Christmas is a time of temptation for me … those chocolates doing the rounds in the staff room, those plates of mince pies being offered round, those crisps and nibbles placed in bowls, innocently waiting to be eaten. How to say no? How to resist?
We are creatures that often lead ourselves into temptation despite ourselves. The solution to the above quandary? Not to have biscuits and such in the house. Or to develop a stronger will! (Remembering my aim to get fit may help.)
I somehow think Jesus may have been talking about something a little more serious when he advised us to pray to God: ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ What if the temptation, or as other versions put it, times of testing, are more painful, harder to bear?
James talks about temptations or testing as a positive thing: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (Chapter 1: 2-3) This would certainly seem to be borne out by stories from the Suffering Church in places such as China in the past, and in many other places . (For organisations who work to help persecuted Christians worldwide, see http://www.opendoorsuk.org, or its sister organisation in the US, http://www.opendoorsusa.org/. Alternatively http://barnabasfund.org/UK.) The courage and persistence of some of these Christians, often in the face of opposition or threats, or even worse, puts some of the rest of us to shame.
So what do we make of temptation?
Paul reminds us in Hebrews 2 v 18 that Jesus himself was tempted. When in the desert, Jesus was tempted first to doubt God’s provision and care (“tell these stones to become bread”), then to test that care and love ( “throw yourself down …you will not strike your foot against a stone.”) and finally to put love of himself and ambition for power above his earthly mission and love of His Father (“All this I will give you … if you will bow down and worship me.” – Matthew 4: 3-10)
Having been himself tempted enables Jesus not only to know what temptation is like and to empathise with us … but gives us a way to deal with it. Jesus turned to God and His truths every time he was tempted to rely on himself and his own resources – quoting from the book of Deuteronomy in the rest of the passage above, not quoted. If we rely on our prior experience of God, and if that is hidden from us by what we are going through, our inner knowledge and convictions about Him, we cannot go far wrong. Talking back with God’s truths to those vicious inner whispers, responding with Biblical principles in the face of temptations to take the seemingly more easy way … that is the example Jesus has given us.
Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 10 v 13: ” No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” This encourages me more than any other verse. Yes, it does promise that we will be tempted (“when” rather than “if”) but it promises too that a) God knows our strengths and our weaknesses – and will not give us more than we can handle but also that b) HE WILL PROVIDE A WAY OUT so we can endure.
Deliver us from evil, indeed – so may it be for each one of us: “God is faithful.”
All verses taken from the New International Version of the Bible.
Picture credits: Pic. 1: http://theartisanfoodtrail.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/beautiful-biscuits-for-christmas.html; Pic. 2: http://dominicdemattos.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/ sunday-reflection_13.html; Pic. 3: http://www.gospelgifs.com/art_pages_01/ bible_sword_12.htm; Pic. 4: http://www.lifeelevationchurch.org/2013/11/the-room/