Thoughts on James: 1:12-15 (Part I)

12 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. 13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. (NRSV)

Having dealt with wisdom and the temporal nature of wealth, James returns to endurance. He pronounces a blessing on the believer who is able to endure temptation. There are several examples of this in the Scriptures:

Joseph with Potiphar’s Wife

But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:8-9 NRSV)

It should be noted that this response to sexual temptation is in stark contrast to his brother Judah’s temptation with Tamar in the previous chapter. Judah slept with prostitutes, while Joseph fled and ended up in prison to maintain his integrity.

David versus Saul

David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of those who say, ‘David seeks to do you harm’? 10 This very day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you into my hand in the cave; and some urged me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not raise my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ 11 See, my father, see the corner of your cloak in my hand; for by the fact that I cut off the corner of your cloak, and did not kill you, you may know for certain that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you are hunting me to take my life. (I Samuel 24:9-11 NRSV)

David had the opportunity to kill Saul and take his place as king, but David respected the anointing of God and David truly did not hate Saul. Even in Saul’s raging madness, David still would not lift his hand or let any of his men lift their hands against the king.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17 If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18 NRSV)

Daniel’s three friends refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image of himself; this infuriated Nebuchadnezzar and he had a fiery furnace stoked to the throw these three men into it. Despite not being sure of deliverance in this life, the three men absolutely refused to bow down to the image.

Peter and John before the Sanhedrin

18 So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20 NRSV)

Having been arrested around the Temple for preaching Christ and healing a man on the Sabbath, Peter and John refused to back down to the intimidation of the Sanhedrin. They would continue to teach and preach what they knew to be true: that Christ was alive and well at the right hand of the Father.

Jesus Christ’s Temptation

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15 NRSV)

Jesus Christ, when he was in the flesh, was affected by various temptations. It is easy to conclude that he was tempted only those forty days in the wilderness, but the Scripture does not say this. It is quiet likely that every time a disciple misunderstood, a Pharisee sneered, or a poor man/woman groaned in anguish…Jesus was tempted to use his anger unrighteously. There is no doubt that throughout his life, Jesus Christ was tempted to sin but he chose not to do so because of his intimate, unbroken connection with the Father.

Christ’s reward was exaltation:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:8-11 ESV)

If we are in Christ, then so is ours:

  12   Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.

  13   Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,

  14   I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

          (Phil. 3:12-14 NASB)

This is that “crown of life” that James tells us God has promised to those who love him: to be found in Christ Jesus and to share in the glory of Christ’s victory over sin and death. This crown is like the victor’s wreath from Greek athletic competitions; it is not a sign of authority but of triumph and victory. Paul talks of a day when all believers’ works will be judged by Christ:

11 For no one can lay any other foundation  than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver,  costly stones,  wood, hay, or straw, 13 each one’s work will become obvious, for the day  will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire;  the fire will test the quality of each one’s work.  14 If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved;  yet it will be like an escape through fire. (I Cor. 3:11-15 HCSB)

Paul then laments the possibility of being disqualified and how he disciplines his body for the “race”:

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (I Cor. 9:24-27 NKJV)

Paul was able to accomplish this victory; in his farewell letter to Timothy he writes,

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (II Tim. 4:6-8 NIV)

So then, every believer has a reward awaiting them for faithfulness; if we want to see this “crown of life,” then we will have to endure the temptation that is allowed to come into our lives. However, we must not take a fatalistic mindset or accuse God of tempting us; as we will discover next time, the ultimate responsibility for sin is not outside of us, but within us.