Trials and Temptations
Focal text: James 1:12-18
MBC, small group, June 10, 2012
WHO DO YOU KNOW WHO DESERVES A SPECIAL AWARD FOR ENDURING TRIALS?
Last week we talked about trials, our attitude toward them, how they will lead us to maturity and the wisdom we will develop from this cycle. We emphasized having an attitude of joy in the midst of difficult trials and the difference between happiness and joy. In today’s lesson, we will talk about where temptations come from in our lives and what we can do about it.
BTW – WHERE DO TEMPTATIONS COME FROM? Our own evil desires
Several years ago, a popular Christian magazine conducted a survey of its readers, asking them to rank the areas of greatest spiritual challenge. The top 5 answers were materialism, pride, self-centeredness, laziness, and (tie) anger/bitterness and sexual lust. The respondents also noted that temptations are stronger when they had neglected their time with God (four out of five) and when they were physically tired (more than half).
There isn’t a day that goes by that we are not tempted in some way. Temptation comes in many forms. We are tempted not to tell the truth, to take something that does not belong to us, to take advantage of someone, to gossip, to hold a grudge, to feel superior and look down on others, or to give in to that part of us that constantly wants more money and things.
So how do you handle temptations? Do you struggle a little? Do you struggle a lot? The good news is that the Bible tells us it is possible to resist temptation.
READ James 1:12-18
In the midst of adversity, we may be tempted to think or act in a sinful manner. Many people wrongly conclude that times of stress somehow justify ungodly responses. We are tempted to strike out or strike back, to feel resentment, or to respond in other ways that are harmful to us or to others.
James deals with temptation in James 1:12-18. Interpreting this passage is made difficult by the fact that the word for trials (verse 2) and temptations (verses 12-18.) is the same word in Koine Greek, the original language in which James wrote this letter. But a trial is not the same experience as a temptation. The word can refer to external stresses that press us, or it can refer to internal attractions that tempt us. It is the context that determines the proper translation and application, and the context of our passage today is the matter of the temptations with which we are faced.
There is not always a connection between trials and temptations, but often the trials on the outside can become temptations on the inside. In the midst of adversity we may be tempted to think or act in a sinful manner—to respond selfishly, lash out, complain, question God’s love, and resist His will. In our trials and difficulties, Satan loves to show us the opportunity to escape the difficulty in a sinful manner, and we are tempted to take the bait. The point of the 1:1-11 is that trials can help us grow. But the point James makes in verses 12-18 is that we can recognize and respond in a righteous manner to temptations.
WHAT IS THE CROWN OF LIFE OFFERED TO THOSE WHO ENDURE?
A crown passed down by the Apostles from generation to generation
A laurel like that given to an ancient athlete
A halo like an angel would wear
A special blessing resulting from good works
The ability to fully enjoy heaven
Reward for enduring trials
Crowns have always been the sign of authority and Kingship. Charlemagne, whom historians say should deserve to be called “great” above all others, wore an octagonal crown. Each of the eight sides was a plaque of gold, and each plaque was studded with emeralds, sapphires, and pearls. The cost was the price of a king’s ransom. Richard the Lion Heart had a crown so heavy that two earls had to stand, one on either side, to hold his head. The crown that Queen Elizabeth wears is worth over $20 million. Edward II once owned nine crowns, something of a record. Put them all together, from all of Europe and from the archives of the East, all of them are but trinkets compared to Christ’s crown. Revelation 19 says he had many diadems. He wears a crown of righteousness. He wears a crown of glory. He wears a crown of life. He wears a crown of peace and power. Among those crowns, one outshines the rest. It was not formed by the skilled fingers of a silversmith, nor created by the genius of a craftsman. It was put together hurriedly by the rough hands of Roman soldiers. It was not placed upon its wearer’s head in pomp and ceremony, but in the hollow mockery of ridicule and blasphemy. It is a crown of thorns.
The amazing thing is that it belonged to me. I deserved to wear that crown. I deserved to feel the thrust of the thorns. I deserved to feel the warm trickle of blood upon my brow. I deserved the pain. He took my crown of thorns–but without compensation. He offers to me instead His crown of life, the crown that fadeth not away.
–James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 162-163.
WHAT SEEMS TO BE THE CONDITIONS ATTACHED TO RECEIVING THE CROWN?
Perseverance under trial is not the only option. People can fail. In these verses James examines the causes of such failure.
WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN “PASSING THE TEST” AND RECEIVING THE “CROWN OF LIFE”?
The focus shifts from enduring outward trials to resisting inner temptations.
James presents the first truth in verse 12: it is, indeed, possible to endure temptations. The word “endure” relates back to verse 3, in which he teaches that patience or endurance results from successfully facing trials. The sense in that verse and in verse 12 is that we can experience a victorious outcome or success when facing temptation. He tells us that the person who endures temptation is blessed, because he or she has “been approved.” That term might better be understood as “passed the test” or “faced the test with success.”
