Jame1v13to18: TESTING AND TEMPTATION.
(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)
James commences his epistle by writing: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. The verses under consideration in this exposition acknowledge that trials do not inevitably produce spiritual maturity. They can lead, instead, to sin. This is the problem that James tackles.
(B) A test provides an opportunity for temptation.
In the course of my academic career I had to sit many different kinds of test and exam. I certainly needed perseverance! The tests existed not just to find out how competent I was but also to develop skills that I needed as a scholar. Lengthy revision and consolidation meant I began to see my subject as a whole rather than a series of isolated topics. I learned to apply my knowledge to solve problems and to use it in different contexts. I developed a feel for my discipline and eventually became a Geographer. The examinations were a means to an end and no one could criticise educationalist for setting them.
However, exams mean that some students are tempted to cheat. They desire the rewards of success so much that they will stoop at nothing to achieve their goal. I invigilate examinations for the Open University. I have to follow carefully a whole set of procedures to prevent any candidate cheating.
I believe that whenever a virtue is tested there is the likelihood of being tempted to sin. I would say that one of my virtues is integrity. I am fairly honest. Several years ago I wrote a play for my class to perform in a school assembly. I arranged for the Head of Drama to rehearse such members of my form who agreed to participate. Two girls who were not favourites of the Drama teacher said to me at registration, "Mrs X keeps making comments about your play." Very foolishly I replied, "Perhaps, Mrs X doesn't understand the point I am trying to make." I should have known better because the two little girls were born troublemakers. Sure enough at lunch the formidable Mrs X sat next to me and said, "I hear from your two friends, P and Q, that I have insufficient intelligence to understand your play." My integrity was being put to the test and I was tempted to lie. To avoid loss of face and for fear of Mrs X I said, "Those girls are always making mischief - I said no such thing." It was a sad moment.
Every year Debenham High School used to organise a Christmas Fayre at which I ran a putting competition. Members of my form were very reluctant to offer any assistance - like collecting money, keeping the score and rounding up stray golf balls. On the night none of them came anywhere near the putting competition for fear of being press-ganged into helping. I was cross! I was still cross next morning. Now I knew what Jesus taught about retaliation - if some one hurts you - don't make them pay. Once again I was in a testing situation. Was I going to take Jesus seriously and forbear? Was my self-control going to prove equal to the task? No - I made my form pay. For 10 minutes I harangued them on their lack of loyalty and their selfishness with a passion and eloquence not always evident in these expositions. I made them feel very bad. Once again I failed the test and gave into temptation.
(C) It is easy to blame God when we succumb to temptation.
James writes: When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." v13. James needed to write this because that is just what sinners do say. It is what Adam did in the Garden of Eden. God asked him, "Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?" He replied: "The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Gen3v11and12. So Adam blamed God for placing an alluring, persuasive woman into the garden to lead him astray.
I have known pupils who have failed a Geography test complain that it was too hard. In other words it was my fault that they did so badly. Paul writes to the Corinthians: No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. 1Cor10v13. This Scripture is not easy to come to terms especially when our faith is tested. This is the hardest test of all.
The faith of the Twelve was tested when many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. John6v66. This happened after the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus' subsequent announcement that he was the bread of heaven. Jesus' loss of popularity was a severe blow to the disciples who hoped he would be the one to restore sovereignty to Israel. They believed that Jesus was the king of whom Isaiah wrote: He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. Is9v7. Jesus realised that the Twelve were rather disillusioned and asked: "You do not want to leave me too, do you?" John6v67. Peter spoke for the majority when he replied: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." However there was a minority of one - Judas - who failed the test. It was from this point that he began to think about betraying Jesus.
When things go badly in Christian work we are tempted to desert. When the vast majority show no interest in Jesus and regard his followers with ill-disguised contempt it is easy to become disenchanted and alienated. Peter shows us the way of escape. Jesus is the Holy One of God. There is none like him. His life was indisputably full of grace and truth. No one else can offer eternal life to his disciples. Christians need to hold on to that.
The faith of the Twelve was tested when a dreadful storm blew up over Galilee and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" Mk4v37and38. Jesus was not pleased by his disciple's reaction. He said to them: "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" Those fishermen, with vast experience of conditions on Galilee, failed the test and despaired because they lost sight of whom Jesus was. Would Almighty God allow his Holy One to be lost in a storm! He was in the boat with them and so there was no way that the angry sea could triumph. They also lost sight of Christ's commitment to them. The disciples cried out: "Teacher, dont you care if we drown?" We may have been tempted to ask the same question: "Don't you care God, don't you care?"
It is a good thing to remember that God is in our predicaments with us and that he really is concerned about us. We should never despair. I came close to despair on several occasions during the final stages of my father's wretched illness. His dementia was very hard to cope with. Some mornings it took me three hours to dress him because he would not co-operate. I was fearful - frightened that eventually I would no longer be able to cope. My care was flawed but I did not give up in despair. I used to remind God that my father was his son and as such could expect his help. Indeed, I would tell God that we were both his sons and in very special need of assistance. Surely our Heavenly Father would not abandon his children in their great trouble. I relied upon the relationship that God had with us to carry on in hope.
