A while ago I was reading the Bible. The book of James, chapter 1 to be exact. James opens by telling us to “count it all joy” when we encounter various temptations.
My first thought was “What? Joy? Over trials and temptations?” Of course verse 3 lays it out plainly. Temptation tries your faith. The trying of your faith builds patience. Verse 4 followed up with an idea that initially hit me as a bit of a bombshell:
“But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
So, if I’m reading this correctly, resisting temptation strengthens and progresses one’s patience. The more you exercise patience, the stronger it gets. The stronger your patience in the Lord, the more complete you become. The other thing that really stood out to me was the clear assumption that temptation does not inevitably lead to sin. The entire premise appears to be “The child of God does not seek out temptation, but when it is encountered, it is a wonderful opportunity to exercise patience and move closer to maturity, wholeness, and closeness to the Lord.”
After reflecting on it, I understood that I’ve encountered this truth frequently. There are times when friends, family, or coworkers get under my skin. Sometimes they do it unknowingly. Sometimes they do it on purpose. Sometimes I’m already having a difficult day and my tolerance for irritation is just inappropriately low. Regardless, the temptation is to act on this and say or do something less than loving.
Of course the problem with this is I’d be doing it to someone whom God loves. Someone to whom I am called to represent the Messiah. How do I represent the Lamb of God and stab people with harsh words?
Later in James’ letter (3:10) he says “out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things should NOT be so.” So the short answer is I *don’t* have permission to stab people with harsh words regardless who provoked I may feel. I say “permission” because I have to remember 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 1 Corinthians 7:23. God owns my body and my spirit. I don’t have the right to do what I want.
So, when people try my temper I have to turn to the scriptures and turn to the Lord. I face the temptation with patience. Patience is like push-ups for strengthening faith and obedience. The more patience you exercise, the stronger you get. The stronger you get, the better shape you’re in. The better shape you’re in, the better you can serve your God. The better servant you become, the more treasure you build in heaven.
Does temptation feel good? No. Does resisting temptation always come easy? No. But then again, when you’re out of shape, 20 push-ups don’t feel good either. Both serve the same purpose. Building strength and endurance in areas where you previously lacking.
The book of James is short. 5 chapters. Take time this week and read it. If you don’t like reading, treat it as an workout session. Work on your reading muscles. Don’t just accept them as “weak” and then give up.