There is a scene in the film the Lord of The Rings: return of the King which I think graphically illustrates what James has to say about temptation. It even picks up the imagery that James uses of fishing and trapping and the serious way in which James views temptation. It is the story of how Sméagol came to get the ring of power by killing his friend Deagol. …
After this scene we see Sméagol who wanted to possess the ring become possessed by the ring: paranoid that he will lose his precious he turns away from the light and goes and hides in the deep caves under the misty mountains, In one sense Sméagol dies and changes into the creature we know as Gollum. This is the downward spiral that James says happens when we give into temptation: sinful desire, which gives birth to sinful deed, which when it come to fullness brings death.
As we saw last week James had started his letter by commanding his readers to count it all joy when they face all kinds of trials. In the face of misfortune and troubles God is able to work a life giving process in us… it tests our faith: refining it… which leads to perseverance… which in turn leads to maturity and life as we put our hope and trust in God. But the Greek word translated trials in the first paragraph of James can also mean temptations, which is how it is translated in the reading we had today. We need to know the difference. Trials and misfortune are to be endured with joy … trials as temptation needs to be resisted. One is a path that leads to life the other can lead to death. In both we need to turn and to trust God.
We might be interested in ‘a step by step how to overcome temptation guide’ but James is more interested in the question “If testing is used by God for the perfecting of his people, does that mean that God is at the root of our temptation and sin?”
It’s a very human thing to want to avoid responsibility. When God confronts Adam and Eve after they had eaten from the tree God had told them not too they try and pass the blame on. Adam blames the women… ‘It’s her fault, she gave me the apple and I ate it’ in fact he even throws some of the blame on God… “The women you put here with me”. The woman blames the snake. How many times have we heard ‘the devil made me do it.’ James does not allow us to step away from taking personal responsibility for our own actions. Temptation he says does not come from God but from within our own lives, our desires. Yes like with the ring of power in the Lord of the rings Satan is able to try and use our desires for his evil purposes. In modern times we blame behaviour on environment, which is hard to do in the genesis narrative. In Romans Paul uses the illustration of wrestling to talk about what is happening in the human heart he says for the Christian there are two natures fighting within him and us. The old nature focused on self-gratification and the new nature in Christ focused on desiring to serve God: A very real human conflict.
James makes it very clear that God is not the source of temptation and evil. He argues it from the very character of God, that God cannot be tempted by evil because God is good. In verse 17 he uses the metaphor of God as the father of heavenly lights, who does not change or have shifting shadows. There is no shadow in God. The sun and the moon move and as they do they cast shadows at different times in different places, the stars seem to move across the heavens, but God is constant and does not change, there is no hook waiting to trap to ensnare us.
He says God does not tempt people. How could God who has no guile or darkside act in a way that was inconsistent with God’s character.. God has integrity.
The term ‘father of heavenly Lights’ that James uses in verse 17 is quite unique. People thought that their fate was controlled by the stars and the sun and moon and gods of fate. But James says that God is beyond and above those things, that they are simply created. We can get our idea of the sovereignty of God mixed up with fate with the idea that we are prisoners of a fixed and determined universe…With that are tempted to think in terms of a God who does good and bad things But the biblical picture as James says it is the sovereignty of God is ruled by his nature, his purposes and plans are for good not for harm. We are not to be deceived in to thinking otherwise. The universe is not fixed it is broken, it is not determined but God is determined to bring salvation and wholeness.
James says we are to realise every good and perfect gift comes from above. The sovereignty of God is shown in the providence of God. It is our attitude to those gifts that can lead us to God or astray. In his first section James had made special mention of poverty and wealth and in 1 Timothy 6 Paul gives an example of this attitude problem. He says that godliness with contentment is a good thing. God provides…If we have food and cloths we should be happy, after all we come into this world with nothing and we leave this world the same way. But there are some he says, who desire more wealth more money and this can lead to all kinds of evil things.. Doesn’t that speak volumes to our world with its obsession with more and more, bigger and better.
We also would like to be able to be the ones who define what is good. We like to think in terms of what’s good as what’s in in for me…in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul says God gives gifts for the common good. We might thing good means that we don’t face hardship, but James had just finished telling his readers they could count it joy when they faced all kinds of trials because in the end God is able to use them to bring us to maturity. WE see good as instant gratification God view is the eternal... We need to trust Isaiah 55… “God’s way are higher than our ways, his thoughts higher than ours.”
Then James says that the goodness of God is shown in his purpose for us. Like with the temptation giving birth to sin and death process James uses the illustration of birth and reproduction to express this . The father choses to give us birth through the word of truth , that we might be a kind of firstfruit of all he created. When we talk of the goodness of God we must always come back to the cross. This passage echoes the words of the prologue to John’s gospel that we heard again over Christmas. That the father sent the word into the world, his very son Jesus Christ, that to all who would receive him he gave the right to be the sons and daughters of the most high God. Not by human desire but by the will of our heavenly father. God’s purpose is in Christ, his life death and resurrection,t hat we might come to him: Be forgiven be born again and know eternal life.
Firstfruits were the portion of a harvest that were set aside as a sacrifice to God. It wasn’t just the first part of the crop or herd rather it was the best part. God’s purpose is that we not only come to him through Christ but that we grow and become people who grow up into maturity in God. In Romans 12 Paul speaks of presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice, and he talks of doing that by not being conformed to this world but allowing ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is the process James talks of here as well. The process not just of justification, which is through Christ and by faith alone, but sanctification: being made holy. That is God’s work and purpose, not to tempt us away.
Let me just finish with five very practical thoughts about how to deal with temptation that comes from this part of James.
We start a bit like where the twelve steps programme does … don’t be deceived. We actually need to acknowledge and confess temptation for what it is. Sinful desire. We are human and our characters are not perfect and we have sinful desires.
Secondly, because we know that temptation does not come from God and that God s purposes for us are good we need to turn to him and ask for his forgiveness, aid and help. As we saw last week James invites us to turn to God and ask him for his wisdom: Ask for the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, the spirit of wisdom.
Thirdly, an attitude of thanksgiving can keep us focused on the goodness of God. It helps us focus on what God provides not what we want. Part of the Joy we can have when facing trials is that God is at work on perfecting our character seeing that we lack in nothing. While we don't rejoice in temptations is it also good to give thanks that God is at work within us to bring transformation.
Fourthly, like with physical health spiritual health is a process of right diet and exercise.... James talks of God giving us birth through the word of truth and Psalm 1 tells us the difference between the wicked and the righteous is that the righteous focus and dwell on the word of God. They are like a tree with a permanent water source. It seems a bit trite but using Paul’s analogy of the two natures wrestling within us, which nature will be stronger is dependent on which nature we feed. Jesus response to temptation was to turn to the word of truth to combat it.
Lastly, As well see next week, James says that it is which nature we exercise as well. Like Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount he says… don’t just be hearers of the word put it into action as well.