In this episode, we continue studying the wisdom of The Book of James. We start in James 1, verse 12 and also explore other sections of Scripture that bring the words of James into a fuller picture. This episode is about how temptation differs from trials and explores the appropriate responses to both. We conclude with three major metaphors for seeking God’s approval – a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer.
James 1: Review
So, we started James, and we looked at the first 12 verses, and we saw that this book was written by, probably—we’re not sure of it, but probably—Jesus’ half brother, who was the head elder of the Jerusalem church.
He’s writing to Jews that are scattered out in the Diaspora, the scattering of Jews abroad. We don’t know where exactly that is, but we do know that as Paul went around in the Roman world, he encountered Jews everywhere he went. We do know there was persecution both in Jerusalem and Judea as well as around the world because we know the persecution followed Paul in a lot of the places he went.
We saw that the word brethren is scattered out through this book 15 different times. That it’s written to believers. He never changes his message and says, “Now if anybody in your gathering’s not saved, here’s what you do.” It’s not about that at all. It’s about enduring difficulty and having a perspective about what difficulty means in your life.
And this whole book is about winning and walking and wisdom. If you want to win at life, you walk by faith in the wisdom of God. And if you want to not win but to lose at life, you walk by sight in the wisdom of the world.
And you can’t have it part way. It’s all one or all the other. This God and the world, kingdom of God, kingdom of the world, they don’t mix at all. There’s no mix and match option.
And then we looked at circumstances and how circumstances are just circumstances. You have rich circumstances, and you have poor circumstances; and you have everything in between. And no matter what the circumstances are, we have the opportunity to look at them as opportunities. We can look at them as the opportunity to trust God and seek his wisdom no matter what.
And it’s difficult to do. The rich one, particularly, because it’s difficult to see our need. We’re much more oriented towards looking at that and saying, “Oh, I don’t need anything. I’ve got everything I need.” So that’s the really tough one.
Temptations and tests
That brings us up to verse 12. Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
So, if someone endures temptation, they get the crown of life. They win.
Now temptation is different from trials. We saw in verse 2, My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. So when we have a trial, we’re supposed to be glad. The trial is a test.
Your teachers give you a test. Why does the algebra teacher give you a test? To see what you know. Do they want you to fail? Are they happy when you fail? They’re not happy when you fail, right?
They’re giving you the test to help you learn. To help you know. They’re doing you a favor. You don’t necessarily enjoy the test, right? But you can look at the test as, “Oh, this is doing me good.”
But a temptation’s different. A temptation is a choice somebody puts in your path. A test, a trial, is still a choice. You’re making choices: True, false, A, B, C. But a temptation is a test someone puts in your path, and they want you to fail. That’s the key difference between the two. They want you to fail.
God doesn’t ever want us to fail. He doesn’t put evil in our path. He gives us trials because he wants us to win. He allows difficulties into our lives, but he does not say, “I hope they trip and fall over this.” That comes from somewhere else. We’ll see that in a minute.
But if we’re approved, we get the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
Now this verse is kind of the key winning verse, although not the only winning verse. Let’s just unpack this for a bit.
This approved here is something that shows up around in the scripture. It’s dokimos. One of the places it appears is a particular verse I love, 2 Timothy 2. So let’s just look at 2 Timothy 2:15.
I really like this verse because I think if we had a program to memorize scripture, it would be good to take it from this verse.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
And of course, most of you will recognize that as the AWANA verse. Approved workmen are not ashamed. That’s the acronym AWANA stands for. It comes from this verse.
Well, is being approved going to heaven when you die? Is the way we go to heaven when you die, to be diligent? Is diligence required to go to heaven? Is diligence to be approved required to go to heaven? Will there be people in heaven that are believers that are ashamed? Yes, of course.
What we’re trying to do here is to get the approval of God for the deeds we’ve done on earth, not so we can be born. Being born is just something that happens. Right? You just show up, and at some point in your life, you kind of wake up and realize you’re alive. Maybe you’re two or three or something like that.
So, that’s not what this is about. This is about, do I live my life in such a way that my parents are proud of? Or do I live my life in such a way that my parents are ashamed of me? It’s not “Am I going to be born or not?” I’m not trying to decide, was I really born?
That is what life’s about. And if we look at this context here of this AWANA verse, if we just back up a little, we can see that what Paul is talking about here in chapter 2 is his son being strong.
You therefore, my son—Timothy, he’s talking to. Timothy was a pastor in Ephesus. Do you think Paul would try to get the pastor he appointed saved from hell to heaven? No, he wants him to be strong. And one of the reasons he wants him to be strong is because Paul’s about to get killed for his faith. And he doesn’t want his successor to say, “I don’t want to be killed for my faith.” He wants his successor to say, “If that’s my road, I’ll take it too.”
