Life is full of tests. The moment we are born we are given tests. Throughout our childhood there are all kinds of tests that we are given by our parents, doctors, teachers, little league coaches, piano teachers, dance instructors, and the list goes on and on. A really big test comes when we are sixteen and decide we want to drive a car. Before they will give us a driver’s license we must pass a test. To get a diploma from your high school you must pass a test. If you want to go to college following high school you must pass the test. If you want to apply for a job you are going to be tested before they ever hire you. If we were to write down all of the tests we have been given since the moment of our birth it would make our head spin.
The tests don’t stop coming once we finish our education. I could easily fill the rest of our time together this morning simply listing the tests we have been given up to this point of our lives. Life is full of tests. Life has always been full of tests. The first test we read about in Scripture took place, not in a classroom, but in a garden, the garden of Eden. God told Adam and Eve they could eat from any tree in the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). They failed the test. When God asked them about what they had done Adam said, “The woman you put here with me– she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12 NIVO) God turned to Eve and she immediately said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:13 NIVO) From that day to this we’ve been prone to blame others for the tests we fail in life.
As we go back to our study of James’ letter to the scattered followers of Jesus this morning we learn that they were also going through tests. James wanted them to understand the nature of tests and the resources needed to pass the tests when they came. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning found in James 1:13-18.
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:13-18 NIVO)
Before we get into the Scripture we’ve just read I want to remind you of what James has been teaching our first century brothers and sisters as well as all of us. In verses 2-4, James addressed the reality of the trials of life. It was not a matter of if trials would come, they would come again and again. He told them there would be trials of many kinds. He told them trials are designed to accomplish God’s purpose in their lives, to develop perseverance and spiritual maturity. He also pointed them towards the resource they needed to be able to know, to think, to maintain a mindset of joy as they endured the trials of life. They could have joy, not because the trial was pleasant and enjoyable, but because they knew God was at work. In verses 5-8 James told his readers what they needed most in the trials of life–God’s wisdom. There would be no way possible, apart from the wisdom of God, for them to know that God was at work in the painful trials of life. In verses 9-12 James applied the wisdom to the present trial they were facing. He offered God’s wisdom for the person experiencing the trial of poverty and the person experiencing the trial of prosperity. In our Scripture for today, verses 13-18, James turned to the reality of temptation and God’s rich generosity in supplying them with every good and perfect gift, provided so they would be empowered to avoid the death trap of giving into temptation.
I began our time together this morning by talking about tests, but James alerts his readers to the temptations that come along with the tests of life. Tests are not temptations, but temptations are lurking in the shadows of the tests and trials when we fail or refuse to use the tools, the resources, God has provided for us. Dr. Alec Motyer writes,
Every trial is also a temptation. He has been teaching us that trials are blessings, in that they lead forward to maturity and the crown. But they do not do this by some inherent power of their own. Everything depends on our response and the use we make of our circumstances. Every circumstance we meet, therefore, requires a decision: will we persevere and go on with God, or will we listen to the voice which suggests the easy way of disobedience and disloyalty? (Motyer, J.A. The Message of James. pg. 50)
God is in the tests of life my friends. James wants us to know that God doesn’t tempt us, He isn’t trying to derail and destroy us, but instead He desires that we draw near to Him in absolute dependency in the tests of life. James writes,
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; (James 1:13 NIVO)
Three times in this one verse James uses the Greek word, “???????” (peirazo), which means, “to try, test, or to tempt.” This word appears 38 times in 34 verses in the New Testament. Every trial or test has a temptation lurking in the shadows, but James makes it absolutely clear that God is not the author of temptation, temptation comes from a totally different source which we will get to in a minute. Let me show you some of the places where the word appears. Turn with me to Matthew 4:1-2.
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. (Matthew 4:1-2 NIVO)
Did you notice? Jesus was led “by the Spirit into the desert.” He was tempted by the devil after fasting for forty days and nights. What temptation might be most effective at this point? How about food? We read in Matthew 4:3,
3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:3 NIVO)
Now, remember, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert. The Holy Spirit led Jesus to refrain from eating for forty days and nights. What might Jesus learn from this experience? It certainly wasn’t to turn stones into bread. Jesus knew why He was in the desert so He answered the devil in the next verse,
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4 NIVO)
It takes godly wisdom to turn to God, to trust God, to rely solely upon God during the tests and trials of life instead of seeking the easy way out, the quickest escape route. Let me show you one more example. Turn with me to Galatians 6:1 and let’s read together.
1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1 NIVO)
What incredible counsel for you and me! We are to help one another when one of our brothers or sisters is being tripped up by sin, but we must proceed with caution so we don’t get bogged down in the very sin we are trying to help them out of.
I had a lady come to see me years ago. She and her boyfriend lived in a house in the alley. She had been a drug and alcohol counselor in Colorado for several years, but she came to see me because she had started shooting heroin and drinking Jack Daniels every night with the boyfriend she at first was trying to help kick the habit. Sin is enticing. Sin is alluring. Sin is deceptive. If we don’t watch out we can easily fall into the same trap we are trying to help our friends or family members out of.
