Kenny Rogers 1979 hit song “The Gambler” is the story of a man down on his luck who’s given sage advice about gambling and life from an old man he encounters on a train.
One of the lines in the song is: “Know when to walk away, know when to run.”
Recently I began studying the book of James with another man at church and was struck by the importance of this advice for Christians. We must “know when to run” – and also when not to.
In James 1:2-18 we see a contrast between trials and temptation. We must understand the difference between them for if we don’t, we’re likely to run when we should persevere and try to persevere when we should run.
James tells us trials are for our good and are something designed by God to teach us perseverance or steadfastness:
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
Therefore, we should not necessarily be in a hurry for trials to end. We want them to do the work in our lives God intends for them to do. In our flesh, however, our first thought is often “how can I get out of this?” rather than “how is God using this in my sanctification?” There’s nothing wrong with petitioning God for relief when in the midst of a trial (Luke 18:1-8) but remember to balance that with an understanding that God’s will may be for the trial to continue in order to perfect your faith. Either way, relief or refining, God is good and will use the situation for His glory and our good. (Romans 8:28).
Temptations are another matter. The end result of lingering with temptation is not steadfastness but ruin:
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 1:14-15
This is when we run. We are to flee temptation and do so quickly. But as with trials, our first reaction is often the opposite of what we should do. We toy with it or dance around the edges of it or to try to face it down when the scriptures say to flee (I Cor. 6:18, 10:14; II Tim. 2:22).
Both wrong reactions have the same root – putting self above Christ. We immediately want out of difficulty because we believe we have a right to a smooth, trouble-free life. We don’t immediately run from temptation because we’re tempted by the things we desire and we believe we should have what we want.
Only when we get out of ourselves and seek to serve Christ above all things can we persevere under trials and deny ourselves the pleasures of sin. Thankfully God has not left us to do this on our own but has provided the Holy Spirit through whose work in our lives we can deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow.
May we daily seek for Christ to increase and self to decrease.