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James Series: Responding Well to Trials (1:1-4)

Updated: May 2

Responding Well to Trials

From James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes dispersed abroad. Greetings! My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.

James 1:1-4

How can we respond well to trials?

James, Jesus’ brother, is the author of this epistle. While Christ was alive, he wasn’t a follower of Christ (John 7:5). It seems that he converted after Christ resurrected and appeared to him (1 Cor 15:7). He eventually became an apostle—meaning that he testified to Christ’s resurrection and helped build the church through his teaching. He became known as James the Just. Tradition says that he developed rough knees like a camel because of all the time he spent praying.[1] In contrast to Paul’s ministry being primarily to Gentiles, James’ ministry was primarily to Jewish Christians, even as Peter’s was (Gal 2:7-9). When Paul and Barnabas approached the Jerusalem church about whether Gentile Christians needed to practice the law, James presided over that council (Acts 15). He apparently had become the leader of the Jerusalem church.

James addressed this letter to the “twelve tribes dispersed abroad” (v. 1). From this, it is clear that James was writing to Jews who were scattered throughout the world. The fact that he continually calls them “brothers” (cf. James 1:19, 2:1, 14, 5:7, 9, 12, 19, etc.) means the recipients were Jewish Christians. Most likely, James was specifically addressing Jewish Christians who were scattered from Jerusalem because of persecution, as seen in Acts 8:1. He probably had even pastored many of them. In Acts, the gospel spread to the Gentile world, in part, because of Jewish Christians fleeing persecution (cf. Acts 11:19). These believers were being forced to leave their homes, property, and cities. They were hated by Gentiles and Jews alike—causing them to be scattered like seeds everywhere. No doubt, James’ intention was to encourage them all, even ones not originally from Jerusalem. Therefore, James teaches them how to respond to trials in the very beginning of the letter.

As we consider how to respond well to trials in the initial verses of James, we must ask ourselves, “What is our typical response to trials?” and “How can we respond better?” From this text, we will draw several principles to help us prepare for trials and be faithful when experiencing them.

Big Question: How can believers respond well to the various trials they experience, as demonstrated in James 1:2-4?

To Respond Well to Trials, We Must Expect Them

My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials,

James 1:2

It must be noticed that James doesn’t say “if you fall into all sorts of trials” but “when.” This means that being a Christian does not remove trials from our lives. In fact, it may increase them! Christians still experience sickness, discouragement, loss, and at times, even persecution. In 1 Peter 4:12 (ESV), Peter tells suffering Christians, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Interpretation Question: What types of trials were these scattered Jewish Christians experiencing, as seen throughout the book?

(1) The Jewish believers were experiencing religious persecution. James says the rich were oppressing them, dragging them into court, and blaspheming God’s name (Jam 2:6-7). Some had even been murdered by the rich (Jam 5:6). (2) There was conflict with other believers happening within the churches. James talked about quarrels, fights, and envy among them—some had even been murdered in the disputes (Jam 4:1-2). He called for them to not grumble against one another—less they be judged by God (Jam 5:9). (3) Obviously, some were struggling with poverty in the church, as James continually spoke to the poor or about them throughout the letter (Jam 1:9, 2:1-6, 5:1-6). No doubt, some were poor from fleeing persecution in their countries—they were essentially refugees. (4) Finally, a major trial amongst the Jewish Christians was temptation to compromise with the world—maybe to escape criticism and persecution. James said to them “friendship with the world means hostility towards God” (4:4). No doubt, there were also common trials like sickness, loneliness, and discouragement.

Two things to note about trials we experience: The word “fall” suggests something sudden and unpredictable. Often trials happen quickly and come out of nowhere. Earlier today we were fine, and now we are not. Family situations happen, criticism happens, physical problems happen. Sometimes, they happen so quickly, we don’t even realize that we are in a trial. But secondly, James says “all sorts” of trials. This can be translated variegated or multicolored.[10] This means that we all encounter various types of trials. Some are small things that simply bother us like being stuck in traffic or being late to an appointment. Other things are big like a long-term sickness, difficult family issues, conflict at work, or financial problems.

