Thursday, July 16, 2009

Trials and Temptations (James 1:2-18)

This article will be a little different from other articles so far. It takes the form of a commentary on a passage from the Bible talking about a particular topic or subject. I believe there will be some more articles of this kind in the future. (This will not fit into the category of "Daily Devotion", which some readers have requested. I know the common remarks that the articles are too long for "daily devotion". Sorry, currently I have no inclination to provide short articles. Articles will still tended to be more in-depth study of the Word.) Today, we look at the topic of "Trials and Temptations" from James 1:2-18.

The way to read this is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I would probably insert a section on "what we ought to have understood/learnt".

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. [The author, possibly James – the brother of Jesus, said, “Consider it pure joy”. How come he can look at trials in this way? I believe he is looking at the end result. The end result is that we become mature and complete, not lacking anything – what a wonderful end result; would you like that? We commonly heard it said that the end does not always justify the means. I think if we have godly WISDOM for execution, we should always fix our eyes on the end result.
Paul also exhorted us to fix our eyes on the end result – see 1 Cor 9:24 and Heb 12:1. Notice that the word, “whenever” is used here instead of “if”. Also notice that James was addressing Christians (“my brothers” used). What I am trying to say is that Christians WILL face trials of many kinds. People should not think that by becoming a Christian, their lives on earth will be smooth sailing. The Bible does not promise that. And Christians should not think that necessarily there is something wrong with themselves when they got hit with trials of many kinds; and we should not be too quick to judge other Christians on seeing that they are hit with trials of many kinds. James said we will face trials and we must hang in there, and when we do that, our suffering will produce perseverance. Perseverance produced by suffering will produce character and character, hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:3-5).] 5If any of you lacks WISDOM, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. [But then you may say, “I do not have godly wisdom”. James told us to ask God for it. He said God will give it generously without fault. Any conditions attached? James said we must believe and not doubt (see also Mark 11:23). A doubting person is like a wave in the sea, blown and tossed by the wind; he is double minded, unstable in all he does. Such a person cannot expect to receive anything from God. I also believe implicitly, what we ask, has to be for a good END RESULT.] 9The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. 12Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. [Why did James “stick” this here, talking about low position, high position, and riches? I believe 2 things we are to learn here. Firstly, what is good end result to us may not necessarily be THE good end result in God’s eyes. I believe at times, God has a better end result or what we consider good is not good enough to Him. Or we may think a certain end is the end but God does not look at that end as the end, He has another end in mind and therefore another end result, different from ours. Secondly, a lot of our trials got to do with 2 things – pride and money. I believe James was talking about taking pride in only one position – that we have been given citizenships (Phil 3:20a) in the Kingdom of God. Those of us in low positions (poor, low status) should take pride that God despises not the lowly and accept us all the same (this is the high position of the lowly people); those of us who are in high positions (rich, high status) should take pride that the same God’s grace was at work, so much so as to cause us to accept the gift of life, and continues to work in us (the rich's low position because he can boast not of it). The rich man’s riches and status are not what will get him the salvation that he can boast about but it is grace of God that he has salvation. The Bible in Mat 19:24, stated that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. All worldly pride, glamour and money/riches will pass away. What matters are 2 things – whether one stood the test and whether one loves God. When you satisfied both, you will be assured of a place in the Kingdom of God. To stand the test, we have to persevere under trial.] 13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. [James, in addressing temptations, was saying God cannot be tempted by evil, and He does not tempt anyone. He (James) went on to explain how a temptation comes about and how if it is not handled correctly will lead to sin and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Again, here, Christians are included (in fact James was addressing the Christians). Therefore, what it means is that even if you are a Christian, if you having been tempted, got into sin and the sin, when it has become full-grown, it will lead to death. The death here is referring to the 2nd death – eternal suffering in the lake of fire in Hell. If you think that since you are already a Christian you will never go to Hell even if you sin and are unrepentant, I say, you better think again.] 16Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. [James reminded us not to be deceived. He also said that good and perfect gifts come from God who does not change. God has allowed us to be born-again as fore-runners of the many more He would save.]

[Added on 22 April 2010: It is interesting that, even though the theme of James 1 was on trials, James ended the chapter with theses verses of 16-18.

I believe perhaps, among those who faced trials, whom James was trying to encourage, were people who at some points in time, previously, were evidently used of God in many wonderful ways, perhaps, healed the sick, performed miracles, etc, but were now faced with trials. I believe he was trying to say that they should not, for a moment, think that what they were capable of accomplishing in the past, with the exercise of their spiritual gifts, were not from God {thus he said all good and perfect gift is from God}, or that God was fickle-minded and had abandoned them {thus he said God does not change like shifting shadows}. James said He chose; God chose to give them life through the Word. Implicit in that I believe James said that God loves them {despite their facing of trials}, for at the base of it all, love is a choice. When God chose to birth anyone of us {salvation}, He bound Himself to love us. Love is a choice, and the love that cometh from God’s choice of birth is an agape love.]

What we ought to have understood:

1. We should keep our heads up when faced with trials.

2. Christians are not exempted from trials.

3. We must persevere in our trials and keep our eyes on the end result.

4. Ask God for wisdom, and when we ask, believe and do not doubt.

5. Take pride only in one position – that we have been given citizenships to the Kingdom of God by God’s grace and that, that grace is still at work to keep us on the Way of Holiness which leads to the Kingdom (For more on Way of Holiness, click here).

6. Persevere in trials and love God are things to do for us to be assured of the crown of life.

7. Remember, God does not tempt us. He will chastise us because He loves us but does not tempt us. Temptation is an inducement to do evil or to sin. God cannot be doing that. However, He may allow situations of trials to come into our lives so that our faith may be tested to develop perseverance in us, and when that peseverance has finished it work, we may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. Temptations come by Satan directly, or by the workings of the fallen world, appealing to the cravings of our sinful nature.

8. We are tempted when because of our lack of self-control over our desires, be dragged away and enticed. Giving in to temptation gives birth to sin, and sin when full-grown leads to death.

9. Sins are sins, whether committed by Christians or non-Christians. The consequence of sin is the same, death, if not repented from and forgiven by God. Repent and ask God for forgiveness for your sins if you (Christians included) do not want to end up in Hell.

10. Be thankful to God that we are born-again and are fore-runners of the many more He would save. Thank Him also for all His good and perfect gifts to us, and his unchanging character.

Anthony Chia - Consider this: In place of worldly pride, glamour and riches, seek the peace and joy that come from knowing God. And adopt Paul’s attitude - I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:14)

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