What does the Bible mean when it says “count it all joy”?

‘My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;’ James 1:2

This is the first command James gives in his epistle; to understand what he means by it, we must look at the full passage in context: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” James 1:2–4

The word count is a financial term, and it means “to evaluate.” When James says to “count it all joy,” he encourages his readers to evaluate the way they look at trials. He calls believers to develop a new and improved attitude that considers trials from God’s perspective. James wants believers to know to expect “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2) in the Christian life. We should be prepared and not caught off guard when a sudden trial comes upon us. Trials are part of the Christian experience. Jesus told His disciples, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Typically, a trial is not an occasion for joy. James isn’t suggesting that we pursue trials or court hardship; neither are we to pretend that trials are enjoyable to endure. Trials are difficult and painful. But they exist for a purpose. Trials have the potential of producing something good in us, and, for this reason, they are an opportunity for expressing joy. Knowing there is a bigger picture, we can consider trials as things to rejoice in. Even though joy is contrary to our normal reaction, James urges us to work on changing our attitude toward troubles from dread to positive expectation, faith, trust, and even joy.

James does not merely say “count it joy,” but he says “count it all joy”; that is, we can consider trials and testings as pure, unalloyed, total joy. Too often, we see trials in a negative light, or we assume that joy cannot exist in hardship; worse, we consider the hard times as God’s curse upon us or His punishment for our sin, rather than what they really are — opportunities to joyfully mature into Christlikeness.

James 1:3 explains that God intends trials to test our faith and produce spiritual perseverance. Trials are like training challenges for an athlete. They build physical endurance and stamina. The athlete looks forward to physical and mental challenges because of the benefits that follow. If we were to walk through life on easy street and never face hardship, our Christian character would remain untested and underdeveloped. Trials develop our spiritual muscles, giving us the stamina and endurance to stay the course. “By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Romans 5:2–5

We can count it all joy in trials because in them we learn to depend on God and trust Him. Faith that is tested becomes genuine faith, rugged faith, uncompromising faith: “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:” 1 Peter 1:6–7

God also uses trials to discipline us: “For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Hebrews 12:10

Trials help to purge our spiritual shortcomings and mature our faith. They promote joy because they produce holiness in the life of believers. James encourages Christians to embrace trials not for what they presently are, but for the outcome God will accomplish through them. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” James 1:12

When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 37:1–38), he could not see the life-saving outcome that God would accomplish through his years of suffering and perseverance in Egypt. After his ordeal with Potiphar’s wife, Joseph spent long years forgotten in prison. Eventually, God’s plan came to fruition, and Joseph was raised up to the second most powerful position over Egypt. Through many trials and tests, Joseph learned to trust God. Not only did Joseph rescue his family and the nation of Israel from starvation, but he saved all of Egypt, too.

Joseph’s faith had been tested through trials, and perseverance finished its work. After coming through the trials victoriously, Joseph understood God’s good purpose in all he had endured. Joseph was able to see God’s hand in it all. Mature and complete, Joseph spoke these words of forgiveness to his brothers: “And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Genesis 50:19–20

James 1:4 says a believer who perseveres through trials is made “perfect.” This does not mean he or she becomes sinless or without moral failings. Perfect speaks of maturity or spiritual development. Christians who face trials with a joyful outlook — trusting God to accomplish His good purpose — will develop into full spiritual maturity. They will be equipped with everything they need to overcome every trial they encounter.

To count it all joy when we face trials, we must evaluate the difficulties in life with eyes of faith and see them in light of God’s good purpose. To put it plainly, when all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Know that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become of mature character with the right sort of independence.



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Tony — Antonakis Maritis

Tony is an Executive Consultant for Research on Biblical Antiquities for Academia.edu and is published by WIPF and Stock Publishers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble