"Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."
This is a really tough passage for anyone to exegete today because our post-modernist culture isn't comfortable using the language of the passage. The metaphor James is using brings to mind the picture of a love affair outside of a godly marriage. I'm not at all suggesting that a child conceived "out of wedlock" is sin. I'm just saying that the picture it conjurs up for me is this. The words "desire" and "conceived" are separated in our English. In Greek they aren't. They are right next to one another. So it is literally the "lust that siezes or captures" as opposed to a love that brings forth fruit. Anyone who has gotten caught up in physical desire outside of marriage knows what I'm talking about. You more and more "want" the other person and you more and more get caught up in taking what you want. And the taking more and more excludes God (and generally others as well) from the world you are building. Some people can pull this off as marriage approaches and it seems like there isn't a problem. But in terms of what this text is saying, there always is, because the lust that siezes you becomes master over you. The love that is fruitful is one over which God is the master. Regrettably, we are never able to handle "being our own person."
The other important word in the sentence is "death". When you enter into your sin, when you give yourself to it the "product of conception", if you will, is death IN YOUR LIFE. Christ says he came "that they might have life, and that in abundance." The more I have to justify what I'm doing; the more I have to hide it away in a dark corner; the more I isolate it from my friends and family -- even when I am justifying my action by saying I am somehow growing from what I'm doing, the product is a dying away of my fellowship with Christ and with God. And the WORST thing really would be to be an alcoholic (or an adulterer or a liar or a gossip, etc.) who compensates for what is drawing him/her away from God by attending every Bible study and church service he/she can find. It is so easy in that framework to convince yourself that all is well.
How can we know when we're in trouble? James will have an answer for us later on and I don't want to discuss this verse in detail, but suffice it to say "the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere." (James 3:17) The minute you find yourself in a defensive posture when a brother or sister challenges your actions, it is probably time to re-evaluate, pray and think deeply and long, gather as much insight from others as you can, and ONLY then try to decide whether what you've been doing is godly or not.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.