Summary: 2nd in a series on James for summer 2009
During my undergrad years at Cal State Hayward I read about an experiment to determine if rats would seek out new places of safety when faced with danger. It involved random low-level shocks to the cage and a random "shock free" zone. After a while, instead of seeking a place that was free from the shocks the rats simply absorbed them and seemed to realize they were unavoidable.
James is writing to a group of people who have become tempted simply to absorb the seemingly inevitable tests and trials. Last week we discovered how those who face such shocks are to do so with joy rather than bitterness and to seek God’s wisdom rather that the world’s answers to life. James tells us that as we do this we discover we have become mature and complete, ready to be God’s person in all situations.
Today we’re continuing this discussion with some subtle changes. By its context James starts to use the word trial in the sense of temptation or facing moral questions and issues. What’s more we aren’t called on just to endure hardships with Joy but to resist the temptations and the one who brings them. In verse 12 the idea of the word is that of testing or "time of testing" with no moral implications. It is a carryover from the idea in vv. 1-11. In the first half of James moves from the trials to the completeness and wholeness or maturity which is ours in Christ. In verses 12-18 James moves the other way. He starts with our being blessed and receiving the "crown of life" and moves on to the issue of facing the temptations that will come.
Among God’s gifts to us is the "crown of life". The idea is that of the laurel wreathes worn by victorious generals returning from battle. It is a sign that we have become complete and not lacking anything as James wrote in verse 4. But it isn’t automatic. It is given to the one who perseveres. This is not a passive concept. It’s not about holding one’s ground, digging in or the phrase that came out of the first Gulf War, "hunkering down". To persevere is active. It involves our recognition of what is going on spiritually in us and taking the steps necessary to grow in that faith.
God gives us gifts. As mentioned, those who follow Jesus Christ are given the crown of life. Verse 18 describes our future completeness and wholeness in terms of becoming first fruits of God’s creation. This is a Jewish term for the best which was offered to God as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. In short, we become those set apart to be God’s people and to enjoy God forever.
Between now and then comes the testing and temptation. So how do we deal with them? Here are some things to keep in mind. First of all the times of testing and temptation WILL come. James writes, "When tempted" not "if tempted". And he uses fishing language as he describes us being baited and lured away toward our own desires.
God doesn’t tempt. God has nothing in Him that would cause him to bait us or trick us. His desire is to see us become complete and to that end we will encounter trials or tests that are meant to cause our faith to blossom and grow.