Living in a fallen world means that we will experience sudden and various types of trials. We shouldn’t be surprised at them, but instead, we should expect them. Unfortunately, some errant church doctrines or evangelistic techniques imply or directly teach people that following Christ will make life easier. They might even promise health and wealth! That is not necessarily true, and James certainly doesn’t teach the poor Christians that in this letter. When a person becomes a follower of Christ, they become an enemy of Satan. When Satan attacked Job, it manifested in financial loss, family problems, and physical sickness—all allowed under the sovereignty of God. People who are won to Christ based on promises that everything in life will get better, including wealth and health, often don’t last very long when trials come.

When Christ sought to win people to himself, he told them if they were going to be his disciples, they had to be willing to hate their father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even their own life. They had to be willing to take up their cross—meaning to be willing to die for him—if they were going to be his disciples (Lk 14:26-27). He told his disciples that in this world they would have tribulation, including the world hating them (cf. John 16:33, 15:18, Matt 24:9). Christ was not a religious salesman—selling the benefits but hiding the difficulties. They come together. Following Christ has tremendous benefits, but it is a narrow road, which means we’ll often be lonely and have to leave things behind (including people). It is carrying a cross—meaning it will be difficult. Therefore, if we are going to respond well to trials, we must expect them and not be surprised when we encounter them.

Application Question: Why is expecting difficulties so important to responding well to trials? How have teachings infiltrated the church which lessen believers’ expectations of suffering and therefore make them unprepared for it? Share a time where the surprise of a difficulty overwhelmed you (or someone else) and hurt your faith (or their faith).

To Respond Well to Trials, We Must Biblically Evaluate Them

My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.

James 1:2-4

As James spoke to suffering Christians, he said that in order to respond well to trials, they must think properly about them. In verse 1, he says to “consider,” and in verse 3, he says “because you know.” “Consider” is actually a financial term—meaning to “count” or “evaluate.”[11] Often when trials come, we just respond emotionally with anger, frustration, or discouragement. And these negative responses often make the situation worse. When we respond negatively to conflict with a friend, family member, or co-worker, it provokes a negative response from them. Negative seeds produce negative fruits (Gal 6:7). Instead of responding negatively, James says that when we encounter a trial, we must first think biblically about them. We must take some time to consider and ponder what we know.

Interpretation Question: What should believers think about when considering their trials?

1. Believers should think about trials as a test of faith.

James says when a trial happens, we must remember that it has come to test our faith (v. 3). When taking a test, one passes the test by focusing on the subject being tested. One will never pass a math test if he spends all his time studying history. In the same way, though there are practical things we must take care of when encountering a trial, the main thing we must focus on is our faith—because that’s what God is testing.

The word “test” was used of testing the genuineness of a metal[12] and also purifying that metal from impurities in order to make it stronger.[13] Similarly, God allows trials to prove whether we trust in him or not. Therefore, when a trial comes, one should ask himself, “Do I trust God with this situation? Do I believe what God says about trials?” Trials come to reveal the quality of our faith—is it weak, strong, or even authentic. For some, trials make them forget about God—they don’t pray, don’t read their Bibles, and it actually leads them further into sin. This demonstrates a weak faith. For others, their faith draws them to worship, prayer, God’s Word, serving and depending on others, and this demonstrates a strong faith. However, for some, the trial proves that their faith is not authentic at all. Christ described this in the Parable of the Sower of the Seeds (Matt 13:20-21). The seed sown on rocky ground received the Word joyfully but when trial or persecution over the Word came, it did not endure. In fact, because persecution, false teaching, and lawlessness will only grow in these end times, Christ said that the love of many would grow cold and only those who endured to the end would be saved (Matt 24:9-13). We should not be surprised when we find many falling away from biblical Christianity, as persecution increases. Their falling away (and not returning) proves that their faith was never truly genuine—their seed was on rocky ground.