Now that we understand that God is in the tests of life, but not the author of temptation we might want to better understand the source of the temptation which entices us to turn from a steadfast trust in God so that we can do what we desire. Let’s read verses 14-15 together.
14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15 NIVO)
I’ve got to show you something that has spoken so powerfully to me this past week. These verses stand in contrast to what we’ve already learned in James 1:2-4. In those verses James taught us that the testing of our faith leads to perseverance which leads to spiritual maturity in Christ. Testing of our faith ?Perseverance ?Spiritual Maturity. In verses 14-15 there is another progression. James tells us temptation leads to sin which in turn leads to death. Temptation ?Sin ?Death.
How are we tempted? Where does that voice come from that entices us to turn to what we want, to fill our own desire instead of seeking God’s will? James answers that question for us when he writes, “but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” This probably throws some of you a curve ball because we’ve been taught that others are to blame for our sin. “I wouldn’t have done what I did if they wouldn’t have…” You fill in the blank. Have you ever been guilty of saying something like that? Or, some of us are quick to find the devil as the source of all of our temptation problems. “El Diablo me hizo hacerlo!” “The Devil made me do it!” James won’t let us off the hook that easy. He says we are tempted by our own evil desires. The Greek word for “desire” is “????????” (epithumia) which means, “desire, craving, or longing.” You need to know that the word is not negative in and of itself. God gives us desires, but if our desires are not guided and trained by the Lord then they can easily become evil desires that will destroy us. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the same word is used by the Psalmist in both a positive and negative way. In Psalm 10:17 we read,
17 You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, (Psalm 10:17 NIVO)
Then in Psalm 140:8, he uses the same word in asking God not to grant the desires of the wicked. Read along with me.
8 do not grant the wicked their desires, O LORD; do not let their plans succeed, or they will become proud. Selah (Psalm 140:8 NIVO)
In the New Testament the word appears 38 times. Jesus used the word when He told the Parable of the Sower. In the parable the sower sows his seed on different kinds of soil, which represents the different kinds of hearts that hear the Word of God. Some of the seed was sown in thorny soil, hearts which are not fertile for the Word to flourish and grow. Jesus said,
18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Mark 4:18-19 NIVO)
“Desires for other things.” It is God’s desire that our greatest desire, our deepest longing, and most passionate yearning be for Him–to know Him, to love Him, to trust Him, and to be used by Him. Any thing or relationship that replaces that desire would fall into the category of “other things.” When our desire for other things replaces our desire to live in a right relationship, to love and enjoy God, then our desires become sinful and left unchecked they will destroy us.
James points out for us the progression of evil desires when he says we are tempted, dragged away, and enticed. James uses a fishing metaphor to describe how temptation works. No fish would bite a bare hook so the fisherman has to dress it up, make it look attractive, smell enticing, and move it around so it catches the eye of the fish. Here’s the other thing about fishing. You have to use different types of bait for different kinds of fish. You’re not going to catch any large mouth bass if you use Catfish Charlie and a treble hook. If you want to catch trout you’re going to need to cast a fly out on top of the water. Temptations work the same way. You may not be tempted by what gets my heart racing, but I’ll assure you there’s something that catches your eye and makes your heart race as well.
Several years ago I was talking to the friend I told you about earlier, the one who was addicted to heroin. We were talking about this very verse of Scripture when I said, “Charles, I could walk into my office and find my desk covered in black tar heroin and my heart wouldn’t skip a beat, but let me assure you that the enemy knows what does make my heart race. That’s why you and I both desperately need to run to God when the bait comes across our path.”
Temptation will come. It’s not the temptation that is sin, it is the action following temptation that gives birth to sin, and sin not stopped, repented of, gives birth to death. It can lead to physical death, but much more often our sin leads to spiritual death. We become calloused and hardened to God’s will. We become deaf to God’s voice, His Holy Spirit speaking to us in His Word. Our desire for the thing we desire more than God becomes unquenchable–it has to be fed more and more and more, but our desire will never be satisfied.
Martin Luther said the breaking of commandments 2-9, in the list of the Ten Commandments, is first and foremost a breaking of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). Think about this. What is coveting? It’s the tenth commandment right? It is wanting something we don’t have, but deeper than that, it is the refusal to be content with what God has provided for us. It is desiring something or someone more than God. Or, how about “You shall not bear false witness.” What is lying? Simply put, it means that we have placed something, our reputation, our need to deceive, or the approval of another person as more important than God’s approval. We are idol makers any time we desire something or someone more than we desire God, living for Him and trusting Him. Here’s the problem, our idols can’t deliver, they’ve never delivered, and even worse, our idols will destroy us.
