A Brief Analysis of Some Myths about Temptation from James 1:13-15

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13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. 15 Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. (NET)

 Here are some myths I’ve heard people say about temptation and sin in general:

  • “The Devil made me do it!”
  • “Why is God tempting me so much?”
  • “I can’t control myself! I am what I am.”
  • “It can’t be wrong because it feels so good!”

In short, all of these are false statements and enormously detrimental to your spiritual life!

In contrast, James has done a remarkable job explaining how God does “test” us with trials, trying times and even persecution, so that we can develop perseverance, or as I earlier called it “a willingness to cling to God no matter what” faith (James 1:1-12). In the process, we become “perfect” and “complete”, and consequently lacking nothing good whatsoever!

Then, using the same Greek word as he did for “test”, James begins 1:13 declaring when (not “if”) we are “tempted” from within by our desires, we should be aware of these facts, and not believe the above popular myths. Let’s examine them briefly against what Scripture says.

  • “The Devil made me do it!”
  • “Why is God tempting me so much?”

If I may, let me dispense with this first and foremost: Temptation is because of me, not God! (V. 13)

James helps us to see that obviously we don’t understand the nature of temptation when we say things like, “The Devil made me do it” or “Why is God tempting me so much?”.

As James expressed earlier in 1:3-7, God certainly does and will “test” us for the reasons previously stated. But now, in v. 13ff, James unequivocally proclaims that God does not “tempt” us or seek to “lure” us and “entice” us with evil! To make such a statement is ludicrous for one simple reason: if we as Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us, why would God seek to tempt us with evil? As v. 13 literally says, God is “untemptable”! How could he tempt himself, and even more, why would he “lure” and “entice” his children with evil?

If we struggle with temptation, and we all do in one way or another, we need to place the blame somewhere else – not on God!

  • “I can’t control myself! I am what I am.”

So where do my temptations originate? Look in the mirror.

Our temptations come from our own desires that literally seek immediate gratification but in ungodly ways. Ironically, what makes the whole process even more exacting is that we live in a world that incessantly provokes those desires, and incites us to instantaneously fulfill them in a host of unsavory ways.

Now, many people have thought since desires can seem out of control and can bring harm, it’s best to ignore them, or suppress them. In fact, Buddhists believe, generally speaking, that desires must be extinguished and rid from the body because it is the source of all our problems. The mistake with this view is that we were made to desire: to love and be loved, to serve, to hunger, to worship, and a variety of other good desires. Since we were created to desire, and our creation was deemed “very good” (Gen. 1:31), something else must be the problem.

Consequently our challenge is not to ignore or extinguish our desires, but to learn to express them in godly ways, by the power of the Holy Spirit (see Gal. 5:16).

  • “It can’t be wrong because it feels so good!”

Unfortunately, it can be wrong and extremely detrimental to our health – both physically and spiritually. As James states in v. 15: “Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.”

As illogical as it is to blame God for the temptations that come from our own desires, notice the logic of what James says, using the language of reproduction, regarding inappropriately expressed desires: once conceived, they are the “mother” of sin, and the “grandmother” of death!

While it can’t be denied that sin brings momentary pleasure, it must be affirmed that sin will also bring momentous consequences, based on the act committed. This is why it’s so important that a believer lives not based solely on feelings but faith. And faith dictates that one way we attack temptation is not by blaming, but recognizing the role desire plays in temptation, and seeking to express them in godly ways.

Finally, may we never forget that we are not alone as we face temptations because God is always with us, ready to guide and strengthen us. And C. S. Lewis aptly, but also stunningly, summarizes the situation:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 

Let’s be who we were created to be: desirous people yearning for our Creator and the wisdom to express our desires in the proper way.

RA

Bragging and Lessons on Life and Sin, Part 2

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Bragging and Lessons on Life and Sin (Pt. 2)

As we conclude this brief study in James 4, let’s recap what James has previous said (and if you missed my former post, click here). First, please read the passage again:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (NIV)

As he wraps this chapter up, James is speaking to Christian businessmen who have compartmentalized their faith. In other words they were presumptuously making plans for tomorrow, and even a year in advance, in order to have profitable businesses, without any regard for God whatsoever, and in the midst of it all, boasting about their successes. A shameful yet accurate summary of this can be seen in v. 16: “but now you boast in your arrogances . . .” This piercing indictment demonstrates these Christian men were glorying in their own greatness, and James appropriately concludes in v. 16 that all such boasting is evil.

