The Epistle of James
(continued from last month)
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man. But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren.”
In the above text, James begins his discourse on temptation as a solicitation to evil. Two English words —testing and temptation — are used to translate one Greek word. The primary meaning of this Greek word is that of testing, and the secondary meaning, that of tempting. It is unfortunate that the translators of the King James version preferred the secondary meaning of this word in nearly all cases where this word occurs. In English, at the present time at least, we use the word temptation as it applies to solicitation to evil, and never as a testing of one’s reality. God tests men, but He never tempts them. The context should determine which meaning to put on the word. The context of the first twelve verses of the first chapter of James clearly points to “testing” as the meaning of the Greek word, whereas verses 13 to 16 point to “temptation” as the meaning. Therefore, in this paper we are considering temptation as a solicitation to evil.
What is Temptation?
Temptation has been defined as, “The incitement of a natural desire to go beyond the bounds that God has set.” This is a good definition; one hardly knows how to improve it. A definition defines when the thing defined is made clear. But if a definition contains words which are not clear, it still does not define. If one does not know what natural desires are, and what the bounds are that God has set, the definition, however good it may be, still does not define temptation.
What are Natural Desires?
Human nature has three basic dessires. In fact, every desire one may have may be classified under either one of these three basic desires. Human nature then, firstly, has a desire to enjoy things; secondly, a desire to get things; and thirdly, a desire to do things. These basic desires are right and good; they are God-given. There are limits within which, if these desires are exercised, will yield the highest good to the individual. These limits are the bounds that God has set. And God was not arbitrary when He set these bounds. He has given the widest possible range for the exercise of these natural desires. One will only bring harm to himself if he crosses those bounds to satisfy his desires. Temptation, then, is simply the incitement of these natural desires to go beyond the bounds to seek satisfaction.
Channels of Approach
Now that we know what temptation is, we ask, “What are the channels through which temptation approaches? The Apostle John had a keen insight into human nature when he wrote, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of this world. And the world passeth away and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:15-17). Here John mentions three channels, which he calls lust, through which temptations come. (Lust is but an unvarnished synonym of desire). Behind these three lust channels lie the three basic desires of human nature. The desire to enjoy things covers everything that has to do with the body — food, drink, sex, etcetera. If this desire is incited to go beyond the bounds, it becomes lust, the lust of the flesh. The desire to get things covers everything outside the body which can be seen and obtained in one way or another — money, houses, lands, etcetera. If this desire is incited to go beyond the bounds, it becomes lust, the lust of the eyes. Then, the desire to do things covers everything which we do to affect the world about us — work, ambition, career, etcetera. And if this desire is incited to go beyond the bounds, it becomes lust, the pride of life. Then when lust has conceived it brings forth sin, and sin when it is finished brings forth death.
To illustrate these basic desires in action, we will take first the desire to enjoy things, and we may take food as an example. We all enjoy food. There is nothing wrong with the desire, and, if it is lawfully exercised, it will yield health, strength, and enjoyment. But if this desire to enjoy food is incited to go beyond the bounds, and we eat to excess simply because we enjoy food, we will suffer for it — indigestion, etcetera — and it becomes the lust of the flesh. The same is true of everything else that concerns the body whether it be drink, or sex, or whatever it may be. Within the limits these desires may be fully satisfied and they will yield their highest good to the individual, but crossing the bounds entails suffering and may induce slavery to passion or appetite and sink one to the lowest depths of degradation and despair.
Next we take the desire to get things, and we shall use money as the, example. Money is something outside the body that can be obtained. The desire for money is not wrong in itself. It is needed by everyone, and there is no limit as to how much money one can make, if it is made lawfully and used honorably. But if the desire to get money is incited to go beyond the bounds, and one stoops to deceit, embezzlement, or fraud to obtain it, he will suffer for it, and it becomes the lust of the eyes.
Finally, we come to the desire to do things, and we may take one’s ambition in life as an example. That which we do affects the world about us. The desire to do things is right and God-given. But what is the motive behind our doing? Is it for the glory of God, or for the glory of self? G. Campbell Morgan in delivering a message on Temptation, used three words to illustrate the three basic desires: sex, money, and the capital “I.” One’s ego sometimes becomes inflated to the extent that his entire ambition is devoted to making a name for himself. The great Nebuchadnezzar, once in the pride of his heart, said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). But the words were scarcely out of his mouth when insanity smote him and he was driven from among men into the fields with the beasts where he ate grass like the oxen, his hair grew like eagles’ feathers, and his nails grew like bird’s claws. When, after seven years, his reason returned again, he blessed the Most High God and gave praise and honor to His name. Man was created for the glory of God, but if his desire to do things is incited to go beyond the bounds so that all he does is for the glory of self, it becomes lust, the pride of life.
The Temptation of Eve
Eve’s temptation is an interesting study in the light of the three basic desires of human nature. Eve was purely a human being. She had an unfallen human nature, and possessed the same basic desires that we possess. Her desire to enjoy things was incited when she beheld the forbidden fruit. The tree was good for food; she had a desire for food, but should she satisfy that desire in a way that was forbidden? Shall she cross the bounds? The did cross the bounds; she ate of the forbidden fruit, and the race has suffered for it ever since.
Then she had a natural desire to get things. The fruit was pleasant to the eyes, and her desire to get the fruit was incited. But should she get the fruit that was forbidden to her? She did get it; she crossed the bounds. She gave way to the lust of the eyes.
Finally, her desire to do things was incited. The incentive that Satan held before her was that by eating of the forbidden fruit, she would become like God (not like gods) knowing good and evil. If she could do something that would make her like God, she certainly would like to do it. She believed the word of Satan, and she crossed the bounds, but to her dismay, she discovered that beyond the bounds she became very unlike God. She received such an unlikeness to God that it was now utterly impossible of herself to change the unlikeness to likeness. So
Eve’s temptation came to her through the three basic desires of human nature, and she failed on all three points.
(to be continued next issue)