9. Temptation

Meditations in James: 9 :  Going through the Door of Temptation

Jas 1:13-15 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 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; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Trials, tests and temptations are all expressions of the same thing.  Trials, we might say are simply the general descriptions seen from our perspective when life gets difficult. Tests are the same thing but seen from God’s perspective. God allows trials to act as a test of where we are in terms of spiritual maturity, and as a means of strengthening us. Temptations are the same things but seen from Satan’s perspective as a means that he can use to cause our downfall. Every test actually involves a temptation, even if it is just the one to give up.

James, you will remember, is very mindful that the people of God are now scattered in the world, dispersed to be light and salt in fact, and is aware that living in the midst of the world we thus live in an environment that is sometimes hostile and very difficult. He wants to call us into a place of awareness of what is going on. In fact this call is really not seen so clearly anywhere else is the Bible. He wants us to be clear about trials, tests and temptations and now moves on to clarify our thinking about the temptation aspect of all this.

Look, he says, when you are tempted, don’t blame God. God NEVER tempts us because temptation is a prompting to do wrong – and sometimes we fail and give way to it, and God doesn’t ever want us to do wrong. God is always working to lead us into righteousness, into doing what is good and right. When there is a trial, and there is a temptation aspect to it, that temptation aspect doesn’t come from God. Yes, God uses the trial and the temptation but he never brings the temptation part of it, because that part always has a different origin. To see that origin, let’s go first back to the Garden of Eden. The very first temptation came to a sinless couple, Adam and Eve. He prodded them to take unilateral action, separate from God, disregarding what God has said, in other words to be disobedient. They chose to respond to him and temptation became sin.

Now because we all are tainted by sin, which Paul refers to in Christians as our old nature,  if we allow that old nature to remain, then we become vulnerable to the whispers of the enemy who suggests that we give way to that old nature and do our own thing regardless of God. Thus in the midst of a trial, when we are feeling pressurised and weak, that old nature that James calls evil desire, rises up in self-centred concern and submits to the suggestion from the enemy. Some people wrongly say, “Satan made me do it!” No he didn’t; you simply made an act of will to submit to his suggestion. He has no power over a Christian unless you give him it. Because there was an areas of your old life that has not been put to death, you were vulnerable at that point and temptation rose up, either from within that old nature or by Satan whispering to you, and you either had to battle with it and overcome, or give way and sin. No wonder Paul uses such language as,do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” (Rom 6:12) and Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Col 3:5)

But temptation is like a doorway that appears before you in your life and if you go through it, it has consequences, dire consequences! James spells it out. He starts out each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. That is the temptation, your unsanctified desires, desires of the old nature that you have not put to death, tugging at you to pull you off course, enticing you away from what is good and right. It is like a doorway of temptation stands there inviting you to go through it, leaving the holy ground that you’ve been called to, to step outside the kingdom of God and do the same as the occupants of the dominion of darkness (see Col 1:13). When we do give way and go through that doorway, we sin. When we do wrong we have two paths immediately ahead of us. The first is the path of repentance back to God: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9). The other path is the path of self-justification and blame of others (see Adam & Eve – Gen 3:12,13) and because the sin has not been properly dealt with, it makes us more vulnerable to further attacks or temptations from the enemy, and the eventual consequence of ongoing sin is death.

So, are there things in our lives that fit into the category of the things that Paul tells us to ‘put to death’,sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (Col 3:5) and anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Col 3:8). If we tolerate these things they will be the means of our downfall. Yes, it is sometimes a difficult world and yes, temptations do sometimes come, but we can minimize them by getting God’s help to deal with these issues which, if left, make us vulnerable and cause our downfall. Ensure you deal with them. Don’t risk the alternative. You aren’t as strong as Satan would like you to think you are. The old nature, if not put to death, will rise up and bite you. Don’t let it happen. Go to God, confess it, and deal with it before Satan has any further opportunity to cause your downfall. Do it!

3. Testing

Meditations in James: 3 :  Joyful Testing

Jas 1:2,3    Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

Living in the West in the early part of the twenty-first century, we are more affluent and have more technology than any people who have ever existed before us. Life should, therefore, be easy and pleasant, but so often it isn’t. If you asked most people, they would pause, reflect and then say something like, “Life is tough!” Why is that? It is, I suggest, because we live in a Fallen World where sin prevails and therefore things go wrong and people are nasty. As a dispersed people (see yesterday) we are out there in the world, largely alone, having to learn to cope with the less-than-perfect life that rolls out before us. A lot of the time it may be humdrum, ordinary with no particular problems, but then suddenly something happens, something goes wrong and we are in conflict or stress and anxiety, or we are struggling with illness or infirmity. That’s what life in this Fallen World is like. The staggeringly wonderful news for Christians, of course, is that we are not alone; we have the Lord with us. Moses was able to encourage Israel with, Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6) and the writer to the Hebrews was able to take that and apply it to us when he wrote,be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:5,6).

So the first thing to note from our verses today is that we live in a world where things go wrong, things that James calls ‘trials’. The second thing to keep in mind, which isn’t in this verse, is that whatever happens the Lord is with us in it. Perhaps we would to well to remember a third thing,  that however difficult the trial seems to be, the Lord will be there seeking to bring good out of it for us: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28). Bear those two things in mind: the Lord is with us and He will be working to bring good out of what otherwise might be a bad situation!

But then James says something about what is going on. He says God is testing your faith. Our education system, at the government’s direction, seems paranoid about testing. Our children constantly seem to be getting tested. Why do the government want teachers to do this? They do it because they want to check a child’s progress and ensure that they are learning. That is exactly why God tests us. There is a clear indication in Scripture that God expects us to mature – we’ll see that tomorrow. The writer to the Hebrews chided them saying, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:12-14).