Consequently, after James first reminds the people that Jesus is Lord – over all (see previous blog), he then proceeds to remind them of two more indispensable truths.

Second, in the grand scheme of things, life is short and of little consequence! (V. 14)

 In many ways, in vv. 13-14, James could be restating Proverbs 27:1 – “Do not boast about tomorrow, because you do not know what a day may bring.” (NIV). But James goes further with v. 14. He reminds the businessmen that life, especially a life that fails to acknowledge God, is fleeting, and ultimately inconsequential.

In v. 14, James declares, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In the original language this rare word for “mist” can also mean “vapor” or “smoke”, therefore the image should be of something that is fleeting and yes, as a whole, of no consequence: here for one moment, and gone the next.

Yet observe that James isn’t reprimanding the people, but simply reminding them of a fact they were failing to heed: although they were bragging about all there great achievements, in reality, all their trifling successes were nothing compared to the actions of an eternal God on a mission to save humanity for eternity!

And, as a corollary, what makes life “consequential”? It’s true that running a profitable business can be good, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with planning and devoting time to that, but better as a Christian businessman is not to be presumptuous and arrogant but to involve Jesus in your plans and business, and give all glory to him for the successes.

Furthermore, as to what is truly consequential, Jesus taught to seek the things of his kingdom and his righteousness, or in the context of this passage – the good (see Matthew 6:33). While life may be fleeting, it is in pursuing these two noble goals, that it will be of substantial consequence as eternity is changed.

Third, sin is both the wrong you do, and the good you don’t do! (V. 17)

This might be one of the most ignored verses in all of Scripture. To begin, read this enigmatic verse one more time:

“ If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

What a bold conclusion to James’ discussion! In essence he reiterates, “Now that you know, do it!” But let’s further investigate this telling verse. There are three points to discern in this verse:

  • If you know (the truth, or in this context the good to do) then go and do it!

This is obvious when you see this sentence in the original language because the first word is “to the one knowing”. In short, James asserts once you know something, then you should go and do it!

  • We are meant to do good acts and/or works!

I love how Paul expresses this later in Ephesians 2:10:

“For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (HCSB)

Notice what this verse, as well as James 4:17, does not say: “For you were created to not do this, not do that, not say this, not say that . . .”

Often, it seems Christians think Christianity is nothing but “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” As Paul and James remind us, true Christianity is unequivocally concerned with being free to do the good we were created to do! Anything less is not Christianity but legalism!

  • If you fail to do the good you know, it’s sin

Behold the logic: once you know, you’re expected to go and do the good you know. If you don’t, then you’re held accountable, and since you failed to do the good you know, logic dictates that it is sin.

Another way to express this is in The Book of Common Prayers. It beautifully summarizes this thought:

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”

As stated in the previous point, we have to stop thinking that sin is only the wrong we do; it’s also the good we fail to do!

What a way to close Chapter four! If I may, let me leave you with two thoughts to pray about and to dwell on as you go through your day:

  • Do I truly understand Christianity has liberated me to do good (works), rather than hindering me with a list of things I can’t do?
  • Is there a good I know I need to do today?

To God be the glory!

RA

Bragging and Lessons on Life and Sin

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I love the book of James for many reasons. As several scholars have declared, the book of James can be described as the “Proverbs” of the New Testament. By that, they mean it’s a book of practical wisdom written to guide us as we navigate the Christian life. Unfortunately, most of us don’t spend near enough time reading and studying this treasure!

With that in mind, today I’d like to examine James 4:13-17. Please read what James says to those Christians:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (NIV)

As I have studied these verses, I’ve discovered James is encouraging his fellow Christians with three crucial truths all Christians should know. For today, I’d like to discuss this first truth – an obvious point, yet still important and worthy to examine.

