Home » Various Sermons » Follow Lady Wisdom and Endure or Dame Folly and Fail: James 1.12-18

Follow Lady Wisdom and Endure or Dame Folly and Fail: James 1.12-18


Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  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 1.12-18

Trials are an interesting thing and so are the temptations that accompany them.  James once told us that: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.  I’m reminded of the Arthurian tale of Sir Gareth.  Gareth was a knight whose quest like all good knights was to rescue the damsel in distress, the lady Lyonesse.  Along the way Gareth was accompany by her sister the bitter Lynnette.  All during the adventure Lynette would make cruel remakes to Gareth, for she had met him first as a servant from the kitchen and not a true noble.  The more remarkable the defeat of said obstacle or foe, the more cruel the remark that came from her.  But Sir Gareth pressed on with each trial that came to him even with the bitter Lynnette beside him for the goal.  In the end despite ever temptation he had to quit, Sir Gareth came to the castle where the damsel Lyonesse was.  Lynette finally saw Gareth for what he was a true knight and one who has endured much trials… so instead of berating him she began to praise him.  This praise in the end was needed for him for his final challenge the Red knight which helped him to beat the knight and win the prize of Lyonesse.  Sir Gareth endured the trial and earned his prize as we are told that we are blessed and receive our crown of life.

James also warned “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”  And that too reminds me of this story for near the beginning when we meet Gareth is placed under the charge of Arthur’s stepbrother Sir Kay.  Kay had this nasty habit of always putting his foot in his mouth.  Sir Kay had never treated Gareth very well when he worked for him.  Kay blamed his ill treatment of Gareth on a number of things that Gareth was a “vagabond, a mere servant lad,” not thinking Gareth had any noble blood in him.  Kay blamed his ill treatment of Gareth on external factors, but they didn’t matter for Kay’s sinful heart was the reason he had been so rotten to Gareth.  It happened that after Gareth went off to do the quest that Kay followed to “bring back his kitchen lad,” instead to help the youth under his charge.  When Sir Kay and Gareth met however Gareth won their jousting match and Kay was returned home a sore loser where Kay was met with the mocking of his fellow knights.  Kay still blamed other reasons for his defeat and refused that he was in the wrong.  In Kay’s trials he blamed everything else and therefore never grew nor earned a gift.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1.12 We once more return to James 1.12 and the words of Blessed is the man.  This simple verse is ripe with various Wisdom ideology, it begins with the simple phrase of “Blessed is the man.”

As James tells us of the steadfast man who is blessed we are reminded of his early words of “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1.2-4)[1] We see this phrase of “blessed is…” often in the Proverbs such as: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,” (Proverbs 3.13).  This phrase is quite similar to the one that begins the psalms.  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;” (Psalm 1.1)[2] (The Psalm in question is often referred to as one of the Wisdom psalms)[3].  Moreover this phrase “Blessed is…” is one which has in its connections an educational purpose[4]. As seen here, the Psalmist gives a reason for this Blessed estate and the following verse gives the wisdom as following the Torah.

Therefore as James begins this part he begins with a common phrase of teaching.  This verse also well reflects Jesus’ Wisdom teachings, the beatitudes which begin “Blessed is…[5]”  Of course we have to realize that his whole Blessed feeling isn’t something that can be translated as “Happy is the man.”  There is more to this situation.  For at times we may be blessed, but not happy.  For the state that James speaks of surpasses emotions which are based on circumstances and relies on Yahweh and his promises[6].  Namely here the idea that for enduring we receive a crown.

The word translated here “trial,” or “trying” peirasmos can also be translated “temptation[7].”  The idea of trial or better yet temptation here is the idea that something has come up in their lives that was pulling them away from Christ[8].  (Something that happens quite easily to us too).  While one is surrounded by all these things crashing around them, they can’t help but think that God is somehow failing them, when they ask the question Why.  When we are tempted to say all is lost, we are told to endure, for as Yahweh’s children there is meaning too these trials[9].  James told his audience as he is telling to endure for we will receive the crown of life.

This crown which is found often in the New Testament “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” – Apocalypse 2.10 (As also seen in other places like 1 Peter 5.4, 1Timothy 4.8)[10].  The man who has endured this test, this temptation of one which has been outward and the inward temptation (to sin because of…) we see the promise of reward, namely the Crown of Life… Eternal life[11].  As Jesus promises to those undergoing persecution even to death this Crown we are promised it for the trials if we endure them.  Namely keeping to God in spite of everything around us.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” – James 1.13-15

If one for instances takes the route of Hebrew Wisdom found in proverbs we can look at the beginning of James in a different way.  The first part of this portion of James speaking of the wise man and this second part of then of the foolish man .  The Wise man is the one who in spite of trials perseveres with Yahweh and endures the temptations at hand.  The wise man knows that testing will bring about a better relationship with Yahweh.  The foolish man however calls God as the source of the problem, the Tempter so to speak.  That is as Wall puts they believe that Yahweh is the one who “is disloyal to the promise of new life and actually is responsible for the community hardships.”  Therefore while the Wise will receive the Crown, the foolish cast it aside[12].

