Trials and Temptations (James 1:2-4, 13-15, by Alec Wallis)

Trials and Temptations

(James 1:2-4, 13-15) Alec Wallis



Today’s sermon is on the difference between trials and temptations and why it is important to know the difference. We shall see that the word in Greek is the same for both and therefore it can be confusing because both are a form of testing. Before we get into that, let’s look at this question:

Question: what would have happened if Jesus did not choose to die on the cross?

Spend a few minutes talking to the people next to you and come up with an answer to this question


1)   Trials bring joy


Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4


This is an interesting passage because we are told to consider it pure joy, which I have highlighted on the screen, when we face trials. I don’t know of anyone who gets excited about this. Most people try to avoid trials so it seems to be a contradiction to therefore have joy in the face difficult circumstances. Trials often cause sadness or anger rather than joy.


So why is it that we are expected to be joyful when facing trials. A major reason is to do with our understanding of the word ‘trial’


This is the dictionary definition of the word trial “A person, experience, or situation that tests a person’s endurance or forbearance”.

You may be able to think of a person, experience or situation that tests you

Let’s then look at two examples today of when we use the word ‘trial”  


a)   Academic trial.

This is used to practice for the real exams. It helps students to know how they are going in a subject as they prepare for the real exams that count towards their final results. My wife Jasmine, as a school teacher, would use trials to give feedback to her students. To those who were did well in their trial, she would encourage them saying that they needed to continue what they were already doing as it is working for them. To those who did not do so well, Jasmine would say that they needed to improve and ‘lift their game’ if they wanted to get the results they were hoping for. If a student did not do well in a trial, it was not a failure because it was not the real thing, but instead preparation for the real thing.


Here are things we can learn from an academic trial:


It helps someone to realise how they are doing

Not passing a trial is not the end of the world

It helps to prepare someone for the real thing


b)   Sports trial.

These are used to determine who has what it takes to play for the 1st or A team. With the rugby world cup on, I thought it would be good to have an All Black sporting reference. This photo was taken when Graham Henry was the coach and you can see him observing a scrum. Notice how both sides are wearing the same uniform? The conditions of a trial are much more different to that of a match.

I remember at Wanganui High School being in a football trial where I was hoping to get into the school 1st eleven soccer team. The coach would watch from the sideline as everyone on the field was trying to impress him so that they could make the team. Each person playing had an opportunity to demonstrate their skills and their experience in playing the game. The beauty of a trial is that even if you weren’t successful in making the first team, you could end up in the second team and therefore have later opportunities to impress. There was competition between the 2 teams that were playing, but it was for a place on the team rather than for a trophy. Therefore winning wasn’t the goal because you could lose the trial game but still be selected.


The last church I worked in was a Chinese church in Sydney where I was a pastor of one of the two English congregations. The church was full of Australian born Chinese and many of them loved playing sport such as soccer, basketball and touch football. Our church then had at one point 4 teams in the local touch football competition and Jasmine and also played in 2 of the church teams. She was in the top team because she was good enough where I was just happy to be playing. The competition itself had teams from different backgrounds and this meant that the type of game we had was different depending on the opposition. Some teams were unfortunately really abusive to us and the refs, others were much better, one was a Maori family that were really friendly but were too good for us, but the best match up was when we played one of the other 4 teams from our church. The atmosphere was completely different because we were much more relaxed as we didn’t really cared who won as we wanted both teams to succeed. This photo shows the other English pastor praying after a game between both teams where we praised God for the fellowship and joy we were able to have.  


Here are some things we can learn from a sports trial


Gives people the opportunity to prove how good they are

The coach wants everyone to do well

Even if you don’t make it to the 1st team, you can still play in the 2nd ect

Different to competition


Therefore, in light of what we have learnt about academic and sports trials, we can actually get a lot a good things from trials. Joy comes because a trial is meant to create opportunities to shine. You cannot fail in a trial rather it is just missed opportunities. There is nowhere near the same amount of pressure in trial as there is to an exam or in competition.


The process that is found is the verses is this trials bring perseverance which bring maturity and completeness. Trials are good things for us to have because it is through difficult circumstances, we can prove ourselves to God. We can see trials as opportunities to demonstrate our strength of character. Trials also allow us to become mature and complete. To go back to the sporting analogy, sports teams often have a mix of youth and experience and the more experienced players are chosen because they have proven that they have what it takes to win even when losing. There are people who we can look to as those who have proven themselves by persevering and not giving up in difficult times. They have experienced trials and are better for it.


Let’s therefore look at a biblical example of someone who faced a trial.


Story of Abraham      Genesis 22:1-19


“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”” Gen 22:1,2


I have highlighted “God tested Abraham” because another way to look at a trial is to see it as a testing. Here God is testing Abraham to see if Abraham would be faithful and obedient to Him. If you were to read through to verse 19, you would see that Abraham does in fact obey God and is willing to sacrifice


When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Gen 22:9-12


Abraham therefore proves himself to be faithful by passing a test that God had set up for him. People may think this is unfair that God went to such extremes with the testing by asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son. The level of testing though matched the reward God gave Abraham because God


“I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Gen 22:17, 18


God put Abraham through this trial with the intention of giving Abraham the opportunity to prove himself – which Abraham did! And if you think about it, what were the two options and what were the results? The best outcome was that Abraham was rewarded. The worst outcome was that Abraham missed out on his opportunity to prove himself. Even the worst outcome isn’t that bad. Isaac was never in any danger because God was in control and had set up the test so that even the worst outcome could be recovered from.