First: Jesus is Lord – over all! (13-16)

While this is incredibly obvious to every Christian because we say Jesus is our Lord and Savior, James offers encouragement in what this means practically. Here’s how James encourages Christians to keep Jesus Lord over all aspects of our lives:

  • Beware of compartmentalizing your faith

Naturally, all of us are prone to do this, and honestly, this is what many secularists in 21st Century American culture want and expect Christians to do! The secularists stipulate it’s fine if we’re Christians on Sunday, but don’t dare bring that faith to work or school when the week begins. That is a private, spiritual matter and needs to stay that way.

But we can’t abide by their wishes! In the Bible, there is not a secular sphere and a spiritual sphere to life, as some try to force us into. This dichotomy does not exist!

C.S. Lewis reaffirmed this when he wrote: “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.”

Think of it like this: it’s easy to think of life as putting on hats. At work, I have my “boss hat” on, and I act appropriately by leading my team, balancing my budget, and being accountable to my boss. At home, I put my “husband hat” on by spending time with my wife, helping with chores, and so on. Then when the kids get home, I put my “dad hat” on by helping with homework, making sure they complete their chores, and things of that nature.

The dilemma arises when I attempt to do this with my faith: it’s Sunday, so I’ll put my “church hat” on or my “Christian hat” and smile all the time, say everything is great, and even pick up my Bible and read some verses.

The problem is our faith was never meant to be a “hat” – it’s an entire new wardrobe! You are a new creation because of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, and his work in your life permeates everything you do. It reminds me of the words of a famous scholar: “If Jesus isn’t Lord of all, then he’s not Lord at all.”

As we heed James’ warning, we should evaluate our faith to make sure the Lord is indeed Lord over all in our lives.

  • Beware of making plans and living as if the Lord doesn’t exists

Go back and read v. 13-16 and notice what happens when we try to compartmentalize our faith: we always leave God out of our plans and eventually out of our lives. That’s what James was admonishing the people for, particularly the businessmen: stop planning and living as if God didn’t exist!

I love what James says next – read v. 15: “Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

This was a delicate reprimand to stop leaving God out of their plans, and a not so subtle reminder that they owe their health, life, money, and in essence everything they possess to God!

Yet what did they do? Multiple translations exist for v. 16 but the original language states they “boast in their arrogances” (as I have above, the NIV translates this “you boast in your arrogant schemes”). So since they were living during the week as if God didn’t exist, they took credit for their accomplishments and subsequently bragged about them and even made more plans without divine involvement!

Can you relate to this? Unfortunately I can. What’s the problem? As James declares, all such boasting is “evil” (v. 16). Why? It treats God as if he doesn’t exist and it presumes we know what will happen tomorrow. In essence, we pretend we are God!

  • Beware of bragging about ourselves and instead boast in the Lord and the cross

This is the remedy – let Jesus be Lord over all aspects of our lives, and stop bragging about the miniscule accomplishments we attain, which are only possible because of the gifts God has blessed us with. Once we recognize this, then we should brag about what truly is worth bragging about – the Lord and what he did on the cross for us (see Galatians 6:14 and 1 Corinthians 1:31)!

Next week we’ll finish our study of this bold yet critical section in James.

RA

It’s What We Do That Matters!

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In the last few days, I came across these two incisive and profound articles. Check them out below:

The Biggest Misconception about Apple

3 Ways to Engage Culture

As the first article explains, Apple is routinely described as an innovative company, and in one respect it is appropriate to describe it as such. But in reality, it develops innovative products and then spends years refining and perfecting those products, making them the best they can be. As Ben Taylor declares, specifically that’s not innovation, but iteration, which means to do something again and again.

I believe this is a great reminder for Christians! A mature Christian life consists of doing the same practices daily, yet seeking to do them better, and becoming stronger and more intimate with our Lord and Savior in the process. And, let’s not forget, Christians are to pattern their lives and practices after a man who lived over two thousand years ago, because he exemplified the perfect Christian life! So think of it this way, for Christians, innovation can be a good thing, but iteration is a virtue!

In the second article, Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of Lifeway Research, calls for Christians to engage in culture in at least three ways (some say more ways are possible, but that’s a discussion for another day.). Thankfully this article caused me to reevaluate how I currently engage culture, but as I read this article, honestly my greatest fear was realizing that many Christians are not engaging culture because they are too busy enjoying culture by participating in all its offerings and diversions.

Both of these articles steered me to the Scriptures and these seminal verses in James:

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds . . . You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. James 2:18, 24 (NIV)

May this remind all of us that what we do matters in so many ways!

RA

James, Devotion #5: The Wise Person

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Here’s what I hope you discover today:

  • We are commanded to ask “in faith” so God can give!
  • Wisdom comes from God, and it is more than just knowledge!
  • The doubter drifts between ‘two-souls’ and so he is disordered!

IN THE WORD

Read James 1:5-8:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways..” (ESV)

The last time we investigated James 1, we discovered that our trials have a purpose, and as we go through our trials (“when you encounter various trials”) we are to deliberately (“Consider”) have a joyful attitude knowing that trials can bring numerous benefits.

Today, as we focus on 1:5-8, James continues to help those going through trials by informing them what to ask God for, and how to ask God.

We are commanded to ask “in faith” so God can give!

James bluntly reminds us:

  • James is commanding us to ask “from the giving God” (V. 5). In other words, it is natural to God to give, and he wants to bestow what we ask for.
  • James, the half-brother of Jesus, demonstrates his knowledge of Jesus and his teachings. Notice how similar this is to what Jesus himself taught in Matthew 7:7-11.
  • We receive from God not because we deserve it, nor because we earned it, but because we ask for it through the medium, or vehicle of faith.
  • This is the second time the word “faith” appears in James. In James 1:2, we were told “your faith” would be tested; now, we are told that asking “in faith” brings results!
  • Faith is the medium, or vehicle by which we receive salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), wisdom (James 1:5), and the only way we can please God (Hebrews 11:6).

Wisdom comes from God, and it is more than just knowledge!

Here’s what James tells us about wisdom:

  • Of all the things we could ask for (money, power, health, love), James demands if we lack wisdom, ask for it.
  • Wisdom is putting knowledge to use. In the Hebrew tradition, wisdom is not just intelligence or facts, but it is skillfully living in the proper, godly way of life. Observe what these other verses teach about wisdom:
    1. Job 28:28: “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding.’” (NASB)
    2. Proverbs 2:6: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (NIV)
    3. 1 Corinthians 1:30: God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” (NLT)
  • In summary, wisdom is a gift from God, ultimately seen as reverence for God (the “fear of the Lord”), personified in the life of Jesus, that we might know how to skillfully live the godly life.

The doubter drifts between ‘two-souls’ and so he is disordered!

James concludes by describing the doubter:

  • In comparison to the one asking “in faith” and receiving, “the doubting one” (literally what V. 6 says) is like a wave of the ocean: spineless, chaotic, tossed about with no aim or direction, and dangerous.
  • “The doubting one” should expect to receive nothing because he has faith in nothing (at least not in God). He may believe in many things, but faith is confidence and trust in the word and promises of God. This, “the doubting one” does not possess.
  • “The doubting one” lives as if he has “two-souls” (the literal meaning of the word “double-minded”) and is consequently “unstable” and disordered in all his ways.
  • Literally, “the doubting one” is “unstable” because, as the original word suggests, he is at war with himself, mostly because he does not know himself, or his Creator. The word “unstable” is the same word used later by James in 3:8 of the tongue (“it is an unstable and unrestrainable evil”), and 3:16 of disorder of any kind associated with all kinds of evil.

IN THE WORLD

Let these instructions from James soak in as you reflect on these questions:

  • What are you asking “the giving God” for these days?
  • How is Jesus the “wisdom” of God today?
  • As James describes “the doubting one”, this is not a person who is at times perplexed or may doubt why God says or does this or that. James describes “the doubting one” as a person who continues to doubt and has no confidence in God at all. In closing, can you see the contrast James is depicting between the wise person and “the doubting one”? List how different these two people truly are.

RA

James, Devotion #4: Joy is not a Joke!

 

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James 1:2 is one of the most misunderstood passages in the book of James, partly because what it commands seems so diametrically opposed to what we should do. In fact, many commentators begin by discussing this point first – it would have been their first post. But as I see it, you can’t begin to comprehend how and why we are to be joyful during our trials unless you understand first the reasons for the joy. Therefore, that is why it’s post number 4 for me.

