Sunday, November 05, 2006

James 1:13-15 -- Handling Temptation

Strang, The Temptation
Strang, The Temptation (Wikipedia)
James 1:13-15

A old wiry man my mother met at a Christian writers conference once was the life of the whole meeting. It got out that he was 86 years young. When asked how he had so much energy at his age, he leaned back in his chair, pulled on his suspenders and said, “I credit my good health and longevity to one thing. I didn’t smoke, drink, or chase women until I was ten years old.”

Today we are talking about temptation, and while this man doesn’t sound like he was avoiding many of them, he does make us think of ourselves and our own battle with temptation.

Textual Notes: The letter of James was written by Jesus’ half-brother who led the Jerusalem Church after Jesus Apostles left the city. He wrote the letter to Jews scattered through the ancient world (James 1:1). Isolated from a warm and supportive community of believers, James sent them practical advice on trials and temptation.
James begins by addressing the problem of trials. A trial is a hardship, an ordeal, something that tests our faith. Many people think that a trial indicates the presence of sin, but nothing could be further from the truth. A trial has nothing to do with immorality or sinfulness.
Job experienced great loss in every area, and in all of it he did not sin (Job 1-2). Elijah went through deep depression when his life was threatened (1 Kings 19:1-4). The apostle John, while exiled to the stark island of Patmos, experienced great loneliness (Revelation 1:9). The net result of a trial is growth and development.
When we get to chapter one verse 13, James shifts from trials to temptation. (In the KJV, the words read “temptation” both places, but the use in verse 12 has more of a meaning of trial.) Temptation is enticing to do wrong by the promise of pleasure or gain. The end of temptation is death.
“What is temptation? Seduction to evil, solicitation to wrong. It stands distinguished from trial thus: trial tests, seeks to discover the man's moral qualities or character; but temptation persuades to evil, deludes, that it may ruin. The one means to undeceive, the other to deceive. The one aims at the man's good, making him conscious of his true moral self; but the other at his evil, leading him more or less unconsciously into sin. God tries; Satan tempts.”[1]
Charles Stanley: Misunderstandings regarding temptation:
  • Temptation itself is sin.
  • We fall into temptation.
  • God is disappointed and displeased when we are tempted.
  • To be strongly tempted means we are as guilty as if we had actually committed sin.
  • We overcome all temptation by separation from it.
  • When I am spiritually mature, I will no longer be harassed by temptation.[2]
  1. Temptation is inevitable (James 1:13a)
    1. “when he is tempted”
    2. Notice that the verse says when and not if. Everyone experiences temptation. The moment we enter the world, we enter the battle with temptation. The monk tucked away behind the monastery wall struggles with it just like the executive in the downtown Raleigh office complex.
    3. Historian Shelby Foote tells of a soldier who was wounded at the battle of Shiloh during the War Between the States and was ordered to go to the rear. The fighting was fierce and within minutes he returned to his commanding officer. "Captain, give me a gun!" he shouted. "This fight ain't got any rear!"[3]
    4. Jerome was not impressed with monasticism. He found that in the cave, away from the world, the most hideous and powerful temptations of sexual lust and other sins came upon him with rapidity and unrelenting force. Jerome found that when he ran away from the world to escape sin, that he had carried it with him, in his heart.
  1. Temptation is never directed by God (1:13)
    1. In Genesis 3:12, the Lord confronts Adam and Eve with their disobedience, and Adam responds, “The woman . . . ,” shifting the blame from himself and then subtly laying the blame at God’s feet, “ . . whom Thou gavest to be with me.” Adam is accusing God of setting him up! “Here I was, enjoying this wonderful Garden and loving life and living holy and along came this female that YOU brought to me. If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have been tempted!” Is God responsible for temptation? James says no. When we sin, it is our own choice. He cannot be involved in sin and still be God. He certainly allows temptation, but we are responsible for yielding to it.
  1. Temptation is an individual matter (1:14)
    1. Sin is drawn to the sinfulness in our hearts like magnet to metal. No one and nothing outside ourselves forces us to sin. Not our friends, not your boyfriend or girlfriend, not my supervisor, not my circumstances, not even the devil. Sin happens when we agree to the temptation and get involved.
  1. Temptation always follows the same process. (1:14-15)
    1. First, the bait is dropped (1:14)
i. We can be hooked like a fish on a spinner bait because we are hungry, hungry for the fulfillment of our spiritual, mental, and physical needs. God promises to provide for those needs (Matthew 6:25-32), but Satan is aware of those hungers, too. Just like a good fisherman, he cannot force us to eat, but he can make the bait look Oh-so-inviting.
    1. Second, our inner desire is attracted to the bait (1:14)
i. The Greek word for enticed is a fishing term. We know that a light bulb won’t catch many fish, but with the right bait, like chicken livers for catfish, or something shiny for bass, or a worm or cricket for bream on bed, we change our fishing depths and speeds and baits until we find something that the fish cannot resist. Once the fish sees the right presentation, the fish rushes to judgment, and bites down hard, but there is a hook in that beautiful bait, and the danger was never seen until it was too late.
