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Enduring temptation - message from James chapter 1

Enduring Temptation

Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full- grown, brings forth death.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

Let us pray

Today we look at temptation, and God’s gifts. These are great contrasting verses. These verses can open for us the truth about how sin works and how God works, and how the latter never has the former. We need to start by explaining the word temptation used here, for we have already heard the word trial, as used James 1:3: brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials and I noted then that in some Bibles the word there is translated temptations. In verse three, though the word ‘temptation’ can be used, but in all reality, James was doing a split, and in the Greek was using the subtle change you can with such a word and was emphasising trials as we have learned. Today, in verse 12 the word is emphasising temptations – same Greek word, different emphasis, and therefore in our language, a different word. This interpretation may be argued, but to my mind it makes perfect sense in James’ argument. I am no scholar and this is how the main scholars do it, so I will preach today from this viewpoint. Below is a chart that provides what a commentator[1] has put together. The root word is the same peirasm, Strongs’ number is 3986, and looks the same, but the context has the below differences.

Trial Temptation
A trial comes from the outside in A temptation comes from the inside out
Trials bring life Temptations bring death
Trials lead to maturity Temptations lead to a maturing of sin
God brings into your life the outward trials. God does not bring the inner temptations.  Those come from within you.

 

When we look at the word definition found in Thayer's Strong's dictionary we find three meanings each with different parts:

  • 1) an experiment, attempt, trial, proving
    • a) trial, proving: the trial made of you by my bodily condition, since condition served as to test the love of the Galatians toward Paul (Gal. 4:2.
  • 2) the trial of man's fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy
    • a) an enticement to sin, temptation, whether arising from the desires or from the outward circumstances
      • i) 1b. an internal temptation to sin
  • 3) of the temptation by which the devil sought to divert Jesus the Messiah from his divine errand
    • a) of the condition of things, or a mental state, by which we are enticed to sin, or to a lapse from the faith and holiness
  • 4) adversity, affliction, trouble: sent by God and serving to test or prove one's character, faith, holiness
  • 5) temptation (i.e. trial) of God by men 1. rebellion against God, by which his power and justice are, as it were, put to the proof and challenged to show themselves[2]

We going to deal with the second emphasis – as what James makes clear, this is not from God, as the trial of verse 2 was talking of, but from inside us. It was the part of life that the Lord Jesus did not experience, for He knew no sin[3]. Psalm 14:3 tells us that we have sin within, and the point is important enough to be repeated in Romans: They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one. We know that the latter point is true – Jesus never experienced temptation as seen here in James 12 in the context of desiring something, for we read in 2 Corinthians: For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.(5:21) However, Satan, during the temptations in the desert attempted to turn Jesus through desire for food and power, yet He Jesus was able to not even think about it, the answer was never going to be anything but no. James in essence is telling us to be the same. We need to be so close to God, that temptation offered is never considered, even for a second. Desire is quenched, and through no flow chart, or protocol, just recognition that the temptation and God do not mix, therefore, the answer will be NO.

If we delve into the passage, as with verse 2, we see in our passage an even closer connection with the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and the Beatitudes. One reads in this context: Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. You can almost hear Jesus say this, but not have it recorded – conjecture, but one wonders if James had been communicating with Matthew, and Matthew had written chapter 5, and the same language came through here – God inspires, and we can but wonder!

What does this mean having the two verses one about trials the other temptations? We saw in Thayer’s definition that two temptations are present. One brought by Satan, or from within, the other God trying us to see if we will yield. I need to be quite strong here - God does not tempt us to sin, the Scripture is so very clear about this: as we read in the next verse (13), so we will come back to that section. However, He may give us wealth to see how well we serve the poor, He may send us a Muslim neighbour to see how well we practice, demonstrate and share our Christianity, he may send a beautiful young thing into our midst to see if we turn our eye heavenward towards Jesus, and not be drawn to an inner sin. The latter is an interesting example, as I heard at the Men’s Convention that God created the beautiful woman, He would rightly be proud of His handiwork, but that gives us no right at all to lust, and it is not God’s ‘fault’ if we do – we failed the test. God gives us many hints and warnings about lust and expects us to obey them. Our failure is not God’s failure, for He says that nothing comes to us in the way of temptation that we cannot endure[4]. He does not allow it to make us sin. He wants us to be strong. Muscles need exercise, so does discipline. Remember the Corinthians 10 verse, it is not you that needs to be bearing a burden, otherwise we will have burdens or temptations we cannot endure, God provides the escape route, we can only cope when we do it with God. On a further note that is what other Christians (read self) needs to do – we are there to help others bear those burdens when they are too much.

