Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Lord’s Prayer: Temptation

The petition of the Lord’s Prayer that we are going to look at this morning is a bit strange.

And lead us not into temptation. Matthew 6.13

So, what’s so odd about this? I think that this question will answer that. Would the Father actually lead us into temptation? Evidently so. Why else would Jesus teach us to pray like this, to ask Him not to?

By itself, that raises some interesting questions. But it gets worse when you connect this petition with another bit of Scripture.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. James 1.13

That sounds pretty clear. God never tempts anyone.

So, on the one hand, the Father could lead us into some temptation, into some situation where we will be tempted, something that we are to ask Him not to do. But then, on the other hand, we are also told that He would never do something like that. There seems to be a conflict here. Would the Father bring about our being tempted, or wouldn’t He? It seems that we have two bits of Scripture that don’t fit together.

Some see this and conclude that what we have here is another contradiction that proves that the Bible’s just another fallible book. Others, not wanting to do that, tell themselves that they’ll never figure out what’s going on and just move on to the next passage. But this kind of situation is one way that Scripture teaches us, one way that it tries to get our attention about something. This is Scripture saying, ‘Look more closely. It’s worth your while’. You can gain great insights into God and into your life when you take the time and effort to investigate these kinds of situations.

So, what’s going on? The key has to do with the basic meaning of the word translated ‘temptation’. This word has to do with putting someone to the test. In fact, it is sometimes translated with that word, ‘test’, instead of the word ‘temptation’. One factor in deciding how to translate it has to do with the intention of the person behind the testing.

So, there are times when someone is put to the test with evil intent. This Scripture should sound familiar from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time. Luke 4:13

There’s our word, translated here as ‘temptation’. And Satan’s intent is obvious.

However, there are times when someone is put to the test with holy intent.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12

There’s our word, but translated here as ‘test’. God sends tests your way, but His intention is for your good.

So, what we have is a single word that can be translated in two rather different, though related, ways.

Now, let’s go back and answer our question. Would the Father lead us into temptation? Let’s say that a bit differently. Would the Father put us to the test? The answer is ‘Yes’. But He does that for our good. Satan, on the other hand, also puts us to the test but with the opposite intention. He wants us to fail, to sin, to rebel.

There are times when the same test is being presented by both the Father and Satan, but with very different intentions. Think Job.

The classic example of this has to do with that tree in the midst of the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Father set the situation up as a test when He forbade Adam and Eve to eat from it. Now, His intention was for good. He wanted them to grow from that test. By passing the test they would come to know, in the right way, the difference between good and evil. Thus, the name of the tree. But, as you know, Satan was also involved. He took advantage of the situation and schemed so that by failing the test Adam and Eve would come to know that difference in the wrong way and would join him in rebelling against their Creator.

What happened at that tree was the backdrop of another test set up by the Father and used by Satan: Jesus’ being tempted in the wilderness at the beginning of His ministry. Jesus, the new Adam of a new humanity, was facing a test. Like the first Adam, His basic loyalty was being tested with the consequences of the test affecting those who are His. And thanks be to God, He passed the test. That’s why He could become Lord in the way that Adam was supposed to, having dominion over all creation. The Father’s intention was fulfilled and Satan’s intention was frustrated.

So, you see, it’s the intention of the person behind the test that makes the difference.

Now, all of this leads to another question. Why would the Father do such things? Why would He test us? I’ve touched on the answer to this, but I want to go a bit deeper here. The answer is that He wants us to mature as people. Listen to James.

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

Your faith is tested by the various trials that come your way by the will of the Father. It is in those situations, in those tests, that you have a choice to make. Will you trust the Father or not? It always boils down to this, whether we’re talking about Adam at that tree, Jesus in the desert or you in some situation last week. Will you trust the Father? He has given you plenty of reasons to trust Him. He has made it clear that He is your Father who is so very for you. Consider the many promises that He has made to you. Bear in mind that He has always come through. But the question is still a live question. Will you trust Him? At every test you have a choice to make.

What happens as a result of that choice? If you choose wisely, good things follow. James refers to ‘steadfastness’ as one result. Now, if there ever were a church word, it’s ‘steadfastness’. So, we have to translate it. What are some real words for this? How about ‘patient endurance’? It is, in fact, translated in that way in a couple of places.

Life is hard. We need to recognize that. And what is needed to make it through life in any kind of good shape is endurance; keeping at it, taking one step and then the next and the next. But it’s not just any kind of endurance. You can endure all the problems of life but with a terrible attitude. What James is talking about is the kind of endurance that patiently deals with all the stuff that life throws at you. If you look closely, you’ll pick up the scent of contentment. James is talking about patient endurance.

