Welcome to Day 2121 of Wisdom-Trek, and thank you for joining me.
This is Guthrie Chamberlain, Your Guide to Wisdom
James – Wisdom is Faith in Action 3 – God’s Prized Possession – Daily Wisdom
Putnam Church Message – 09/19/2021
James: Wisdom is Faith In Action – God’s Prized Possession
We are continuing our series today on the Proverbs of the New Testament, better known as the book of James. Last week we started mining the rich wisdom that makes this letter a treasure trove of practical advice we can use daily. Today we will discover why we should not be misled by sin because we are God’s Prized Possessions. Join me on page 1881 in the pew bibles as I read the Scripture for today. I would recommend keeping this passage open as we go throughout the message today:
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
Let me read verse 18 also from the NLT, as I feel it gives a better intent of how God views us: He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. So hold that thought.
In last week’s message, James dealt with the kind of “trials” of life that test a person’s endurance—the ability to keep the faith under extreme pressure to give in (1-12). Next, James explores the other meaning of that Greek word for trials: a test of moral endurance (13-18). (Bulletin Insert) In six short verses, he presents the truth about temptation in a straightforward manner. Rather than skimming the surface of temptation, as many preachers and teachers tend to do, James probes deeply below the surface to reveal the inner workings of temptation. But less like a psychologist and more like a physician, James begins with certain facts that describe temptation (13-16), then moves to a focus that determines victory for overcoming temptation (17-18).
James wants his fellow believers to understand at least four things about temptation. First, temptation is always present, and nobody is exempt from temptation. Once again, James says, “when,” not “if.” Like trials in the form of tests of faith, trials in the form of temptations are inevitable. There is no “spiritual vaccine,” no “get out of temptation free” card, and no alternate route to avoid the traps along the trail. Not a person here is immune or innocent. The aging monk in the monastery is no safer from temptation than the young person in the inner city. The lowly saint in prayer wrestles with temptation just as much as the executive in his Porsche.
Second, God never prompts temptation verse 13 in the NLT says, And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. God doesn’t whisper evil thoughts into our minds or create an alluring mental image. God isn’t even indirectly involved in temptation. While God uses trials and troubles to bring about His work of maturing us (1-12), God is never the author of temptation or evil. Never! It is an impossibility for God to be tempted or tempt us.
God’s absolute goodness and holiness guarantee the truth of James’s statement. To be holy means to be separate from evil, set apart, untainted, and untaintable. Holiness has two sides—the inability to be affected by evil and the inability to cause evil. Both are true for God, who is the absolute standard of holiness. James says God cannot be tempted, nor does He tempt. He’s holy!
The third fact to understand about temptation is that temptation always follows a consistent process. James introduces his statement in verse 14 with “but,” indicating a contrast. In contrast to the wrong view that God is the author of temptation. In verse 14, James implies that temptation originates from our desires. This temptation could be thoughts we allow to spring up in our mind, or external objects of lust or desire. In that same verse, he clearly states that the tempted one is “dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” The NLT says Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. “Enticed” is a fishing term, meaning “to bait.” So, a lure is dropped into our lives, a thought or something external. That, in itself, is not a sin. Our problem is that deep within us, a hunger stirs, a desire to take the bait—lust. We find ourselves drawn toward the lure through persuasion of curiosity mixed with a hefty dose of rationalization, motivated by our own desire to have something not rightfully ours. (Fishing Rod)
Note the contrast! Whereas God is not even remotely a part of the temptation, not even indirectly, our lustful desire is the direct cause of sin. We can’t even blame the alluring bait! The temptation itself is a necessary cause, but not a sufficient cause. The point? We, alone, are responsible.
In summary, verse 14 describes the essential ingredients for temptation: an alluring thought or outward bait plus our inward desire. When these two are combined with a will that yields to the temptation, the result is disaster, described in verse 15.
