“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; James 1:2 KJV
Whenever the word temptation is mentioned, we always equate the definition to sexual weakness. Whether it’s a husband entertaining private messages from an old friend or the news covering the affair of a “faithful” politician, it’s always somehow related to sex.
If “an act of enticing someone to sin” is the only definition we have then we’ll never understand how our lives suffer from failed tests in other areas. The dictionary actually helps paint a clearer picture by saying that temptation is “the desire to do something.” Something? Yes, anything! If you have a desire to do something and in return fulfill a craving, you are being tempted.
Jesus was tempted to turn a stone into bread (See Matthew 4:3-4). I mean seriously. What’s wrong with being hungry and desiring food? Nothing at all, unless the desire is pulling you away from another purpose. For Jesus, eating would have prematurely ended his fast, therefore it was temptation.
During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” - Matthew 4:3-4 (NLT)
With every temptation, we have the opportunity to find focus in a constant battle for our attention.
James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, who witnessed his life as a boy and later as a savior, had a unique understanding that temptations daily pull us in multiple directions. While he is well known for his explanation of the relationship between faith and works, the heart of his writings are to those feeling overwhelmed and fatigued by decisions. He calls this battle, temptation.
So how does James actually define temptation?
James uses the Greek noun peirasmos to define temptation as “a putting to proof” or testing.
Temptations are tests of our focus by experiencing evil or good. They are not physical in nature but more so coincidental. At their conclusion, they reveal what we believe, who we are, and ultimately our perspective of God’s own goodness.
King Solomon wrote one of the harshest examples of this in Proverbs 24:10.
“If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small.” - Proverbs 24:10 (NLT)
There’s no leniency around this. He’s just brutal in his truth, that if you faint or crumble during adversity, it’s because you’re weak. You don’t get to blame anyone else, it’s You. 🙁😅 The test of adversity revels whether or not you can handle pressure.
Make sure that you understand, that the test don’t define your future, how you you respond to it does. Even if you realize you can’t handle the pressure, future tests will help you see progress, if you decided to learn and grow from your mistakes.
This principle teaches us that temptations are opportunities and each one is an invitation to discover who you are in adversity; good or bad.
Please note that this is not just referring to negative circumstances. If you find a bag full of money in the street and you’re broke, you will be tempted to take it! 😂. Is this not an opportunity to decide the next outcome in your life? Of course it is and it’s leads to this next truth; you can be tested with good!
Surprisingly, this is the test that we actually receive from God because it’s against his character to tempt us to do evil. He just doesn’t do it, at all.
“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.” - James 1:13 (NLT)
I’ll go into the more in another writing, but I’m case you don’t read this I want to take this an opportunity to challenge your thinking.
When is the last time you blamed God for a negative test? Would you reconsider that he didn’t test you with evil? How does that change your perspective of who He is and His role in your life?
Accepting this truth will free you in your relationship with God to really embrace that he is a good father who prepares good things for his children.
Don’t let your circumstance control you
Now that we have a clearer understanding of temptation as tests of our focus, let’s take another look at why James is beginning his letter to these Jews talking about temptation.
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” - James 1:1 (KJV)
If we look a little closer, we can see that the recipients of this letter are “scattered abroad.” Notice that he defines them by their condition and not their community or heritage. While this theme is consistent with the introductions of other letters in the New Testament, James acknowledges that his audience is distributed. Although spiritually connected by their faith, they are physically and culturally in different places. Influenced by different governments, but still, believers.
James was encouraging them to hold to their faith while disconnected.
Like much of the world in 2020, they were not together and for those of us navigating the complexities of this new generation, we can intimately understand how these believers could have felt.
So what was the temptation that they shared? While we can only speculate, I do believe that 2020 offers us a glimpse into their adversity. At this point in time, they were disconnected and many believed that after hundreds of years in exile they would never return back home to live together.
Their temptation was to accept their circumstance as is.
Have you ever bought a used car? Then you know what it is to buy something as-is. You are accepting not only the state that it’s in, but every potential problem associated with it.
Reflection: Can you can relate to being in a no-win situation? One that demands that you accept the bleak circumstances in front of you?
A challenge to find joy
After his greeting, James challenges them to look at their temptations through another lense and see it as an opportunity for joy.
Make no mistake, within every temptation is adversity. There is literally a force that drags you in the direction opposite of positivity. Even good opportunities use friction to produce promotion.