By these sentences in James’ letter, the Father is promising to those who pass these tests a growing ability to deal with life well because of this patient endurance that He grants. Such people grow to be ‘perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’. Or to say it differently, these people become more human, according to the Father’s original design. And that, for sure, is one thing that the Father wants for all of His kids. It’s one reason why He sends the tests.

There is another benefit to facing and passing these tests. Listen to John.

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 1 John 2.3

Now, you might be thinking, ‘There’s nothing here about any test. Our word isn’t anywhere in sight’. But think about it. All too often, choosing to obey comes in the midst of a test. Will you trust the Father? In a sinful world like ours, keeping God’s commandments is all about making that choice. And John is teaching that those who choose wisely, who pass the test and keep the commands, are given a gift from the Father, a precious gift. The Father blesses them with a greater certainty that they really do know Him as their God. And doubt fades a little more. A growing assurance is another result of passing those tests. It’s another reason why the Father sends them.

I think that you can see why James teaches us to ‘count it all joy’ when we meet these trials that the Father sends our way. So much good can come out of it. If you want to mature as a person, to live well, to become more human, then expect the tests that the Father sends your way. And rejoice in them. Choosing to do that is itself passing a test.

Next question. What are the ways that we are tested? I raise this question because it is too easy to think of being tested only by evil things coming your way. To be sure, evil does come your way, and you are being tested when that happens. Jesus being tempted by Satan is an example of this.

But you also need to see that you are put to the test, tempted, by good things that come your way. Listen to some wisdom from Moses.

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ Deuteronomy 8.17

Compared to most of those alive today, we here are wealthy people, very wealthy people. And why is that? It’s a test. It’s another opportunity to choose wisely. Where did your wealth come from? It is so easy, especially in this culture, to simply assume that you enjoy what you have because of what you have done: educational choices, career moves and hard work. But you are being tested by the good things that you enjoy. It is important to see this test because it usually flies under the radar. We don’t notice it. This is one of Satan’s more common temptations in our society. Don’t be fooled by it. One way that it will show that you aren’t being fooled here is your frequent expressions of gratitude to the Father for the many good things He has granted you. How are you doing at that?

Another question. Now, that you know what you know about this testing, what would be one good response? What might you do? This may sound counter-intuitive, but consider it. One good response is to ask the Father to test you.

Listen to some more wisdom, this time from David.

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! Psalm 139.23

That ‘try me’ is David’s request to be put to the test. David wants the Father to put him to the test so that his secret thoughts would be revealed to him. Now, why would he want that? He goes on to explain.

And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139.24

David wants any wickedness that is in him to be revealed to him so that it can be removed. He wants any wickedness to be replaced with the way of life that is everlasting. He wants to become the holy man he was created to be. He knows that the Father’s tests have a role to play in his achieving that goal. And that’s true even when he fails some test. If he can be shown the evil of some choice of his it becomes something that he can work on. It becomes a sin that he can mortify. So, it makes sense to ask the Father to put him to the test since, pass or fail, he has the opportunity to make progress.

I have made David’s prayer one of my daily prayers. I would encourage you to consider whether you need to make it one of yours.

That leaves one last question. Listen again to our petition.

And lead us not into temptation… Matthew 6.13

Remember where we started. I told you that this petition is a bit strange. And after the exploring that we have done, it doesn’t seem any less strange. Think about it. It doesn’t seem to fit with James’ ‘count it all joy’ or with David’s prayer for more tests. So, why does Jesus call you to pray about your tests in this way, to pray that you would not be put to the test? Saying it like this is a way to acknowledge your weakness. It’s saying that you know that if the Father were to put you to the test there is no reason to think that you would pass. Do you really think that you would choose wisely, that you would choose to trust the Father and be able to avoid Satan’s subtle schemes?

Jesus wants you to pray in this way to remind you of your need of grace. Life is hard. Your sins fight against you. Satan and his demons are everywhere looking for any opportunity to get you. Succeeding on your own is a dream. But there is grace for you, abundant grace. But the first step in gaining that grace is admitting that you need it. Praying this petition is a reminder of your great need. And that reminder is something that we all need because we are a very proud people and we live among a very proud people. We believe the lie that we can do it, whatever it is. All we have to do is try harder. But that is a lie from Satan. We need the Father’s grace and we need to be reminded, frequently reminded, that we are in great need of His grace. And that’s another reason to pray this prayer daily.

But this petition should also be a reminder of the eagerness of your Father to give you that grace. Remember, He wants you to pass the tests and enjoy the benefits that come from that. He is ready to give you all that you need to pass each and every test with flying colors. After all, He is your Father.

So, pray this part of the Lord’s Prayer. Pray it thoughtfully. And as you pray it, bear in mind the Scripture’s teaching about those tests and remember that there is more than enough grace so that you will pass those tests and become the person that the Father created you to be. Pray this petition and believe the Gospel.