Sunday, March 29, 2009

James 1:13–15, "The Trial of Temptation"

As I preached this a couple of weeks ago (yes, I'm behind in posting this), I mentioned I was recovering from a sickness. That sickness made the rounds here in Darlington, and I felt sick to my stomach still (among other things) as I stood to preach. However, I could stand and speak, so God be glorified. It will take more than that for me to not preach. Right before the sermon we have offering at church, and our Youth Pastor and Children's Pastor Russ and Nichole Paul sang a beautiful song for offering about Jesus going up the hill to die for our sin. We paused and prayed. That's a great idea for you now, if you're reading this. Press "pause" on life and thank God for not being satisfied with justice, but reaching down to save us in His mercy and love.

Now we come to the topic of James 1:13–15, "The Trial of Temptation." I read a funny story. Have you heard the folk story of the bandit Jose’ Rivera, who became notorious in several little towns in Texas for robbing their banks and businesses? Finally the townsfolk, weary of the constant plundering, hired a ranger to track down Jose’ Rivera in his hideout in Mexico and retrieve the money. The ranger at last arrived at a desolate, ramshackle cantina. At the counter he saw a young man enjoying his brew. At one of the tables, hands over his ample stomach, hat over his eyes, snored another patron. With much gusto, the ranger approached the young man at the bar and announced that he was on a mission to bring back Jose’ Rivera, dead or alive. “Can you help me find him?” he asked. The young man smiled, pointed to the other patron, and said, “That is Jose’ Rivera.”
The ranger shifted his southern girth and ambled over to the sleeping bandit, tapping him on the shoulder, “Are you Jose’ Rivera? he asked. The man mumbled, “No speak English.” The ranger beckoned to the young man to help him communicate his mission.
The ensuing conversation was tedious. First the ranger spoke in English and the young man translated it into Spanish. Jose’ Rivera responded in Spanish, and young man repeated the answer in English for the ranger.
Finally, the ranger warned Jose’ Rivera that he had two choices; the first was to let him know where all the loot he had stolen was hidden, in which case he could walk away a free man. The second choice was that if he would not reveal where the money was stashed, he would be shot dead instantly. The young man translated the ultimatum.
Jose’ Rivera pulled himself together and said to the young man, “Tell him to go out of the bar, turn to the right, go about a mile, and he will see a well. Near the well he will see a very tall tree. Beside the trunk of that tree is a large concrete slab. He will need help in removing it. Under the slab is a pit in the ground. If he carefully uncovers it he will find all the jewelry and most of the money I have taken.”
The young man turned to the ranger, opened his mouth...swallowed...paused—and then said, “Jose’ Rivera says...Jose’ Rivera says...’Go ahead and shoot!’”[1]
Read James 1:13–15. To review, James started by telling us to determine it joy when going through suffering; that we are supposed to have perseverance when going through suffering so we can be mature and complete, lacking nothing; if we do lack wisdom, we can ask of God Who gives graciously and without reproach; to pray in faith for wisdom or anything else; how to handle the trial of poverty when some who are wealthier are oppressing you; and this time how to handle temptation as a trial.
So far James had focused on trials dealing with the outside. Now he changes focus, switching from external trials to internal trials. Temptation could be said to be the subtitle for the next 4 1/2 chapters in James except for a few verses. These people were suffering on the outside, but they needed to have not only a Godly attitude about the outside trials, but they had to deal with trials within the body.
We'll see in 1:19–21 to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
In 1:22–25 we'll see how we need to resist the temptation to be hearers only of the word and lazy. We must do what we hear in God's word.
2:1–13, we'll see how we should not favor people over other people.
2:20–27, we'll see how we should avoid the temptation to have unbelief. We should believe. Jesus commanded us in Matthew 6 and Luke 12, "Do not worry . . ."
3:1–12, we will see how we should tame the tongue. James will explain that the tongue is the most divisive, dangerous part of the body.
3:13–18, careful of falling into bitterness. Don't let your circumstances control you.
4:1–12, different kinds of fighting amongst ourselves; Chapter 5 warns the rich not to use their wealth at the expense of others. Some wealthy were also within the congregation.
Temptation is a huge problem! Wherever you find a population of human beings you find temptation, and you find sin.
Why? Because we have a sinful nature. Whenever the bird of temptation lands on our head, we honestly hope it makes a nest there; but once the droppings and chaos begin, we realize we have made a mistake. People are like the richest, most fertile soil, and temptation is like throwing the best seed of sin on it. What do you expect? We are such a fertile soil for sin, because a part of us desires it. Better luck getting the spots off a leopard, or finding a cow without hooves, than to find a human who does not struggle with temptation from time to time (or more often).

