I am not a fisherman. Or, I should say, I am not a skilled fisherman. I do, however, enjoy fishing from time to time. There is just something about a line in the water and a lazy morning that refreshes and refills my soul in a way that little else can.
In college, one of my favorite places to go fishing was in Lee County, Texas on a friend's property that had a bass tank on it. My buddy and I would wake up early - at least by college student standards - hop in his truck, and travel the dirt back roads to the secluded spot. The fishing was always great. Fish after fish, bite after bite, the experience was never disappointing.
Because we hardly ever kept the fish we caught, the fish we hooked were often ones that had been hooked before. More often than not, we would reel in a fish only to discover one, two, or even three hooks in his throat, swallowed from his previous run ins with fishing lures. And yet, he kept on biting. "Shouldn't the fish have learned by now?" I would wonder to myself. "Hasn't he learned how to recognize a hook? Doesn't he know that the wiggly worm being dangled in front of his face is merely a trap set by a fisherman with nefarious intent?" Alas, the fish never seemed to learn. And so we kept on hooking him.
In our reading for today from James 1, James says that, like a bass in a tank enticed by a worm, we swim through our lives enticed by our sinful desires. James writes of our temptations:
When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (verses 13-15)
The Greek word for "enticed" at the end of verse 14 is deleazo, a word borrowed from the world of angling meaning "to lure" or "to bait." Like a fish with a worm, we persistently and repeatedly swim toward our own sinful desires, never bothering to notice or discern that those desires have Satan's hook lodged in them.
How do we avoid being hooked by such sinfulness? James offers two thoughts. First, we should be slow to speak. James writes, "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires" (verses 19-20). Our careless and thoughtless words are often Satan's hook to reel us into a life of wickedness. Therefore, James warns, gage your words carefully. Speak only as Jesus would speak. Second, we should be quick to help. James continues, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (verses 22, 27). Helping widows and others in need, James says, has a funny way of steering us clear from evil because we are so busy with charitable acts that we don't have any time for evil acts.
Be slow to speak and quick to help. This is James' practical guidance to avoid Satan's hooks of sin. And this is guidance we can put into practice today. What hooks of sin tempt you? What word from Jesus can you carefully and deliberately speak which would steer you clear from what tempts you? And who can you help in Jesus' name so that you are not left alone, tempted by your sinful desires? Satan's hooks need not hook us! For, instead of being harangued by Satan's hooks, we can be healed by our Savior's heart. And that's no illusive lure, that's a perfect promise.