READ Romans 5:3-4
[Paul] doesn’t just say, “We rejoice in the midst of suffering,” period. He says, “We rejoice in the midst of suffering because it produces something.” What does it produce? Look at the next phrase in your study Bibles. “We rejoice in the midst of our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance. Endurance produces character.” Character is the blockbuster term here in Romans chapter 5, That’s the Greek term dokimas, and it literally means “someone or something that has been put to the test and has measured up.” If you have ever traveled to the Middle East, you may have taken note of the fact that you can visit a potter and you will look at a vessel, a jar, and it’s been through the furnace, and it’s been through the fire, and it hasn’t cracked. It hasn’t broken; it comes out whole. It comes out complete. And you turn that vessel, and you turn that jar over, and on the bottom there is stamped DOKIAMAS. It means “approved.” This is a vessel of character. It has withstood the test of the furnace where it has been refined, and it hasn’t broken; it is whole, complete. That’s character.
— Ron Lee Davis, “Rejoicing in Our Suffering,” Preaching Today, Tape 74.
IS THIS PASSAGE SAYING THAT RECEIVING THE CROWN IS DEPENDENT UPON OUR OWN ACTIONS OR IS IT MERELY A STATEMENT ABOUT THE CHRONOLOGY (FIRST THE TEST, THEN THE CROWN)?”
Warren Wiersbe noted that when God permits his children to go through the furnace, he keeps his eye on the clock and his hand on the thermostat.
See: Psa 23:4; Isa 41:10
DOES ONE HAVE TO UNDERGO TESTING IN ORDER TO RECEIVE THE CROWN?
Between now and the time you read these words there could well be a dozen national emergencies and numbers of crisis in your personal life. However, as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale often says, “The only people who do not have problems are those in the cemeteries.” (Then with a twinkle in his eye he says, “and some of them really have problems.”) If you have problems, it simply means you are alive and the more problems you have the more alive you are. He even jokingly suggests that if you don’t have man-sized problems you should get on your knees and ask God to “trust” you with a few.
James leaves no question that temptation’s assault will come. Notice in verse 14: he states “when” one is tempted,” not “if” one is tempted. As Christians, we are not exempt from temptation. The fact is, we will never be without temptation until we are with Christ. That is because as Christians we are in a spiritual battle. There are opposing forces constantly trying to draw us away from God. Even though people around us may not appear to be doing so, everyone is wrestling with temptation just like you and I are.
Verse 13 almost goes without saying. Temptation does not come from God. He does not put our favorite vice in front of us to help our endurance grow. He does not test our faith with the invitation to sin. Temptation comes from Satan, who puts some very alluring choices before us to try to attract us to the pleasures he offers.
Remember, too, that temptation itself is not a sin. The writer of Hebrews points out that Jesus Himself was tempted: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Temptation is simply the invitation to sin. We sin when we decide to accept the invitation.
READ John 16:33
WHAT DO WE LEARN IN THIS PASSAGE ABOUT THE ORIGIN OF TEMPTATION?
In writing about America’s problems with our own national security, Jim Banford, author of The Puzzle Palace, said, “Once you’ve sold one secret you’re usually hooked. They don’t start by asking to get a top secret document. They usually ask for something innocuous, like a telephone directory. Once a person starts, they’re hooked at that point.” Isn’t that the way Satan operates? He tempts us to make little compromises that seem so insignificant and end up ensnaring us in sin.
James points out that we have personal responsibility for handling temptation. We can’t blame God when we are faced with temptations, we can’t blame God or someone else when we give in. We are responsible.
But we have always had the tendency to want to find someone to blame. When I was growing up, a comedian named Flip Wilson was popular. He had comedy routines based on the famous line people sometimes use to excuse bad behavior: “The devil made me do it.” The point of the comedy routine was that his character tried to excuse bad choices by blaming it on the tempter. Satan is, indeed, responsible for the temptation, but not for our yielding to it.
Too often, the natural tendency is to blame others for our failure. God is often blamed as well. But, God does not put people into situations in order to test them. Such temptations arise quite naturally out of life itself. James makes it clear that what turns a natural situation into a temptation is evil desire within a person. In fact, God gives us opportunities to resist the temptation.
READ 1 Corinthians 10:13
He can provide this help because Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted.
READ Hebrews 2:18
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE WAY YOU LOOK AT YOUR STRUGGLES AND PROBLEMS?
You know the old story of how to boil a frog. You don’t put him in a pot of boiling water. You drop him in the boiling water and he’ll jump out before he’s injured. So you put him in a pot of cold water, and he’s perfectly comfortable. Then you put him on the stove, and little by little the water gets warm. It’s very pleasant at first. Then it gets to Jacuzzi level, and he begins to be a little alarmed. Finally, when it’s boiling, it’s too late. Christians are like that, aren’t we? We get into the world and it’s oh so pleasant at first. And then it gets a little warmer and it’s pleasanter yet. And one day we realize the danger: “This is going to kill me, and I haven’t the strength to get out!”
— Donald Hoke, “The Stockholm Syndrome,” Preaching Today, Tape 30.
WHAT STAGES DOES TEMPTATION PASS THROUGH TO BECOME FULL-BLOWN SIN?
