Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. James 1:13
While in Bible College, I spent a couple semesters as the president of the Student Missions Fellowship. Among my responsibilities was the scheduling of speakers for our monthly Fellowship Chapel. One month I was particularly excited about the speaker I had lined up – a veteran missionary from Chile. I had scheduled his appearance well in advance, then confirmed with him at the beginning of the week. As I walked to chapel that morning, I saw his car pull into the parking lot.
Then, at the door of the chapel, I was met by the school secretary. “Hey, we forgot to mention…Fellowship Chapel has been canceled for today. We have another activity planned.”
To say that I was upset would be putting it mildly. I immediately lodged a complaint with the administration. “I went to all this trouble to schedule a speaker, who in turn made time in his busy schedule to come and speak to us, and then you cancel Fellowship Chapel without any prior notice! How can you do that?”
The missionary waited patiently in the lobby while I spoke with everybody I could think of to try to make his early-morning trip to our school worthwhile.
After a few minutes, one of the administrators – the one who had made the last-minute schedule adjustment – approached me.
“Andrew, we’ve decided to give the missionary a few minutes to speak after our special activity.” Then he smiled, and the next words that came out of his mouth floored me: “So you see, you didn’t mess up too bad.”
It is galling to be blamed for something that is not your fault. It is even more galling to be blamed for something that is not your fault, by the person whose fault it is!
This is the fundamental error that James wants us to avoid in this verse. After spending the first part of the chapter talking about how our trials are a cause for rejoicing, he pauses to clear up a potential – and, given the human penchant for blame-shifting, probable – misunderstanding. He is very concerned that his words about God’s divine purpose in trials not be interpreted as an excuse to claim divine participation in temptation.
An Important Distinction
First, James draws a clear line between temptations and trials. This is especially important because in the original language, the same word is used for both. While the trials dealt with in verses 2-12 are clearly ordained by God, and beneficial to us, the temptations of verse 13 have nothing to do with God. This contrast, and the words by evil, make it clear that we are dealing with something completely different in this verse than in the previous ones.
A Question of Character
To the person who wants to pin at least a part of the blame for his sin on God, James first appeals first to the character of God. He “cannot be temped” (lit. “untemptable”), “nor does he himself tempt anyone”. Simply put, his sinless nature will not allow him to be involved in our sin.
Although his audience seems to have been predominately Jewish, perhaps James had the occasional Gentile reader in mind, who would be acquainted with the gods of greco-roman mythology. Never was there a more scurvy band of connivers and double-crossers than the supposed residents of Mount Olympus. The pagan often looked at his own misdeeds, shrugged his shoulders, and said “Zeus made me do it.”
Not so with the true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. His very character precludes us from pointing a finger at him for our own sins. Accordingly, there is not a sliver of a possibility of shrugging our shoulders at our own sins and saying “God made me do it.”
Now admittedly, that still leaves quite a few options open for blame shifting. So next week we will look at exactly who is to be held responsible when we break God’s law.
Banner image: The Fury of Achilles, depicting the Greek hero acting very badly at the instigation of the gods.
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