between a biblical sense of hope, which is anything but a mental trick, and modern proponents of changing your mental outlook. James urges his folks to look through a situation to see God, to see God’s work, and to see the God will eventually bring justice. (Dress up James 1:2 with James 5:1-6 and 7-11.)

James has a bit of a chain link approach to 1:2-4. James sounds a bit like Paul in Romans 5:3-4:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

This is why I have been saying James urges the messianists to see through the situation to the final result. These early messianists were in very difficult waters with their own culture and the Roman culture around them: not only were Jews held in suspicion, but a messianic Jew had it doubly difficult. The temptation was to strike back with violence (cf. James 1:20 and 4:1-2); James urges them to strike back with patience endurance because of what it would do for character.

Here’s a pastoral gem: James takes the long haul view of suffering. He’s not a wimp; he’s an aggressive, active pastor who knows that God will bring justice and, in that situation, they were to take it on the chin and endure the suffering. God would bring justice.

It is unwise to think James would say this of every instance of suffering; we might discern that we are to “fight back” by protest or boycott or holding peace meetings. His point is not so much strategy as to see through the situation to what God will make of them through the situation.

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