Temptation is an appeal to think or do something contrary to God's law. We are drawn away from truth, virtue, and God's standard of righteousness.
In this context, desires are forces of attraction in the wrong direction: We long for it, crave it, covet it, want it. We are enticed or attracted when we are offered hope of reward or pleasure (e.g., food, drink, sex, money, drugs, entertainment).
The verbs "drawn away" and "enticed" derive from the activities of fishing and hunting. "Enticed" usually describes the drawing of fish out of their original retreat. We are tantalized, as fish are with bait. What is on the end of a fishing line? A LURE! James pictures man's desire first attracting his attention and persuading him to approach the forbidden thing, and second, luring him by means of bait to yield to the temptation.
Another analogy that illustrates the force of enticement is that of a magnet. If one places a small piece of iron close to a magnet, invisible forces reach out from the magnet to attract the iron. By moving the piece of iron a little closer, the attraction intensifies. Nudge the iron still closer, and the magnet will draw it all the way to itself. The closer one moves to a desired thing or the more one's interest grows, the greater and greater the pull becomes.
Who does the luring and enticing? Who does the tempting? Paul calls Satan "the Tempter" in I Thessalonians 3:5: "The tempter had tempted you." "Tempter" is the present participle of the Greek word peirazo, which basically means "to tempt." When preceded by an article, it literally means "the (one) tempting." Satan uses temptation to entice us into sin (Matthew 4:1). James 4:7 says, "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you." Following Christ's example in Matthew 4:1-11, we should strongly resist the temptations of Satan, causing him to flee from us.
Martin G. Collins
How Does Temptation Relate to Sin?
This pattern of producing sin began in the Garden of Eden when Satan tempted Adam and Eve by stimulating their desire for the forbidden fruit. From that small beginning, sin entered and blossomed. It is easily seen that every problem produced by immorality, whether individual or national, is caused by allowing temptation to develop into sin. Sin is illicit desire brought to fruition, and everybody from peasant to king is subject to wrong desires.
From the beginning of time, it seems to have been a human instinct to blame others for our sins, just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden. James sternly rebukes that view. God does not cause sin and neither do things. Sin would be helpless if there were nothing in man to which it could appeal. Sin's appeal is to human nature's self-centeredness, which then builds through our desires. If a man desires long enough and intensely enough, the consequence—action—is inevitable.
It is because we desire our own way that we dishonor our parents and murder; because we desire a thing, we steal; because we desire being well thought of, we lie. Illicit desire can be nourished, stifled, or by the grace of God, eliminated. If one gives himself to Christ by submitting entirely to God, there is little or no time or place left for evil desire.
The tenth commandment pierces through surface Christianity, truly revealing whether a person has surrendered his will to God or not. The spiritual requirements for keeping this commandment are in some ways more rigid than any other because they pierce right through to the thoughts.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment
Every problem, individual or national, has its root embedded in sin. But what causes sin? Wrong desires brought to fruition, and everyone—from peasant to king—is subject to wrong desires. From the beginning of time, sinners have blamed their sins on others. Satan blamed God, Eve blamed Satan, and Adam blamed Eve. James sternly rebukes this.
God does not cause sin, nor do things. Sin would be helpless if it did not appeal to something in man. Sin appeals to man's human nature through his desires. If a man desires long enough, the consequence is virtually inevitable. Desire becomes action.
Desire can be nourished, stifled or—by the grace of God—eliminated altogether. If we humbly, thoughtfully, and wholly give of ourselves to Christ and involve ourselves in good activities and thoughts, we will have precious little time or place for evil desires. This commandment pierces through surface Christianity, really showing whether we have surrendered our will to God.
The spiritual requirements for keeping it are in some ways more rigid than any other because it pierces directly into our thoughts. II Corinthians 10:4-5 sets a very high standard for us to shoot for:
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
These verses, revealing God's authority over even our thoughts, also sets what may be our ultimate goal in this life. The tenth commandment shows the depth of God's concern about the state of our inner character as well as our apparent character. If our thoughts are right, our actions will be too. Changing our thinking strikes right at the heart of character, emphasizing why spending time with God, in studying His Word and in prayer, is so important.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment (1998)
It is not wrong to want something. We can want a spouse, a house, or a car, but not if it belongs to our neighbor - unless he is selling a possession, and we acquire it in a fair and honest manner. However, when "desire has conceived," it may result in breaking any of the Ten Commandments, including covetousness, to which everyone is susceptible. Uncontrolled lust for power, land and wealth can drive men to murder, if necessary, to obtain a coveted prize.
Martin G. Collins
The Tenth Commandment
In The Living Bible this passage reads:
And remember, when someone wants to do wrong it is never God who is tempting him, for God never wants to do wrong and never tempts anyone else to do it. Temptation is the pull of man's own evil thoughts and wishes. These evil thoughts lead to evil actions and afterwards to the death penalty from God. So don't be misled, dear brothers.
In many, desire arises to use the Sabbath in a way that is beyond God's simple directives. The temptation arises, perhaps in part motivated by a demon, and our heart follows after it rather than God's simple commands, just as Adam and Eve did in the Gard. Keeping the Sabbath is not complicated.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 2)
In death, there are no ideals. No exercise of our will can overcome it because our will has been totally overcome. Degeneracy has reached its nadir and ended in the ultimate slavery. According to I Corinthians 15:54-56, death is the last enemy to be destroyed in God's plan. James 1:13-16 provides us with a brief overview of the course of sin, telling us succinctly where everyone not under the redemption of Christ ends.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Seven): Fear of Judgment
As soon as we are tempted, we must begin to deny ourselves the wrong desire. Jesus calls us to practice self-denial in our actions even before we do them. Temptations vary according to the weaknesses of each person. What may be an easy self-denial for one may be tough to resist for another. Appetite (Proverbs 23:2), material goods, worldly ambitions, personal prestige (Matthew 6:1-4, 16-21), and sexual desires are very common areas where self-denial is tough for many.
Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 5): Self-Denial
James 1:12-16 lists the steps leading to sin, beginning with temptation. People rarely stop at just one sin, however, and it is often not long before they add another and another to the chain. Jeremiah describes this course of sin in his day—the same process that is likely to occur in anyone's life: "'And like their bow they have bent their tongues for lies. They are not valiant for the truth on the earth. For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,' says the LORD" (Jeremiah 9:3). This is a major reason why God uses leaven to symbolize sin. As leaven spreads and does its work in flour, so sin spreads and corrupts the lives of all it touches.
For example, a tragic sequence of events begins in Genesis 37 with one sin whose impact reverberates to this day! Jacob's favoritism (respect of persons) for Joseph irritated his brothers. Their irritation grew to jealousy and flared into hatred. They conspired to commit murder, sold Joseph into slavery, and deceived Jacob to hide their complicity and guilt. What happened to their relationship with their father after this? Did they live in fear that one of the brothers would "squeal" on the others? Did they ever feel guilty for the pain they brought upon Jacob? Did their actions honor him? Did these events intensify his over-protectiveness of Benjamin and, in reality, make things worse for them than when Joseph was with them? Sin produces more sin unless someone stops it by repenting.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Sin Is & What Sin Does
One might say, "There are so many temptations out there. The whole world is evil. How do we avoid them?" James gives us some ideas, hints, clues, and instruction. First, he tells us that we will face temptation. We cannot avoid it because deception, evil, will come looking for us and especially because we are God's children. Satan is looking to devour us (I Peter 5:8). We will be the targets of his onslaughts of temptation throughout our Christian lives, and we must be ready to face them! But, if we get through them, then we reach our goal—the Kingdom of God, where we have a crown of life waiting for us. We have that assurance and faith in what God has promised us.
Then James says, "God does not tempt us." The apostle says that we are tempted when our desires lure us away. The process can then intensify if we are not strong enough, leading to sin and ultimately to death—the second death, not just physical death. We can be deceived right out of our crown if we are not careful, if we are not strong. (This process of temptation is similar to modern advertising. It works the same way because the same "spirit" is behind it.)
Then James says, in verse 16, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren." This is a hint that what he has just said tells us something important about not being deceived. He has just told us that God never entices—tempts—us to accept His way by promising to satisfy our desires. Instead, we are enticed when our desires lead us to sin. God never tempts us to follow our physical desires for self-gratification.
One might argue: "Wait a second. Doesn't He promise us long life? Isn't that a physical desire? Doesn't He promise us health? Doesn't He promise us prosperity? And that our enemies won't overtake us? Doesn't He promise us all of these things?"
But what does He also say when He makes those promises? In almost every occasion, He says, "If you will keep My commandments, then I will. . . ." He always puts a condition on His promises. "If you keep My commandments," then such-and-such will happen. Many of these blessings or fulfillments of His promises—if not all of them—happen because that is how God designed them to happen. Sure, God intervenes to a certain extent in order to work out His purpose, but, like a spiritual law of the universe, if we keep God's commandments, certain things are bound to result.
If we keep God's commandments, we will probably be healthy. If we keep God's commandments, we will live long lives. What does the first commandment with promise say? If we honor our fathers and mothers, then we will live long in the land that the LORD gives us. It is A + B = C. What does the Bible call it? A person will reap what he has sown (Galatians 6:7)! It is cause and effect. So, if we keep the commandments, then there are certain blessings that just automatically accrue to us.
Oftentimes, because God is working with us so closely, He does not fulfill these physical promises to their extremes. He will give them to us as much as we need them or as much as is within His purpose at the time. He is working something greater for us than just satisfying our physical wants or even needs.
What does James say next? The next two verses key us in on the thrust of James' thought. He says, 1) God gives good gifts, and He never changes. So His good gifts are always the same. Next, he says, 2) that He has made us a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. We must put those two ideas together. Why does God give good gifts? To make us His children! This is what He is always thinking about. His purpose is focused on reproducing Himself!
He calls us and converts us by His truth for the purpose of making us His children. All of His gifts are good, and they never change. They are always geared towards His godly ends. All of His gifts are for our ultimate, spiritual good—to make us like Him. Blessings, then, are a byproduct of His way. His good gifts are all leading us toward our entrance into the Kingdom of God and not the satisfying of our physical desires.
How can we apply this? If we understand that God will give us what is good for us, what will advance us towards the Kingdom of God, then what does this say about false teachers? How can we avoid the deception? The clue is that if anyone tries to sell us a belief in which our physical desires are going to be met, then we have a strong reason to believe that the teaching is false.
God will not use that tactic. He will not say, "Follow Me, and you will have a good life. Everything is going to come up roses for you." Instead, He often tells us such things as, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12). Does that sound like "the good life"?
How do we get through this life? By lurching from one trial to the next! Is that not how we are refined? By fire! By trial! By going from one problem to the next and overcoming it. That is just how God's way works because He knows that the best way to produce sons of God is the same way the Son of God achieved His glory. Hebrews 2:10 says that Jesus Christ was made "perfect through suffering."
God is not interested in this life except for what it will produce in the next. This life is a training ground. When, say, a soldier trains, he goes through the paces at boot camp. He is made to follow a regimen. He works hard until he hurts. This life is God's boot camp. Right now, we are in training like an athlete. And no athlete worth his salt lounges, plays, and lives the good life while he is in training.
So James gives us good instruction on how to avoid being deceived. When something is "too good to be true," it is probably not true.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Other commentary entries containing this verse:
1 John 3:4