Unless you’re a cattle farmer you’ve probably never heard of sweet clover poisoning. I hadn’t. When fresh, the plants are alright for grazing, but moldy clover in hay or silage can cause spontaneous and uncontrollable bleeding. Ironically, clinical tests in the 1950s showed that this same substance could save lives. The drug is called, warfarin, one of the most widely prescribed oral anticoagulant drugs today. *
James 1:2‑15, looks at one Greek word, “peirasmois” (πειρασμοῖς), which is translated into two different words, “trials”, and “temptations”, in English. He describes to us how trials can have two radically different results in us. You can’t get a greater contrast than “the crown of life” versus sin and death (v. 15). When we struggle to understand difficult passages in the Bible, it’s best to let Scripture interpret Scripture. That’s probably one of the best ways to apply what James says in 1:5, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”
I thought of a situation in Numbers 13-14 where the faith of some was strengthened, and the faith of others fell apart. “The LORD now said to Moses, 2 ‘Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites. Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes’” (Numbers 13:1-2, NLT). After forty days they returned; two of the twelve trusted God; ten of them doubted.
James warned, in verses 6-8, about how doubting can creep into us. In Numbers, you can see how that played out: “Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. ‘Let’s go at once to take the land,’ he said. ‘We can certainly conquer it!’ 31 But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. ‘We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!’ 32 So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites” (Numbers 13:30–32, NLT).
The faith of Caleb and Joshua was strengthened, but ten of the twelve doubted. In the rest of Numbers 13-14, things continued to unravel: “the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. 2 Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. ‘If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!’ they complained. 3 ‘Why is the LORD taking us to this country only to have us die in battle?’” (Numbers 14:1-3, NLT).
Here’s how I would apply all of this to my daily life. It all starts with having a relationship with God—fall in love with the Lord Jesus Christ. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18); that’s what James is sharing in verses 2-18:
- Temptation has to do with sin. If is it smells like fish, it’s fish. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). If what you’re doing is against these two basic commandments, take care and ask God to lead you out of temptation (Matthew 6:13, Luke 11:4, 1 Corinthians 10:13). But as James points out, the way out can get much more complicated when a person’s “own evil desire leads them away and traps them” (v.14, NCV).
- Trials have to do with maturity. Caleb and Joshua viewed God and His promises very differently than the others did. So it makes sense that James ends this section and begins the next with the following: “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. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (vv. 17-18, ESV).
James points us to God, to trust in the goodness of God who has given us new life in Christ. If we trust in what He has said, He’s able to lead us out of temptation. If we persevere in faith, He will use our trials to refine our faith, removing the dross and revealing true gold.