The Gift of Trials

This week’s text from James 1 presents an interesting challenge for Bible teachers and interpreters. As we saw last week, James is focusing on the trouble with trials in our lives. The Greek word translated as “trials” in James 1:2 is peirasmos. The ESV translates this sentence as, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials (peirasmos) of various kinds.” The same word is translated “trials” in James 1:12, where James states, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial (peirasmos).

The difficulty enters when we get to verse 13 and James uses the same root word (peirasmos), but now refers to the concept of temptation (peirazō) rather than trials. We can see this most clearly in The Lord’s Prayer, in which Jesus instructs us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation (peirasmos), but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13). The commentator J. Alec Moyter explains the subtlety of the point James is making in this transition:

Typical of his approach, he does not warn us of this change of meaning; he plunges us into it. In other words he writes to us in exactly the same way as experience comes to us: the same circumstances which are, on the one hand, opportunities to go forward are, on the other hand, temptations to go back. There is no need to illustrate the point. We all know only too many people who have ceased to walk with God under the pressure of trouble or tragedy; the call to endure and mature was abandoned in favour of the suggestion to give up. Every trial is also a temptation. James is not using any sort of pun or linguistic trick, for throughout the New Testament the peirasmos-group of words mean circumstantial trial or temptation to sin, according to context. Rather, he is making this shift in meaning serve his own subtle purposes. He has been teaching us that trials are blessings, in that they lead forward to maturity and the crown. But they do not do this by some inherent power of their own. 1

Every trial is also a temptation. How true. In fact, as we will see this week as we study this passage of Scripture from James, everything in life can become a temptation, whether it is at face value good or evil, healthy or unhealthy, make us rich, or make us poor. Everything can become a temptation.

What is critical is our response. We see the correct response from Joseph, who proclaims to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

What makes the difference between a trial the is a blessing (a gift) and a temptation that leads us to sin? It is our response. Everything hinges on our response. James teaches us clearly that our tendency is to blame God (v. 13), but in truth, the blame lies within ourselves (v. 14-15).

How do we allow trials to become a gift and not a temptation that leads us to sin? John MacArthur notes, “In a cursed world where we are continually battered by wickedness all around us, we confess our inadequacy to deal with such evil. We confess the weakness of our flesh and the absolute impotency of human resources to combat sin and rescue us from its clutches. Above all we confess our need for the protection and deliverance of our loving Heavenly Father.”

May this be our prayer this week as we are all confronted with trials and temptations of various kinds. A great place to start in your ongoing battle with temptation is to treasure God’s Word in your heart. Read, meditate, and memorize the Scriptures so that you may not sin (Psalm 119:11). Begin this week by committing to memorize our memory verses for this week:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.– James 1:17–18

This Week’s Core Virtue

Authenticity (John 13:33-34): I know and understand biblical truths and transfer these truths into everyday life. Who I am on the inside and outside is a pure reflection of Christ and His Word.

Download a copy of this week’s Compass.

  1. J. A. Motyer, The Message of James: The Tests of Faith, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985), 50.

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