Peter's faith was tested when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter had been prepared to defend his Lord. He did draw his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant! However, Jesus told him off for even doing that. Peter felt that Jesus had let him down. He hadn't put up a decent fight but meekly submitted to his enemies. Peter in the bitterness of his heart wanted nothing more to do with Jesus. So he disowns the Master with three denials before the cock crowed. There was a way of escape but Peter failed to heed the words of Jesus in the Garden: "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak." Mk14v38.
There are times we feel that Jesus has let us down. He does not do what we want and expect him to do. Perhaps we have prayed for the recovery of a much-loved son or daughter from cancer and after a long struggle and many false hopes he or she dies. It is easy in such circumstances to be disappointed in Jesus and disown him. That is why our prayers should always take in to consideration the possibility that God's will is not necessarily our will. I prayed for years that God would save my father from dementia. God did not. But I also prayed that in the event of my father losing his mind I would be able to manage. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation." I once prayed that my love for a Christian girl would be returned. It wasn't. I was able to bear this without intense disappointment because I had also prayed that God's will be done. I see in retrospect that it was done!
(D) Who we have to blame.
James lays the blame at our door when we fall into temptation - but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. v14and15. James is saying that a testing situation may awaken within us an evil desire. If we give in to the desire then we sin. The evil desire is our own. If we indulge an evil desire the sin that follows is our baby.
God placed a prohibition on eating the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden to test the faith of Adam and Eve. God wanted them to pass the test. It was impossible for Adam and Eve to exercise faith in their creator unless that faith was tested. Their can be no genuine virtue unless their is the opportunity to renounce virtue for vice. Eve's evil desire was to be like God and taste the forbidden fruit. She gave in to that desire and the human race fell from its state of innocence.
Some evil desires most Christians are well aware of - like illicit sex. This doesn't mean that the evil desire for sex without responsibility is controlled! However, there are a lot of other evil desires that cause plenty of trouble that Christians are not often warned about. Take for instance the love of ease. Too many Christians give up demanding, time-consuming jobs in the church because they want an easier life. There are some who don't go to church on a Sunday because they have had such a busy week! As if attending church required much effort! Then there is the desire for recognition. If we give in to this desire all sorts of sin will result. I know because it is one of my evil desires. It can result in bitter resentment and even hatred of those who do not give you the recognition you feel you deserve. It is the craving that led the Pharisees to make public display of their religion to the disgust of Jesus.
(E) How to resist temptation.
James provides three strategies for resisting temptation and passing the test. We must hold in mind:
James tells us: sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death. v15. Many things are put to death by persistent sin.
Virtue is lost through sin. I lost some of my integrity through lying to my colleague all those years ago. If I was a habitual liar - which I am not - then I would have lost my integrity altogether. It would have been put to death. A mean man who has resisted every benevolent impulse puts to death that great virtue - generosity. A cowardly man who shies away from the smallest trouble inevitably puts to death the last vestiges of courage.
Sin breaks relationships. Many marriages do not survive when either the husband or the wife is unfaithful. Friendships fail when one friend is disloyal to the other. Parents may become estranged from a child rendered deceitful and dishonest by addiction to hard drugs. These are all a kind of death.
The worst sin of all is the sin of unbelief. Persistent unbelief unfits a man or woman for eternal life. It destroys any possibility of a relationship with Jesus. There comes a point when a person is beyond redemption. There is only one thing God can do with the irredeemable - condemn them to the second death. There is no hope of life beyond the grave outside of Jesus Christ. Only Jesus has been able to say: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. John11v26.
(2) What God is like.
James also stressed that God's commitment to us does not wax and wane. His love for us is unvarying - a glorious constant throughout our changing lives. So when God sends us something very bad we must not suspect him of loving us any the less. This is easier said than done. Yesterday an old friend conducted the morning service at Brockley. He was suffering from an arthritic knee, prostate trouble and numbness in his arms and legs. He feared the onset of Parkinson's disease from which his mother suffered and died. John has been very, very kind to a lot of old people. He does not deserve Parkinson's disease. It is in no way a good gift. John's bodily afflictions are a severe test of his faith in God's commitment to him and care of him. James' argument is that there is plenty of evidence of God's goodness to us. He does not change. So we must accept by faith that the bad things that happen are essential ingredients of God's great plan of redemption. They are somehow necessary. See also Christmas meditation on James1v17.
I have to admit that it would be very hard for me to be in John's situation. I would be tempted to commit suicide. The only thing that would keep me from this course of action would be the knowledge that such an act would be a vote of no confidence in God. My faith would be found wanting. We have to sing in bad times as well as good:
(3) What God has made us.
A good teacher can create in a student an abiding interest. God through his Word of Truth creates in us a new heart. Jesus imparts a filial love for God the Father, an active concern for others and a desire for righteousness in all those who believe in him. Christians become a kind of first fruits of all that God created - the finest expression of his creative genius.
If that is the case God will not spoil us by testing us beyond the limits of our endurance. The designer of a motorcar will put it to the test but not beyond reasonable limits. The owner of a top quality cricket bat designed to hit cricket balls for six would never prove it by hammering in tent pegs. When God tests our faith we will be helped to pass the test if we remember that God has no desire to ruin his pride and joy - the purchased possession of his own dear Son. And we were bought at a high price!