“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials.”—JAS. 1:2.
SONG 111 Our Reasons for Joy
1-2. According to Matthew 5:11, how should we view trials?
JESUS promised his followers that they would be genuinely happy. He also warned those who love him that they would face trials. (Matt. 10:22, 23; Luke 6:20-23) We find joy in being disciples of Christ. But how do we feel about the possibility of being opposed by our family, persecuted by the government, or pressured to do what is wrong by our workmates or schoolmates? Understandably, such possibilities can make us feel anxious.
2 People do not normally view persecution as a reason to feel joyful. Yet, that is exactly what God’s Word tells us to do. For example, the disciple James wrote that instead of feeling overwhelmed, we should consider it a joy when we go through trials. (Jas. 1:2, 12) And Jesus said that we should be happy even when we are persecuted. (Read Matthew 5:11.) How can we keep our joy despite trials? We can learn much by considering a few thoughts from the letter that James wrote to the early Christians. First, let us consider the challenges that those Christians faced.
WHAT TRIALS DID THE FIRST-CENTURY CHRISTIANS FACE?
3. What happened shortly after James became a disciple of Jesus?
3 Shortly after Jesus’ half brother James became a disciple, opposition broke out against Christians in Jerusalem. (Acts 1:14; 5:17, 18) And when the disciple Stephen was murdered, many Christians fled the city and “were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria,” eventually as far away as Cyprus and Antioch. (Acts 7:58–8:1; 11:19) We can only imagine the hardship the disciples had to endure. Still, they eagerly preached the good news wherever they went, and congregations were established throughout the Roman Empire. (1 Pet. 1:1) But far more turbulent times lay ahead for the early Christians.
4. What other trials did the early Christians have to endure?
4 The early Christians had to endure a variety of trials. For instance, about the year 50 C.E., Roman Emperor Claudius ordered all Jews to leave Rome. So Jews who had become Christians were forced to abandon their homes and relocate elsewhere. (Acts 18:1-3) About 61 C.E., the apostle Paul wrote that his fellow Christians had been publicly reproached, put in prison, and plundered. (Heb. 10:32-34) And just like other people, Christians had to endure poverty and sickness.—Rom. 15:26; Phil. 2:25-27.
5. What questions will we answer?
5 When James wrote his letter before the year 62 C.E., he was fully aware of the trials being experienced by his brothers and sisters. Jehovah inspired James to write to those Christians to give them practical advice that would help them remain joyful even when facing trials. Let us examine the letter of James and answer these questions: What is the joy that James wrote about? What could rob a Christian of that joy? And how can wisdom, faith, and courage help us to maintain our joy no matter what trials we face?
WHAT MAKES A CHRISTIAN FEEL JOY?
6. According to Luke 6:22, 23, why can a Christian feel joy when suffering trials?
6 People may think that they can be happy only if they have good health, a lot of money, and peaceful family relationships. But the type of joy that James wrote about is a part of the fruitage of God’s spirit and is not dependent on a person’s circumstances. (Gal. 5:22) A Christian gains joy, or a deep sense of happiness, from knowing that he is pleasing Jehovah and following Jesus’ example. (Read Luke 6:22, 23; Col. 1:10, 11) Like a flame burning inside the protection of a lantern, this type of joy burns within a Christian’s heart. It does not flicker when health fails or money is scarce. And it is not snuffed out by ridicule or opposition from family members or others. Rather than being put out, the flame burns brighter each time opposers try to extinguish it. The trials we face because of our faith confirm that we are true disciples of Christ. (Matt. 10:22; 24:9; John 15:20) For good reason, James could write: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials.”—Jas. 1:2.
7-8. How does our faith benefit from being tested?
7 James identifies an additional reason why Christians are willing to face even severe trials. He says: “This tested quality of your faith produces endurance.” (Jas. 1:3) Trials can be likened to the fire that is used to forge a blade of steel. When the blade is heated and cooled, the steel becomes stronger. Similarly, when we endure trials, our faith is strengthened. That is why James wrote: “Let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and sound in all respects.” (Jas. 1:4) When we see that our trials make our faith stronger, we can endure them with joy.
8 In his letter, James also identifies some of the things that could cause us to lose our joy. What are those challenges, and how can we overcome them?
OVERCOMING CHALLENGES THAT COULD ROB US OF JOY
9. Why do we need wisdom?
9 The challenge: Not knowing what to do. When undergoing a trial, we want to look to Jehovah for help to make choices that please him, benefit our brothers and sisters, and help us to keep our own integrity. (Jer. 10:23) We need wisdom to know what course to take and what we should say to those who oppose us. If we do not know what to do, we may feel that we are helpless victims of our circumstances, and we could quickly lose our joy.
10. To gain wisdom, what does James 1:5 tell us we need to do?
10 The solution: Ask Jehovah for wisdom. If we are to endure our trials with joy, we must first ask Jehovah in prayer to give us the wisdom we need to make good decisions. (Read James 1:5.) How should we react if we feel that Jehovah does not answer our prayer immediately? James says that we should “keep asking” God. Jehovah is not annoyed when we keep asking him for wisdom. He will not reproach us. Our heavenly Father “gives generously” when we pray for the wisdom to endure our trials. (Ps. 25:12, 13) He sees our trials, he has empathy, and he is eager to help us. Certainly, that is a cause for joy! How, though, does Jehovah give us wisdom?