Therefore, one of the things we must evaluate as we encounter various trials is our faith. What does the test say about our faith? Are we trusting and obeying him as we encounter the trial or are we drawing away from him? God told Israel he led them into the wilderness to test them and see what was in their hearts, if they would obey God’s commands (Dt 8:2 NIV). God does the same with us. Will you obey him? When encountering trials, our focus must be on our faith, more than people, circumstances, or other things.

2. Believers should think of endurance as a goal in trials.

Often our focus when in a trial is simply getting out of it. However, one of the main things God desires to create in us during a trial is endurance (v. 3-4). The Greek word literally means to “remain under.”[14] It’s a picture of a person standing under the pressure of a heavy weight for a long time. Likewise, that is something we must consider when we encounter trials. The trial at our job doesn’t mean it’s necessarily time to quit or find a new one. The trial in our body doesn’t mean it’s time to give up hope and neither does the trial at home. God often will put us in a trial and require us to stay there for a season until his purpose is accomplished in it. Remember, there is value in holding that heavy weight. When a person wants to get stronger, they put their body under stress and weight in the gym, on the track, or sports field. And God does the same with our spiritual lives through trials, as well. We must consider this reality in trials, especially long ones.

In Romans 5:3-4, Paul says we know “that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.” While faithfully enduring trials, we grow in godly character traits like patience—waiting on God to change our circumstance or bring people to repentance—joy—regardless of our situation—self-control—controlling our emotions and our emotions not controlling us, and many other virtues. Paul said this is something that we “know” (v. 3). When encountering trials, we must consider the value of enduring—remaining up under a heavy weight. It is to be desired, and it is priceless!

3. Believers should think about the ultimate outcome of the trial—Christlikeness.

James says, “let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything” (v. 4). God’s purpose in the trial is to make us “perfect” and “complete.” Some have tried to argue that “perfect” only refers to spiritual maturity and not sinless perfection. However, both aspects seem to be wrapped up in the word “perfect.” “Perfect” is the same word Christ used in Matthew 5:48 when he said to his disciples, “So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Christ gives members of his kingdom an impossible command—perfection, being like God. Certainly, we will never reach perfection on this earth; however, it should be our continual aim—to be more like Christ every day (cf. Phil 3:10-15, Rom 8:28-29). We do this by practicing obedience to his commands, spiritual disciplines like prayer and reading God’s Word, turning away from sin and temptation, etc.; however, one important aspect of our growth in Christlikeness is trials. God uses them to perfect us—help us get rid of sin and add various virtues to our lives. And, the more like Christ we become, the more God can use us for his kingdom.

When encountering trials, we must think deeply about being conformed to Christ’s image. In fact, it must be our goal. It’s easy to be patient when not having to wait. It’s easy to endure when life is pleasant. It’s easy to love when not dealing with someone who is difficult. It’s easy to be holy when not being tempted. In our trials, our goal must be to become complete, mature, lacking nothing—looking like Christ!

4. Believers should think of how God is in control of our trials.

James never says this, but it is implied. If God were not in control of our trials, they wouldn’t always work to make us more complete—like Christ. That’s the promise of Romans 8:28-29. It says:

And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

This promise is only for true believers. For those whose faith is not genuine, all things don’t work for their good. Trials often lead them into further sin and possibly to turning fully away from God. Death leads to them ultimately being separated from God. But for the true believer, everything works for our good. Even death leads us to becoming just like Christ—without sin.

We must remember that God holds the temperature gauge on our trials. First Corinthians 10:13 says, “No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.” This means that our boss is not in control; terrorists are not in control, and Satan is not in control. God is. And he only allows us to go through things we can bear and which work for our good. As we evaluate our trials, we must see God as totally in control of them and not people or the devil. If we don’t recognize this, we’ll be more prone to anxiety and worry, which commonly leads to depression (cf. Prov 12:25), and we’ll forfeit a lot of the hope that is meant to sustain and enable us to endure.

