"12 Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; 14 but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death."
James is writing to people who are struggling. Although they are united now
to Christ and learning to trust Him, their lives are full of difficulties.
How then should they go through their trials as Christians? This is the question
James seeks to answer for them, and for us as well.
In the preceding section, James deals with the rich and the poor. Our perception
is that the rich, by definition, are immune from trials. James indicates, however,
that riches will fade away, they offer no real healing or solution to our trials.
We cannot look to wealth as the answer to the trials that we face, though we
are tempted to.
Now James returns to the thought with which he began his letter. "Blessed
is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive
the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him." This
is parallel to vv.2-4 "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various
We certainly do not feel blessed in the midst of trials. In fact, we may wonder
if we are cursed. We may wonder in the midst of a trial if it is ever going
to end, if there is any real hope that it is going to turn out okay. In v.
12, as earlier, James reminds his readers that there is an end to this time
that will be far more glorious than we can imagine in our present circumstances.
To endure, like counting it joy, is not something that we do by sheer will
power. To endure is to continue to turn to God as our only source of life.
It is to count on Him to give us His presence and His peace in the midst of
whatever we are facing. And it is to live as if He is working His transforming
and redeeming will through this current suffering. It is to wait on Him to
give us wisdom and light when all we seem to have to offer Him is our darkness.
Yes, James assures his readers--there is an endpoint. We endure not for the
sake of the current chaos, but for the promised resolution. God will bring
good out of this, and we count on Him to do this. We await the crown of life
which is the same as being "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."(v.4)
Sometimes when we are in a trial, we are ambiguous about God. In fact when James
speaks of being "double-minded" in vv. 7-8, he could mean our being
in two minds about the character of God. We may be tempted to say that since
God got me into this mess, it is His fault if I sin. In fact He is tempting me
to do evil by leaving me in this difficult circumstance. We are tempted to think
that God is double-minded about us! God both promises to help us and tempts us
in our difficulties.
James deals with our temptation to see two sides to God here in this passage. "Let
no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted
with evil and he himself tempts no one..."(v.13) When we are in a trial,
we are tempted to doubt God's word and to take matters into our hands. We are
tempted to find our meaning, purpose, identity and life elsewhere than in our
heavenly Father. But, James assures us, God is never the one tempting us. His
purpose in allowing us to walk through the trials of living in the broken world
is never to tempt us to not trust Him. Rather, He plans, in spite of it, to
enable us to more and more receive the transforming grace He is pouring on
us, to make us truly His children.
James leads his readers to see that to say that it is God tempting them in
their trials is to misunderstand or misrepresent the very nature and character
of God. God is not the tempter just because He chooses at certain times not
to be. No. God has no relationship with evil at all. God is never tempted with
evil Himself. There is not a "dark side" to God. And "he himself
tempts no one." We can be assured that God is consistent, He is not "double-minded" about
us. Whatever we are going through and whatever temptations we face, it is wonderful
to remember that God is never the one tempting us to see if we will step away
from Him. He always and only intends our ultimate good.
So then where does the temptation come from? Who is to blame? James goes on
to say that it is our own desire. We are "lured and enticed" by our
own desires--our desire to be secure, or free of pain, or well-liked, etc.
These desires can lure us to be tempted to find a "quicker" or "more
efficient" way to meet those needs and wants that does not come from God
or lead to God’s best for us. My desire to be well-liked can tempt me
to be deceiving. My desire for security can tempt me to ill-advised moves financially.
God of course, wants to meet our desires in the deepest ways, but we are tempted
to look elsewhere when we don't want to wait for God’s best and right
But merely going ahead and acting on a particular temptation presented by our
desire is not the end of the story. James wants to show his readers that just
as trusting God with our trials leads to perfection, so our succumbing to temptation
has an endpoint as well: "desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin;
and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death."
James is warning his readers not to be deceived. Going ahead and succumbing
to a temptation now has consequences that go on and that we cannot control.
It is interesting that James uses the picture of birth and growth here. There
is a development to whatever we do. There are ongoing effects. We do not just
live a series of isolated incidents. Our actions have consequences. And the
direction that our temptation will take us is eventually death. Now that’s
something to ponder. It’s so easy to take lightly our little sins. We
fail to see where they will lead us.
James wants to emphatically point out that no one and no other way can give
us our identity or our lives. Only God can. The other options out there are
not just other forms of slightly lesser lives—no, they all lead to death,
I have certainly seen the wisdom of James's words in my own life many times.
When I have not taken the time to wait on God and be reminded of His character
so that I can respond in faith, the end results are never good and often horrible.
As in previous passages, James points us to the truth of God's good and gracious
character. He is enabling us to focus again on Him so that we can hand our
present circumstances back to Him. He is never toying with us when we are struggling.
It is great to remember that God has only one mind about us--He is, as Paul
says, totally and completely with his whole Triune being "for us." (Ro.
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