The lack of toilet paper at Costco tells the story: we may be headed for more stringent lockdowns soon. Trials of a certain kind may return. Yes James still says, tersely, directly, in James 1: “Count it all joy.” Perhaps there’s joy to be had in a protracted lockdown after all?
It Depends . . .
It depends, James says, on two things.
It depends first on “steadfastness”. I wish long-distance running and disciplined eating could produce the kind of steadfastness James is talking about. I wish reading good books and wise living and voting biblically and loving my wife sacrificially and remembering to put out the trash and getting to church on time could produce James’ “steadfastness”. But they don’t. Only trials do it.
Yet this steadfastness is supremely valuable. If we have it, we will be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (4). We immediately think James means a perfection of quality – sinlessness. But the Old Testament time and again considers kings to have done “what is right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done” – though they and David were far from perfect (see, for instance, Hezekiah, 2 Chronicles 29ff). It’s unlikely that James means a perfection of quality here.
We keep reading, and we get clear on what he does mean, in verse 12: this joy depends on this steadfastness – “blessed is the man” – because on the other side of this steadfastness is a “crown of life”.
What Perfect Means
So by “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”, James must mean a perfection of equipping, or outfitting, to endure to the end. If you have this steadfastness, you have everything. Because your everything, your life is not here, not now – it’s then, on the other side of enduring, in that crown of life. Therefore, God is producing in us a steadfastness that’s “perfect”, in that it’s for all seasons. Some of us do well in the crisis, but wilt when the suffering is protracted. Some do well the other way. God wants both in us. The point is not perfection now. The storyline is not “stand prim and proper, while you wait for the bus”. It’s kill the dragon, get the crown.
So we must ask God for wisdom, to see with His eyes that crown that awaits us (5-8). And therefore to see ourselves, as we truly are: bugs, just a breath. On the one hand, all that’s here is passing so quick. But on the other: that crown is coming so soon (9-11).
We need wisdom to see His sovereign purpose, in the trials of war. But be careful: don’t think He authors evil (13). That comes from our hearts. So watch what comes out during the trial, and turn from it, to God (14). Because even what we ourselves mean for evil, God sovereignly, graciously means for our blessed joy (Gen. 50:20) – to produce a kind of steadfastness that will ensure we get the crown (James 1:13). So we need wisdom, to not be deceived, like Adam and Eve in the Garden: our destruction comes when we seek that crown of life by our own desires. But what God demands of us (4) and promises us (12b), God provides for us (17-18). All of it. He kills the dragon; He gives the crown.
So really, God is testing and then producing yet still more faith – faith in Him. Faith doesn’t get us to the end. He does. It’s our faith that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4-5), because Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33). So our faith is in His purpose and promise to give us that crown, all by His free generosity, in power (James 1:12).
So the command is to “count” it all joy, though there is no present joy in substituting paper towels for TP. Which always begs the question why, which leads us to plant our feet, today, on God’s purposes, and promise, and power, to carry us all the way through, until the day that the Giver becomes the only gift, and faith will be sight.
And with our feet planted solidly, we put away what comes out of our hearts (16-21). We look deeply into His law – with each other – for the perfect answers to our imperfect prayers for wisdom (22-25). Then we look and step outside ourselves to support the steadfastness of those most in need (26-27). What man means for evil, in our life, God means for infinite good, in theirs.