“MEETING AND MASTERING TEMPTATION”

JAMES 1:12-18

JULY 22, 2012

 

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            Leadership Journal, a publication of Christianity Today, comes out quarterly and each issue centers around a particular theme.  Past themes have included worship, evangelism, church conflict, preaching and time management.

            Awhile ago, in preparation for a theme issue on temptation, the editors sent out, at random, five hundred questionnaires to their readers, explaining the upcoming theme and asking them about their greatest temptation.  I remember the questionnaire because I was one of the five hundred “lucky ones” chosen to participate in the survey.

            When the temptation issue arrived, Terry Muck, the editor of the journal had this to say about the results of the survey.  He wrote,

 

            Apparently the subject of temptation makes people uncomfortable.  When we sent out five hundred questionnaires to our readers ... less than six percent responded.  Usually thirty percent return our surveys.  The small response to our questionnaire raised the question - Is temptation too painful to discuss?

           

            Would you like to know how I responded?  Would you like to know my greatest temptation.  Well ... I’m not going to say!  I’m a living example of Muck’s observation about temptation being too painful, or at least too embarrassing to discuss.

            But painful or not, we are going to discuss it this morning as we continue our sermon series on the Book of James - and we are not only going to discuss it - we are going to outline how we can overcome it, but before we can overcome it, we must understand five facts about it. 

            Fact #1:  Temptation differs from trials.  If you were here a couple of Sundays ago you may remember James’ take on trials.  Basically, he liked them because they can mold us into the image of Christ.  He said, My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance ... In other words, “When trials come along take them to lunch because God uses them to strengthen our wings of faith.”

            Now contrast that to how James views temptation.  Verse 14:

 

            But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it.

 

            James does not care for temptation because the purpose of temptation is to lure and weaken one’s faith, not to build it.  Think of it this way:  A trial is something that at first appears bad but is used for good whereas temptation is something that appears good but turns out bad. 

            It’s like going to the dentist.  For most of us going to the dentist is not at the top of our list of enjoyable things to do.  We don’t like the sound of the drill and we hate that pointed little scraper and it bugs us when the dentist asks us a question when he or she has his or her fingers in our mouth.  So we are tempted not to go to the dentist.  That appears like an attractive option, but if we don’t go to the dentist on a regular basis we might be gumming our food to death by the time we turn fifty.  On the other hand, if we endure the trial, if we go to the dentist, then we will keep our teeth in good repair.  What appears bad actually turns out to be good.  That’s the difference between trials and temptations.

            Fact #2:  Temptation is never directed by God.  Note verse 13,

 

            No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God?; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.

 

            Tests come from God, not temptations.  Good comes from God, not evil.

            Think of it this way.  Imagine you start a new job and you’ve been there a week, and you are the last one to leave for the day, but when you come back to your desk, you find a stack of money on the edge of the desk.  You count it and it comes to $687.  Now what are you going to do?  Well, imagine you put it in your briefcase or purse and take it home, and then during the night you struggle with keeping it, but being the good Christian I know you are, you turn the money back in the next morning.  You go to your boss and say, “Boss, I found this on the edge of my desk last night.  I took it home with me, and to  tell you the truth, I was tempted to keep it, but I didn’t.  I decided it wouldn’t be right, so I’m turning it into you.  I’m not sure to whom it belongs.”

            And imagine your boss says, “I left that money there to tempt you.  I wanted to see if you could be trusted.  I wanted to see if you would give into temptation.”

            Now, would God ever do such a thing?  Well, no, not according to James. According to James, temptation is never directed by God.  He expands on this in verse 17.  James writes,

 

            Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow ...

 

            Did you catch that?  There is no shadow in God.  No dark side.  God only gives us good and perfect gifts.  The tempting stuff, the dark stuff comes from someone or somewhere else.

            Fact #3:  Temptation will follow us everywhere, every day of our lives.  Again, look with me at James.  Verse 13,

 

            No one, when tempted should say ...

 

            Note how James uses the word “when” and not “if.”  Temptations are a part of life, and usually a part of every day.

