Bread – Temptation

September 12, 2011


Readings for Monday, September 12, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 21:1-16; 1 Cor. 1:1-19; Matt. 4:1-11; Psalms 56, 57, 58, 64, 65

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“…and lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil…” This is an excerpt from the Lord’s teaching on how we should pray.

In our reading from Matthew today, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He fasted for forty straight days and nights. The purpose of this was so that He would be “tempted by the devil.” Matt. 4:1. The Greek word for “tempted” here conveys the idea that the purpose of temptation is to prove what we are made of – are we corrupt or capable of being led to corruption?

We instinctively know that that the answer to this question is “yes,” that we are either corrupt or have a powerful leaning in that direction. Therefore, we are smart enough to pray that we not be taken by the Holy Spirit into a place of temptation, just like Jesus was. We know that, if we find ourselves in such a place, we are likely to either reveal our existing corruption or become corrupt. Since we have little power to resist, except in and with the power of the very same Spirit, we ask instead that the Holy Spirit deliver us from the clutches of Satan and the old man, our nature before God saved us. But, in spite of that prayer, we end up in times of temptation.

When we do, when we are permitted by God to be tempted, our lessons from Scripture today are to remembered as bulwarks against slipping, as strong toeholds against sliding down, as safety nets from heaven to keep us from error. These bulwarks taught in Scripture today are (a) knowledge of our position in Christ before God, (b) knowledge of the gifts of our forefathers, and (c) knowledge of God’s revelation, His Word.

In the letter to Corinthians, we are introduced to a church in disarray as it is full of factions following different theologians and ways of thinking. As Paul says, some say that they “follow Paul,” others say that they “follow Apollos,” and others say that they “follow Cephas [Peter].” 1 Cor. 1:12. Paul asks how there can be these divisions when Christ is one? Well, it is actually easy to see how there can be divisions in the church. “Our pastor preaches the Word,” “Our pastor walks in the Holy Spirit,” “Our pastor cares for his flock,” “Our pastor has the correct view of Scripture,” “Our pastor speaks of love,” “Our pastor speaks of sin,” etc. Our natural tendency is to be tempted to follow the better speaker, the nicer person, the smarter leader – in other words, the person who we like and who teaches what we like. We are tempted to follow the person, philosophy, knowledge, custom, or thought right in front of our nose, rather than to look through and beyond that person or institution to see Jesus. Christ is not divided, but we are, tempted to follow our own desires and courses, chasing after those who would “tickle our ear.” What is the bulwark against this temptation? To remember that Jesus is our King and Lord, not the pastor, not our best friend, not our teacher, and not our spouse. As Paul might say it, to focus on the cross – “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Cor. 1:18. One bulwark against temptation is our reason, using our minds to pierce the present to see clearly Christ, and Him crucified.

Another way we are tempted is through wealth or trying to please other people. In 1 Kings today, Ahab the king tries to bribe Naboth into giving up his vineyard. Naboth could well have been tempted to sell the vineyard to the king, thereby increasing his fortune (“In exchange, I will give you a better vineyard.” 1 Kings 21:2) or at least pleasing the king. Instead, Naboth says “No,” because the vineyard was inherited from his fathers. It had been in his family throughout generations and, if he had anything to say about it, it would remain in his family for many generations more. This is analogous to the modern day expression that “if you are asked to do something, before you do it ask yourself if your mother would be pleased.” A bulwark to temptation is tradition, the knowledge of what our forefathers have done and why they did it. If prior generations did not do something, it was not because they didn’t have the Internet (all sin is common to all man at all times). Maybe it is because they knew better. A great way to avoid temptation is to listen to the past, to give credit to those who have gone before us. In other words, a great bulwark against temptation is what many would call “tradition,” not the kind of tradition which does something over and over again for no good reason, but the kind of tradition which transmits from the past the wisdom of the ages, the historical sorting of good from evil, the well-worn paths which are followed because they lead to places you want to go.

And then, of course, we have Jesus in the desert, being tempted to satisfy His physical needs, His loneliness, His need for control, by taking control of His life and “getting what He deserves” (the modern sound bite for modern man). His bulwark against temptation was God’s revelation to us in His Word. Every temptation He dealt with by reference to Scripture. His bulwark against temptation is ours as well – God’s Word.

Scripture first, tradition second, reason focused on the person of Jesus Christ third – sound familiar? The bulwark against temptation – the communion of saints (the church), where is practiced obedience to the Word of God, honoring the tradition which has tested that Word throughout time, with a focused mind upon Him who died on the cross.

The temptation of Christ began by removing Him into the desert. Are you in such a place where you now find yourself separated from the church, from Scripture, from tradition, from Christian reason? Pray, then, that God brings you back into communion with Him and His followers, so that you will indeed be “delivered from evil.”

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