If we are going to respond well to trials, we must evaluate our trials biblically. We must consider that the major trial and the little trial are really about our faith. Even when Satan tried to sift Peter like wheat, the trial was all about his faith. Christ said that he had prayed for him that his faith not fail (Lk 22:32). Are you trusting God in your trial or doubting and drawing away from him? We must remember that endurance is a virtue. Many times, it is not his will to immediately remove that difficult person, that sickness, the busyness, or the waiting season—there is value to it. God uses endurance to make us mature—more like Christ, lacking no virtues.

Application Question: How do you typically respond in trials? What are some of your common negative responses when encountering them? How have you experienced trials that God used to add virtues to your life like humility, patience, joy, and discipline, and remove vices? Why is it important to remember that God is in total control of trials and not Satan or people?

To Respond Well to Trials, We Must Rejoice in Them

My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials,

James 1:2

Some might consider James insensitive, as they consider his command to suffering saints to “consider it nothing but joy.” However, as mentioned previously, James’ command is based on theology—a person properly evaluating their trial in light of God’s Word. This is taught throughout Scripture: Matthew 5:11-12 says,

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.

Why should believers rejoice when persecuted for righteousness? It’s because their reward is great in heaven and because the godly prophets were also persecuted. After considering their persecution in light of Scripture, they should have pure joy. Certainly, we saw this practiced by the apostles in the book of Acts. In Acts 5:40-41, after the apostles were beaten for speaking in Christ’s name, they left rejoicing because they were considered worthy to suffer for Christ. Likewise, in Acts 16:25, Paul and Silas sang hymns to God in the prison after suffering. It was a logical conclusion after considering their trials in light of God’s purposes. Again, Paul said this in Romans 5:3-4, “Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.”

Application Question: How can we practice rejoicing in trials?

1. Rejoicing in trials is an act of the will and not necessarily emotional.

Joy in trials is not natural, which is why “consider it nothing but joy” is a command in the original language.[15] We must choose to rejoice, as an act of obedience to God—despite negative thoughts, emotions, and circumstances.

2. Rejoicing in trials is based on our knowledge of God’s Word.

Rejoicing in trials is not rejoicing or delighting in our pain or difficulty (cf. Heb 12:11). James is not commanding some type of masochism. Again, this joy is based on knowing what God is doing through the trial. He is producing endurance in us and making us mature, so he can use us. It’s also based on our recognition of God being in control. It is possible to believe these realities are true and not think upon them in a trial or live them out. For this reason, we must be constant in God’s Word. It helps fill our mind with truth when we are tempted to doubt. If our knowledge of and time in God’s Word is small, our joy will be small or nonexistent in trials. Joy is based on knowledge of and belief in God’s Word.

3. Rejoicing in trials is not independent of proper mourning.

James is not telling believers who have lost their homes or experienced the death of relatives to not mourn or to deny that they are in pain. It is possible for mourning to exist alongside joy. In the second beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted,” the word “blessed” can also be translated “happy” (Matt 5:4). In mourning over sin and its tragic effects, we can also have pure joy because God is in control, has conquered sin and somehow will use it for good. It’s possible for both genuine joy and mourning to exist together. For example, when Lazarus died and the relatives cried, Christ did not rebuke them. In fact, he cried with them, even though he would raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:33-35). Paul, in fact, described himself as “sorrowful but always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10). Therefore, James is not telling us to put on our happy face and deny the fact that we are hurting. Often times, mourning is biblical. We are called to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” (Rom 12:15 NIV). The only difference between Christian mourning and non-Christian mourning is that ours should be done in hope (1 Thess 4:13).

4. Rejoicing in trials means rejecting wrong attitudes in our trials.

In writing to persecuted believers, the writer of Hebrews warns against two negative responses to trials in Hebrews 12:6:

You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin. And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons? “My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.”