The steps are explained like the birth process. The possibility of an evil act is entertained, and then acted on again and again as the thought becomes a deed and until it finally brings death. In fact, the picture here is of a seductress who entices a victim into her bed and conceives a child whose name is sin. This child, in turn, produces his own offspring which is the monster called death. Paul uses a similar chain from desire to sin in Romans.
READ Romans 7:7-12
Sin will lead to death is not stopped. Death is the opposite of the “crown of life”. It the point of no return where a repeated act has become so ingrained that we have no ability to restrain ourselves.
HOW CAN YOU SEE THAT THIS HAS HAPPENED IN YOUR OWN LIFE?
A little boy named Bobby desperately wanted a new bicycle. His plan was to save his nickels, dimes and quarters until he finally had enough to buy a new 10-speed. Each night he asked God to help him save his money. Kneeling beside his bed, he prayed, “Dear Lord, please help me save my money for a new bike, and please, Lord, don’t let the ice cream man come down the street again tomorrow.”
(Lee Griess, Taking The Risk Out Of Dying)
We are tricked by our own sinful natures in the same way that a fish is tricked by the lure, only to discover too late that there is a painful hook!
WHAT ENCOURAGEMENT DO YOU FIND IN VERSES 17 AND 18?
The contrast is made between sin which gives birth to death and the Gospel which gives birth to life and brings into being God’s children.
Even though sin sometimes brings a temporary period of pleasure, it always leads to negative consequences, even though this may not be immediately apparent.
Now obviously we have all sinned, and God did not strike us dead that very moment. But we must not be misled about the ultimate result of sin because of God’s mercy. If we continue to sin and do not respond to God’s mercy by forsaking our sins, James says the sin “brings forth death.”
This has been a difficult verse for theologians to reconcile with the promises of the Bible that Jesus paid once and for all time for our sins. His death is our atonement for sin. Literally, sin, which is giving in to temptation to act unrighteously, made necessary Jesus’ death as our atonement. It can be a difficult concept to accept. God wants a relationship with us, but He cannot abide evil in His presence, and our sins are acts of evil. So Jesus became the atonement for our sin so that we can commune with God.
The process James describes—desire, sin, death—is the same as in Genesis 3. The desire to be like God led to the sin of Adam and Eve, and both their separation from God (spiritual death) and the institution of physical death. David longed for restoration of his relationship with God after his long period of sin with Bathsheba, which included continuing adultery as well as arranging the death of her husband. In Psalm 51:12, David prayed “Lord restore unto me the joy of my salvation,” because until he repented and turned back to God, he lived a death-like spiritual existence—no joy in the salvation God had given him.
Charles Swindoll, in his book James, Practical and Authentic Living, offers a good explanation of verse 15: “James is not referring here to physical death, for then none of us would be alive. Nor is he referring to spiritual death, for then no one could be saved. The fulfillment of our lust brings about in the believer’s life a death-like existence.” I would add, however, that James would, indeed, mean physical and spiritual death had it not been for the atonement, in which Jesus sacrificed His own life so that we might be saved and spend eternity with Him.
IF EVERY GENEROUS ACT AND EVERY PERFECT GIFT COMES FROM GOD, WHAT DOES THIS SAY ABOUT GOOD PEOPLE WHO REJECT GOD BECAUSE THEY THINK THEY DON’T NEED HIM?
James tells us in verse 16: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” In other words, don’t see a temptation as something good and rewarding. I am reminded of his earlier use of the word “entice,” the fishing term referring to the bait. Don’t be fooled by the bait of sin, he is telling us, but realize the hook is buried in it, waiting to pierce you and pull you in. Reject the temptations that you experience, because you have the ability to see evil for what it is.
That is the key: seeing evil for what it is, even though it lures us like the bait lures the fish. We need to see our world through eyes that are spiritually mature, firmly rooted in God’s truth, and then we are able to realize that the things that tempt us are evil and do not lead to any good, no matter how great they appear to be.
In verse 17, he draws a contrast with the preceding verses about temptation and what it can lead to. His point is that Satan does not give good gifts. Only God gives good gifts. Remember that James began by saying that God did not cause temptation to come to us. God is not the source of our temptation. Temptation is not a good thing. It is a bad thing. And God does not give bad things to us. Satan would like for temptation to look like a good thing. Don’t be fooled. Reject that lie outright. Every good gift comes from above, from our Father. In Him there is “no variation or shadow of turning,” that is, we judge for sure between His gifts, which are pure and good and without a doubt from Him, and Satan’s temptations, which offer fleeting pleasure and fulfillment but at a terrible price. Peter elaborates on this idea in 2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.”
Finally, in verse 18 James tells us that we are different. We are born again into a new spiritual existence entirely separate from the spiritual nature of those who are not born again. The good news is that those who are born of God can resist temptation. We no longer have to be servants of sin and sinful human nature. We have the ability to see that what Satan tempts us with is a baited hook trying to separate us from the righteousness of God.
And when we waver in the face of temptation, we can fall back on the promise of 1Cor 10:13: “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.” And we can fall back on the promise James gives a little later in his letter: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
1. Tempations do not come from God
2. Temptations are not a sin
3. Temptations are my responsibility – no blame to anyone else
4. Tempatations can be defeated