On a further note, the sin within, the one we say – the devil made me do it, is the other temptation here. Did the devil make you do it as in our previous example - lust?

We have choices. We have no need to listen to, or even provide Satan any means at all to twist out arms. Romans 3:23 is clear: …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Paul precedes this absolutism, with Romans 3:10-12 - "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one." We are born with a sinful nature. Our heart is primed for evil. Unless we have God, that is all we have. Sure we can learn some morality, we can live according to a country’s laws, we can make ethical decisions, but in our heart we are sinners, and as sinners we will not, and cannot endure temptation. There will be no crown of life.

It’s wise to flee when tempted-

A fool is one who’d stay;

For those who toy with evil

Soon learn it doesn’t pay. -D. De Haan

When we sin, the blame lies within.[5]

Here we see a lovely little poem from Our Daily Bread, a good introduction to the part that is most useful, what does all this mean for us? I don’t actually have to use any commentary as James comes back to it and writes this paragraph – one we will study in depth in a few weeks: Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double- minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 4:7-10 Therefore, the saying – ‘the devil made me do it’ is not Scriptural. The devil does not make you sin, he offers you sin, you do it, I do it. I think that we need to be clear on that. First James 4:7 says that resist the devil and he will be the one doing the fleeing. He has no strength over the believer who lays hold of God, and if we go back to the opening lines of this book, and remember the discussion about being a bondservant – total subjection to God, serving Him, then Satan cannot get hold of your heart, however hard he tries. We know this Scripturally from the very first sin documented. Listen to the conversation: And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?" Then the man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate." And the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." (3:11-13) See the lie then the confession from both – the woman gave it to me… I ate, the serpent gave it to me… I ate. One can see that the devil certainly laid out temptation, but did not take either person’s hand and make them grab the fruit, nor eat of it. That said, we need to remember two other verses, these tell us that we need to hold firm, we cannot give over to Satan, and the temptation may push our weak selves to do that. The first verse comes from 1 Peter: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (5:8-9) The second verse comes from Luke 21:31-32: And the Lord said, " Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."

When we look at all three verses, our current James verse, the Peter verse and the Luke verse we see God’s warnings are clear, and the answers are just as clear. Faith is a key – faith not in ourselves as we are wont to do, but faith in God. Second, we see that the devil is real, and his temptations can be as dangerous as a roaring lion – the lion roars when trying to flush out its prey – the noise scares animals and they run instead of lying low and hidden. When Satan roars, or offers temptation, do not move, do not even look his way, lay low, say no. Again, we have a choice, and God’s desire for us is to resist. Peter on the other hand indicates that Satan still makes demands from God. God only does what God wants, it matters not what Satan asks, but still, Satan will see a faithful person and want to test them. God can and will let him do it, we have the book of Job that shows us this. It is God that allows, Satan who tempts. It is not a collusion, God is perfect and just, and we need to understand - Satan has never recognised that God is sovereign. The third point that is required here is pointing out that our resistance of temptations can be painful, suffering can be a result. Suffering is better than death as the rest of our current paragraph tells us. Let us move there and look at this.

Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full- grown, brings forth death. There is a saying – one thing leads to another. In the evolution of temptation one may find that it is so easy to slip from seeing, to trying, to getting into, then discovering that all is gone, our walk with God, our relationships with His people, and at times, even our conscience, and ability to see where we are now at. As the easiest example in this modern world, let us take the example of lust. The grass is greener on the other side of the fence. We look, we chat, we flirt – both genders do it. We find ourselves having coffee, then talking to late at the end of the day, then discover we can sneak off and have time with the illicit person, that time turns to sex, it always does, soon it is all encompassing. Where does it stop. She wants you to leave your wife, he wants you to leave your husband, they pack and leave, they move in together, it is no longer illicit, the excitement has faded, the drudgery of stable relationship returns, what now – we have done it once, why not again? 33% of Australian marriages do this. The marriage lasts only 12 years.

Another example in my line of work – ‘drugs and death’. The teen try’s a little marijuana, they go to a party and add a little amphetamine, drink a little too much alcohol. As they grow older they consume more and more, some will turn this into a life style. Then we see physical death occurring, young deaths, dying from heroin that this week was too pure and they accidentally overdosed, or the methamphetamine sends them into a crazed state and they drive at high speed into another car, with themselves and others dead, or they spiral out of control and die by their own hand, unable to see a future: when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full- grown, brings forth death.

We need to bring Romans six into the equation at this point. I won’t cut and paste the whole chapter – go read it. In fact read the first eight chapters of Romans. It is all relevant in today’s discussion. But maybe a few verses: And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace (13-14). Here is the lesson – we have an alternative to sin, becoming an instrument for God, maybe a violin with which He can make beautiful melody, or a Double Bass, those deep deep notes expressing the deep things of Himself. To do this we must do verse 13 – do not become an instrument of sin. How? What does it take?

This brings us to the practical. How do I deal with temptations? Three words should be the keystone to our response – immediately, ruthlessly, and consistently. Each one of us have the human trait of sin as our stock. We are saved, but we are not perfect until that day appears. The word immediately is to be taken absolutely to mean what it says. A temptation is visible – close your eyes, flee from it, turn away, step away, think of something else. Press the off button. ‘Ruthlessly’ also means exactly that. There is no ground to give. There are no areas where it may be OK. No means no, and you have to stick with it. If the temptations are constant at work, find another job, if it is over the back fence, sell up and move, if it is found in the supermarket – send someone else shopping. Seek counselling; seek a prayer warrior with whom you can confide, make sure you have someone in your life willing to challenge you. Be ruthless. The third point sums up the other two – do it every single time, when something comes your way that you know you struggle with. It has to become a habit – the resisting and ruthless dealing with the problem. But, you cannot do it alone. Prayer is needed. One prayer that is absolutely needed is that mentioned by Colin a week back – James tells us: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Never ever think that you are strong enough. I know that I am not, I know that Satan knows the weak spots, the place to put the temptation, the time to do it, so I am at my most vulnerable. He will do what he can to get us off track. Read Scripture. How many Joseph’s are there compared to King David’s. Both had the same temptation, Joseph did withstand, David did not. What happened in David’s case? His child, and Bathsheba’s husband both died – as our verse today tells us it will. What happened to Joseph? He landed in jail for years! Does that seem fair? God is just, He had His purposes. James has already told us – sometimes we will suffer, with trials, and Joseph is the classic example.

Incidentally Joseph had the perfect answer to temptation. He did not ignore it. He did not rely on his own strength. He said to Potiphar’s wife: How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? He was not thinking about the husband and what may happen to himself if the husband found out. No, he could not sin against God. When does a sin become a sin against God? Every time! This must be our response – how can I do this sin – be it eat the extra bar of chocolate, steal a pen from the office, rip off the tax department, or have an affair with your wife’s best friend, or your husband’s boss. How can I sin against God? Our hears must be in the right place. We must have our focus on God, and Him alone. See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Ephesians 5:15-17 This is what we must be about – walking circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, and we already know where to get wisdom from, and we will learn more of wisdom as we move through this book.

When we wonder if we have stepped too far off the track, God gives us encouragement in 1 John (1:9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Repentance is all that is needed. No need to be re-baptised. Salvation is not something you need to get from the beginning, it is something to work on, an ongoing job – but something that you or I cannot actually do ourselves – we repent, God forgives, a bit of a one sided partnership. God does all the work – forgiveness, that work being the work that happened on the cross. We are cleansed through the shed blood of Christ, every time. So never despair if we fail to say no. But we need to learn from the error, mature, and lie low, say no.

