An Exposition of the Epistle of James
This passage takes us back to a thought expressed in verses five through eight. James there instructed us in the truth that if we are to “count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations” we need the wisdom of God. We established the point in that connection that if we are to rejoice in temptations by the power of the wisdom of God we must “keep on asking for wisdom from God.” And we must ask “in faith, nothing wavering.” The question we faced in that connection obtains once more. Are you unhappy? Do you find generally in your living from day to day no real, genuine, lasting satisfaction and joy? Is your life perhaps characterized by a lack of peace and assurance, by discontent, fear, or anxiety? Perhaps you are even deeply depressed? The troubles loom large and appear insurmountable, the pressures unbearable, and maybe the horrible thought has more than once crossed your mind; “I feel like ending it all”?
The Bible, The Word from God Himself, points us to the root cause of such unhappiness in these verses. It does so in the bluntest of terms—God never pulls punches with us—but never forget that the Word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, comes out of the immeasurable mercy (pity for the miserable) and love of God. The trouble with us who are characterized by unhappiness is S-I-N! And this is the sin; we are not enduring the divers temptations of the Evil One. We are being tempted and we are yielding to the temptations and what is worse we are saying; “I am tempted of God.” Rather than acknowledging our sins and confessing our transgressions, we are hiding our iniquities and keeping silence. It is no wonder “our bones wax old through our roaring all the day long.” (Perhaps you recognize this as a paraphrase of parts of Psalm 32—read that Psalm: it expresses exactly the thought.) Rather than confessing our sins we are saying; “I am tempted of God”; we are then shifting the blame—and that, too, to God! Sin is our Lord; we are drawn away from God and enticed to evil by our own lust, and lust brings forth sin, and sin when it is finished brings forth death. Death is experienced here and now, alienation from God. This is why we are unhappy. Do we really want to: “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice . . . and shout for joy” in every experience of life? (Ps. 32:11) Then we must not blame God for our sins, but we must acknowledge and confess them all, and we shall find that He is our hiding place, the God Who preserves us from trouble and Who compasseth us about with songs of deliverance (Psalm 32:7). Then we can pray for God’s wisdom, count it all joy in divers temptations, rejoice in our exaltation and look forward to glory. This is the message of these verses. We consider them as they stand, one by one.
“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” Literally translated, the text reads: “Happy the man who continues to endure temptation,” or “who keeps on enduring temptation. . . .” The verb “endure” is the root from which the term “patience” (vss. 3, 4) comes. It means “to stay under” and implies the bearing of a burden. Not in a passive sense must we understand this enduring, “staying under.” Enduring is not a stoic acceptance of the inescapable fact of temptations or a mere acquiescence. Enduring is the expression of a vibrant, active, joyful faith. It is obedience, yielding to the Word of God, which does not succumb to the enticements of the Devil. He who endures, stays under in the sense that in all the temptations he encounters, he remains undaunted, faithful to the end.
THAT man is blessed, truly happy. This is the reason: “For when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” “Having become tried, tested out,” purified as silver by fire, that man shall receive the crown of life. (cf. vs. 3) The man who endures temptations is he who has been put through the trying or purifying process and thus been molded into the image of Christ. When that process is finished he shall receive “the crown of life.” Scripture speaks often of this crown. It is promised to the faithful church at Smyrna (Rev. 2:10), it is called the “crown of glory” and promised to faithful elders (I Peter 5:4) and is sometimes called the “crown of righteousness.” This is not the royal crown, the diadem; but the victor’s crown. The figure was familiar to the Church of James’ day. In the Grecian games the victor received a wreath or garland symbolic of his winning the race. Thus the child of God, having been tested out and approved by the fire of temptations, receives the crown of life. Life is that crown. The life that never dies, everlasting life, resurrection life, the life of Jesus Christ is that crown. Life which is to be in the fellowship of God through Jesus Christ—that is the crown. Life in glory in which there shall be no more temptations, no more sin; neither sorrow, nor crying; life in which we shall forever praise Him Who sitteth upon the throne and the Lamb, in the company of the innumerable multitude, gathered out of every nation, tribe and tongue (cf. Rev. 7:8ff, Rev. 21:1ff.).