11. What else must we do to gain wisdom?
11 Jehovah gives us wisdom by means of his Word. (Prov. 2:6) To gain that wisdom, we must study God’s Word and Bible-based publications. But we need to do more than just accumulate knowledge. We must put God’s wisdom to work in our life by acting on his advice. James wrote: “Become doers of the word and not hearers only.” (Jas. 1:22) When we apply God’s counsel, we become more peaceable, reasonable, and merciful. (Jas. 3:17) Those qualities help us to deal with any trial without losing our joy.
12. Why is it important that we know the Bible well?
12 God’s Word acts like a mirror, helping us to identify and address what we need to work on. (Jas. 1:23-25) For example, after studying God’s Word, we might realize that we need to control our temper. With Jehovah’s help, we learn how to be mild when dealing with people or problems that could provoke us. Because we are mild, we cope better with the pressures we face. We are able to think more clearly and make better decisions. (Jas. 3:13) How important it is that we know the Bible well!
13. Why should we study the examples set by Bible characters?
13 Sometimes we learn what to avoid only after we make a mistake. But that is a hard way to learn. A better way to gain wisdom is to learn from both the successes and the mistakes of others. That is why James encourages us to look at examples set by such Bible characters as Abraham, Rahab, Job, and Elijah. (Jas. 2:21-26; 5:10, 11, 17, 18) Those loyal servants of Jehovah were able to endure trials that could have robbed them of joy. Their examples of endurance show that with Jehovah’s help we can do the same.
14-15. Why must we resolve our doubts?
14 The challenge: Unresolved doubts. From time to time, we might have difficulty understanding something in God’s Word. Or Jehovah may not answer our prayers the way that we had hoped for. This may give rise to doubts. If we ignore our doubts, they will weaken our faith and damage our relationship with Jehovah. (Jas. 1:7, 8) And they could even make us lose our hope for the future.
15 The apostle Paul likened our hope for the future to an anchor. (Heb. 6:19) An anchor stabilizes a ship during a storm and stops it from drifting onto rocks. But an anchor is useful only if the chain that attaches it to the ship does not break. Just as rust weakens an anchor chain, so unresolved doubts weaken our faith. When tested by opposition, a person who has doubts could lose faith that Jehovah will fulfill his promises. If we lose our faith, we lose our hope. As James says, the doubter “is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and blown about.” (Jas. 1:6) A person in that position is unlikely to feel any joy at all!
16. What should we do if we have doubts?
16 The solution: Face your doubts; strengthen your faith. Do not be indecisive. In the days of the prophet Elijah, Jehovah’s people had become indecisive. Elijah told them: “How long will you be limping between two different opinions? If Jehovah is the true God, follow him; but if Baal is, follow him!” (1 Ki. 18:21) The same is true today. We need to do some research to prove to ourselves that Jehovah is God, that the Bible is his Word, and that Jehovah’s Witnesses are his people. (1 Thess. 5:21) Doing all of that will dispel our doubts and strengthen our faith. If we need help to resolve our doubts, we can ask the elders. We must take decisive action if we are to maintain our joy in serving Jehovah!
17. What will happen if we lose our courage?
17 The challenge: Discouragement. God’s Word says: “If you become discouraged in the day of distress, your strength will be meager.” (Prov. 24:10) The Hebrew word translated “become discouraged” can mean “to lose courage.” If you lose your courage, you will quickly lose your joy.
18. What does it mean to endure?
18 The solution: Rely on Jehovah to give you the courage to endure. We need to have courage if we are to endure trials. (Jas. 5:11) The word James used that is rendered “endurance” conveys the idea of someone who remains steadfast in his position. We might think of a soldier courageously standing his ground against the enemy, refusing to give an inch no matter how fiercely he is attacked.
19. What can we learn from the example set by the apostle Paul?
19 The apostle Paul set an outstanding example of courage and endurance. At times, he felt weak. But he was able to endure because he relied on Jehovah to give him the strength he needed. (2 Cor. 12:8-10; Phil. 4:13) We can have that kind of strength and courage if we humbly recognize that we need Jehovah’s help.—Jas. 4:10.
DRAW CLOSE TO GOD AND KEEP YOUR JOY
20-21. Of what can we be certain?
20 We can be certain that the trials we face are not punishment from Jehovah. James assures us: “When under trial, let no one say: ‘I am being tried by God.’ For with evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone.” (Jas. 1:13) When we are convinced of that fact, we are drawn closer to our loving heavenly Father.—Jas. 4:8.
21 Jehovah “does not vary or change.” (Jas. 1:17) He supported the first-century Christians through their trials, and he will help each of us today too. Earnestly ask Jehovah to help you gain wisdom, faith, and courage. He will answer your prayers. Then you can be certain that he will help you to maintain your joy while enduring trials!
SONG 128 Enduring to the End
a The book of James is full of practical counsel on dealing with trials. This article reviews some of the advice James offers. This advice can help us to endure hardship without losing our joy in serving Jehovah.
b PICTURE DESCRIPTION: A brother is arrested in his home. His wife and daughter look on as police officers take him away. While the husband is in prison, fellow worshippers join the sister and her daughter for family worship. The mother and daughter frequently ask Jehovah for strength to endure their trial. Jehovah gives them inner peace and courage. As a result, their faith grows stronger, enabling them to endure with joy.