The first topic that James mentions is trials, which probably indicates that the Christian Jews were beginning to be opposed by their Jewish countrymen, a feature that we can read about in the Book of Acts and in the letter to the Hebrews. James, in his letter, refers to several kinds of trouble that his readers were experiencing and indicates that the troubles were connected to their Christian profession. So what does he say about them?
We may be surprised at his first comment, which is that his readers should rejoice when they are tried. He does not mean that the actual trials were pleasant, but he does say that they were the road to blessing. Meanwhile the believer on that road should have very strong joy – all joy. I suppose James here is saying what Paul meant when he urged the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always.
So how can we regard trials as the road to blessing? James tells his readers that they have to use their minds – we can see this is the case by his use of the word translated ‘consider’.
James would have known from the Old Testament that God promises to test his people in a manner that is illustrated by the metalworker who burns the dross of a metal in order to purify it – an example is found in the prophecy of Malachi where God says that he would purify the sons of Levi. The metalworker knew that he had achieved his aim when he could see his own reflection in the metal. It is not difficult to see that the process is a painful one, but that the goal is a worthy one.
We might imagine that if part of us was going to be tested it would be our love for God or our determination to persevere in the faith. Yet it is not difficult see that our faith affects those others actions of the heart. If our faith is weak, then our love and perseverance will be weak, as will everything connected to our holiness. But if our faith is strong, then it will bring strength to those other areas of our spiritual lives. God’s focus, says James, is on developing the faith of his people and they are to consider this when facing problems.