Can you understand why it is so vitally important for us to understand that behind every glistening, alluring, seductive temptation is the ugly reality of death and destruction? James writes, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.” (James 1:16 NIVO) Don’t be deceived. The bait looks so enticing doesn’t it? That voice, and those words, they just draw us in. We dream about what it will be like when we get what we want. We fantasize about it. It captivates our imagination and permeates our every thought both night and day.
I was thinking about all of this during the week when Proverbs 7-8 came to mind. In Proverbs 7-8 there are two women, Lady Wisdom and Madam Folly, the seductress. Both women call out with an invitation to those who are passing by. Lady Wisdom seems so, so plain, but Madam Folly speaks words to those who will listen that are exciting and seductive. Her smell, oh that smell, it’s like nothing you’ve ever smelled before. Those will follow Lady Wisdom will find themselves walking in paths of righteousness, insight, integrity, and instruction, but those who are lured, enticed, to turn away from Lady Wisdom to follow Madam Folly, well, remember what I told you about the path of destruction? Turn with me to Proverbs 7:26-27.
26 For she has been the ruin of many; many men have been her victims. 27 Her house is the road to the grave. Her bedroom is the den of death. (Proverbs 7:26-27 NLT)
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.” This phrase, used by James, is not only to be considered when we are being tempted to give in to our desires that will turn us away from God’s will for our life. We should also think about this phrase when we consider the nature of God. James tells us, in James 1:17-18.
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:17-18 NIVO)
One of the tests that we often fail when we are going through the trials of life, when tests come our way and they are difficult, painful, is to get our thinking about God all twisted. Our feelings, emotions, can contort our thinking about God. When we are being tempted, and we really want to give into our desire, we can draw conclusions about God, “Why would God put this in front of me if He didn’t want me to have it?” or we can put our own desires in the mouth of God by saying, “I just feel in my heart that God would want me to do this.” When the tests of life persists, won’t let up, we can say things about God that are so wrong, so off-base.
James says, “My dear brothers and sisters, do not be deceived.” Then he describes God, the Father, our Father, as the Giver of every good gift, every perfect gift. He’s not just the Giver, He is the Giver who just keeps giving and giving and giving. James tells them, and us, that God is the Father of the heavenly lights, every single one in the universe. Now, you need to know that our galaxy, the Milky Way, is estimated by astronomers to contain approximately 100 billion stars. That’s a lot of stars, but hold on a minute. Astronomers also estimate that there are approximately 2 trillion galaxies in the universe. That number changed just last year with new findings from the Hubble Space telescope. They also estimate that there are approximately 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 1 with 24 zeros following it, stars in our universe! The truth is God alone knows how many galaxies He created. It’s overwhelming isn’t it? Mind boggling! In an article in the Daily Telegraph it was reported that scientists now believe there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on the seashores of the world. Dr. Simon Driver, quoted in the article said, “Even for a professional astronomer used to dealing in monster numbers, this is mind boggling.” Yet, God is different from the mind-boggling heavenly lights in that He never changes. The night sky is always changing. The light of day becomes the darkness of night. Stars are born and others die, yet God never changes. He just keeps giving and giving and giving to His people. What does He give? He gives you and me good gifts, He gives us perfect gifts, and He just keeps on giving. He “gifts” us in the trials and tests of life. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 10:13 and I’ll show you what I mean.
13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIVO)
In the tests of life, in the temptations of life, He is with us. He provides for you and me the resources we need to resist temptation, to turn to Him for strength so we will not succumb to the endless temptations that will come our way.
Secondly, and most importantly, the greatest of all of His gifts to you and me is the new birth we can experience because of what He has done for us in Jesus’ life, death, and glorious resurrection. Take a look at verse 18 with me once again. James writes,
18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:18 NIVO)
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, through the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. Dr. Motyer writes,
This is one of the most glorious truths in the whole Bible. It teaches us that salvation is truly all of God: for until new life is imparted we are ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2:1), and as totally unable as anything that is dead to respond to God in repentance and faith. If anything is to be done, he must do it; if any blessing or change is to come to us, it must come from outside; if any agency is to be at work, it must be other than ours, for we are dead, and our only activity is to increase in corruption. Here is the greatness of divine mercy, the sufficiency of the divine strength and the depth of the divine condescension. He has come right down to us in our death; he has raised us up into life; and it is all due to a rich mercy prompted by a great love (Eph. 2:1, 4-5) (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James. pg. 58)
How good is our God?! He has loved us with an everlasting love. Before we ever desired Him, He desired us. He just keeps on giving! I keep emphasizing this because in the Greek the participle “coming down” is in the present tense, it’s an activity that keeps happening. His gifts, each moment of each day, are continuously coming down to His people. Think of the innumerable gifts He has blessed you with just today. When temptation comes your way, look up! Look up for it is in Him that you will find what you need to turn from temptation and turn to the Great Giver of every gift!
For some who are here today you can receive the greatest of all gifts, the gift of eternal life. The end result of giving into ungodly desires is death, but the end result of trusting God is eternal life. Won’t you cry out to Him this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 29, 2017