Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. James 1:2-3 (NASB)
Wait! Don’t delete yet. I know, this is probably everyone’s least favorite verse in the Bible. I know I have secretly heard an accusing “You should” at the beginning of this verse. It is a very hard verse and one that I have wrestled with. Amplified a little it says:
Consider it all – each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything – joy when you encounter or fall into as to be encompassed, fall into something that is all around, be surrounded with various trials, or putting to proof, knowing that the testing, or proving or trial, of your faith produces endurance – steadfastness, constancy, cheerful or hopeful endurance.
I have been there, fallen down the hole, encompassed, surrounded with affliction and trouble. “Consider it all joy” sounds almost flippant when you are having a very hard time seeing light let alone joy. But looking at the Greek meanings of some of the words in this verse, especially the word translated “consider,” helps a lot in our understanding.
First, what is joy? The Greek word for joy is chara and means cheerfulness, calm delight, gladness.i It also means “joy, gladness, the cause or occasion of joy, of persons who are one’s joy.”ii People who are our joy, as when Paul wrote the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:20), “Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” It is the word Jesus used when he said, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7 NASB). And also in Hebrews 12:2 where it says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” And in Matthew 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Jesus is the treasure in the field and we find Him with joy. So, we are His joy and He is ours. He promised to be with us always, through all the trials, and in His Presence there is fullness, abundance, satiety of joy (Psalm 16:11b).
The last word in James 1:3, translated “endurance,” is hupomone in the Greek. Hupomone means cheerful, or hopeful endurance, perseverance, steadfastness, constancy. The very root of hupomone is the word meno, which means to abide or remain, as in abiding in the Vine (see The Art of Remaining Present). The only way we can learn to endure or persevere through refining and pruning, is to remain present, remain in the Vine.
I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful … Remain (meno) in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me … I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15: 1-2, 4, 11 NIV)
So, it is possible to have joy in troubles, knowing that God is pruning us and that the pruning makes us more fruitful in this life, and it means that he considers us his children (Hebrew 12:5-8), and that, most wonderfully, he is always with us through it all.
And lo! (behold! see!) I am with (amid, among, together with) you always (daily, individually and collectively, all manner, all means, thoroughly, whatsoever, wholly, whosoever), to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20b (NASB)
Through all those “alls” in “consider it all joy,” he is there with us.
But, the most amazing, and hardest word, in this verse is the one translated “consider.” Many English words seem wimpy and almost apathetic in comparison to the original languages. The Oxford English Dictionary defines consider, in this context, as to “regard (someone or something) as having a specified quality.” So, the verse would say, Regard troubles and afflictions as having the quality of joy. Or, it can mean “believe; think,” as in, Believe it all joy. It also means to “look attentively at,” as in, Look attentively at joy when you encounter various trials. Finally, it can mean to “take (something) into account when making an assessment or judgment.” So, the verse could say, Take joy into account when assessing or judging the meaning or value of your afflictions.
Those last two English meanings are getting very close to the Greek, but still not everything that I need when I am sinking over my head and reaching up for the third and last time for something to grab unto – all but “look attentively at,” if what I am fixing my eyes on is the joy of Jesus. But the original Greek word, hegeomai, is amazing.
I was so surprised to find out that the word translated “consider” in this verse has a prime and root meaning of “to lead.” Strong’s defines it as, “to lead, i.e. command (with official authority); figuratively, to deem, i.e. consider,” to “(be) chief, count, esteem, governor, judge, have the rule over, suppose, think.” So James 1:2 could say, “Lead with joy” or “Command joy.” It means to command in an official authoritative capacity, and in that capacity to judge or assess. It means to rule over, to govern. So, what does this mean? “Considering” afflictions as joy is not a victimized resignation or an unpalatable duty. It is leading with joy, commanding joy, it is taking authority [over self] and ruling, deeming, esteeming, judging my testing and trials as joy. This verse is not unlike the psalmist’s command to self in Psalm 42:5 (NASB):
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence.
This is still not any easy thing to do. But fixing my eyes on Jesus – as the joy set before me, as he fixed his eyes on me – makes it easier. Douglas Taylor, when dying of liver cancer, wrote in his blog (Works Worth Declaring Oct. 11, 2012), “[Thomas] Watson has some very encouraging things to say [in his book, All Things for Good, 1663]. He actually affirms that afflictions make us happy. How can that be? The answer is that, if they are blessed to us, they bring us nearer to God … When the dove could not find any rest for the sole of her foot, then she flew to the ark. When God brings a deluge of affliction upon us, then we fly to the ark of Christ. Thus affliction makes us happy, in bringing us nearer to God. Faith can make use of the waters of affliction, to swim faster to Christ.”
Help me Lord not to sink in despair and self-pity, but to lead with joy, to command joy, and to swim faster to You.
i Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible ii Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
Image copyright Sheila Bair 2018