First Mennonite Church
February 7, 2016
Blessed Who Endures Temptation
Text: James 1:12-18
Blessed is the one who endures temptation.
We would think that the one who has no troubles, trials or temptations is the blessed one. James calls blessed, happy, or favored by God, not those who have no trials and not even those who have trails, but those who endure trials. The Greek word peirasmos is the same for trial and temptation. Yet, we take trials to be those tests that come from outside of us and temptations those that originate from within us. However, peirasmos has the meaning for both, trial and temptation.
James indicates that happiness comes as a result of enduring temptation. Happiness and God’s blessedness come not when we become impervious to temptations, which is impossible. In fact, everyone is tempted. We never outgrow the struggle with temptation. If you look around, you might be tempted to think, “O these people are blessed because they do not struggle with temptation as I do.” The truth is: we all are tempted. There isn’t a day that goes by that we are not tempted in some way. Temptation comes in many forms. Sometimes we are tempted to not tell the truth, to take something that does not belong to us, to take advantage of someone, to gossip, to hold a grudge, to feel superior and look down on others, or to give in to that part of us that constantly wants more and more, more money and things. We are tempted with jealousy when we see others doing better at something, earning more money, getting a nicer car, of having smarter children, having good health, etc.
The way I am tempted might not be the same way you are, but we are all tempted. The new believer is tempted just the same as the one who has been walking with Lord his or her whole life. They young and old, men and women are tempted. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was also tempted. And because Jesus was tempted in every way, he is able to sympathize and help us when are tempted (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). The experts in human behavior say that women often struggle with the way they look. Women are often envious of other women’s looks. Men on the other hand often struggle with their mouths and eyes. Men are often tempted to say the wrong things or at least saying things the wrong way and with what they see.
Someone did a survey among church goers about the temptation they undergo and this is the result: The top 5 answers were materialism, pride, self-centeredness, laziness, and there was a tie between anger/bitterness and sexual lust. 80 percent of the respondents also noted that temptations are stronger when they had neglected their time with God and more than 50 percent said they gave in to temptation when they were physically tired.
To Be Tempted Is Not the Same as to Commit Sin
Being tempted is not the problem. We all have heard the saying, “You cannot avoid the birds from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting on your head.” A pastor friend of mine, Tut (Teodoro) in Belize used to tell me, “The problem with temptation is to think of it a second time, to give something a second glance.” Being tempted is not sin. Before sin is given birth to, there is a gestation period. It is that thinking about the temptation a second time. It is that second glance what can leads to sin. James puts it this way: One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. James says that one is tempted by his or her own desire, being lured and enticed by it. This reminds of Eve in Eden. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:6). Desire is wanting something we do not have or should not have. The Greek word Epithumia—desire or passionate longing can also mean coveting, impulse, longing, or lust. Desire overpowers our will. We would wonder, why didn’t Eve just walk away from the tree? Truth is, when we desire something, our will-power is subdued. Paul asks this question: For who can resist his or her own will (Romans 9:19b)? Once we have a longing for something, once our desire for something is fired up, our will surrenders to that desire. According to Paul, we cannot resist our will. And if what we desire is wrong and evil, such desire leads to sinning. Our desire leads to sin and when sin has been fully developed it gives birth to death. The wages of sin is death, Paul says.
The Blame Game of Sin
It is not uncommon for people to try to justify their mistakes to being stressed out, tired, carried away by their emotions, or because they were at their weakest moments. When someone angrily yells at another, or when someone tells a “white lie,” or when someone takes his “sweet revenge” and later apologizes, it is not uncommon to hear that they were under great stress. “Stress got the worst of me,” is the reason given for such outburst of anger, or hurtful action. It is easy to want to blame others for our mistakes. It is either that the other person “pressed the wrong buttons,” put the “last straw,” or simply “pushed the limits.” Some blame the devil.
It is said that one day a woman tired of her husband’s infidelity and blinded by rage and humiliation, killed him. After she did that, she came to her senses and began crying out loud, “The devil made me do it; the devil made me kill my husband.” As one her neighbor was coming from the field, he met the devil wailing and crying as he sat on a rock out on the scorching sun. The neighbor came to the devil and asked him what he was crying about. The devil said, “I was just out there having a good day and doing nothing and now there is this woman telling everyone I make her kill her husband. I have no idea of what she is talking about.”
Yes, many blame the devil for the error they make. But James also warns against blaming God for our temptations. James tells us that we have a personal responsibility when it comes to how we deal with temptation. We cannot blame God when we are faced with temptations. In fact, James says that all good things come from our good and gracious God. God is totally impervious to sin and he will not tempt anyone. Therefore the question, how do we overcome temptation?
We need to admit to ourselves and to God that we face temptations. If we accept the fact that we are tempted we will also be aware of what and how we are tempted. We should ask ourselves, in what area of my life am I weak and vulnerable to do what is not right before the eyes of God? Once we are aware of our weaknesses, we should take it to the Lord. God will never be shocked by our weaknesses. Remember, Hebrews says the Lord was tempted in every way and therefore he sympathizes with us and can help us in times of trials.
Sometimes we express amazement or surprise when we hear that someone committed adultery, stole money, or took advantage of another or said something really hurtful to another. God is never surprised when we tell him what we struggle with in our lives.
Avoid Putting Yourself in Danger
Parents know they should leave their children to watch the cookie jar. Churches avoid serving real wine when celebrating Communion because some might fall back to alcoholism. There is great danger with flirting with temptation. Satan is always setting baits in areas of our weakness. We therefore most strive for holiness.
When Paul gave instruction on holiness to the Corinthian believers, he commanded them to flee from two particular sins. Flee from fornication, Paul commands in 1Corinthians 4:18. In 10, verse 14 he commanded them to flee from idolatry. James for his part gives this instruction: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (4:7).
If we want to overcome temptation, we should remember to flee from anything that might cause us to sin. Let us not delay to discuss the issue with the devil when we are tempted. Eve did not win the argument and we will certainly not, either.
Let us take responsibility with our sins and faults.
The goal is to overcome temptations and to avoid sin, but if we ever fail, let us take full responsibility for our sins and faults. Let us not blame anyone else but ourselves. And let us seek forgiveness from the Lord. Let us stay focused on being holy for the Lord. The reward is great.
Once more, this is what James says, “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”