James begins 1:15 with the word “then.” The order of steps in the process is clear. The word “conceived” is used for the conception of a child. In this context, James emphasizes that when the two necessary ingredients are combined—the object of temptation and the internal lust- temptation is conceived. A cycle is set in motion that results in a sinful act if allowed to run its course. (Opposite side of insert)
The Slippery Slope of Sin
King David radically illustrates James 1:14-15. While his armies were out fighting, David stayed in Jerusalem, lounging and lingering at the palace (2 Samuel 11). Had he been with his army where he was supposed to be, the downward plunge into immorality could have been avoided. But instead of waging physical war on the battlefield, David fought a spiritual war against temptation—and lost. It started out innocently enough. As he meandered on the palace roof, the king’s wandering eyes caught a woman bathing on her rooftop. This accidental glance (if indeed it was accidental) was not itself a sin. But mixed with David’s restless urges, that glance quickly became a willful stare. He noticed she was “very beautiful.” The focus of his gaze and his internal desires conceived a powerful temptation that few men in David’s position could resist. Like a victim dropping through a trap door, David’s plunge from temptation to sin followed a rapid-fire progression: He inquired about her, sent for her, and slept with her, knowing full well that she was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.
David’s sin didn’t just end with adultery. Instead, his immorality turned into desperate attempts at cover-up, ultimately leading to two deaths—the death of Uriah the Hittite and his son, the product of his one-night stand. From lust to death, David’s temptation is a textbook example of temptation and sexual lust, almost as if he were taking the slippery slope of sin in James 1:14-15 as a script.
The most frightening thing about David’s sin is that it happened to “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). If such a great man of God could fall so suddenly and so severely, we shouldn’t think for a moment that it can’t happen to us. That’s the bad news about temptation.
But the good news is, any temptation can be resisted. A person can resist the desire, turn from the bait, and retrace their steps, canceling the process. But if the one tempted coddles the desire, embraces the enticement, and runs (or even wanders) into the trap, the result is the act of sin. Don’t miss the progression. When we get carried away by allurement, we move into temptation. When we allow temptation to linger, we eventually sin. And when sin continues without repentance, it results in death, or at least a death-like existence (15). Sin, that monstrous offspring of depravity, goes through conception, development, birth, growth, and finally, death. That’s James’s “death cycle” of sin.
It would help to linger over the word “death” in verse 15. Sometimes people can die physically due to sin, such as those infected with diseases through sexual sin or those whose alcoholism or drug addiction leads to premature death. However, James 1:15 can’t be referring primarily to physical death as a result of temptation and sin. If that were the case, all of us would be corpses within days. We wouldn’t be able to live through it. James doesn’t mean eternal spiritual death, either. Our good works don’t save us, nor do our bad works condemn us.
Paul says we are saved by grace through faith apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9). So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1). If James isn’t talking about physical or spiritual death resulting from sin, what death is he referring to?
This is where recognizing the Jewish background becomes helpful. In Jewish thinking, death was often seen as a trajectory than a destination. To be “dead” was often a description of the poor quality of life rather than the cessation of being. Deuteronomy 30:15 says, Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.
We also see this choice between “life existence” and “death existence” in Proverbs 12:28: The way of the godly leads to life; that path does not lead to death. Proverbs 13:14 The instruction of the wise is like a life-giving fountain; those who accept it avoid the snares of death. Jewish Christians saw people as either traveling the path of life (walking with Christ by the Spirit) or the path of death (walking apart from Christ in the flesh). This “death-like existence” is the opposite of the “rich and satisfying life” Christ promised (John 10:10). No longer can the sinner, walking in death, live out the true life in the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That’s the kind of death James has in mind.
We have seen that temptation is always present and never prompted by God (13). We have also explored the consistent process temptation follows (14-15). Finally, the fourth fact James notes regarding temptation is that temptation flourishes on inconsistent thinking (16).
