“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
How beautifully and practically James begins his epistle! He is writing to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, the Jewish Christians in the Dispersion, scattered abroad because of persecution. And this church of God is a picture of the persecuted church of God throughout the ages. James is surely true to life, the life of the people of God in the midst of the world, when he takes as his point of procedure the persecution and harassed position of the church of God here below. It is therefore striking and worthy of note that the writer of this particular part of the Word of God addresses the church as in the Dispersion, for such is indeed the position of the people of God in this life. How well the church understands the holy writer when he, in this text, speaks of divers temptations! James immediately, therefore, seeks practical contact with his readers. He has something to say to them, he would speak to them a word which is of immediate and vital concern to them, a word which is directed to their immediate needs. He exhorts them to count it all joy when they fall into divers temptations, inasmuch as the trying of their faith worketh patience. Only, they must permit patience to have its perfect work, in order that they may be perfect and entire, wanting or lacking nothing.
How tactful is James when he addresses his readers as “My brethren”! This expression refers to the bond, the spiritual bond, which unites them. James and the persecuted Christian Jews are one in the Lord, one in faith and hope and love and suffering. By calling them his brethren, who are persecuted for the sake of Christ, James would share their lot, declares himself in immediate sympathy with their resolve and determination to reject all the glories of Egypt for Christ’s sake. And this was not merely an idle gesture on the part of James, a formal address which he uses at the beginning of his epistle. They are his brethren. He really shares their affliction and revilement. Fact is, he himself suffers martyrdom in the same cause of Christ.
Verse 2 speaks of our “falling into divers temptations.” In connection with the word “temptation” it is well to distinguish between temptations and trials, “verzoekingen” en “beproevingen”. Three things must be borne in mind in connection with this distinction. In the first place, the original word for “trials, beproevingen” always has in the Scriptures a good connotation, is never used in an evil sense. Secondly, the original word for “temptations, verzoekingen” is used occasionally in a good sense in Holy Writ, but usually it has an evil connotation, and is the Scriptural word for temptations. Thirdly, the distinction between “trials” and “temptations” is purely one of motive and design. We cannot distinguish between them as far as the outward means are concerned which may be employed. It is for this reason that trials can be temptations at the same time. The same means are often employed in both instances. Sickness, persecution, ridicule, yea, every form of misery and distress may be a trial and a temptation at the same moment. It is not the outward means or form which determines whether anything is a trial or a temptation. God always “tries, proves”, never “tempts”. The devil always “tempts” and never “proves”. “Trials” always purpose, intend to purify. Gold or silver, e.g., is tried for the purpose of separating the pure from the impure. Hence, Satan never proves, because his purpose is never to purify. Temptations, on the other hand, always have an evil purpose. It is invariably the design of temptations to lead one away from the living God and from the path of His covenant.
It is evident from the text that we must distinguish between “temptations” and “trials” in the above sense of the word. Fact is, James himself makes this distinction. In verse 3 he speaks of the “trying” of our faith. James, therefore, uses both words in this passage. To understand these temptations we must bear in mind the position of the church of God in the midst of the world. The church of God is always in the “dispersion”. At the time of this epistle these Christian Jews had been driven abroad by various persecutions. The church of God is always in the world but never of the world, hated and despised by the kingdom of darkness. And it is the calling of the church of God to proclaim the virtues of Him Who called her out of darkness into His marvelous light. She must be the party of the living God. This does not mean that we must separate ourselves locally from the world or from the spheres of this earthly life. Then one must needs go out of the world. But it does mean that we must separate ourselves spiritually from those who are not the party of the living God. At all times we must conduct ourselves from the principle of regeneration. And this we must do antithetically, loving God and the things which are above but also hating whatever is not of His church and covenant. This church of God is consequently hated in the midst of the world. Every means is employed to destroy this cause of God. For it is the object of all temptations to frustrate the cause of God, to silence all praise and testimony of Jehovah, to bring to naught the Kingdom of God and of His dear Son. It is well to remember that this is Scripture’s description throughout of His Church in the midst of the world. Today the reality of the antithesis is being denied or adulterated. It is taught, on the one hand, that we must serve God alone, but also, on the other band, that we can and must associate with the world. Notice, however, that James, in his practical approach to the church of the living God here, immediately places temptations upon the foreground. This is surely worthy of note. He certainly could not have had any synthesis in mind when he addressed this epistle to the church of God in the dispersion.