—be strong in the grace, the favor, that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Invest in the faithful
How do you be strong? Well, you take what you know, and you teach it to others. And who do you teach it to, by the way? Who do you focus on? Who do you focus your attention on? What does it say there? The faithful.
What’s our inclination to spend all our time on? The prodigals, right? The unfaithful. That’s what we tend to do. Why? Because they need the help the most, right? Why is it a waste of time to invest a lot of resources in those guys? They don’t want to be helped. The faithful are the ones who want to be helped. So you invest your time there.
Does that mean you’re not always looking for the opportunity of the other guys to come and say I want help? No, of course not.
But the elders at the church here learned something that I really took stock in. They were spending a ton of time with people who really didn’t want to be faithful. They just wanted shortcuts. And they learned to just give them something very simple to do and wouldn’t give them any time until they did that simple thing, whatever it was.
And, as we’re going to see in James, one of the ways you change your mind is by taking action of some sort. Do something. And if people won’t do something, don’t invest a ton of time in them.
So, that’s what you want to do. You want to invest in other people. Your strength is to, in the face of difficulty, invest in others.
Verse 3. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
We’re to think of ourselves as in the army on deployment, and we have a job to do. The world’s trying to kill us. And we have to be fearless in the face of that fire, that enemy fire. Faithful witness, do not fear death.
No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life
You’re not thinking about, “Well, golly, Johnny’s not doing too good with his grades,” or something like that. You can’t do that. You’ll get killed if you do that. You’ve got to focus. So, you focus on the battle. And why?
that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
You want to please your general. You want to please your captain. You want to please the person you’re working for. And that’s what we’re trying to do as soldiers of Christ. We’re trying to work and battle in this battle in a way that pleases our general, which is Jesus. He’s our captain.
And we want to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.” That’s not something that’s said to everybody who got born. That’s something that’s said to people who have gold, silver, precious stones instead of wood, hay, and stubble with the deeds that they did.
So he uses a soldier analogy. Then he uses another analogy.
And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
In the Greek Olympics, if you didn’t keep the training rules, you weren’t even allowed to go to the race. If you weren’t working hard like in the training, they wouldn’t allow you to compete. Natural ability was not good enough. You had to go through the process of the difficulties, or you were not allowed on the field to even perform, to see if you were the best.
This is hard work. It’s diligence. It’s war. It’s training. He’s telling this to Timothy, his son.
Verse 6. The third analogy. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops.
What kind of farmer gets to take a part of the harvest? The hardworking farmer. Now, if you’re a farmer and you quit halfway through before the harvest comes, what are you going to get? You’re not going to get any of the harvest, right?
Not only do you stay strong and invest in other people in order to please your general, you keep going all the way until the harvest. That is your life, Timothy. You don’t blink in the face of danger like I have here. And he’ll say later in this book, I’m about to die, and I’m glad because it means I won. I made it! I endured till the end—not to go to heaven. That was always the case. But to be approved!
And He never says in his letters, “I made it, I’m approved.” Except this one. He says things like, “Gosh, I’m not going to take a risk in abusing my authority lest I be disqualified when I’m preaching to others. I’m not certain of being approved. I’m going to take every precaution, and I’m going to buffet my body.” That’s 1 Corinthians 9. He also talks about athletics in that passage.
Unconditional: We’ll live with him
Then he goes on and he says in verse 11, This is a faithful saying:
And he’s got this little chiasm here. A.B.B.A. it’s really awesome.
If we die with him, we’ll live with him. That’s an unconditional statement.
And this is going to go unconditional, conditional, conditional, unconditional.
If we die with him, we live with him. If we’re in Christ, we’re buried in death with him and raised in the newness of life. That happens. It can’t be undone. If we die with him, we live with him. Unconditional. We’re going to heaven if we believe in Jesus. That’s unconditional.
Conditional: We’ll reign with him
But, If we endure, if we keep our focus on pleasing the general, if we work all the way until the crops, if we train all the way until the race, then—
We shall also reign with Him.
We saw this in Revelation, right? One of the greatest rewards was to the church of Laodicea. To him who overcomes, I will give to sit with me on my throne.
This is the ultimate reward, for God to say, “Mark, you have served others, by faith, to the point that I can entrust this new earth to you because I know you will serve.”
Because there will be no authoritarianism in this new world. There will be no totalitarianism in this new world. This is going to be a world of freedom, and all of my rulers are going to be servants who seek the best of others. And I’m not turning the reins of my administration over to anybody who hasn’t proven to the shadow of a doubt that they are willing to serve. Not a single one.
That’s conditional. If we endure.
See, if we die with him, we will live with him. Well, we die with him when we believe in Christ. If we endure till the end, we also reign with him.
