Suffering: A Family Affair | James 1.2-3

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
James 1.2-3

These verses are so rich, it’s going to take more than one post to mine their treasures. A flattened, cursory reading can sound very callous and insensitive to the lived experience of human suffering. However, I think there is a nuanced, sensitive perspective here that deserves sitting with a bit.

“brothers and sisters…”

James knows he is going to say tough things, so he uses this intimate term on the outset. He doesn’t say “children” holding himself above those going through trials, but uses this familial term for peers under the same authority. This shows that no one–not even an apostle, not even the brother of Jesus–is above suffering and trials.

It also reminds us that this letter is not to individuals, but a community. This is a huge key to these verses (and the whole book). The encouragement to “consider it all joy” when we face trials can seem at least insensitive, if not outright abusive, apart from this context.

Suffering should be a community effort. We ought to be close enough to others that we hurt when our spiritual family members hurt. We share the burden to live this verse out. In suffering, not everyone will have the wherewithal to follow all these encouragements, so others step in and make up for what we lack in a given moment.

Others can keep hope on our behalf when we feel hopeless. They can recognize the resilience and endurance growing within us when we have no more to give. They can maintain faith in God’s goodness while we doubt God is there at all. These words are meant to mark a community at all times, not individuals at all times.

Note here that the brother of Jesus calls us his siblings, showing the unity we have as the singular body of Christ. James knows that spiritual family is deeper and more defining than natural, biological family. Blood may be thicker than water, but spirit is thicker still.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.


Family Messiahs & Modern Dispersions | James 1.1

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the dispersion:
James 1.1

1. “servant” (or “slave”): This is surprising. Traditionally, James is one of the brothers of Jesus (I’ve tried, but I just can’t follow Catholicism in its beliefs of Mary’s perpetual virginity and these being Jesus’ “cousins”). The Gospels tell us that Jesus’ brothers denied Christ as Messiah. They thought he was crazy. What must have happened to James to change his view to be a “slave” of his brother? How easy would it be for any of us to so quickly start seeing our brother or sister as the Son of God through which all things we were created, by which all things are sustained?

2. “dispersion”: All Jews living outside Judea. We can find ourselves in this. God’s people far from where God has promised us to be, trying to figure out how to do this whole “Christianity” thing. This is what the rest of James is about. This whole earth is ours and we wait expectantly for the enemies to be cleared out so we can receive our inheritance. So what does life look like in the tension of awaiting promises for a new home, knowing it’s not yet time, but it will come? What is the first characteristic of this life that James brings up? What does life here look like? The answer is probably in verses 2-4: a life of suffering for the purposes that God has laid out for us.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.