by Spiros Zodhiates
"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God" (James 1:13a)
In the first twelve verses of the Book of James, when James speaks of the temptations of life it is with the significance of trials, the outward circumstances of life. There is a shift in verse 13 in the meaning of the word. It is interesting to note that in this verse he does not use the noun any more, but the verb, which indicates the inner solicitation to evil, the subjective impulse to sin. Please bear in mind this distinction in the meaning of this one word "temptation" or "to tempt," if you do not want to get confused.
In verse 12 James told us how blessed is the man who is able to stand firm under temptation, to bear patiently the adverse circumstances of life. But not all men are victorious over temptation. There are some who fail, some who yield to it and commit sin. How difficult it is for the proud human heart to recognize its own failure. Don't you find it hard to confess to others and to God that you have been wrong?
If you were to visit a jail and ask some of the prisoners why they are there, you would get all sorts of answers. "It wasn't I, it was my bad companions." "I did not have a fair trial." "The judge made a mistake. Somebody else should have been imprisoned, but I am paying for the sins of others." All these excuses are given to exonerate oneself. The hardest thing for man to say is, "I am guilty. I am suffering the consequences of my own sin."
It takes a great man to acknowledge the blame for his own sinfulness. You remember how Adam, when he yielded to that first temptation, turned to God and said: "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." And so it is with us. We give in to our bodily appetites and lusts and then turn to God and say, "Well, God, why did You give me these, if You did not mean to satisfy them?"
This is a serious problem, isn't it? What we are hearing today is nothing new. James heard it, too, and that is why in the severest of tones he declares: "Let not a single man being tempted say that I am tempted of God." This is a more accurate translation of verse 13. And what does it really mean? It means that none of us should ever blame God for putting into our hearts, into our inner selves, the propensity to sin, the desire to yield to temptation.
It is true that in God's permissive will there is an array of outer tempting circumstances that we shall inevitably face, but God's desire for us in facing them is always that we shall be victorious over them and become mature through these experiences. He never pushes us to yield to them and commit sin. It is true that God has given us an appetite for food, and He has provided the food, but He is under no circumstances to be held responsible if we make gluttons of ourselves.
There is a little preposition which I would like to call to your attention. "Let no man being tempted say that he is tempted of God." It is that Greek preposition, apó, which is translated "of" in the King James version. Now there are two prepositions in Greek which could be translated by the English "of," but in the original there is a distinction in the meaning. Apó has the idea of remoteness, of a somewhat indirect cause, while hupó has the meaning of the direct agent, the one who has actually contrived the temptation for the purpose of making man fall into sin.
Thus we see that even the man who has failed, who has yielded to his appetites, does not fully dare say that God purposely and directly led him into temptation for the purpose of causing him to sin, but somehow he feels that God is indirectly to blame for it, even for permitting the setting of the scene which allows the possibility of failure, the possibility of yielding.
The reasoning of this kind of man is something like this: "God has ordained everything that comes to pass: He has therefore ordained that I should yield to the temptation under which I have now failed." And then another may say, "I have been driven to sin, not by God Himself, since He hates sin, but by the very circumstances in which God has placed me. True, it is not hupó, or ‘by' God, that I am tempted to sin, but apó, ‘of' God. He is the ultimate cause, and therefore I should absolve myself of the responsibility."
The position of man seems to be quite plausible, doesn't it? But remember that with God's eternal providence and purposes there coexists man's moral freedom, and in this moral freedom must lie the responsibility of man. God created you and me free beings, capable of choice. We are free to choose and that is what makes us superior to all the other creations of God. We are free to choose, yes, but we are not free to choose the consequences of our choice, for those are determined by the eternal purposes and laws of God. Without this ability to choose there could be no perfection and no satisfaction resulting from the right choice.
Let us take an illustration from the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. He, too, as a human being, was tempted in the sense that He was not only permitted to come face to face with temptation, but He was driven right into it at the command of the Spirit of God. He was to be tempted hupó, ‘by' the devil. In other words, the direct agent, the devil, could not have tempted Jesus, had the Spirit of God not permitted him to do so. What a marvelous truth this is for the children of God. You will never find yourself in the midst of the possibility of temptation unless God permits it.
And remember that His promise is that He will never permit you to be tempted beyond your ability to be victorious. If God did not permit the possibility of defeat, He could not have made available for us the possibility of victory. Can you imagine how miserable your life would be without victories resulting out of struggles? The exi stence of evil is a necessary corollary of the existence of good. It is God's will for you to be victorious, to have within you those noble and pure desires which bring you close to the character of God, but the possibility of evil is necessary so that you may appreciate and make actual the experience of good. God, indeed, provided the opportunity for Jesus to be tried or tempted, but He also gave Him the moral stamina to be victorious. What James wants to affirm in this statement of verse 13 is that God does not put into the heart of anyone the direct desire to sin.
From Faith, Love & Hope (the Book of James), AMG Publishers