2)   Temptation brings death


When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. James 1:13-15


I highlighted that part “God does not tempt people”. God never sets up a situation for someone to sin. It is never his intention for people to stumble. The trial of Abraham, like other trials, was set up for Abraham to succeed not sin. God does not put us in circumstances where we then sin, and then punish us for our sin, that would be really wrong. God can test us but he never tempts us to sin.


Let’s therefore examine the process in this part of the passage. Temptation leads to sin and sin leads to death. This is therefore a very different process to that of trials. Let’s examine the first part of the process. Temptation is the desire to sin. It is to see something and want it even though it is wrong. Fulfilling the desire then becomes a sin but temptation is required before the sin is completed. What do we do then when we are faced with temptation? There are two instructions for us to follow


 a)   Fight

We are called to fight when we are faced with temptation


“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” James 4:7


We fight by choosing to make a stand against temptation. This may be by saying “no” to something that we know we should not do. I remember as a teenager being asked by other high school students if I wanted a smoke. I said “no thanks” and continued to do what I was doing.


b)   Flight

A lot of the time we are actually instructed to flee temptation ourselves.


 “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape” 1 Corinthians 10:13


There are times when we must be like this character from Pirates of the Caribbean where we run from temptation. Plenty of people find themselves in situations where the wisest thing to do is to leave before they or someone else sins. God gives us a way out but it is up for us to take that option. We don’t want to be in a situation where temptation leads to sin which can then lead to death. The risk is just not worth it.


The greatest example of someone facing temptation and succeeding was Jesus. In Matthew 4:1-11 we find the account of Jesus in the wilderness where Satan tempted Jesus in the hope of getting Jesus to sin. Rather than fleeing Satan, Jesus made a stand and challenged Satan by quoting scripture. Satan eventually gave up and what I find interesting is the title that he is given when we read the first verses.


Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Matt 4:1-3


Satan is called the tempter. He is the one that temptation comes from because he wants us to sin. His purpose on this earth is to cause us to fail by disobeying God. Satan himself cannot hurt God directly so he attacks who God loves, and that is us.


Back to the question at the beginning - If Jesus had of succumb to temptation we would have no salvation.


Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me” Matt 4:8,9


Therefore temptation can be a matter of life and death because if Jesus had of worshiped Satan, there would be no cross, and therefore no salvation for humanity. We would have all died physically and then died spiritually because there would have been no atonement for our sins.


So sin leads to death. There is literal death such as being tempted to drink and then drive afterwards with the potential to kill oneself and others. There is also symbolic death because of temptation. The death or end of a marriage can result from temptation leading to an affair. The death of a career can be because of someone being tempted to steal from the company they work for. Even the complete loss of any respect of a person can be from the fact that the person succumbs to sin every time they are tempted.


3)   Know the difference


Easy to be confused as both are a form of testing. Sometimes we think the suffering is from God when it is actually from Satan. Jobs friends say that his suffering is from God when it was Satan who was attacking Job. Their mistake throughout the book of Job is their lack of understanding.


People also can get it wrong today. I spoke with a Christian lady who had two teenage sons, both of which were heavily into drugs, drinking, and sleeping with different girls. The mother said that this was an opportunity for them to have a great testimony after they repented and turned back to God. While I have no doubt this could happen, the mother not realising that her sons were living lives of sin meant that death, either literal or symbolic, was possible.


An added difficulty is that even in Greek the same word is used for trial and temptation 


Peirasmos “If it is from God, it is for the purpose of proving someone and never for the purpose of causing them to fail. If it is from the Devil, it is meant to cause a person to fail”


Even the definition of the word shows the important of knowing the source of the testing. We therefore need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us to understand the difference between them. This is important because if we compare the two processes, they are very different. Trials produce greater outcomes, whereas temptations produce disastrous outcomes.


A key to knowing the difference is seeing the source. Let’s look at the two previous examples of Abraham and Jesus. The source of trials is always God because he wants us to face trials to grow. Satan is the tempter because he wants destruction for us.


There is a key relationship between trials and temptations that we need to explore too. That is trials prepare you for temptation. This picture is of Waiouru on in the middle of the North Island. The tank is a part of the army museum and Mt Ruapehu is in the background. Waiouru was near where I grew up on a farm and it is also where New Zealand soldiers train. Soldiers spend time in boot camp where they prepare for battle. Without the preparation, soldiers would most likely lose battles by being under prepared.


In the same way, trials prepare us for temptation. We have the boot camp of trials which prepare us and make us stronger for the battles of temptation. The more trials we succeed at, the more likely we are to defeat temptation. Trials are the training, temptation is the battle


Challenge: Recognise the difference between a trial and a temptation