— 1:16 —
James abruptly breaks into his description of temptation, sin, and its consequences with a clear command: Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Do not be led astray. The lure of temptation will come in many forms and at different times. Don’t let your thoughts stray from the truth toward the deception of falsehood. Because the process of temptation begins in the mind, we must force ourselves to face the facts, apply the truth, and review the consequences of our lustful actions in advance. Allurement builds its case on deceptive thoughts and empty promises. Please don’t buy it, don’t be deceived. Let me remind you of our theme verse for August Romains 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
After vividly describing the facts of temptation, James turns his readers’ attention to the source of victory over temptation in the final two verses—God.
God provides the means of victory over the subtle allurements of temptation and sin. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. God dispels the darkness of deception. He is the unchanging One, in whom there is no “variation or shifting shadow,” unlike the allurements of temptation. Note the contrast of blaming God for our desires when God provides every good and perfect gift. Where our desires give birth to sinful actions, verse 18 in the NLT describes a new birth: He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. How can we settle for fish bait when we are God’s treasured possessions?
Last week we saw in verses 1-12, James challenged us that trials of our faith are given for our good—to mature us. Only God’s wisdom can bring about their intended result. In verses 13-18, James explained that temptations to sin come not from God but from our own sinful nature. But God’s good and perfect gifts can bring victory through His Word. James contrasted two trajectories in the lives of believers—one toward maturity, the other toward sin; one by enduring trials, the other by succumbing to temptations; one upward on the path of abundant life, the other downward on the slippery slope of death. (Bulletin insert) James asks a question for all who read his inspired words: Which path are you on?
How can we apply these truths in our lives?
It is our focus that determines victory
You have probably read this idiom before, but it is so applicable to today’s lesson:
Sow a thought; you reap an act;
Sow an act; you reap a habit;
Sow a habit; you reap a character;
Sow a character; you reap a destiny. – This goes both ways – let us ensure we are on the UP arrow! (Bulletin insert)
Those words in that idiom emotionally reflect the warning of James. The “insignificant” thoughts, the “minor” transgressions, the “harmless” habits—all these can snowball into lifestyles that will obliterate the testimony of the most respected saint. So, ask yourself, how can we avoid the slippery slope of sin and stand victorious against the allurement of temptation?
First, victory comes through dwelling on the good. James notes that every good and perfect gift comes from God the Father (17). Indeed, He gives these good things for a reason. You can’t harbor evil in your mind and reap good results; neither can you nurture good and wholesome thoughts in your heart and constantly produce evil. So, not surprisingly, you must dwell on the good to reap the good. Addressing the value of allowing the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds, Paul writes in Philippians 4:8, And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
Do you do that? What do you think about when you’re overwhelmed by a particular problem? What do you read? Who do you listen to? What do you dwell on? Sin always begins in your thoughts. So take some time to evaluate the kinds of seeds you sow in the fertile garden of your mind. Are they seeds that grow into thoughts in the verse I just read? Or are you slowly poisoning your mind and setting yourself up for failure when the inevitable storms of temptation blow through your life?
Second, victory comes through living in the truth. James says He chose to give us birth through the word of truth. (18). That motherly word that gave birth to us will also nurture and protect us, giving us all we need to grow. God’s Word can deliver us from evil when those inevitable and appealing temptations come. Psalm 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
How are you treasuring God’s Word in your heart? Do you merely dabble in Scripture now and then or immerse yourself in its purifying, refreshing waters? Do you search through it mechanically to satisfy your curiosities, or do you allow it to search you to cleanse your heart and mind? Reading, memorizing, and meditating on God’s Word—the greatest and most perfect gift from above—will help you to stand strong in the moment of temptation.
Take this opportunity right now to ask the Holy Spirit to do soul surgery in your life. Let us pray the prayer David once prayed in Psalm 139:23-24:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Whatever your particular temptations, no matter how relentless they are, God is ready to provide the good and perfect gifts that will strengthen your heart with His life-giving power and personal victory. Although I am far from perfect and tempted as much as the next person, I can tell you from my personal experience, focusing on God’s Word, works.
Next week we move forward with more practical wisdom as we learn Listening and Doing. For next week, please read. James 1:19-27