There he indicates he expects us to grow up, understand the truth and live it. God’s testing, however, doesn’t merely monitor our position; it acts like a work-out in the gym and strengthens us. Whereas a physical workout brings strength to our muscles, God’s work-out develops perseverance in us, that ability to just plug on when life seems difficult. Yes, there are times when life seems glorious and wonderful and easy, and at those times you don’t need any special resources, (and that is a danger for we forget our need of the Lord), but we’ve been saying that in this Fallen World life is sometimes difficult and the enemy would want us to give up on our faith, and so perseverance is something the Lord builds in to us. How does He do that? By allowing us trying times!

It’s not only James; Paul says the same thing: And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance(Rom 5:2,3). It’s not only James and Paul; Peter says the same thing: In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6,7)

So there it is; these trials, these tests, work to bring perseverance which we need to handle the dark side of life, and as we do, our faith is seen to be genuine and all the angels looking on give a mighty applause because they see it is the work of Jesus and so when he returns, and every knee bows to acknowledge his wonder, this will be part of the reason for all the praise he receives. Our lives have the means of glorifying Jesus!

Which brings us to the first part of the verse that most Christians struggle with and focus upon: Count it pure joywhen these things happen to you. Why? For the reasons we have been seeing: because we are taking part in God’s strategy which strengthens us, reveals us for who we are, encourages us as we realise that we can cope with His grace. It also brings great glory to Jesus as we triumph as he, standing alongside us is working out the Father’s purposes and bringing good out of every situation for us. Wow!  Rejoicing in whatever life is holding for you at the moment? Go for it!

36. Frailty

Meditations in Job : 36.  The Frailty of Mankind

Job 14:1 Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.

When reading Scripture, it is important that we always examine the context and realise that words spoken in one context may have a different purpose than when spoken in another. We say this because similar words to those found here were spoken by Eliphaz (e.g. 5:7 man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.”) and Bildad (e.g. 8:9 “our days on earth are but a shadow.”) but in their case they sought to show that Job is part of the sinful human race and that he should repent of his sin. Now when Job says similar words he is asking the Lord why He bothers with frail mankind.

“Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” (v.1). This is his starting point and, as we’ve commented before, it is only half a picture, even though it is true. Living in this fallen world does mean that things go wrong and part of our life mission, if you like, is to learn to overcome difficulties.  “He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” (v.2) The older you get the more you realise just how fleeting life is. You look back over the years and wonder where they have gone. As you look around you, you see people who seemed to be snatched away by death in youth or middle age and realise that life is indeed very frail. You read of floods, hurricanes, train crashes and so on, and realise that we are not the masters of our destiny.

He wonders why God bothers with us. “Do you fix your eye on such a one? Will you bring him before you for judgment?” (v.3) It’s like he says, “When I look at our lives in this fallen world, our weakness and frailty, I wonder why you should bother to play around with us; you know what we’re all like.”  He realises it is a fallen world and we are fallen people and so asks, “Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!” (v.4) Because we are fallen, how can God make us pure. We are inherently sinners and so it is a constant struggle to be pure – that is why he had continually offered sacrifices on behalf of his family. We are in God’s hands, so what’s the point: “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” (v.5) God can take us any time He wishes and indeed, He knows exactly how long He’s decreed we will be on this earth, so what’s all the fuss about! He concludes with a plea: “So look away from him and let him alone, till he has put in his time like a hired man.” (v.6)  In other words, please leave me alone and let me work out the time you have allotted me. There’s no point in anything else (implied).

Then he turns and considers the futility of death in humans. He compares us with trees: “At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.” (v.7-9). That’s the truth; cut a tree down and shoots will come forth and life will continue, but that’s not how it is with us: “But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.” (v.10) When we get ‘chopped down’ and die, that’s it, the end!  “As water disappears from the sea or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, so man lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep.” (v.11,12) In the same way that a water bed dries up, so when a person dies their life ebbs away and nothing is left.

Now as we’ve commented before, in the midst of his suffering, Job loses perspective and so only sees half a picture, and indeed, because he lives so early in human history he hasn’t the revelation of the Bible. What he has just said is only half true. Yes, we do life in a fallen world and we are inherently sinners and we will one day die, but there is very much more to the picture than that. We are creatures who are made in the image of God and although we are fallen, God has worked through His Son at Calvary two thousand years ago, to redeem us, so that we can be truly called children of God, so we can live out meaningful, purposeful and glorious lives for however long we have on this earth, with all of His grace that is available to us, and then we ‘emigrate’ and go to heaven to live with God for eternity. Now if you are unsure about this, please read back over this last paragraph for this is the clear and distinct teaching of the New Testament.

We may not always understand what is going on in life – and indeed some would say we never truly know what is going on this side of heaven – yet God IS with us and He IS for us, and His grace and wisdom and power IS there for us, to help us through. Yes we can blow it and we can mess up, but even in that He IS working for our good. Trials, tests, and temptations may come but His objective in allowing them, is to teach us to overcome with His help. So important was what I said in the previous paragraph, that I am going to conclude this meditation with it again, so please read it through carefully, for this IS the teaching of the New Testament:

We are creatures who are made in the image of God and although we are fallen, God has worked through His Son at Calvary two thousand years ago, to redeem us, so that we can be truly called children of God, so we can live out meaningful, purposeful and glorious lives for however long we have on this earth, with all of His grace that is available to us, and then we ‘emigrate’ and go to heaven to live with God for eternity. We ARE people of purpose, and as the Westminster Catechism starts out:“What is the chief end of man?  Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.”