The holy writer speaks of “divers” temptations. He refers to every kind or form of temptation. The attack upon the church by the forces of evil occurs in various forms and with various means. The general suffering of this present time, sicknesses and diseases, can be a form of temptation when they are used as means by the powers of sin within and without to lead us away from the path of God’s covenant. Then again the church of God is attacked by the devil as an angel of light. He puts on the garment, the appearance of a friend. He will offer you the friendship or the riches of the world in exchange for the denial of the Name of Christ. Or, he will subtly and very cleverly distort the truth, as is done in many pulpits and institutions of learning today. But the devil also attacks the people of God as a roaring lion. He will avail himself of this weapon as a last resort. He will ridicule and persecute the confessing believer of Christ’s Name, will shed the blood of the saints, will use force to destroy the church of God. Divers temptations endanger the Christian in his journey through this world.
Notice, finally, in connection with these temptations, that James speaks of “falling” into divers temptations. We must, of course, distinguish between this expression of James and the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Lead us not into temptation. In the sixth petition the child of God prays that he may not be led into temptation in the sense of succumbing to it. The idea cannot be that we may never be tempted but that we may not succumb to the siren song of the evil one and thereby yield to enticements of evil within and without us. However, this also necessarily limits the expression in this verse of James 1. To fall into temptations and actually rejoice in the midst of them can therefore never signify that we rejoice in yielding to the tempter’s voice and a walk in sin. This is never a cause for rejoicing but always for sorrow and repentance. To fall into temptations, therefore, signifies that we are completely surrounded by these temptations. But the word also conveys to us the meaning that the Christian does not seek temptation. He does not walk or run into them. He falls into them. And this is due to his position, as a child of God, in the midst of a world which lieth in darkness. The child of God is constantly the object of attack by forces within him and without and who have set themselves uncompromisingly against him.
In the midst of these divers temptations, now, we are exhorted to rejoice. What an amazing exhortation! This is an amazing word of James, not only because we are exhorted to rejoice in our temptations, but because we must count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations. This is exactly what the holy writer means. The Christian must regard, must evaluate, count his position in the midst of divers temptations as all joy, that is, as pure joy, unadulterated joy. Let us understand this. James does not merely write that we must rejoice in the midst of temptations. This, although already amazing and wholly foreign to the world’s conception of joy and happiness, would not be too difficult to understand. This could simply mean that we, in the midst of all our sorrows and troubles, also have reasons to rejoice. To rejoice in the midst of temptations would not necessarily mean that we rejoice because of these temptations. Placing over against all our griefs and sorrows and pains the blessings which the Lord has given us, we rejoice in the midst of temptations because we, in spite of all these temptations, still have abundant reasons for rejoicing. And it is also an undeniable truth that it occurs oftentimes that we exaggerate our woes to such an extent that we have no eye for the other. However, this the holy writer does not say or mean here. We must count, reckon our falling into temptations as joy, yea, as all joy. It is pure joy. Examining and evaluating our position in the midst of temptations we see nothing but joy, nothing but reasons for rejoicing in our otherwise dangerous and hazardous position in the world. The joy of the Christian is experienced by him not merely as over against the forces of evil. We must not have a dualistic conception of things, not of our temptations either. The Lord reigneth! And the Christian’s joy embraces temptation itself. Why me must rejoice is revealed unto us in verse 3.
(to be continued)