James 1: 12 – 18.
The trials and temptations in our lives are indicative of the testing of our faith as we seek to apply God’s wisdom towards life’s vicissitudes (James 1:5). The critical attitude over unrelenting distresses is to stave off any bitterness which may result in the capitulation of our faith. The realisation that God’s grace is available and that He remains in control over the circumstances in our lives is of paramount importance. However, the reality that life at times can seem unfair will persist! James in his Epistle provides us with some handles in coping with this perplexity. There is no doubt that suffering does impact our spiritual maturity, but when we learn to cling onto our central duty to love God wholeheartedly (Matt 22:35-38), we persevere through it, since we know that He loves us unconditionally (James 1:2-4).
James is not categorically stating that trials and temptations are morally correct in themselves, but he is merely appraising the reality we face in a fallen world. The reward, he says, of our endurance is ‘the crown of life.’ Although the symbolic crown or head-wreath is given to one who had won his competitive race, notionally, James addressed the fact that the believer, at the end of the day, had been tried by trials and had prevailed over them despite the costs involved (c.f., 1 Cor 9:24-25; Heb 12:1; 2 Cor 10:18; 2 Tim 2:15; 2 Tim 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4). Throughout the ages, resilience has been the consistent hallmark of the persecuted church, due largely to an unquenchable faith in the divine eschatological promise of ‘the living hope’ (c.f., 1 Peter 1:3-9). This eternal hope for those who have committed themselves to Christ to share in His new life and to participate fully in it in the future (Rom. 6:4–5; 1 Cor. 15), enables believers to face even death without fear, for death is not an end for them, but a beginning of life in their Master’s presence. Sadly, our essential focus in the here-and-now concerning this eternal future inheritance is often subsumed by the cares of this world. There is definitively a need to refocus from time-to-time on our calling to ensure that life is not completely preoccupied with only the mundane! (2 Tim 1:9-10).
James next follows through with an explanation of the mechanics of temptation by an outrageous allegorical example of the birthing process (James 1:13-15). The trajectory of trials, temptations and sins, in that order, indicates personal accountability as each individual is completely responsible for exercising his own desires and will; i.e., our own lusts as symbolised by the mother figure giving birth to sin leading to death! Lest we confuse God’s motives in the trials He sends us in the proofing of our faith by claiming that He is tempting us, James reminds us that God is incapable of tempting anyone, as He is intrinsically holy. The objective of the trials in His sovereignty is to fortify our faith, never to entice us into sin, since He is the source of ‘every perfect gift’ (James 1:16-17). He is fundamentally incapable of making any mistakes and obligated to no one. Therefore, the Creator of the heavens casts no shadow (c.f., John 8:12; Rev 21:22-27), unlike His handiworks, being the only dependable Reference Point to all of His creations, both to the visible and the invisible.
Juxtaposed against the earlier reference on our fallenness giving birth to sin (James 1:15), James then stated the obvious: due to God’s gracious will, “He brought us forth (viz., the Greek ‘to give birth’) by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of firstfruits among His creatures” (James 1:18). Scripture is absolutely clear that everyone is dead in sin (Rom 3:23) but due to the saving work of Christ, the formidable gospel (i.e., the word of truth; c.f., Eph 1:13) transforms us through the exercise of faith in the Holy Spirit; resulting in the new birth in Christ, the precursors of the New Heaven and the New Earth (c.f., Rev 21). This challenging journey of trials and tribulations in our present existence serves one purpose: preparing us to unremittingly view circumstances with an unshakable eternal perspective as we serve our heavenly Master in walking in step with His Holy Spirit (c.f., Gal 5:16-26).