Let us look at the next verses: Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

Here we have that amazing opposing thought to what we have here, the real good stuff, that which shows us in part, a wonderful character of God. When you read it slowly, we will see that this verse is a killer really – of us, of self. It contradicts what the human mind thinks and what the world constantly chants as its mantra. When we fall to temptations it is from within ourselves, our sinful nature. It is not from God. We cannot blame God for our lust, our failure to be disciplined, for our falling into temptation. God may allow trials, but that trial will be not a trap to sin. God gives the good gifts – wisdom for example, the power to resist, and the ability to cope despite misery and pain, through His partnership with us – remember that when we are His child: There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, and in verse ten: Christ is in you. We are in Him, He is in us. Therefore, absolutely, He wants us to be with Him, He does not want us to fail – he wants as the be a kind of first fruits of His creatures. These words tells us that we cannot blame God for the wars, the capitalism that brought about financial crisis and the like. God did not promote pollution, and the mess that is our oceans. He did not crowd the sub-continent of India, and create poverty of the poorest class.

A commentator says this: God is the source of light and life. God distributes gifts perfectly, and everything He gives is perfect. While we may feel like a revolving planet, basking in the sun’s light one moment and then in the dark shadows the next, with God there is no shadow of turning (vs. 17). Whereas lust conceives and gives life to sin, the Father “of his own will begat He us with the word of truth” (vs. 18; John 1:13; 1 Pet. 1:23). And to what end? To be a “kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (vs. 18)-that is to say, the fruit borne by a tree always matches the kind of tree! Anger does not work the righteousness of God-it’s a fruit contrary to the new nature (vs. 20).[6] It is always us that has the contrariness, never God, and if we bear true fruit of the Spirit it will reflect the light, life and perfectness of God. The John verse mentioned tells us that: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. The other verse reflects the same truth - …having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever 1 Pet. 1:23. With this in mind, did you note the actual word that reappears three times in these passages, here again from James: Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth. I draw your attention to the line, of His own will. God willed that we be His. It reminds me of the verse that says: If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:8-13) If God wills us, and brought us forth through the word of truth, how can we not wonder why we blame God for the bad stuff, and even dare to think that God made me, or helped me sin. It makes no sense. These verses show us the true character of God. We also see repeated twice in two of the three verses above the word ‘truth’. God is the Word. The word of truth is what provides us the insight into the mind of God. As the Word he provides treasure, of many sorts. Why? He loves us and gives to us His Word as a gift from heaven, the aforementioned treasure. He tells us: So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11 Note the word prosper! What a promise! If we stick to this treasure – his Word, and look and we find new treasure each time we read and study, when temptation comes our minds will be so attuned to His Word, His way, with His character will be rubbing off on us as it were, and we will easily lie low and say no.

We are to look at every situation in our lives for treasure. Job learns this, and we see early on in this great book that gives us no answer to why people suffer, but gives all the answers about who God is, and why we never question Him: "Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.” Job 5:17 Does it remind you of the earlier verse in James –‘Count it all joy’. Why, because there is treasure, a gift from God, a perfect gift, from one of the light. Did you notice the James’ verse uses the word shadow, in that there is no shadow of turning, no variation in that which God gives – perfect all the time. We have the shadow, God never does for God is light.

If we believe and have absolute faith that God is perfection, then nothing is a surprise when we find that treasure, except how much love He has for us, how much He is willing to give us, forgive us, show us grace. Sometimes, the greatest gifts will come later. We read today: he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him, and we read in Timothy: Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. 2 Timothy 4:8 There are five crowns we can collect on our life journey, each one a perfect gift from God, so perfect we will cast them before Him in worship when we fall down at His feet. That perfect gift can include that of martyrdom otherwise known as the crown of life: Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

