James 1:1-18 New International Version (NIV)
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
Trials and Temptations
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
We are starting a series through the book of James, a book that Martin Luther called the gospel of straw, because the book is a pragmatic book on the implications of the Christian faith. Luther saw it as a book that was trying to get us to fall back into a legalistic idea of if we want to please God we must be righteous, and Luther had spent his whole life debunking a works righteousness (the idea that we can be good enough for God).
The book of James is actually a critique on people who fall into the opposite trap, who say, because of grace, I can do whatever I want. God will forgive me! So James stand in the Bible as an inspired work on faith that actually works. which is why I have called this series “Faith that works!”
So, just so we are all on the same page; we believe, because the bible teaches this, that we are saved by faith alone! That it is only in the finished work of Christ that there is any hope of being acceptable to God! But we also believe that as we will see in the next several weeks, a faith that does not change you, that impacts you, on no level, is no faith at all!
This is our series; faith that works. And this morning we will see a faith that works in trails and temptations.
So let’s dive in;
1. The temptation in the trial
What is fascinating in this passage; how James argument in this whole section is that; be sure life is going to throw some stuff at you – some trails are coming. However, the way he argues it, makes everything he says in this long section that we just read intrinsically linked. What do I mean? Well, in the English it looks like three arguments; perseverance through trials, then a disconnected argument about riches and poverty (with an argument about another trial) and then James jumps to watching out for temptations.
Three sections; three arguments right? Wrong! In the Greek the word for “trail” and “temptation” are effectively the same word. It is the temptation and the trail that connect this whole long argument together.
Let me explain; life is going to test you, this is a guarantee. What you do with your test will bring life or destruction; will lift you up or utterly destroy you. effectively James gives us three difficulties that will change you as a human being; the general trail of life vs 2, the trails of many kind. These are the day to day and shock setbacks that we all face in our day to day lives. The second is the trail of wisdom; where you enter into a situation that is above and beyond you. and finally there is the trail of finance; both affluence or adversity – the abundance of finance or the lack of finance.
How we respond to these trails, James says in verse 12;
“12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
You see church, when you go through a change either from knowing and coping with life to not, or going from less money to more, or more money to less or even a change because of an unplanned interruption to life, this is the testing of your faith. The hope is that these are from God to purify your faith, and the hope to endure is found in him. But these inevitable realities will change you, the trail will have an impact on you.
I’ll give you the example of money, because on some level it is the easiest to describe, if you go from no money to making some decent money, the trail the test is what happens in your heart, the very change is the test; it is the trail.
You are tempted to think, “hmm, I have worked so hard, I deserve this.” And you let your success go to your head. The opposite reality is just as true, you lose you money, or you find yourself in poverty, the test, is to not let that embitter you and so hate everyone who has more, or envy those who are better off than you.
This is the trail. The change in life, and church, the hope in it is these changes, whether a change in something tragic happening, or something good happing, or you gaining wealth or losing it, or whether you are overwhelmed, all these are in God’s hands and they are there to purify your faith. To test to see if you will lean on him or turn in on yourself and look to yourself.
Which leads us to the aspect of temptation that James brings up;
2. The progression of the temptation
James turns from the identification of trail the external reality; to the internal turmoil a trail that is not of God, the temptation. And he says;
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.
The trail, the external reality is god testing your faith, the internal turmoil that causes us to sin and do evil, that is not God, and no one should say that.
It is here that James gives a intriguing sexual metaphor of sin. And when we unpack it we will see not only the source of our sin, but also how to overcome temptation.
James makes the argument that when we are tempted; we are dragged away by our own evil desires. In fact the Greek here is enticed, or seduced by our evil desires.
Now if you have been a part of the evening services you would have heard me talk about this term evil desires before; but the translation evil desires you have is not a completely accurate translation of the word. The word is “epithumia”, which literally means an overly abundant desire.
You see church, we sin not because we like bad things; but as Augustine mentions we love good things badly. We are tempted away from God because something in this world, has captured our heart in a way that only God should. We love badly! Or we over desire something.
For example; to love your work is a great thing; to find your meaning in work, is an over desire of work and so sinful; we call it a workaholic. Another example would be, sexual desire, this is natural and good. But having it be your everything thought and let it consume you and we don’t have to look far at the destructive realities that this brings.
It is because we are not in God, and allowing his love and His power to fulfil us, temporal things, material things become gods to us. We hope to find our meaning and joy etc, in the things of this world and it destroys us.
We are seduced church! We believe that if we just have that thing, just get the significant other, just achieve that success, or security; we are seduced by the hope of quick fixes, and easy love.
James says we are led away, this conceives within us and gives birth to sin. Now this is powerful, we sin not because we are forced to, but rather we want to; we choose to!
I remember watching a documentary where someone in prison was bemoaning the lack of a father figure in his ending up in prison, but half way through it he says, I am not shirking responsibility; I chose every choice, I made every decision; I deserve the punishment! We sin church because we want to!
Now, I admit there is a lot that we don’t have time to unpack about nature verse nurture etc, but at the end of the day, it is our loves, what we love that gives birth to our action; we sin church because we want to!
Now this is freeing and completely enslaving at the same time. It gives us the dignity to say we are not just machines, we are rational being who make choices, but at the same time we often do feel enslaved to those choices. Because, church, we love deeply the wrong god.
We lie to our boss because if we don’t we will lose our job, right there you have shown your heart, you love security more than God.
Now James gives us a warning; temptation has a grandchild; sin gives birth to death! Let’s not beat around the bush; sin will always lead to death! Maybe not right away, but when it is fully mature it will destroy you!
So, we see that all of life’s changes are trails sent by God to test our faith, that in the trail the temptation to sin is our own love for our lover gods, and we do love these things! In fact throughout the prophets you see God give the analogy of Israel’s sins as her being in adultery with other gods, because that is exactly what is happening church!
So what is the hope; we love these temporal things, that give us meaning and hope but they will also kill us; what can we do? What hope is there?
This is where the Christian faith works!
3. The hope of overcoming
Thomas Chalmer a Scottish preacher in his famous sermon, “the expulsive power of a new affection” - his statement We only cease to be the slave of one appetite because another taste has brought it into subordination. A youth may cease to idolize sensual pleasure, but it’s only because the idol of material gain has gotten the ascendancy. There is not one personal transformation in which the heart is left without an object of ultimate beauty and joy. Its desire for one particular object may be conquered, but its desire to have some object is unconquerable. The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.
To put it into simple English; the only way you escape the love of your lover god; is to find the true love that you we made for.
Most of us think we can overcome sin by simple act of the will, by resisting, now that has its place, there is no doubt about it; but it doesn’t ever deal with the epithumia – the over desire.
The only way we can overcome our love for our lover gods is to find the God who made us who designed us as beautiful, to discover our true love and joy in Him and Him alone! God alone is the giver of all good gifts, he is perfect light (as James puts it) and He is what your heart has always being longing for!
The beauty of the Christian message; where the Christian faith works; is that there are not tasks to complete; no righteousness of our own that we could give to earn his love, rather, He sought us; He pursued us in the darkness of this world so that we could be His, the love that we are looking for in everything in this world has come, and He died to show you how much He loves you! He died while you hated Him! That is how much He loves you! He is the love your heart burns for, the security you know should be in this world, the hope that never fails and the joy that never dies, He is your true desire that will overcome all your over desires; your epithumia!
Discover a faith that works!