With that, why is James not joking when he says we should be joyful during our trials? Specifically, James is not saying you have to:

  • Be happy when you get cancer;
  • Be happy when you get fired from your job of twenty years;
  • Be happy when a loved one dies.

Well, then what is James saying here? Let’s dig in!

IN THE WORD

Read James 1:2-4:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (NASB)

As we begin our investigation of this passage, observe that James is not telling you to be ‘happy’ at all! Our English word ‘happy’ is an emotion that is based upon circumstances that occur in your life. The word James uses for “joy” has nothing to do with our English word happy.

Consequently, some things to know about this “joy” James speaks of:

  • It is the major theme of James 1:2-4. This is evident once one understands the context of James 1 (as we’ve discussed in the previous posts), but also observing the subtle emphasis he places on the word since it’s the first word in his original Greek sentence. While this is not always true of Greek word order, a case can be made for it here: James wants you to understand “joy” and his next few sentences will explain why.
  • We are not just to be joyful, but experience “pure joy” or be “entirely joyful”. Why? In the original language the word “all” is used, functioning as an adjective modifying “joy”. So James is declaring that we are to experience “complete joy” no matter what is going on. Or, to underscore the original text, we are to experience “all joy” all the time!
  • You will not always ‘feel’ this way, but we are commanded to ‘think’ this way. I cannot stress this point enough!! That’s why in English this verse begins with the word “Consider” or some translations have “Regard” because the verb used here is a verb of thought: you must think this way, even if you don’t feel this way.

Now, carefully notice what joy is not:

  • Being ‘happy’ even though horrible things have occurred (our English word ‘happy’ would not even be used in that case);
  • Pretending to be ‘happy’ in front of people (you know, putting on that ‘happy’ face though you hate life!);
  • Always being ‘happy’ all the time (who could do that?).

This is why I said earlier joy has nothing to do with being happy. What is joy? Here is my definition: Joy is a state of being, mostly demonstrated by trust, contentment, and peace, based on who we are in Jesus Christ because of what he has done for us, and is still doing through us by the power of his Spirit!

How and why can I be “completely joyful”? I can because I “know” (see verse 3):

  • My trials have a Purpose, as we’ve discussed in Devotion #2;
  • My trials develop Perseverance in me, or as I translated it “a willingness to cling to God no matter what”;
  • As I progress through my trials, my Perseverance will enable me to become Perfect, which as we discussed in Devotion #3 is not sin-free, but daily striving toward perfection as modeled in the life of Jesus!

IN THE WORLD

Let’s close with one question and then a project:

In my life, when I’m in the midst of tough times and I’m ‘struggling through my struggles’, most of the time it’s because I’m letting my feelings guide my thoughts. Can you relate to such a time? If so, how can we prevent that from happening as often as it does?

As further encouragement, read these verses below (preferably in the NIV) to learn more about joy and the importance it should have in a Christian’s life. Allow me to share three passages, and you can read the rest:

Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Notice joy is a fruit of the Spirit and so joy is given to us from God).

Hebrews 12:2: fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (What “joy” was set before Jesus . . . many answers could be given, but one is that Jesus saw the purpose of the cross – he endured (persevered!) for a purpose!).

Psalms 126:3: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (What could I possibly say to explain that further – Amen!).

Enjoy! RA

Psalms 21:6

Nehemiah 8:12

Psalms 28:7

Luke 2:10

John 15:11

Romans 14:17

2 Corinthians 7:4

1 Peter 1:8

James, Devotion #3: What is Your Purpose?

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Here’s what I hope you discover today:

  • All people will eventually ask themselves this age-old question: What is my purpose?
  • The great philosopher Aristotle believed the answer was happiness, or better, a life of human flourishing through rational contemplation.
  • James answered this question differently – we are to be perfect!

In our last devotion on the book of James, we finished midway through 1:4, and today I would like to take an excursus, or digress for a moment, as we come to an incredibly important Greek word that is used twice in verse 4. I believe understanding a little of historical background surrounding this word can assist us in discerning how James uses it. The Greek word I’m talking about in James 1:4 is the word telos, or as it is commonly translated in English “perfect” or “mature”.

