“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Mathew 5:11-12
It is unlikely that most of us immediately consider difficulties in Christian life as something that brings us personal joy. It is hard to fail to see beyond the immediate problem that faces us. Why then does James urge the scattered Christians who have fled persecution to consider the trials of life something they should attach joy to? It has to do with how being in Christ resets our long term perspective. The trials of many kinds v2 include persecution but it is a term used to mean all kinds of difficulties that beset us over a lifetime. James’ initial audience were people who no longer lived in their home country which sets up many challenges. Now they followed Christ their value system differed from the culture they lived in. They would have often been treated with suspicion. Such trials can also include financial hardship, ill health and discrimination.
There can be a temptation to give up on one’s faith when hardship comes, especially if the hardship is directly connected to being a follower of Jesus. James though sees these things as an opportunity for Christian growth as did Jesus in Mathew 5:11-12. Perseverance in the faith and in the process to grow more like Jesus is a quality the Holy Spirit develops within us. It cannot be developed without trials and so some of the joy stems from God working within us. As followers of Jesus we cannot expect to be privileged more than Jesus and he faced many trials on our behalf up to and including his trial and death. By going through trials with the Holy Spirit within us he is maturing us as Christians, v4 equipping us for ministry to others and creating in us opportunities for worship.
Joy comes when our goal in life has been changed. If we cannot see beyond our trials we will not find the joy both Jesus and James were speaking of. If our goal is to live for Christ now in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, to become more like Jesus and serve him today with a view to being with him forever then we will find joy in this life and in eternity with him. We have not been called to live in a protected bubble where all hardships are deflected. We are called to go through all life brings with our eyes fixed firmly on him. If we avoid all trials we will not grow in Christ. Perseverance is an important Christian virtue and quality frequently mentioned by Jesus (Luke 8:15;21:19, Mathew 10:22) and perfectly exhibited by Jesus himself.
When Paul and Silas were beaten, put in prison with their feet in stocks they sang hymns and prayed loudly. In their trials they still found joy in their salvation and that they should be considered worthy to suffer for Christ and for the sake of the gospel. We should be careful that any suffering we experience does not arise from sin and disobeying the gospel.
Can you look back on trials in your life and see how Christ developed perseverance within you?
Are you able to keep your eyes on Jesus in the midst of trials?
Bless the Lord O my soul – Matt Redman