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James 1:2

ESV Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
NIV Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
NASB Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,
CSB Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials,
NLT Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
KJV My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;

What does James 1:2 mean?

Other authors, such as Paul, often open their letters with gradual introductions. Not so with James. Without warming up or giving comforting introductory words, James immediately launches into the foundation of his letter. He begins with a profoundly challenging command. In essence, he says that we should find joy in bad things happening to us.

Of course, that's exactly backwards from a normal human response to hardship. Many of James' readers were likely facing poverty and persecution, but he purposefully uses the words "trials of various kinds." Everyone experiences trials. James means for believers to respond to troubles, regardless of size, by counting that experience as "joy." What in the world could that mean, and why would James write such a demanding thing to suffering people?

As usual, context is key in understanding the meaning of Scripture. Verses 3 and 4 provide crucial explanation for what James means. To stop with this verse will create deep misunderstanding. Also, we must notice what James does NOT say. He doesn't command Christians to "feel happy" when trials come. He tells us to "call it" joyful, to label it as a thing worth rejoicing over.

The word "count" is used in some translations instead of "consider." This is from the Greek hēgēsasthe, which is an accounting term. The word relates to organizing or collecting things. James is implying that we should enter our hardships as deposits into the checkbook of our life, not withdrawals. He's not talking about our immediate emotional response to a flat tire, or an illness, or the loss of a loved one. He's talking about how we categorize that moment when assessing our life as a whole.

It's still a hard command. And yet, it acknowledges something important which we don't always admit: we can decide how we will describe any moment to ourselves. We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can, apparently, control how we think about our circumstances. When bad things happen, we can immediately say, "This is terrible. This is a bad day. My life is going wrong. Why did this happen to me?" Or we can say to ourselves, "This is a bad thing, but I will get through it. I will learn and be stronger. I will call the growth and strength worth rejoicing over, even while it hurts."

That brings us to the next question: Why would God want us to respond to bad things in this way? The next two verses will answer that question.
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