Jeweled crowns and fishing hooks. Anyone else have these images in your mind after reading James 1:12-18?
James has exhorted his readers to persevere in trials. And then in verse 12, he calls his readers “blessed.” But what kind of blessed? Blessed like that feeling I have when I drink out of a coffee cup that says “blessed”? And how in the world, do I consider those suffering to be “blessed”? Here we see one of the many times in James that he specifically alludes to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). One of the keys to understanding and correctly applying James recognizes that James relies heavily on what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount.
But what does James mean when he says “the crown of life”? He definitely doesn’t mean jeweled crowns worn by the kings of England. Rather, picture the Boston marathon runner who will receive the crown next month on Marathon Monday in Hopkinton Square. And yes, the “crown of life” that James speaks of in verse 12 represents not a physical crown of glory but rather the eternal reward of glory. Think 2 Corinthians 4:17, not shiny jewels.
And James adds a “plus 1” to our trials. Yes, every trial has a plus 1. Every trial is accompanied with temptation. When our jobs seem difficult, we often find ourselves tempted to not trust God’s provision. When a family member becomes sick, we question God’s love. And yet, we must remember this: God may test us, but God does not and will not tempt us (James 1:13). You and I are responsible for our temptations.
So let’s consider two spheres regarding our temptations: the presence of sin and the practice of sin. First, the presence of sin. If we understand our responsibility in temptation, then we must always understand where sin is present. Look at verse 13 again: “God cannot be tempted with evil.” And this is because God is perfectly sinless. God always resists sin, evil stands as a foreign language to him, like me learning Greek my first semester of seminary.
Now look at verse 14. Thanks James, for pointing the figure at us. We are the guilty one. The chocolate is on our hands from the cookie jar. While God is perfectly sinless, we are positively sinful. Now some of us might be thinking, maybe James is going to tell us that Satan causes us to sin, but he doesn’t. Now hold on, yes Satan is involved in the temptations of this world, and we’re going to see that later in James 4:7. But James wants this to be crystal clear for us – the responsibility for temptation and sin are on us – our distorted desires are to blame.
But let’s be real. We all want to point the finger at someone or something else. We want to say that it is the fault of our parents, our friends, our long days of work, our government, anything right? Now yes, different factors affect us, but it’s not your long work meeting’s fault that you come home in a sour mood and lack patience with your household.
God’s Word is clear. We point the finger for our sin on ourselves. And anytime we are seeking to justify ourselves and our actions, we are probably walking in sin. The problem is with us – at our core. “For I know nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.” Romans 7:18
So that’s the presence of sin – you and I. Now to the practice of sin – it doesn’t just happen. There’s a process to the chaos.
So how do we need to respond? We fight through our trials; we remain steadfast (James 1:3-4). And we flee our temptations. But don’t we often do the opposite. We want to run from trials and fight through our temptations, thinking we are strong enough. We aren’t. Friends, we must flee the temptations and fight through the trials.
James has definitely come out of the gate in this letter – hard and fast. You’re going to face both trials and temptations. So how do we respond? We need to remember that God is both sovereign and faithful. Look at verse 17: “there is no variation or shadow.” In the midst of change, God doesn’t change. Don’t believe the lies. Trust him in the trials and turn to him in the temptations. God’s goodness remains unchanging, reveals his grace, and reflects eternal glory (James 1:17-18).
Friends, take heart. God has saved us from our sin, and he will sustain us in our struggles. We can thus fight through trials as we consider them a pure joy and flee from temptations, the bait on the fishing hooks, with confidence in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness. After all, there’s the crown of life awaiting us.