Friday, September 30, 2011

James 1:12-16

12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.
14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
16 Do not be deceived, my brethren.

The way this and other passages are translated makes it seem like two distinct thoughts, and somewhat contradictory to other passages in Scripture.  However, by looking at the original Greek, we can see that this is really one continuous point.

Firstly, it is important to note that the word “approved” in verse 12 also means “tried.”  So, the verse could read, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been tried…”  Meaning, we can endure the trials facing us now by looking ahead and realizing that there will be a definite end to our trials (when we die), and at that point, the believers who have endured trials, “fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7) will go to heaven and receive the crown of life.

Now, let’s look into what trials are.  The word for trial, as used in verse twelve, is peirasmos, which means to prove as in to test.  Remember in Genesis 22:1 where it says that “God tested Abraham?”  Now, it’s not like God needs to test us to figure out how we’ll react, because He already knows.  Rather, He tests us so we discover how we’ll react – successes encourage us, and failures help us grow.  In truth, the purpose of a trial is always to help us grow spiritually… we see this in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “…and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (same word – periazmo, the verb form of peirasmos) beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” and Romans 8:28, “And we know that god causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Now, the bottom line is that trials are a tool God uses to build us up, whereas temptation is a tool Satan uses to tear us down.  God can certainly use these temptations as trials (and we see that He will never allow a temptation we cannot resist), but we must realize that the objective is different.  The misunderstanding of this is what James is trying to correct in verses 13-16.  It appears that the Christians James was writing to were blaming their temptations on God – and, by extension, blaming Him for “making them sin.”  “No,” James says, “you make you sin.  God gives you the power through His Holy Spirit to resist all temptation, but you give into your flesh and entertain your lusts.  Sin brings death; God only brings life.  God seeks only to build you up, so don’t blame your failures on Him.” 

With that broader context in mind, connecting the verses, I’d like to return briefly to the subject of crowns in verse 12.  There are generally considered to be five crowns promised to believers in the New Testament.  They are:
1.      The Crown of Life.  This is mentioned here in James 1:12, as well as in Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested (peiriasmos again), and you will have tribulation ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.  In both of these cases, it is a reward for those who persevere through trials and remain faithful until the end.
2.      The Crown of Exultation (Rejoicing).  This is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:19, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation?  Is it not even you, in the presence of the Lord Jesus at His coming?”  This crown seems to be an honor bestowed upon the believers who brought others to Christ.
3.      The Crown of Righteousness.  See 2 Timothy 4:8, “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing.”  This crown is for those who look forward to the coming of the Lord and live as if it could happen at any moment (see 2 Peter 3:10-13).
4.      The Crown of Glory.  This is found in 1 Peter 5:1-4, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”  This crown is a reward for those leaders who shepherd the church and serve as a good example of righteousness to them.
5.      The Imperishable Crown.  Finally, some count a fifth crown in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win.  And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.  They then do it to receive a perishable wreath (still stephanos, the same word used for crown as in James 1:12), but we an imperishable.  Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”  This is an analogy comparing the Christian walk to the Isthmian Games (the Corinthian equivalent of the Olympics), in which the winner in that day would receive not a gold medal, but a wreath (crown) for his head.  Therefore, by “training” hard spiritually, sticking with it, doing our *literally* very best, and treating the “race” with the seriousness as if it were a competition, our dedication is rewarded with this Imperishable Crown.
One last note on crowns – these are rewards for our faithfulness, but they are still gifts from God.  We are granted them through grace; we cannot earn them in the sense of deserving them.  Let us thank God for not only forgiving us, but honoring us.

Today’s discussion starters are:
1 – What is your own experience with God using trials to help you grow spiritually and teach you things?
2 – How does it make you feel that God will give us crowns?

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