Returning then to verse 13 After hearing of the benefits of what trials and endurance can do we see that James warns his readers of what not to do with temptations.  Peirasmos here in verse 13 is used in a stricter sense of indeed temptation (to lust) and not in the wider way as in verse 2[13].  We get the idea here that James is saying that were God to tempt us that would equal him doing an act of evil[14].  In other words God and evil do not mix, he “has nothing to do with it[15].”  We might never say the words “God is tempting me,” but we may say that whatever sin or wrongful act that we are currently doing is based on circumstances God has brought about[16].

This phrase of James once again seems to have stemmed from his knowledge of wisdom literature as Sirach once says: “Do not say, “Because of the Lord I left the right way”; for he will not do what he hates.  Do not say, “it was he who led me astray”; for he had no need of a sinful man.” Sirach 15.11-12 These words like those of James are all too true in that we cannot blame our sins on Yahweh[17].  We have no right in saying that God is the reason for our wrong doing, that he is our “Dame Folly,” instead of our “Lady Wisdom.”  Circumstances, yes even those brought upon us by God are not reasons for us to sin, but instead to grow.  It would be wise here to remember the words of Paul: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. 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, that you may be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10.13

With verse 14 we get the idea that temptations instead of coming from God they ultimately stem from ourselves[18].  James tells us that “each person,” that is individually we are tempted from within, that we have our own evil impulses.  James moreover stresses this by saying “his own.” Truly then our greatest temptations come from within[19].  And truly then the responsibility then of our sins is our own[20].  Wonderful it goes along nicely with that idea that we’re our own worst enemy.  James here doesn’t even give us the room to say the Devil made me do it!  Before the Devil can even get to us, we’re already up to our knees in the sin.

Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”  With verse fifteen we see the opposite of what James considered good, namely as Leahy puts it we have “passion, sin, and death” instead of “trial, proved endurance, and crown of life.[21]”  Temptations and desires are never a good thing.  When one gives “consent” to their temptation and they allow it fully grow into sin, we have a destiny toward disaster.  Toward perhaps even death[22].  James seems to imply that Desire (the word Desire here if feminine)thus she is able to give birth, the question is how?  For James doesn’t exactly tell us[23].

Perhaps it is our old nature; our sinfulness combined with outward temptation does indeed as James says give birth to sin[24].  If we have followed thus far what James has said we get the idea that it involved temptation, i.e. the “welcoming” instead of rejection of temptation that allows Desire to bring forth sin[25].  As McGee points out sin begins in the heart, within ourselves as James proposes and then it “moves out into action[26].”  We see the vast danger of temptation, but one must remember that while temptations are evil and lead to sin, they are not sin.

In a way it is better to fly from temptation rather than fight it.  For by leaving the zone of temptation one finds its effects less evident.  Yet by staying where one is where that temptation to fight it, they find that they are indeed fighting a losing battle.  One must always go to God when temptations draw nigh, but avoiding the reasons for the temptation is of course a smart move.  A recovering alcoholic shouldn’t go to a bar correct?  Why then should you allow yourself to stay where temptation is instead of moving away from it?  Therefore I submit that one needs to run from temptation, from “evil desire.”

For if one truly does fail and temptation wins over, when it gets it place it easily controls us which results in sin[27].

This passage of James is also similar one of the proverbs. It begins by telling us of Lady Wisdom two of its verses reading “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.  For by me [Lady Wisdom] your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life.” – Proverbs 9.10-11.  Then we read of Dame Folly: “The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing.  She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”  And to him who lacks sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”  But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” Proverbs 9.13-18

James well knows that the words of Proverbs.  As we see not only in James, Wisdom is with Yahweh using it to endure trials and whatever else is needed, but the fool neglects the words of God.  The fool is tempted by the word, the personified Dame Folly.  What they think is simple, by falling into temptations we think that we can more easily endure life.  But… that is anything but the truth.  As James points out sin leads to death.  This idea of sinning and death being connection comes from the Old Testament.  “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” – Ezekiel 18.4 Even as the Proverbs point out that sinning though it looks grand points toward death, toward the depths of Sheol.  By leaning on God and enduring the trials before us, we may be blessed, but by allowing temptations to run their course we find death in our path.

