1:2-4 My brothers, reckon it all joy whenever you become involved in all kinds of testings, for you are well aware that the testing of your faith produces unswerving constancy. And let constancy go on to work out its perfect work that you may be perfect and complete, deficient in nothing.
James never suggested to his readers that Christianity would be for them an easy way. He warns them that they would find themselves involved in what the King James Version calls divers temptations. The word translated temptations is peirasmos ( Greek #3986 ), whose meaning we must fully understand, if we are to see the very essence of the Christian life.
Peirasmos ( Greek #3986 ) is not temptation in our sense of the term; it is testing (trial in the Revised Standard Version). Peirasmos ( Greek #3986 ) is trial or testing directed towards an end, and the end is that he who is tested should emerge stronger and purer from the testing. The corresponding verb peirazein ( Greek #3985 ), which the King James Version usually translates to tempt, has the same meaning. The idea is not that of seduction into sin but of strengthening and purifying. For instance, a young bird is said to test (peirazein, Greek #3985 ) its wings. The Queen of Sheba was said to come to test (peirazein, Greek #3985 ) the wisdom of Solomon. God was said to test (peirazein, Greek #3985 ) Abraham, when he appeared to be demanding the sacrifice of Isaac ( Genesis 22:1 ). When Israel came into the Promised Land, God did not remove the people who were already there. He left them so that Israel might be tested (peirazein, Greek #3985 ) in the struggle against them ( 2:22 ; 3:1 ; 3:4 ). The experiences in Israel were tests which went to the making of the people of Israel ( Deuteronomy 4:34 ; Deuteronomy 7:19 ).
Here is a great and uplifting thought. Hort writes: "The Christian must expect to be jostled by trials on the Christian way." All kinds of experiences will come to us. There will be the test of the sorrows and the disappointments which seek to take our faith away. There will be the test of the seductions which seek to lure us from the right way. There will be the tests of the dangers, the sacrifices, the unpopularity which the Christian way must so often involve. But they are not meant to make us fall; they are meant to make us soar. They are not meant to defeat us; they are meant to be defeated. They are not meant to make us weaker; they are meant to make us stronger. Therefore we should not bemoan them; we should rejoice in them. The Christian is like the athlete. The heavier the course of training he undergoes, the more he is glad, because he knows that it is fitting him all the better for victorious effort. As Browning said, we must "welcome each rebuff that turns earth's smoothness rough," for every hard thing is another step on the upward way.
James describes this process of testing by the word dokimion ( Greek #1383 ). It is an interesting word. It is the word for sterling coinage, for money which is genuine and unalloyed. The aim of testing is to purge us of all impurity.
If we meet this testing in the right way, it will produce unswerving constancy (or steadfastness as the Revised Standard Version translates it). The word is hupomone ( Greek #5281 ), which the King James Version translates as patience; but patience is far too passive. Hupomone ( Greek #5281 ) is not simply the ability to bear things; it is the ability to turn them to greatness and to glory. The thing which amazed the heathen in the centuries of persecution was that the martyrs did not die grimly, they died singing. One smiled in the flames; they asked him what he found to smile at there. "I saw the glory of God," he said, "and was glad." Hupomone ( Greek #5281 ) is the quality which makes a man able, not simply to suffer things, but to vanquish them. The effect of testing rightly borne is strength to bear still more and to conquer in still harder battles.
This unswerving constancy in the end makes a man three things.
(i) It makes him perfect. The Greek is teleios ( Greek #5046 ) which usually has the meaning of perfection towards a given end. A sacrificial animal is teleios ( Greek #5046 ) if it is fit to offer to God. A scholar is teleios ( Greek #5046 ) if he is mature. A person is teleios ( Greek #5046 ) if he is full grown. This constancy born of testing well met makes a man teleios ( Greek #5046 ) in the sense of being fit for the task he was sent into the world to do. Here is a great thought. By the way in which we meet every experience in life we are either fitting or unfitting ourselves for the task which God meant us to do.
(ii) It makes him complete. The Greek is holokleros ( Greek #3648 ) which means entire, perfect in every part. It is used of the animal which is fit to be offered to God and of the priest who is fit to serve him. It means that the animal or the person has no disfiguring and disqualifying blemishes. Gradually this unswerving constancy removes the weaknesses and the imperfections from a man's character. Daily it enables him to conquer old sins, to shed old blemishes and to gain new virtues, until in the end he becomes entirely fit for the service of God and of his fellow-men.
(iii) It makes him deficient in nothing. The Greek is leipesthai ( Greek #3007 ) and it is used of the defeat of an army, of the giving up of a struggle, of the failure to reach a standard that should have been reached. If a man meets his testing in the right way, if day by day he develops this unswerving constancy, day by day he will live more victoriously and reach nearer to the standard of Jesus Christ himself.