Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (NASB)
James’ opening salvo is as firm as it is strange. Unlike most New Testament letters which begin with a blessing and/or a prayer, James is straight down to business, exhorting his listeners to consider it “all joy” whenever they face trials of any kind. The focus on joy (chara) builds on the final word of the first verse Greetings (charein, or literally, Rejoice!), and so forms a link between the opening verse and the new section.
Translating Pasan charan hēgēsasthe as “consider it all joy”(NASB) is to be preferred, for “consider it nothing but joy” (NRSV) suggests that the only legitimate emotional response one may experience during testing is joy, whereas people experiencing trial will typically feel a range of responses, and James exhorts them to joy. Of course, to be joyful in the midst of trials, and indeed to consider it a joyful thing to fall into trial, is counter-intuitive. To fall into trial is to experience stress and pressure, if not distress and suffering. James’ intent in this section, then, is not simply to issue a bare exhortation but to also show why and how one can consider such an event as an occasion for joy, indeed, “pure joy” or “all joy.”
The exhortation is addressed to “my brothers and sisters” (adelphoi mou), that is, fellow believers and as such those who are in the family. James is calling for a fundamental and radical shift of attitude. Whereas we typically view trials as a source or occasion of displeasure, anxiety, frustration or even despair, James calls us to view them as an occasion for joy. To consider something is an exercise of mind, will and vision, especially in a circumstance in which trials are anything but joyful. Vlachos (16) notes that the verb (hēgēsasthe) in the New Testament is almost always used in terms of a value judgement. Thus, in spite of their discomfort or distress, the believer is encouraged to view their trials in a new light, and so to respond to them in an unexpected way. Not only are they called to rejoice in the midst of trials, but to see the trial itself as an opportunity for rejoicing.
James calls his audience to adopt this posture whenever they fall into all kinds of trials (hotan peirasmois peripesēte poikilois). The word for trial (peirasmos) can refer, depending on context, either to temptations towards sin which arise from within (cf. v. 14), or to the kinds of afflictions which press upon us from without. Here the second meaning suits the context best, for these are trials that we fall into. McKnight (75-76) argues that James has in mind a very particular context of economic hardship and oppression, and the subsequent temptation faced by his audience to react to this hardship with anger and violence. However the general terms used by James in this text (whenever, any kind (poikilois basically means various)) suggest that he is thinking of trials in general, of trials whenever they come, and of trials in any and all guises. Thus, in all the various kinds of trial and affliction that a person may encounter, James offers this counsel: rejoice! J. B. Phillips’ rendering of this verse captures the sense James intended (478): “When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders but welcome them as friends!” Just why and how a believer might do this is the theme of verses 3-4.