To begin our excursus, I love Greek philosophy and it’s philosophers! They were courageous men who dared to question the traditional answers of the day, and seek new answers to their queries. Aristotle, along with his mentor Plato, undoubtedly were two of the greatest thinkers from that era, and laid the foundation for all philosophy for the next two thousand years.

For instance, Aristotle questioned why are we here, or in his words, what is our telos, or our goal, our purpose. In his day, as in ours, many thought our goal or purpose was pleasure, or honor and fame, and even to attain money and great wealth, but Aristotle knew these were futile goals to base a life on, or simply means to another goal. Aristotle even went so far as to state that people who based their life on pleasure or amusement were living a life of slavery fit for “grazing animals.” [1] Why? Because so much effort and suffering are a part of life, it would simply be “stupid and excessively childish” if all we had to look forward to was brief pleasures and idle amusement.[2]

Consequently, the great Aristotle surmised the telos of mankind must be:

“Moreover, we take the human function to be a certain kind of life, and take this life to be activity and actions of the soul that involve reason; hence the function of the excellent man is to do this well and finely.” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, 7, 15)

Put another way, Aristotle believed mankind, as with everything, has a purpose, a telos, and whatever it is, it must be whatever allows for human flourishing, so that the human being performs in an excellent, or perfect manner! For Aristotle, as he investigated all of nature and mankind, he concluded the purpose of life for humans must be an active life of virtuous living by using our reasoning abilities.

IN THE WORD

What in the world does this have to do with our study of the book of James? Plenty! Read again what James proclaimed in James 1:2-4:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (NASB)

We’ve already discovered that trials will come our way, and we are to joyfully accept them, knowing they are not purposeless. One purpose for trials is that they produce “endurance” or “perseverance”, or as I translated it “a willingness to cling to God no matter what.” But, that’s not the end of the story!

Here’s what else James tells us:

  • He reminds us that having the right attitude and thriving through trials produces “a willingness to cling to God no matter what”, but also that willingness to cling to God no matter what itself produces something – we become “perfect” and “whole”, or “entirely sound”.
  • While some scholars note that the use of “perfect” and “whole” together can simply imply we are to achieve moral integrity, I believe more is being said here. Why? Jesus said the same thing as James, and used the same word – “You shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)
  • Consequently, our telos, or our goal and purpose for living is not to:
    • Chase after physical pleasure
    • Make all the money we can
    • Become famous and popular
    • Or even to tell others about Jesus
    • Give all our money to the poor
    • Etc. etc., etc.

IN THE WORLD

 Our telos, or the reason we exist, is to daily become more and more like God, because we were created in the image of God, and Jesus came to show us how that looks and he gave us the power to live the holy life, by the gift of His Spirit! All else is secondary to this because, for one reason, nothing else will satisfy and fulfill us.

In the past, I was hesitant to translate telos as “perfect”, thinking that meant we had to be sin-free, but now, as I shared above, I believe “perfect” is the best word when it is used in this way: Jesus is our standard and the picture of what human flourishing looks like!

So see, Aristotle was right, and also wrong – we all have a telos that enables us to flourish as human beings, but he was simply wrong on how to achieve it – we must have a meaningful, vibrant relationship with our perfect Creator, growing more like Him daily as we live as Christ lived (see Ephesians 4:12-13)! Consequently, we are not just the epitome of rational creatures as Aristotle believed, for we are more: we are meant to be perfect!

Let’s conclude with these thoughts:

  • What is your telos today? Or, to be more explicit, what have you been living for?
  • I really liked Aristotle’s comparison of the life of pleasure to slavery fit for “grazing animals.” Have you ever heard anything like that in the Bible? Even though Aristotle was writing hundreds of years before the New Testament, read Romans 6:16 for a comparison. Now, do you see what he meant by the futility of such a life and how we simply become a slave to our desires?
  • Incidentally, as you aim to be perfect, and more and more like the Father, living as Jesus lived, you will naturally do things like tell others about Jesus, give to the poor, serve gladly, and much more. But this – striving to be like Jesus – should be first. For a reaffirmation of this, read Matthew. 22:36-40.

So, what’s your telos?

RA

[1] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Second Edition, Translated by Terence Irwin. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1999) p. 4, Book I, Chp. 5.

[2] Ibid, Book X, Chp. 6, p. 162.