My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations;…
In "Count it all joy," i.e., "Consider it as nothing but matter for rejoicing," we miss a linguistic touch which is evident in the Greek, but cannot well be preserved in English. In saying "joy" (χάραν) St. James is apparently carrying on the idea just started in the address, "greeting" (χαίρειν), i.e., "wishing joy." "I wish you joy; and you must account as pure joy all the troubles into which you may fall." It is just possible that "all joy" (πᾶσαν χάραν) is meant exactly to balance "manifold temptations" (πειρασμοῖς ποικίλοις). Great diversity of troubles is to be considered as in reality every kind of joy. Nevertheless, the troubles are not to be of our own making or seeking. It is not when we inflict suffering on ourselves, but when we "fall into" it, and therefore may regard it as placed in our way by God, that we are to look upon it as a source of joy rather than of sorrow. The word for "fall into" (περιπίπτειν) implies not only that what one falls into is unwelcome, but also that it is unsought and unexpected. Moreover, it implies that this unforeseen misfortune is large enough to encircle or overwhelm one. It indicates a serious calamity. What St. James has principally in his mind are external trials, such as poverty of intellect (ver. 5), or of substance (ver. 9), or persecution (James 2:6, 7), and the like; those worldly troubles which test our faith, loyalty, and obedience, and tempt us to abandon our trust in God, and to cease to strive to please Him. The trials by which Satan was allowed to tempt Job are the kind of temptations to be understood here. They are material for spiritual joy, because —
1. They are opportunities for practising virtue, which cannot be learned without practice, nor practised without opportunities.
2. They teach us that we have here no abiding city, for a world in which such things are possible cannot be a lasting home,
3. They make us more Christlike.
4. We have the assurance of Divine support, and that no more will ever be laid upon us than we, relying upon that support, can bear.
5. We have the assurance of abundant compensation here and hereafter. St. James here is only echoing the teaching of his Brother (Matthew 5:11, 12). In the first days after Pentecost he had seen the apostles acting in the very spirit which he here enjoins, and he had himself very probably taken part in doing so (Acts 5:41, cf. 4:23-30). St. Peter (1 Peter 1:6) and St. Paul (Romans 5:3) teach the same doctrine of rejoicing in tribulation. There is no inconsistency in teaching such doctrine, and yet praying, "Lead us not into temptation." Not only is there no sin in shrinking from both external trials and internal temptations; but such is the weakness of the human will, that it is only reasonable humility to pray to God not to allow us to be subjected to severe trials. Nevertheless, when God in His wisdom has permitted such things to come upon us, the right course is, not to be sorrowful, as though something quite intolerable had overtaken us, but to rejoice that God has thought us capable of enduring something for His sake, and has given us the opportunity of strengthening our patience and our trust in Him. This doctrine of joy in suffering, which at first sight seems to be almost superhuman, is shown by experience to be less hard than the apparently more human doctrine of resignation and fortitude. And here it may be noticed that St. James is no cynic or stoic. He does not tell us that we are to anticipate misfortune, and cut ourselves off from all those things the loss of which might involve suffering; or that we are to trample on" our feelings, and act as if we had none, treating sufferings as if they were non-existent, or as if they in no way affected us. He points out to us that temptations, and especially external trials, are really blessings, if we use them aright; and he teaches us to meet them in that conviction. And it is manifest that the spirit in which to welcome a blessing is the spirit of joy and thankfulness. St. James does not bid us accept this doctrine of joy in tribulation upon his personal authority. It is no philosopher's ipse dixit. He appeals to his readers' own experience: "Knowing that the proof of your faith worketh patience." "Knowing" (), i.e., "in that ye are continually finding out and getting to know." The verb and the tense indicate progressive and continuous knowledge, as by the experience of daily life; and this teaches us that proving and testing not only brings to light, but brings into existence, patience. This patience (ὑπομονή), this abiding firm under attack or pressure, must be allowed full scope to regulate all our conduct; and then we shall see why trials are a matter for joy rather than sorrow, when we find ourselves moving onwards towards, not the barrenness of stoical "self-sufficiency" (αὐτάρκεια), but the fulness of Divine perfection. "That ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing," is perhaps one of the many reminiscences of Christ's words which we shall find in this letter of the Lord's brother (Matthew 5:48).
(A. Plummer, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;