The receiving of the crown is absolutely certain, because the Lord has promised it to them that love him. Them that love Him are those whom God loved first and for whom He sent His Son to be the propitiation for their sins (I John 4:10, 19). To these, His elect in Christ Jesus, who love Him with all their heart and mind and soul and strength and reveal that love by loving their brothers and sisters in Christ (cf. once again— I John 4!), God has promised the crown of life! And God’s promise is sure, it cannot fail! Hebrews 6:13ff. grounds the certainty of God’s promise in the immutability (unchangeableness) of God’s counsel and in the fact that when God made promise to Abraham saying: “surely blessing I will bless thee,” God swore by Himself, because He could sware by no greater! Therefore we who love God and who have fled for refuge to Jesus Christ have strong consolation, and we have hope as an anchor of the soul. God cannot lie!
Indeed then! Blessed, happy the man who keeps on enduring temptation! He is happy even in his deepest sorrows, even when the tears of grief are streaming down his face. He knows that nothing can be against him and that all things are for him. He is assured that God, Who spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all will also freely give us all things in Him (Romans 8)! Thus in anticipation of the crown of glory which God has promised him he possesses a joy which can never be diminished or taken from him.
Here is the antithesis: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” Let it be understood that the text refers not to the fact of temptations as such but to falling into sin as a result of temptation. We might paraphrase it this way: “Let no man say when he is tempted and yields to that temptation, I am tempted of God (literally from God).” No one may say when he yields to temptation, falls into sin and as a result suffers the evil consequences of sin; “God tempted me: it’s God’s fault.”
But this is precisely what sinful man does. This is what makes sin and the depravity of man so frightening. Not only does man sin, and not only is it written on every page of Scripture that man according to his natural birth can do nothing but sin, but man has the effrontery, audacity, to blame God, to say that God is the source of his sinning. This is at once the very depth of depravity and the height of blasphemy. It all began immediately after the fall of the human race into sin and death. Consult Genesis 3. Remember that after eating of the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve knew that they were naked and futilely attempted to cover their shame with fig leaves? Remember how they hid themselves in the garden from God, Who came to talk to them in the cool of the day? When God questions Adam concerning all this; “Adam, . . . where art thou?”, Adam answers; “I heard thy voice . . . and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” God asks; “Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” What does Adam say to that? Does he say, “Yes, Lord I sinned”? O no! Listen, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” (emphasis mine) Adam did more than shift the blame to Eve, he blamed God! “God,” Adam was saying, “You gave me that woman, therefore it’s your fault that I sinned.” Adam was saying; “I am tempted from God.” The woman does the same. When God turns to her with the question; “What hast thou done?” her answer is; “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” Eve says, in other words, “It’s not my fault that I sinned, God, you created the serpent, it’s you who are to blame.”
Sinful man has been doing the same ever after. Sin develops also in this respect. According to the world’s educators, philosophers, sociologists, psychiatrists, etc. no one is a sinner. People are not to be blamed for their sinful behavior. Guilt is only a bad “feeling.” No one is to be held accountable to a righteous and holy God, Who forgives His sinning children in the blood of Jesus. Man is insane, a victim of his environment or circumstances, his parents failed badly in providing him with “healthy attitudes” when he was young, or man is sick, or ignorant. The drunkard (the Bible’s terminology) is afflicted with the disease, “alcoholism Young people are on drugs because of the pressures of modern day life. It all amounts to saying: “I am tempted from God.” That is total depravity! And, it’s the very anti-thesis of “enduring temptations” and experiencing the happiness of God’s blessing. The bitter fruit of that sin is all too obvious in these “perilous times” in which we live.
But the fact that the Spirit inspired these words indicates that the church needs to be admonished at this point. The Word, after all, the gospel, is particular; it is addressed not to mankind in general (though they hear the sound of it— Romans 10:18) but to the church in the dispersion. Very simply put, it is our natural and sinful inclination to say when tempted; “I am tempted from God.” With that we continue, D.V., in the next issue.