Conditional: If we deny him, he will deny us
But look at this. This is also conditional.
If we deny Him,
He also will deny us.
If we deny him what? If we deny him our service, then we will be denied the reign. If we are self-seeking, we’re not going to be the ones who get to reign in glory with him ruling over many cities because we invested our talents wisely. That’s not going to be us. That’s going to be somebody else. That’s going to be lost. And that’s at the judgment seat when you have rewards that you either gained or lost.
And this is what’s driving Paul to say, “I’m glad I’m getting martyred. This is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing.”
So, that’s conditional.
Unconditional: We die with him, we live with him. Conditional, whether we get the reign or not.
Unconditional: He remains faithful
And then the unconditional is repeated.
If we are faithless, if we don’t walk in faith, if we don’t walk in the wisdom of God, then, Jesus is still faithful. Because if he were to deny us being in his family, if he was to deny us being his child, then that would mean he was denying him because when we died with him, we were placed into him. And when we are placed in Christ, we’re secure in being his child. And we can’t be unwound as his child without Jesus denying himself. That’s unconditional.
We’re in Christ no matter what. But if we want to win, if we want to become everything God made us to be, then we have to have courage, and we have to have focus. And we have to treat this like it’s a war. And we have to treat this like it’s training for a great Olympic race. And we have to keep farming all the way until the harvest.
That’s what it means to be approved. He who endures temptation, when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him.
If you love me, keep my commandments
Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll—” what? Do what I ask you to do.
Is that any different than what the general says? Who does the general love in his army? The one who will follow orders, right?
And what happens to the people who refuse to follow orders? They get yanked off the battlefield. And they get court martialed.
This isn’t the only instance where we talk about winning. In James 2:5, he says something very similar. He says, Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
See, if we endure, then we will reign with him. And being rich in circumstances makes it very difficult to be rich in faith. Why? You have a lot to depend on besides Jesus. And, sadly, that includes all of us.
If you’re an American, you’re in the top one percent in the world, income wise. The top one percent income cut off is about $32,000 a year. The median cutoff, like if you’re top half, $1500 a year. A year! $1500 a year! To be in the top half.
That kind of tells you where we are in terms of that scale where it’s difficult to trust God if you’re rich.
Do you look around and see that as a difficulty? What did Jesus tell the disciples about rich people? It’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. And the disciples response to that was, “Well, then who can be saved?”.
Saved from what? Saved from not getting in the kingdom. And what is getting in the kingdom? It’s being a part of this reign. It’s being a part of the administration of Jesus.
They say, “Well, who can get in?” And Jesus says, “With God all things are possible.”
So, there is the opportunity for us to overcome this huge trial we have of being rich, of living in the richest country on the face of the earth and in the history of mankind. But we have the opportunity to overcome that because with God everything is possible. We can do this.
And we can live by faith even though we have this appearance that we have all this other stuff to rely on, we can do it because we have this resurrection power of Jesus living in us.
What awaits those who love him
Well, when we’ve been approved, we’ll receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.
This word love, agape is in James a handful of times. And it speaks of loving God and it speaks of loving our neighbor. But the place I want to go to is 1 Corinthians 2:9, which is just a fantastic verse. It’s one I really love. And it says this:
But as it is written: Now this is actually a quote of the Old Testament, so this is nothing new.
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.
So, if we try to use logic and description to say, “Here’s how phenomenal it’s going to be,” if we live this soldier life, if we live this hardworking farmer life, if we live the AWANA life, approved and not ashamed, if we live the athlete-training life, which is difficult, right? Because you’ve got all these difficulties, and you have to push through the difficulties with faith. It’s very difficult to do.
If we do these things, there’s no way that we can comprehend a description of what’s in store for us. We can’t even comprehend it. Maybe we can have some analogies or something, but we can’t comprehend that.
The Spirit of God can give us some internal hints and reveal to us how wonderful it is; but we can’t really describe it.
The best I can do is the Biltmore. That’s my mental image of the mansions that are laid up for us.
The Biltmore is a Cornelius Vanderbilt house in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s 180,000 square feet or something like that. And it was just built for hospitality. The whole thing is just so they could receive guests and make the guests have the experience of their life.
And I think that kind of fits what the scripture says. Be shrewd in giving things to people who can’t pay you back in this life so they’ll invite you to their eternal homes.
You think, well, if an invitation is that worth getting, then it must be really some kind of party they’re going to be throwing up there in some kind of houses! That’s kind of the best I can do.
But, that, obviously, based on this verse, is woefully inadequate because we can’t even think. We can’t even comprehend what’s going to be available for those who love him. And this comes because we endure temptation. The things the evil one puts in our place where he wants us to fall. Where does he want us to fall? He wants us to fall into the wisdom of the world.