12 November 2013

James 1:12-18

“No one, when tempted, should say ‘I am being tempted by God” (v. 13)


James returns to his earlier theme of trials and temptations (verses 2-4). For those who face them with endurance, there is a promised blessing, and the ultimate reward of "the crown of life" (v. 12). This could be a reference to a victorious athlete's crown of laurel leaves (see 1 Corinthians 9:25), or to a royal crown. Either way it is a symbol of glory and honour, and the phrase occurs again in Revelation 2:10 to encourage Christians facing martyrdom. James looks forward, beyond the difficulties of the present times to the heavenly glory awaiting God's faithful people.

Without specifying what he means by temptation, James emphasises that God cannot be blamed for sending it. To do so would be a good reason for not resisting it, for who could resist God? Rather (verse 14) temptation comes from within. This echoes the teaching of the Jewish rabbis of the time, who spoke of an 'evil inclination' in every person. In a discussion about what was clean and unclean in the sight of religious people, Jesus spoke of all that defiles coming from within the human heart (Mark 7:21-23). If not resisted, these inclinations can lead to sin, which ultimately has a deadly effect (verse 15).

Having stressed that God does not send temptation, James goes on to emphasise what does come from God. In short, God is the generous giver of everything that is good. He uses the unusual phrase "Father of lights" (v. 17) which probably refers to the heavenly bodies - sun, moon and stars. Describing God as Father emphasises God's creative power, rather than any Trinitarian ideas.

Finally in this passage, James speaks of new life through God's word of truth. Having emphasised that God does not send temptation to people and affirming his goodness in creation, in verse 18 James describes believers as "first fruits" looking to the future and the intention of God to ultimately redeem all creation.

To Ponder

  • How do you react to the statement that temptation comes from within us? Can you think of external sources of temptation for which we are not responsible? If so, what are they?
  • If we affirm that God's purposes for us are all good, how do we answer those who suggest that God is responsible for suffering in the world? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.