There is never any good that comes out of sinning.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  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 1.16-18

James turns now in his teaching to something important.  He tells us “do not be deceived” in using this speech pattern James is calling attention to what he is about to say[28].  James doesn’t want to be misunderstood about what he is about to say of God.  Even as James is beginning his next line of teaching, this phrase is also talking about the former teaching on temptation, this pharse thus being a connection between the two passages[29].  Therefore we see that while God is not the Tempter of Evil he is however the Giver of Good.  Therefore while the Foolish one says that God brought evil, James refutes this and says that instead only good comes from God, the source of good[30].

Thus as verse 17 says “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.”  God is the Good giver, everything he gives is good, and that includes trials[31].  They as mentioned already prepare us.  Though we may not understand God at times, and the reasons for trials that come along in our life we may be comforted by the fact that there is indeed a reason for everything God does.  Does that mean we’ll understand that reason, not necessarily.  We do know that they have the purpose though as James says of growing us and thus we should endure come what may.  Leaning on Christ and not on ourselves and the temptations which so easily follow us.  Thus we may get the basic sediment that when it comes to gifts it isn’t the cost of the item that matters, but instead the intention behind it[32].

Here we see that James calls God the Father of light.  This phrase although it isn’t found elsewhere in the Bible (and only perhaps in the Apocalypse of Moses) is clearly Hebraic[33].  Basically he is referring to the fact that Yahweh is Creator (in this instance of the Sun and Stars) and the source of all light[34].  James therefore is noting that as Yahweh is creator and caretaker he is able to take excellent care of those who follow him[35].  This is why the Psalmist can declare: “to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever; the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever; the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;” – Psalms 136.7-9.  As Yahweh was the creator of all these the Psalmist knows that his love does indeed endure forever.

Or as Jeremiah says: “Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name:” – 31.35 As Yahweh is aptly able to do all these things then one can have faith that truly indeed he is able to deliver upon the “gifts” which he has promised.  Yes the crown of life will be received by those who endure, yes if one endures trials they will grow.  But if one spurns God, and follows Dame Folly instead of Lady Wisdom then they truly do indeed lose out on this.  Moreover we told that even though he is Father of Lights, there is no shadow in him, no change.  Unlike the sun, moon, and stars which change as the seasons change, God does not.   We may have faith in all these things because God does not 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.”  God has chosen us, has brought us forth on his own will, as desire was “blind,” in her doing, God knowingly is doing[36].  He knowingly is bringing forth, that is giving birth.  Sin leads to death, but God leads to Life, once more we beckoned to follow God and not to sin, to heed Lady Wisdom’s call not Dame’s follow[37].  We are reminded her of John’s words “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1.12-13.  God has brought us forth, and he has done so through the wonderful Word of Truth, that is the Gospel Message[38].  By joining in with God we have joined his community and all that comes with God, the good and the bad.

In Conclusion:

Trials and temptations are a part of life.  But there are two routes one may take, they can take route of leaning on God or on leaning on themselves.  We can choose the Wisdom of enduring or the folly of temptation, the lies that go along with Folly’s route, to the death that follows it.  But by enduring we know that God who is Creator who has proven himself well able can and will be able to give us that Crown, namely eternal life.  That the Father of Light is moreover in control of everything, for he created everything and therefore we know that every trial we have is part of his plan and therefore he aptly able to help us endure.  Let us endure the trials that come our way instead of going our own way.

Endnote (once again please note full citation will appear at the end of the James Series)

[1] Nicott 426

[2] Nicott 426

[3] Dell 64

[4] Dell 66

[5] Leahy 371

[6] Moo 70

[7] McGee 631, Leahy 371

[8] Moo 70

[9] McGee 631

[10] Leahy 371

[11] Erdman 17

[12] Wall 557-8

[13] Nicott 428

[14] Leahy 371

[15] Harrington 91

[16] Erdman 17

[17] Henry 1931

[18] Leahy 371

[19] Harrington 91

[20] Moo 75

[21] Leahy 371

[22] Leahy 371

[23] Moo 75-6

[24] McGee 635-6

[25] Moo 76

[26] McGee 636

[27] Erdman 17

[28] Harrington 92

[29] Moo 76

[30] Leahy 371

[31] Erdman 18

[32] Leahy 371

[33] Harrington 93

[34] Harrington 93

[35] Moo 78

[36] Leahy 371

[37] Harrington 93

[38] Leahy 371


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