It is amazing how God gets blamed for every bad thing, but is ignored for every good thing. For example, millions of planes fly safely every day. No one thanks God that all the planes safely carried passengers through the skies. But one plane crashes and everyone screams at God. People do not “blame” God for the good things that happen in life. However, God is to blame when any one thing goes wrong. The same thing is true in the face of trials and suffering. We do not thank God for all the good times or for what we have had up to this point. We simply cry out, “Why, God!” when we go through difficulties. James is going to teach us to quit blaming God as the cause of trials and temptations.
Trials & Temptations (1:13)
Before we examine what James says, we need to be aware that the Greek word translated “tempted” here is the same word translated “trials” earlier in this letter. It is just a change of the noun form to the verb form, but it is the same word. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says, “The Greek noun peirasmos can refer either to an outward circumstance of trial or to a temptation to sin. The same is true of the verb form as well.” This is important to know so that we do not make an artificial distinction between trials and temptations, as if James is no longer talking about trials and is now talking about temptations. James has not changed his topics. The reason the word is the same is because trials and temptations are two faces on the same coin. If we are in trials, then we are experiencing all kinds of temptations in the trial. Trials are so difficult because of the onslaught of temptations we face. Similarly, when facing temptations we are experiencing a trial. We are going through a degree of distress as the temptation looms before our eyes. The point is to know that when we read about trials, we should include temptations as part of the discussion. When we read about temptations, we should include trials as part of the discussion. One example of this is in 1 Corinthians 10:13.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV)
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NRSV)
No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NET)
Which translation is right? All of them are correct. When we think of temptation, it is also the same word for trials. When we read about trials, we should also think about temptations. This will help us understand what James is teaching in this section of his letter.
Coming back to verse 13 of James 1, James is aware that every trial brings a myriad of temptations. It is going to happen. Notice the word “when” in, “Let no one say when he is tempted….” Temptations will come. But God is not the cause. God is good. God cannot be tempted by evil to do evil. Therefore, God is not to blame for trials and temptations. God tempts no one. God is not the cause. God does not make bad things happen to you. Too often we treat God like he is the God “karma.” We get a flat tire and so we wonder what we did wrong to make God mad. We think that we need to do good things so that good things will happen to us. But God is not karma. God is not tempted by evil. God is not tempted to evil. God does not do evil. God tempts no one. Don’t blame God. So where are all these temptations coming from when we are in the middle of trials?
Don’t Blame God; Blame Yourself (1:14-15)
Temptations do not come from God. Temptations come from within ourselves. Now this is potentially shocking to learn. I thought Satan was to blame. I thought Satan was the cause of temptations. I thought he was the problem, not me. Look at what James says about this and we can grasp how temptations come from within us.
James uses a fishing or a hunting illustration to explain how temptation works. First, we are lured and enticed by our own desires. This is a picture of a trap laid with bait or bait placed on a hook. What is important to notice is that we are lured and enticed “by our own desire.” The picture is this: if we did not have the desires and weaknesses, then Satan would have nothing with which to tempt us. Satan is the one that puts the bait on the hook and drops the line in the water. But the temptation comes from within us because we want the bait. A fish will have no interest if I put a brussel sprout on the hook and drop it in the water. A temptation only becomes effective and intense based upon our own desires. Our problem with sin is our problem. The problem is with us. We have desires that Satan is using to try to pull us away from God. God is not tempting us. We have a desire that we want fulfilled, but we must find godly, holy ways to meet these desires and not Satan’s ways.
James teaches us that our problem with sin and temptation is in our desires.We need to know what our desires are and have an understanding of our weaknesses. We need to know what things can be put on the hook that will cause us to be enticed and lured away. James describes the problem further as he continues the illustration.
Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin. Having been enticed, our desire leads to sinful action. The desire gives birth to sin. We act upon that desire. We do not fight the desire. We do not turn the other direction and flee the bait. We go and bite the bait on the hook.
And sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. When sin has its free reign, it leads to death (spiritual separation from God). When we let sin repeat itself in our lives and we are not turning to God in sorrow and repentance, then sin grows until it kills us. We become separated from God and we do not look to return. We have been pulled in by the hook and caught by Satan. What we need to see is that temptation and sin has a domino effect that is difficult to stop. Each stage leads to the next stage. Our desires give something for Satan with which to entice us. The enticement lures us away from where we ought to be with the Lord. Then we bite the hook by fulfilling our desire, engaging in the sinful action. We cave into the temptation. If this continues where we keep biting the hook, we are separated from God, experiencing spiritual death. James has described the anatomy of sin.
God Does Good, Not Evil (1:16-18)
James does not want us to be deceived about what is occurring. God does good, not evil. God does not bring bad things. Evil and wrong is completely against the nature of God. Every good and perfect gift comes from God. Notice that James describes God as the Father. God is the Father and we are his family. The Father gives gifts to his children. The Father does not do harm or do evil. It is not possible for God to do such. Every good and perfect gift is from him.
It is also interesting that James calls God “the Father of lights.” This is most likely a reference to God as the creator of the sun, moon, and stars. James does this for a reason to show how God does not change. The sun, moon, stars, and earth all move, rotate, and change causing shadows. The earth turns, the sun gives light, but there are shadows that are caused to due to shifting and changing nature of the creation. But with God, there is no variation or shadow that is caused due to change. God does not shift. God does not change. What is the point? God only gives good gifts. This does not change. God will not and cannot do evil or cause bad things. God is not trapping us or tricking us.
Verse 18 drives this thought further. God gave us the word of truth that brings life and salvation to the world of his own will. Why would God do evil things when he has made us part of his family, loves us, and of his own will has purposed to save us? You do not save something to destroy it.
- Only good comes from God. Don’t blame God for temptations and suffering.
- Our gift giver is the good Father of creation.
- God’s goodness never changes.
- God’s goodness is already seen in that we are in his family.