What does it mean to count it all joy (James 1:2)?

The phrase "count it all joy" comes from the King James Version of James 1:2 (also ESV, NKJV). Other translations have "Consider it pure joy" (NIV), "Consider it all joy" (NASB), and "consider it an opportunity for great joy" (NLT). The broader context is this: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2–4).

The term "count" simply means to consider. It has to do with what you choose to do with what is presented to you. In context, the issue is what to do when bad things happen. When a person is confronted with suffering, he or she can choose how to respond. Some might "count it injustice," that is, they may consider it to be unfair and they will respond accordingly. Some might consider it to be the judgment of God and therefore despair that God is angry with them or has turned against them. Others might count or consider it an opportunity to demonstrate their own resilience. They might determine to fight back and overcome in their own strength. When trials come, the way we respond is more important in determining the outcome than the actual trial itself.

In times of trial, some get angry or seek revenge, some despair and give up, some get motivated and do better, and some are overcome with sadness. James says the response of the Christian should be joy because trials are what God uses to produce patience, which is an essential Christian virtue. So, when Christians encounter trials, they can respond with joy because this is a sign that God is producing something good. It is simply a matter of perspective, and the Christian can choose to focus on the outcome rather than the immediate circumstance. This does not mean that a Christian does not suffer or feel sorrow or loss, but that in spite of these feelings, there can still be an undergirding sense of joy.

Peter speaks of something very similar to believers who were going through trials: "In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory" (1 Peter 1:6–8).

A person's perspective in times of trial is paramount in enduring hardships. The Christian can choose to respond joyfully (count or consider it all joy) because the Christian knows the final outcome of the trial. Trials are not merely meaningless accidents or cruel acts of injustice. Trials can be used by our loving God to make us into the kinds of people He wants us to be (Romans 8:28–29). That is something to rejoice over, even though the immediate circumstances may cause real grief and deeply-felt loss.

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