ii. The more we see God’s kingdom and His righteousness, the more we draw our strength and delight from Him, the less interested we become in the tempting bait that is always around us in the mall, the cafeteria, the office, the break room, the theater, the internet, the television, even the grocery store.
    1. Third, sin occurs when we yield to temptation (1:15)
i. Once temptation gets a chance to join with the sinful desires in the womb of our minds, it gives birth to sin.
    1. Fourth, sin results in tragic consequences (1:15)
i. Even though there is sometimes a temporary pleasure in sin, there are always consequences, and sometimes they last a lifetime. The enemies’ forces attempt to blur our vision with the wine of pleasure or gain. But that pleasure will always end up hurting ourselves, others, and the Lord. Romans 6:23
Practical suggestions for overcoming temptation
  • Counteract temptation, not tolerate it.
    • James 4:7: James tells us to actively resist the devil, not tolerate sin. For example, if certain kinds of music, films, television shows, websites, magazines, mall stores, or reading material bring the wrong kinds of images to your mind, and you let them, you are tolerating sin.
    • If you spend time where there are certain beverages or foods which tempt you to sin always are, and you keep going to those places, you are tolerating sin.
    • If you continually put yourself and your body in a spot where you will have difficulty saying “no” to out of bounds sexual activity, and you keep doing it, you are tolerating sin.
    • If you have gotten in the same rut of gossip with the same person on the phone or in their home, and you keep calling him or her, you are tolerating sin.
    • If you are letting that married man at work leave you notes and give you that look and you are enjoying the attention, you are tolerating sin.
    • If you are topping off your tank on the company’s card or in the habit of adding something unrelated to business to your expense account because they do not pay you enough anyway, you are tolerating sin.
    • If every now and then you stop off at Uppy’s on Friday and pick you up a suitcase of some cool ones and finish them that night, you are tolerating sin.
    • If you know your doctor is fixing your Medicare papers to get more money for himself, but you like him because he’s good to you, and you just turn your head, you are tolerating sin.
    • If you carry home a few tools or hydraulic fluid or diesel by accident and they never somehow make it back to work, you are tolerating sin.
  • Use the right resistance.
    • We resist different temptations in different ways. Whenever sensual sin is mentioned in the Bible, we are told to flee, run, or get away. That is what Joseph did when his master’s wife tried to seduce him (Genesis 39:1-12). If you wrestle with the temptation of the dollar bill, the Scriptures teach that you subdue it with generosity (1 Timothy 6:9-10, 17-19).
    • If your living and working environment is laden with temptations, Proverbs 4:25 gives practical suggestions for self-control for your wandering eyes. We must never be lulled into feeling like we have arrived at some spiritual height where we are no longer vulnerable to temptation. Galatians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (KJ21): 12Therefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall. 13There hath no temptation taken hold of you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear, but with the temptation will also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
    • Charles Spurgeon: “What settings are you in when you fall? Avoid them. What props do you have that support your sin? Eliminate them. What people are you usually with? Avoid them. There are two equally damning lies Satan wants us to believe: 1) Just once won't hurt. 2) Now that you have ruined your life, you are beyond God's use, and might as well enjoy sinning. Learn to say no. It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin."[4]
  • Remember that the pain later will erase the pleasure now.
    • The consequences of sin stay with us even after being forgiven sometimes. Sin causes pain not just with ourselves but to those around us. Hebrew 11:24-25
  • Control my thoughts through Scripture memorization.
    • Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22. One way to master one’s drive and will is through memorization of Scripture. Psalm 119:9, 11.
  • Do battle daily.
    • This is the principle of consistency. Defeating a temptation once doesn’t mean it is beaten for good. It often comes whispering, gradually eroding our will to resist. Genesis 4:7
    • A 1992 survey of Discipleship Journal readers ranked areas of greatest spiritual challenge to them: 1. Materialism. 2. Pride. 3. Self-centeredness. 4. Laziness. 5. (Tie) Anger/Bitterness. 5. (Tie) Sexual lust. 7. Envy. 8. Gluttony. 9. Lying.
    • Survey respondents noted temptations were more potent when they had neglected their time with God (81%) and when they were physically tired (57%). Resisting temptation was accomplished by prayer (84%), avoiding compromising situations (76%), Bible study (66%), and being accountable to someone (52%).[5]
What temptation is drifting alluringly into your life right now? As your mouth waters and your hands reach, have you considered the cost of giving in?

[1] Fairbain, quoted in , J.D. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, 99.
[2] Charles Stanley, tape AU146, In Touch, June 1988, p. 13.
[3] Daily Walk, July 10, 1993.
[4] Charles Spurgeon
[5] Discipleship Journal, November / December, 1992.