That’s why I love the way the New Living Translation articulates James’ thoughts:
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” - James 1:2 (NLT)
Listen. James is literally asking these believers to re-consider their troubles. To search beyond the reality of how they feel and discover any possibility of joy.
This my friend is the pre-requisite for faith; to consider it joy. Your faith is immature if it has not first considered what is possible beyond what you see. We consider first by examine the situation with our mind and imagining what is possible if we trust God through what’s overwhelming us.
Count “it” joy
The King James Version uses the word count. In the Greek, count means “to consider or fix your mind on something for careful examination.”
How you look at a situation will determine how you respond. You can be tempted to do good, but if you’re always pessimistic about life, you’ll miss the opportunity to do so.
Consideration is the activity that allows us to choose and make decisions. It is only after we have weighed the options before us that we have considered and prepared our lives to choose.
Consider you’ve had a long day and someone calls you excited, but you respond in your emotion and snap back. Now that you’ve lost their offer to buy you lunch, you feel regret. You were tempted! But your temptation was actually an opportunity to experience something good.
I would like share one more definition for the word “count.” The primary definition of this word actually deals with leadership:
Count - To lead, as in command with official authority.
Interesting right? James is not instructing us to just consider our present moment, but to rise and lead during temptation. Remember, temptation is an opportunity to respond and your response will determine your next moment. You are literally leading your future with your responses to temptation.
I think the biggest problem with temptations is that we often aren’t able to define them until it’s already happened. It’s after you yelled in your car when they cut you off at an exit. It’s after you’ve wasted time having fun and the deadline passed. Hindsight is 2020, and 2020 is hindsight. In it, we’ve learned that reflection is to prepare us for the future, not repair the past.
I think it’s worth mentioning that consideration takes energy. It takes energy to have new hope against reality. Either way, you’re going to spend it so it’s at least worth trying.
Reflection: What are you currently considering trouble in your life? Could it be an opportunity for joy or have you prematurely decided that it’s only bad?
It takes faith to consider that there is another side to the present. That there is a future behind this that causes so much pain.
Before you say something is not valuable or worthless, reconsider.
This isn’t about habits
Another assumption that we make about temptation is that it’s something habitual. While that’s sometimes true, it’s not always true and that belief creates a crutch for us.
James is very specific about temptation and wants his readers to understand how it comes, by using the word divers.
Divers is a Greek adjective poikilos which means “uncertain derivation.”
Derivation - to lead away from. Motley, or varied in appearance.
He is not referring to a consistent overtaking of the same thing, therefore he is not referencing habit. Habit is a decision we are addicted to performing due to some self-satisfying gratification.
He wants to call attention to divers temptations. These are the temptations that we should really pay attention to.
These temptations are varied in how and when they appear. They’re not seasonal. They’re not expected. They sometimes make a loud introduction. Other times they sneak in through familiar faces. Regardless of how motley they are, they all have the same power; to lead us away.
If you feel like there is an area of your life taking you to a place less than God’s best for you or making you act unseemly, you are in the middle of a temptation.
Falling is Inevtiable
Have you ever fell into water? I mean like tripped into a puddle or been pushed into a pool? It completes overtakes you.
Falling is embarrassing. Falling is scary.
Falling means that you are no longer in control.
The Greek verb for fall is peripiptō, meaning “to fall into something that is all around.”
Falling is about being overtaken. It’s not about the moral failure as much as it is the reality that you’re stuck. Feeling overwhelmed? You’ve fallen.
That’s the thing though, falling is not always your fault. The ability to catch yourself isn’t either.
James infers that you will be tempted and you will be overtaken at some point in your life, but when you do consider it an opportunity to produce joy.
Reflection: How do you respond when “it” looked good, but it turned out to be evil? Do you spend time blaming yourself or even worse, quitting?
If you’re struggling to find application after reading this study, or would like to take your meditation a step further, I would recommend answering the following questions:
- What have I felt overwhelmed by recently?
- What has been my response (I.e. avoidance, anxiety, or anticipation)?
- What one thing needs to change to give you a better response?
- Do you believe that it’s possible to still have that outcome? If not, why?
- What should I be focused on that I’ve been distracted by?
- What steps can I (not others) take to resume my focus?
My prayer is that you will take the time to pray honestly about your thoughts and feelings and discover the possibility of joy in your tests. Let’s talk more in the comments and if you want to get a notification every time a study is posted, signup for free at frsh.social/marcus