In Systematic Theology we have ten (10) categories of systematic theology, give or take one depending on which systematic theology you read. We have Theology Proper (the study of God), Christology (the study of Jesus Christ). But we don't have to teach students about the category of Hamartiology (the study of sin). Why? Everyone knows how that one works already! We live it. I pray that as a pastor I can be used by God to teach us well from God's word, and I can say, "We sin less than when I came here." We won't ever be sinless, but we should always sin less (thanks Dr. Sweeting).

James doesn't say "if you are tempted," but "when you are tempted." It will happen.

The first point is to avoid the blame game, especially towards God (v. 13). When someone is tempted, God is innocent, for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt.
The same word used in Luke 4 talking about Jesus being tempted is the word used here for us to be tempted; which is the same word as "trial" used earlier in James. But this time the context demands it is "tempted." Jesus was tempted from the outside by Satan, but not the inside as James explains we are. Hebrews tells us Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin. But only from the Tempter's point of view (read Matthew 4 and Luke 4). James will describe a process of birthing sin and death which begins inside us, which Jesus did not experience. God could not have sinned, because sin is anything opposite of the will or nature of God, so if God appeared to sin that would no longer be called sin, for sin by definition is opposite God, resulting in evil. (God being the definition of good).
The Jewish believers scattered all over should not have accused God of tempting them because God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself tempts no one (v. 13). Neither should we! We should not blame God, or others--but especially God when tempted!
Sooner or later you will be tempted to blame God during temptation. "If God loves me, He would not let this happen! He would stop this! It's His fault!" James, leader of the Jerusalem church, probably pastored many people. He probably had seen one of every type of problem (pastors see one of everything, and many repeats. Hard to surprise a pastor). No doubt James wrote from experience, that we are tempted to blame everyone except ourselves when we are tempted.
How do we apply this today? When tempted, take responsibility.
Secondly, God teaches us this: Don’t let desire drag you away. James 1:14 says, (NIV) "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed."
See the picture of the fish. One moment he's swimming along, and then he sees the silver hook in the water, so he says to himself, "I've always wanted to eat a cold, hard metal hook!" No! A fish would never try to eat a bare hook. The fish tries to bite the lure, and is deceived into biting the hook. The audience of James scattered over the known Mediterranean world would have recognized the fishing terminology in "lured" and "dragged away."
We too are lured and enticed, and then after sampling sin a little bit we suddenly are dragged away.
Fishing can be interesting. Last year I went fishing once and caught two coolers full of bluegill in four hours. Later someone returned to the same spot and caught nothing.
I took my kids fishing at Yellowstone Lake last fall, and the first time caught a small fish, showed my daughter, let her hold the pole with the fish on there for a while. She was so excited. The next day, she wanted to go fishing again, so we loaded up the van and went to the exact same spot. After having her hold the pole for 15 min, nothing happened. She handed it to me saying, “I’m done,” and walked away.
But you always need two things to catch a fish: 1) lure, 2) hook.
Sin is like this in our life. It never shows up and says, “Hi, I’m sin, I’m gonna cost you everything, ruin your marriage, family, and friendships, and lose money you could have earned, and waste your time, and leave you feeling guilty all over! I'm going to lead you down the wrong road and make you hate yourself!” If it weren't for the enticement of sin and attractiveness of it, we would all stay away from it.
Sin is like a hand grenade hidden in a chocolate donut. We take the first bite and "boom!" it's all over.
If you have sin in your life and have said for a long time, "It's not my fault. It's God's fault! It's my wife's fault! It's my husband's fault! It's the devil's fault!" The fish swims towards the attractive lure. We can only blame ourselves when we go after that attractive desire.
We should say "No!"
How do I apply this? If you have sin in your life, confess it to God (admitting it) and take the blame. We can't blame Satan, even though he tempted Jesus from the outside.
The devil has an inside agent, the flesh, and that desire inside us (sinful nature) is the root of our desire to do what is wrong.
Paul said in Romans 7 that he did the things he did not want to do, and did not do the things he did want to do. He felt so guilty he said, "what a wretch I am!" Don't read Romans 6 or 7 without reading Romans 8, because Romans 8 tells us in Christ there is no condemnation or separation from God's love.
If you sin and are in Christ, that sin was paid for on the cross when Jesus died once for all. Does that mean we should continue in sin if we have been saved from it? No! To say you love God and to act the way you want to anyway probably means you never truly believed and follow Jesus.
Jesus came so that we could have life and have it more abundantly, and sin appears to be that abundant life, but it is not! Look at what sin does!
How do you want God to view you for eternity when you arrive in heaven?
Thirdly, "after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full grown, gives birth to death." So point #3 is Abort evil desires (v. 15)
This verse is pregnant with birth analogy words. Two different words are used for giving birth, words that were used for Jesus' and John the Baptist's birth in the Gospels. Conception and birth are gifts from God, beautiful, and a part of how we are to obey Him in “be fruitful and multiply.” But when we give into our evil desires, instead of giving birth to life, we give birth to sin, which gives birth to death.
