Dealing With Temptations According To James
"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that they trying of your faith worketh patience" James 1:2-3.
Like many, I seem to be the one who lands in the line at the market where the cash register goes on the blink right as I lay my items on the counter. Very rarely does my check book balance out right and having a flat tire is just too much! And as frustrating as these things may be, they are far removed from what James is introducing. Although a layover in the market may be inconvenient, it is usually not an area of temptation for the child of God (or at least it shouldn't be). Inconveniences of life are never joyous nor will they ever be. There's nothing joyous about a flat tire.
James is addressing the problem of falling into temptations to sin. And even though being tempted may not be an occasion to express joy, there is no doubt that there is a great benefit which comes from encountering such temptations. James alludes to the fact that the child of God "knows" something (v. 3). The Christian is confident that every trial or temptation is a building block of patience. In fact, every temptation which is encountered and refused is another link in the chain of endurance. Endurance is the key to the crown and the inspired record abounds with examples of godly people who through great trials and afflictions, persisted to the end. The apostle Peter stated, "...ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1Peter 1:6-7). There is great joy to be expressed when falling into various temptations and prevailing. Nothing greater could be imagined than to be found victorious at the appearing of the Lord. Nevertheless, enduring temptations is never born through apathy. It is propagated through decisions born of wisdom. James presents the opportunity to ask for wisdom from God who gives it. The secret to overcoming temptations is to make determined and seasoned decisions. They are decisions based upon the knowledge of consequence and desire to be found faithful in the Lord's sight. A man who tries to fight the devil on his own and without God commits spiritual suicide. Someone once said, "Without God, the devil would shred us to pieces!", and to this truth I must agree. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him" (v. 12).
There are many riches of truth and learning in the book of James. It is a record which inspires many lessons for the good of God's people. If you consider a bird's eye view of the entire text, James presents areas of temptation in every chapter. Furthermore, these are areas that brethren may find themselves battling with. Consider the following.
Self Deception: (James 1:22-25)
It is a self deluded man who thinks he will get credit for listening to the word of God while doing nothing about it. He is likened unto the man in verse 26 who considers himself to be very religious but at the same time cannot control his tongue. James says, "this man's religion is vain". The Lord expects his people to be hearers and doers, not self deceived bench warmers. This, too often, is a problem area with God's people today. There are too many things taking our attention away from our work in the vineyard. How can we expect to be found unto the praise and honor and glory at the appearing of the Lord if we choose to quit in the middle of the race? Crossing the finish line demands running. And to think that we shall receive the crown while being a spectator is simply the epitome of self deception.
Handling The Faith: (James 2:1)
Even though this chapter offers a needful lesson on how we treat our neighbor, it is primarily based upon how we treat the faith or the teaching of the Lord. We are not to handle the teaching of the Lord with respect of persons. There is no denying that people size up other people according to first or second impressions. Even though our immediate evaluation may change, we still draw evaluations. And quite frankly, if we look upon the teaching of the Lord like we look upon some people, we are surely headed for spiritual failure. There is no liberty given for the discriminating mind of man to pick and choose what he likes and dislikes from the gospel based upon his evaluation of it. We either accept all or none. It is a stiff ultimatum, but the alternative is devastating to say the least. If we fail to totally adhere to the inspired record, the hope of receiving the crown becomes non-existent.
The Tongue: (James 3:1-18)
Sometimes I feel like I hold the record for "putting your foot in your mouth"! And if ever there was an area of temptation to some Christians, this is it. The record states that all stumble with the tongue. It is one of the smallest members of the body and able to heap mountains of destruction. When you place a telephone in the hands of a cantankerous individual, trouble is just around the corner. In a matter of minutes the tongue motivated by an evil heart can absolutely destroy the lives of people and the reputations of churches. In the words of the biblical author, "Brethren, these things ought not to be" (v. 10). We must think before we speak. We must be about the business of cleaning the heart of impurities that we've allowed in and filling it with the riches from the inspired record and the attitude indicative of our Lord. The tongue is often used as an instrument for backbiting, talebearing, gossip, and malicious slurs against others, even our own brethren. It is the tool of divisive indictment and false accusations. It is the type of exercise that smells of ungodliness and suspect motives. On the other hand, the tongue can be used to the glory of God and the edification of others. It is used to vocally stand in the gap against error and make known the path of truth. It is used for exhortation, convincing, and rebuking. We must be sober to way we use this member and see to it that we use it in the best interest of others and the cause of Christ that we might be "found unto praise, honor, and glory at the appearing of the Lord".
Planning Ahead Without Considering God: (James 4:13-16)
James admonishes brethren who make capacious plans for the future without considering the Lord. The fact is, that we have no control over tomorrow. This is the tragic lesson that the rich farmer learned in Luke 12. He forgot that God controls tomorrow. James states that, "ye ought to say, if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that" (v. 15). This is not just something to say to fill our vocabulary, it is a posture of which we live by. Solomon said long ago, "Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth" (Proverbs 27:1). To boast of tomorrow is arrogance at best and unbecoming to a child of God (v. 16). God controls the future and we must live every day as if it were to be our last, with great anticipation of going home.
Priorities: (James 5: 1-5)
I am persuaded that one of the most toxic elements with the Lord's people today is our list of priorities. Quite frankly, there is too much being placed before the Lord. We have evolved as a nation of people expecting to attain things which are ultimately killing us spiritually. It's not the things in particular that are destroying us, it is the passion we have for them. When Paul stated that "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil", he was stating a fact that many are ignoring and using for their own destruction. Foolishly, we leave the nest of prosperity found in our family's life-long gatherings and approach life with the attitude that we deserve nothing less than what we have always enjoyed and taken for granted at home. We create huge debts which we cannot possibly pay back by acquiring things we cannot afford, all because of our lust for things. When it comes to laying by in store, we blow it because we have nothing to give. It is an area of temptation that the devil has been very successful with and we must overcome it. I am saddened at times, even despondent when I hear of brethren who are on the ball field when their brothers and sisters in Christ are assembling to worship. The lessons we are teaching our children are tragic when we express no more love for the Lord than to put a sporting activity before worship. God must come first, not in speech but in priority of life.
Finally, in the exhortation to count it all joy when we fall into manifold temptations, James concludes his letter by stating that if we count others happy who have endured, why is it impossible to believe that we too can count such trials a joy when we endure to the receiving of the crown?
"You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord" (5:11).
By Tony Ripley
From Expository Files 6.5; May 1999