James’ letter is full of imperative (command) statements. Many are instructions for action. So we commonly label the book as a treatise on practical, everyday Christianity.
Before James begins telling what to do, however, he commands us what to think. The first imperative statement in the entire letter is, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (Jas 1:2).
“Count it all joy” tells us to “label” times we face trials as “joy.” What we tell ourselves about ourselves and about what we feel has amazing power to direct our lives. That power can help us positively, or it can affect us negatively. James tells us that living lives of Christian action is founded upon honestly labeling all moments of trial as ultimately good.
Paul outlines the importance of how he “counted” his previous Jewish successes in Philippians 3:7-8. He says he counted them as “loss” and as “rubbish.” His new life in Christ would be built on a foundation of how he thought about his past. Following Paul’s logic about how we think about our lives leads us to how we’re able to do something as drastic as “label” times of trial as “joy.”
Paul says he counted his past as loss “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He began to think radically different about his past because of the assurance he had in knowing Christ. James builds his command off the same process.
James 1:3 says, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James says that we should “label” times of trial as “joy”—something radical, indeed—because of what we know about trials producing patience.
Paul, earlier in the book of Philippians, shows us a picture of how we go about “labeling” times of trial as “joy.” In chapter 1:12-18, he mentions two troubling scenarios: his imprisonment and the selfish preaching of fellow brethren (intended to attack Paul). He then clearly and firmly connects the two trials to the greater good of spreading the gospel. His imprisonment opened doors for him to teach lost souls. And though a result of improper motives, the selfish preaching of others still introduced audiences to the gospel. Talk about radical.
“Labeling” times of trial as “joy” doesn’t mean we pretend life is more pleasant than it really is, that we hide our honest emotions from others, or that we should like facing trials. It means that we change our thinking from the easy, worldly, perspective that all hope is lost and instead tell ourselves there’s more—and better—waiting beyond this life (Jas. 1:12). And that we know everything we experience helps get us there.