Thursday, October 13, 2016

Joy is strength

James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion: Greetings. Regard it all joy, my brothers, whenever you fall-into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith is producing endurance. James 1:1-3 (Disciples Literal New Testament).

As James introduces this letter, he uses the word slave to describe his relationship to God and Christ. In our modern culture, the word slave carries the connotation of oppression, and many modern Bible translations use the word servant instead of slave. During the first century, slavery was an economic condition that required to the slave to be totally dependent upon his/her master for everything—food, clothing, shelter. The loyalty of a slave was a quality that was highly valued by a master because a loyal slave was productive and helped the entire household or business to prosper.

The first verse of this letter could possibly hold this meaning: James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, because I am utterly dependent upon Him for every faction of my being, and since He provides for me in such loving and astounding ways, I am forever loyal to Him.

The twelve tribes in the dispersion indicates that James wrote to the Jews who continued to worship God in Gentile lands. James’s position as a slave of God is a very common posture for Jewish prayer, and this would have been familiar to the Jews whom James addresses. However, James’s positions God and the Lord (Master) Jesus Christ equally—James is a slave to both. This sends a clear message to the Jewish Christians that Christ is God.

After establishing the sovereignty of Christ, James immediately exhorts the brothers to regard their trials as joy. When I read this passage, that statement always hits me in the face like a rock. I think this is because I have just grappled with the oppressive connotations of being a slave to God and Christ, and then I read that I am supposed to be joyful when I face trials. It almost seems as if James is saying that we are supposed to allow ourselves to be beaten to the ground and be happy about it.

However, I believe that James is providing us with a prescription for victory. When we regard our trials with joy, there is no foothold—not even a notch—for Satan to grab and hold. Joy is a defense that Satan has no power to thwart. In fact, as verse three states, joy produces endurance. We are strong and able to withstand. Really? Joy can do that?

I want to be a joyful slave to God and Christ. I want to be strong and endure. I know what it feels like to be sick, and I know what it feels like to be strong and have endurance, and I want the strength. Since that is what I desire, then bring on the joy!