            For example, temptation gets in the car with me when I drive to work.  That’s why I don’t have any Christian symbols on my car.  When I drive I’m tempted to do and and say things I later regret.

            Then temptation gets out of the car and follows me into the office.  It says things like, “You don’t have to do that now.  Put that off for tomorrow.”

            And temptation follows me home at night.  It sneaks up behind me at dinner and says, “Go ahead and have that second helping.  You deserve it.  You’ve had a rough day.”

            And then it follows me to bed at night and says, “Sleep in.  You deserve the rest.  you can walk after work.”

            Temptation follows me everywhere, every day of my life and will do so until the day I die.

            Fact #4: Temptation is an individual matter.  Verse 14.

 

            But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it.

 

            Underscore the words “one’s own desire.”  That is to say, temptation will vary from person to person.  What tempts me may not tempt you. 

            For example, what tempts me is new technology.  I love the latest, the newest, the fastest.  That doesn’t float Trudy’s boat at all.  Now, what tempts Trudy is clothing catalogues.  She can page through those for ours.  I could care less.  Knowing our vulnerabilities Old Redlegs chooses from his vast supply of temptations that are just right for us.

            Fact #5:  Temptation that leads to sin follows the same process.  Now let’s be clear.  Temptation is not sin.  Jesus, after all, was tempted but he did not sin, and James reminds us of the process that leads to sin.  Verse 14.

 

            But one is tempted by his own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

 

            Dick Manthey would like Chuck Swindolls take on this.  Swindoll likens the process to fishing and he says it involves four steps. 

            Step one - the bait is dropped.  Can you see it?  We are swimming around through life, minding our own business, and all of a sudden the bait is plunked right in front of us ... a banana split while dieting, someone going below the speed limit in the fast lane, catching up on our sleep during the sermon ... whatever it is the bait is dropped.

            Step two - Inner desire is attracted to the bait.  We’ve got to have that thing or do that thing.  Those are plump, juicy earthworms on that hook and we love plump, juicy earthworms.

            Step three - we take the bait and sin occurs.

            Step four - Sin results with tragic consequences.  We end up hooked and fried!

            Well, those are the facts concerning temptation, now let’s turn our attention to mastering temptation.

            Step one: cut off its food supply.  With trials James’ advice was to take them to lunch.  With temptation his advice is to send them to bed without dinner.

            Perhaps you heard the story of the little boy who had been told by his father not to go swimming, but later his father caught him in the swimming hole.  When confronted, the boy said, “Well, Dad, I didn’t mean to go swimming,” to which his observant father said, “Then why did you bring your swim suit?”

            The boy relied, “Just in case I was tempted.”

            Now that’s feeding temptation!  The old Chinese proverb is so true: “We can’t stop black birds from flying over our head, but we can prevent them from building their nests in our hair.”  Step one:  Cut off the food supply.

            Step two:  call on the C-Team.  Remember George Peppard and Mr. C and the A-Team.  Well, I’m not talking about them.  I’m talking about the C-Team.  Call on Christ and Christ’s people. 

            We need at least one good Christian friend who knows where we are vulnerable so he or she can keep an eye on us, pray for us and warn us when we’re getting close to taking the bait. 

            I think of the World War II army general who needed a new driver.  He interviewed three candidates for the job and asked each of them, “If you were on a winding mountain road during battle, how close can you drive to the edge of a drop off?”

            The first driver he could easily drive within a foot of the edge.  The second driver said he could get as close as six inches and still stay on the road.  The third driver said he would try to get as far from the cliff as possible.  He would hug the opposite side of the road.  The general hired the third soldier.  The third driver and the general realized what the other drivers did not - there is no need to take unnecessary chances, especially in an already dangerous area.

            That’s what we need.  We need someone like that driver in our lives.  We need someone who will tell us to get far away from the edge of temptation.

            We also need to call on Christ.  The author of Hebrews put it well.  He wrote, “For because he himself has suffered and been tempted he is able to help those who are tempted. 

            He is able to help, when we are not.  Amen.