There is an incredible riddle hidden in the English translations of James 1, wrapped in the mystery of God’s wisdom, inside the enigma of the Greek language. This riddle is why the Greek word peirasmos is translated “trial” in verse 2 but “temptation” in verses 12-14. It is the same word, and yet we routinely translate and read it in two different senses.
What is going on here? I’m not a Greek scholar, but it appears as if that same word is used by James in two different, but still related, senses. In James’ use of this one word with two related meanings, I think there is a mystery of God’s wisdom for our lives.
In James 1:3, when James speaks of peirasmos as a “trial,” he speaks of it as something by which God tests our faith. If we accept the difficult things in our life with humility, faith, patience, wisdom, and prayer, as we learned in Saturday’s meditation, then God will perfect or refine us through the trial. In other words, regardless of the cause of the trial or the motivation of those who may cause it, God means the trial for our good, that we may be made holy, as He is holy.
He desires in whatever gives us trouble, from the smallest inconvenience that makes us want to curse under our breath to the largest life-endangering challenges, for us to turn to Him with humility, faith, patience, and prayer, which is to say, with wisdom and holiness.
But some of the “trials” in our lives are also “temptations,” which are both the word peirasmos. I’m not sure that we can equate “trials” completely with “temptations,” but they are very closely related. When something I don’t like happens in my life, that is, when I have a trial, I am often tempted to respond in an ungodly way. I’m tempted to turn to myself instead of God and to do what is not godly. I’m tempted to be impatient and curse or yell or retaliate. I’m tempted think about how I’ve been wronged and to be blind to how God desires to use the trial, and I’m tempted to try to respond to the trial without humbly and wisely praying to God to help me.
Just as trials are often temptations, it is also true that temptations are always trials. (Perhaps “temptations” are a subset of “trials.”) They are trials because they always present some degree of difficulty in my life. The temptations that come my way every day are also trials because they are challenging tests of my faith and faithfulness. They are tests from God to see if I will act humbly, faithfully, and lovingly or whether I will act out of selfishness and pride.
Because of the close connection between trials and temptations, which share that same Greek word, James must explain that though God tests His children through the trials in their lives, these trials become temptations through our own desires, and not because God Himself is tempting us. This is where I think the mystery of God and His ways comes in. It is often the case that one and the same trial can be both a test sent from God to strengthen and refine our faith and a temptation to sin.
We see this mystery at work in the selling of Joseph in to slavery by his brothers. What the brothers did was undeniably evil, and they meant it for evil. But Joseph makes it clear that what they meant for evil God meant for good, so that Israel might be saved from famine. The same event has two different purposes, depending on whether the source is God or man. In the same way, what God desires to use as a test of our faith might be received by us as a temptation to sin.
The difference, therefore, is in how we use the trials God brings into our lives. Will we receive them as a test from God and receive them with wisdom, love, patience, humility, and prayer? If we do, then we will receive the crown of life, which is Christ Himself and the life that He brings.
Or will we receive the trials in our lives as a means of temptation? If we respond to the trials in our life on our own, we will seek our own desires and not the desires of God. In this case, our own desires (corrupt by themselves) will give birth to sin and, ultimately, a crown of death, which is life apart from Jesus Christ.
This, then, is the mystery that James reveals in his first chapter.
God the Father is the giver of every good and perfect gift, and even His tests of our faith are meant for our sanctification. Our job is to see all of life’s trials as God’s means of bringing us closer to Him and to respond to them with humility, faith, patience, and prayer (all of which will bring us closer to Him.) If we do this, then we will receive the crown of life that God has promised to the children He is forming to spend eternity with Him.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, the giver of every good and perfect gift, give me Your grace and strength to receive today’s trials in a faithful way. Remind and encourage me to turn to You more quickly; deliver me from temptation by seeking Your desires and not my own; and grant me Your blessing in trials through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Point for Meditation: Reflect on one particular way in which you allow a trial in your life to become a temptation that leads you into sin. Ask God to show you ways in which you can practice turning to Him instead of to yourself at the time of temptation.
Resolution: I resolve to receive each trial today as a means of God testing me that I might learn to come to Him more quickly with faith and faithfulness.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day