Summary: Deception is all around us. How do we overcome? James has great counsel from God to help us.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren!
These are the opening words of today’s text in James chapter 1:16. As I worked through this text over and over this week both to memorize it and to understand it, I realized that James speaks of being deceived three times here in the last part of this chapter. In fact, helping his readers to avoid deception appears to be the core purpose of this entire passage.
Last week James told us how to handle trials and temptations. This week we see how to avoid being deceived.
Let me share just a quick technical note here. In English you read the word “deceived” in verse 16, 22, and 26. In Greek there are actually three different words in the text. James has a rich vocabulary and he likes to be nuanced as he writes.
Verse 16 has the word “planao” which means deceived by being lead astray.
Verse 22 has the word “paralogidzomia” which means deceived by reasoning falsely, or thinking contrary to reason.
Verse 26 has the word “apatao” which means to deceive by cheating or giving a distorted impression.
James writes simple ideas but he doesn’t use simple words. It looks a lot more academic in Greek than it does in English.
With “avoiding deception” as the framework and purpose of the passage, let’s notice how the content helps us with this.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren!
These words follow on the heels of what he says about temptation, desire and sin. (vs. 14-15). One of the most powerful works of the devil is deception. From the beginning in the garden of Eden, Satan has worked deception through what? Lying words. He lies about God, about us, about everything. Satan is not simply our accuser, he is the master of deception and lies. Hebrews 3:13 commands us to encourage one another daily so that we will not be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
Deceit is terribly prevalent and constant in this world, from the fall until today. Think of it. What are some deceiving things that you encounter on a daily basis? What lies are being whispered to you? If you hear a lie enough times it begins to sound believable, doesn’t it? Look at so called “same sex marriage” today and just think about all the obstacles that it had to overcome to become law in places like Alabama. And how did that happen? Through persistant deception, false reasoning and cheating by giving a distorted impression. All the things James warns against right here in this section of his letter.
Listen, deception is powerful, especially when the word of God is not heard carefully, accepted humbly, and practiced religiously. By the way, those three things, are the tools the Bible here gives us by which we may avoid deception and find truth and God’s blessings.
(Quote verses 16-27) Do try this at home!
Those are twelve potent verses of scripture! Amen?
What is written here is an echo of God’s word throughout the entire Bible. Here in concise, simple statements, James has gathered the accumulated wisdom of the Old and New Testaments to give us commands and applications that are too clear to miss and rich with promise.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren… How?
First, look up! Recognize where everything good and perfect comes from. They come from above, from God the Father. Remember that God hasn’t and won’t change. He will always be the source of everything good. He is, to be sure, the ONLY source of all things good and perfect. There is no other place to go to get good and perfect gifts. Don’t be deceived about that! You think you can get good stuff elsewhere? NOT! Then verse 18 is a bit more complex. God willingly gave us birth through the word of truth so that we have become a kind of first fruits of His creation.
To help us understand this statement, turn to 1 Peter 1:22-2:3. Peter gives us an explanation using the same kind of language. This birth that James is talking about is the new birth in Christ that we receive when we hear the gospel and respond in obedient faith. In John 3 Jesus describes a new birth of water and the Spirit that ushers us into the kingdom of God. Jesus also speaks of the sower who sows the seed which is the word of God and when it falls into good soil it grows up to produce fruit. Paul says in Romans 1:16 “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also the Greek.” This word of truth is the word of God.
When we are born again into Christ, we become new creatures in Him with new life. Now the word of God becomes our nourishment and guide for life in Him. So we need to be ready listeners to God’s word, as he says in verse 19 swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Our anger will not produce God’s righteousness. Neither will moral filth or other wickedness. In fact, these will lead us into deception and destruction instead of blessing and salvation.