In conclusion, today we saw that there are other trials, which will come to us as temptations. The will to desist comes from within. To succumb to the temptation is not something we can blame on God, for He is perfect. This also comes from within. A person (Mr Hayhoe) once said this one liner – Unbelief in the goodness of God is the root of all our failures[7]. Hayhoe is obviously looking to the key message of the book of James, that is faith will bring forth good works, and unbelief, that is, lacking in faith in what God can do, leads to our failure in upholding that which God can help us in, the resisting of temptation and doing that which is righteous before God. Unbelief of this kind was found with Eve. Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:4-5. Anstey, in quoting the above noted that this was the line Satan used with Eve – Satan said in essence - God is holding out on you. He has more that He is not sharing, yet could be sharing with you. Therefore the doubts set into Eve’s mind that perhaps God was not as good as first thought, and more was to be had in disobeying than trusting in God. Temptation gave way to sinful action.

We have learned therefore, that we need to have absolute faith in the goodness of God, that through His help, through our relationship with Him, yoked together, we can walk a pathway where we will not succumb to sin. This is not a pipedream, but perfection takes a long time to achieve, and only at death will it become a reality. When perfection in life is stained, we have learned that the fault lies with ourselves not with God.

We have learned that the things of God are perfect. This includes His power to forgive us our sins, if we confess them before Him. It is quite simple, we sin, for our nature is a sinful nature, God forgives us our sin as He is gracious, and loving. We sin because of ourselves. God forgives because of who He is. We will fall into sin unless as we move towards a total belief in the power and goodness of God (only achieved by letting go of ourselves, and allowing Christ to fill us), trusting completely that He knows what He is doing, and through being willing to walk the pathway He has for us, despite the narrowness of it, the rocks on it, and the valley of death through which we must pass (unless we are raptured forth beforehand). God takes care of our salvation, we take care of repenting - we must constantly reflect on our walk, and communicate with God whenever we go astray. This is not a weekly event it is a minute by minute event! Remember, repenting is not fixing our sins, it is telling God about them! Not only that, we can only repent of that which our consciences tells us about. Sin is only evident when we know the mind of God and be willing to measure His standards against our life – wherever we fall short, we need to repent. The knowledge of God through study and meditation, along with prayer, will provide the knowledge of these things, wrapped up with our relationship with God, which must be our heart being open to His Word and His way in us.

If we check out the end of Hebrews, this all comes together: Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.(Hebrews 13:20-21)

Therefore, we have a race to run, a completeness we need to get to; a completeness in every good work, a direction that God wants us to go, that can only be achieved through Christ Jesus working in us as Hebrews 13 tells us. To get there, we need to apply Hebrews 12, and heed the warning that comes with it: Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith… strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; (1-2, 12-15)

The bottom line is this. We will fall into temptation, unless we take hold of God’s hand, and have Him lead us, every second of every day. We must ask God to do this, and be willing to do that which He asks. As we saw with Eve, if we doubt His goodness, then we will take the fruit that is temptingly put before us, thinking we can do better than what God is doing for us. Trust in God for all things, never wavering. The joy of it all is, if we do fall, He is willing to lift us back up, brush us off, and help us to move forward. With all this in mind, let us end with a benediction that Peter provides us: But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (1 Peter 5:10)

Let us pray.

 

[1] Stevenson, John Trials, Temptations And The Goodness Of God James 1:12-18 : http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/js1-12.html (Accessed 28 June 2013)

[2] StudyLight.Org Old & New Testament Greek Entry for Strong's #3986 - πειρασμός http://www.studylight.org/lexicons/greek/gwview.cgi?n=3986 (Accessed 28 June 2014)

[3] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[4] No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

[5] William, Marvin (5 Aug 2010) The Devil made me do it. Our Daily Bread.  http://odb.org/2010/08/05/the-devil-made-me-do-it/ (Accessed 28 June 2014).

[6] Simon, Nicolas S (September 2011) The Epistle of James unpublished.

[7] Anstey, B. The Epistle of James: the reality of faith proved in the circumstances of everyday life. Bible Truth Publishers, USA, p.26

Stephen B Simon (CCC June 22 2014)

James\James 1 v12 to 18 (SBS)