  • Believers should be careful to not scorn God in the midst of their trials. In trials, we are tempted to doubt God’s love for us, his goodness, and therefore become angry with him. That’s why the author of Hebrews challenged suffering Jewish Christians to not scorn God’s discipline, which in the context included their persecution. Others may not directly scorn God, but they do so through their complaining. By complaining, they say, “God you are not in control!” or “God you don’t care!” Philippians 2:14 commands us to, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.”

  • Believers should be careful to not give up or lose courage in the midst of trials. Some give up on God altogether in a trial—they stop reading their Bibles, stop coming to small group and church, and commonly turn to some type of sin or addiction to cope instead of turning to God. They ultimately lose hope—faith that God is using the trial for their good.

When we adopt either of these bad attitudes in our trials, we hinder God’s purposes. Oftentimes, by responding negatively, we extend our trials. Like Israel, instead of entering the promised land, we spend extended time in the wilderness until we learn our lesson. If trials are a test of our faith, when we fail the test, we repeat it, and sometimes, the test is harder the next time.

5. Rejoicing in trials leads to God’s special enablement during and after our trials.

Consider what Paul said when God refused to remove his thorn in the flesh but to instead display power in Paul’s weakness: “… So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me” (2 Cor 12:9). Paul boasted in his trial “so that the power of Christ” would reside in him. Paul understood that an obedient response to trials leads to blessing. If he complained against God or murmured against others, it would rob him of God’s power and potentially lead to discipline (cf. 1 Cor 10:10-11). If we endure and rejoice, we reap the benefits of James’ promise—God uses the trial to complete us, to make us more like Christ.

Some who don’t endure and instead cultivate wrong attitudes and actions in their trials become crippled by their trials instead of stronger through them. They develop a lack of trust for God and others, lack of peace, anxieties, and addictions. After challenging persecuted believers to have right attitudes in their trials and to trust God’s purposes, the author of Hebrews said, “Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed” (Heb 12:12-13). It is certainly possibly to become spiritually and emotionally crippled by our trials if we respond wrongly to them.

However, if we trust God by rejoicing in our trials, it leads to God’s special enablement—both to endure our trials and to be empowered through them. It was after thirteen years of slavery and prison, that God used Joseph powerfully to help nations and the poor people in them. It was after Moses fled for his life from Egypt and became a shepherd for forty years in the wilderness, that God called and anointed him to lead Israel. It was after Christ’s time in the wilderness that the Spirit empowered him for his teaching and miracle ministry (cf. Lk 4:14). Often God uses our trials for the same purpose—to prepare us and equip us for a greater ministry if we are faithful in them (cf. 2 Cor 1:3-7). Are you rejoicing, as an act of faith, in your trials? God wants to bless, equip, and prepare you for greater works through your trial.

Application Question: Why is it so difficult to rejoice in our trials? How can joy and mourning both exist together? In what ways have you seen or experienced how rejoicing in trials leads to God’s blessing and how complaining compounds problems? How have you seen God equip you (or others) for greater ministry through a trial or series of trials?


How can we respond well to trials?

  1. To Respond Well to Trials, We Must Expect Them

  2. To Respond Well to Trials, We Must Biblically Evaluate Them

  3. To Respond Well to Trials, We Must Rejoice in Them


[1] Hughes, R. K. (1991). James: faith that works (p. 16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Guzik, D. (2013). James (Jas 1:1). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 5). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 2). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 2). Chicago: Moody Press.

[6] Richardson, K. A. (1997). James (Vol. 36, p. 24). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[7] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 336). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[8] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 336). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[9] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 13). Chicago: Moody Press.

[10] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 25). Chicago: Moody Press.

[11] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 338). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[12] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 26). Chicago: Moody Press.

[13] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, p. 33). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[14] Moo, D. J. (2000). The letter of James (p. 55). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

[15] Richardson, K. A. (1997). James (Vol. 36, p. 58). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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