By Rony Kozman, Ph. D.
Assistant professor of Biblical Studies, Samford University
FAITH ON DISPLAY IN HARD TIMES
Trials can strengthen our faith. (1–4)
Through the course of our lives, we meet different kinds of suffering with varied levels of intensity. The kinds of suffering and their severity can also vary from person to person. Sorrow is our natural response to suffering. We grieve because we have lost something. That is what it means to suffer: to lose something that brings life and joy. The loss of health. The loss of a job or possessions. The loss of a friend or family member.
To suffer is to lack. When we lose these things, we grieve for what we have lost. Yet James wants to raise us from despair to joy. How can we find joy in the midst of loss? We are to turn our loss into an opportunity for gain. If we match our trial, which is the occasion of our loss, with endurance, our endurance will make us “mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” We find joy in our suffering when we turn our loss into an occasion that adds to us and matures us so we are in fact “lacking in nothing.”
Trials require the wisdom of God. (5–8)
Our endurance through suffering fills up what is lacking in our maturity. James also describes this process of maturation as asking and receiving wisdom from God. While we might understand the one who receives wisdom from God as one who asks for wisdom to endure trials, there is another way to read this. Our deficient maturity that suffering can remedy (vv. 2–4) parallels the lack of wisdom we need to ask God to supply in us. The one God fills with wisdom is the “mature and complete” person (v. 4). One who does not lack wisdom but receives it from God is the one who endures trials without wavering. If we endure our trials and ask God for wisdom, we can be sure God will use our trials to mature our character.
Trials can help us keep the right perspective. (9–12)
James aligns his audience with the poor and the lowly. Just as Jesus proclaims a blessing on those who are poor since they possess the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20), James likewise reverses our expectations and identifies his audience with the poor and the lowly. The poor in Christ can find joy in their future exaltation. We can persevere through the trials that impoverish our lives because of our future hope of a “crown of life” God will give to those who endure and love Him.
But James also warns the rich: They and their wealth will wither and fade. This warning to the rich also orients us who are poor to endure our trials. The trials that bring loss and lack of prosperity take away the riches that will be scorched even for the rich. And so we endure the loss of riches and health to seek the crown of life that awaits us who endure our trials and love Christ.