James uses this to show us the results of our evil desire, which leads to temptation, which leads to sin, which will lead to death.
The ancient proverb says, "you can't stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop it from making a nest there." When the bird lands on your head, when you hear a voice saying, "Stop! Hold back! Don't give in!" That's when the desire is starting to conceive like a fetus trying to implant itself on your inner womb. It will grow, not stopping there. Sin is contagious, addictive, and once it gets a hold of you, it gives birth eventually to death.
So, Nate, you're saying I have to be bored the rest of my life, I can't have any fun? I'm saying that sin comes from three sources: the world, the devil, and here it comes from the flesh--sinful nature--evil desires. I'm saying if you follow the definition of fun according to any of those three sources, you will eventually experience death.
But, there is another definition of fun and excitement, found in following Jesus Christ, which results in eternal life and an abundant life starting here and now. If you're reading and saying, "That's boring to me." Give God a try. Otherwise, you know that your own self-serving desires will lead to sin and death. God will lead you to life.
In John Milton's Paradise Lost, Satan reaches gates of hell, to exit, and two beings greet him with some hostility. First, he meets his daughter, an alluring woman from the waist up and a horribly disfigured creature from the waist down. She informs him she was born when he disobeyed God, and her name is Sin. She introduces him to her offspring, who battles Satan with overwhelming power. His name is death, and when she gave birth to him he disfigured her on his way out.[2]
This is the process of what happens. That is why we must prune it, cut it out, tear it down, deny it, refuse it, replace it with good desires--cut it or it will flower and produce death!
Does this "death" mean that if I sin I will die immediately? It says sin will finish it’s work and lead to death.
Genesis 2:16, 17 ,"The Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat of any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'" But they did eat, and they didn't die that day, did they? The Hebrew language said the same word twice in a row, strong emphasis, "Dying you will die." But Adam's longevity of 900+ years is much longer than ours.
Another passage of Scripture illuminates what "death" means in Genesis, and in James.
Out of all the sermons and writings in James, this is the most important and practical so far. It sets up the rest of the book.
Proverbs 7. Take five minutes to read it.
She promises him she has a lot of food, because she has made a fellowship offering and the meat must have been eaten right away afterwards. She has prepared a bed, her husband is away, and all the man's problems and excuses to do what was right were removed by her. Did she lead him away as a man's man, taking his woman? No, like "an ox going to the slaughter."
Proverbs 5:7 and following speaks of adultery as well. Verses 9 and following says, "lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel, lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man's house. At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, 'How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors. I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly.' Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well."
What does death mean in Scripture? You may live a long life, but you will watch everything leave you. You will suffer. In adultery you break your family, shame yourself in front of your children, have a child with someone else and give your best to someone else's family. Your life is gone, and though your heart beats and lungs breathe you live a death. God doesn't tell us to avoid certain desires because He wants us to suffer, but because He doesn't want us to suffer, and He sees more than we do. He sees the line above the water, and the lure and hook below, and he warns us loudly, "Don't be dragged away and enticed!"
God loves you and is telling you not to sin because of that. So let's act on it, and resist.
If you feel stuck in sin, read Romans 6 through 8, about presenting bodies as instruments of righteousness instead of sin. Psalm 103 says God knows our frame, is mindful that we are but dust.
I watched an interview years ago about Ted Bundy telling James Dobson that everyone he met on death row was like him, not just addicted to pornography but hopelessly addicted to it. Our culture has many spores and deadly flowers reproducing throughout it.
Stealing, lying, greed, drugs, excessive drinking, individualism creating pride and arrogance, trying to gain all of God's benefits without giving back to Him--these are all evils our culture promotes. They appear good, but they all give birth to death in the end.
I watched a video of an ant with a parasitic fungus called Cordyceps inside it. The cordyceps starts as a tiny spore, and gets inside, feeding off the ant while slowly killing it. The ants exhibit irrational behavior, and the others ants, upon seeing their behavior, take them far from the colony so the others are not contaminated. When the parasite kills the ant, it grows inside, finally bursting from the body and sprouting long stems, from which it will shoot new spores to contaminate other ants.
This is the picture of us conceiving of an evil desire, that desire giving birth to sin, and sin giving birth at last to our death.
How do we find happiness, life, fun? Jesus didn't say, "I'm here to ruin your life," but Jesus came and said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly!” Live in Him. If you want to get the most out of your 6, 7, or 8 decades on the earth? Follow Jesus. Even now, believe in Jesus Christ nad you will be saved.
To Review: First, avoid the blame game, especially towards God (v. 13); Secondly don’t let desire drag you away (v. 14); Thirdly, abort evil desires (v. 15).

[1] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, (Word Publ., Dallas: 1994), pp. 98-99

[2] John Milton, Paradise Lost, ……

No comments: