Summary: Without temptations and trials, Christians will never become mature followers of Christ.
What’s So Great About Temptation?
Baby Boomers are coasting into the golden years in record numbers nowadays, bringing with them the trappings of a somewhat new phenomenon: Peter Pan Syndrome. While the surface indicators may not take the rest of us by surprise, the facts are clear about Baby Boomers. They detest the idea of growing old and settling down like their parents and grandparents before them.
Never before have sports cars and Disney World been made to look so appealing to the fifty-plus crowd. No generation prior has been catered to by pharmaceutical companies marketing products like Viagra. Products and services for the new generation of seniors are popping up left and right, and the AARP reports record growth. And did I mention that the progenitors of the Boomers are not dying out as fast as predicted? This growing senior population leads us to a comparison between the world and the church.
Christians, you see, have always suffered with Peter Pan Syndrome. The only problem in the church is that most believers never make it even to the maturity level of Peter Pan in their Christian lives. It may be more accurate to describe our problem as Permanent Nursery Status. Churches today more than ever are plagued with long-term baby Christians who require high maintenance and low spirituality.
Much of the quarreling and in-fighting in churches is a direct result of the lack of spiritual maturity on the part of church members. While a part of this can be attributed to unregenerate pseudo-spirituality (basically a church member who has never been converted), the fact that our efforts at discipling new converts have failed in recent years offers a simple, if embarrassing explanation to the problem. We haven’t called believers to “grow up” in their faith (Ephesians 4:15).
It is easy at this point to place blame in any number of areas, but the fact that Christians are not maturing in their faith is painfully clear. Unless the church acts now to clean up the mess, there is no telling what kind of situation our children may face if Jesus tarries his coming. It is time to call believers to a growing, vital faith in Christ that transforms them from whimpering babes in arms to the level of bold ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).
James, the half-brother of Jesus and patriarch of the Jerusalem church, knew well the kind of immaturity we are facing today. A look at the book of Acts shows us the kind of problems the first church faced in vivid detail. We know that the Jews persecuted the Christians in Jerusalem to the extent that believers were forced to flee the city and live in the surrounding areas. While this may have been good for the cause of Christ, it had questionable effects on these new believers. The purpose of the book of James was to address the need for growing maturity among believers.
It is interesting indeed to note that the first object of his instruction was the subject of temptation. Who of us is holy enough to admit that we have never had a problem with temptation, be it in the area of our bodies or our minds? Each of us has dealt with struggles either to eat less or spend more time in meditation rather than entertainment, or any one of a thousand different challenges around us on a daily basis. James recognized this from the beginning, and he addressed it with very little pomp or persuasion.
Josephus tells us that that is how James was in his relations to believers. He said that James was the kind of person who lived a life of such personal holiness that he commanded great respect among believers, especially Jewish believers. He commented on James’ habit of prayer, interceding daily in the temple in Jerusalem. It was only by a political fluke, in fact, that James’ life ended so prematurely.
It seems that Annas the Younger, high priest in the temple, took advantage of an interim period between Roman governors to do away with several of his opponents. Josephus recorded that James was stoned in A.D. 62, along with several other key Jewish leaders. His holy lifestyle and brutal honesty brought an untimely end to one of early Christianity’s great leaders.
But what of James’ words on temptation? It strikes me as odd that he would begin by saying, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (v.2). Joy and temptations do not fit together well in my vocabulary, let alone in the same sentence. Being tempted is not an easy thing to deal with, let alone finding the joy in it. But Paul did say in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say: Rejoice.” The tough question, though, is why?