Introduction To Book Four – Temptations
Ron Christian, Compiler
There is an effective way to cope with temptation. We must recognize the source of temptation, maintain the right attitude toward temptation, recognize the nature of sin and temptation, and use the right weapons against temptation.
James writes, "A man must not say when he is tempted, 'God is tempting me'. For God cannot be tempted by evil, and does not himself tempt anyone." (James 1:13, Phillips)
Satan is the source of temptation. Evil is not an abstract entity, but evil is a personified power. The Bible speaks of evil in terms of a spiritual person who is in opposition against God and man. The Bible speaks of Satan – man's adversary. The Bible pictures Satan as the 'Prince of the power of the air', and he is said to be the leader of a demonic kingdom which is constantly plotting evil against man. Satan is also called the Devil (Matthew 4:1), which means the slanderer par excellence. He is called the Accuser of the Brethren (Revelation 12:10). Satan is called the Tempter (Matthew 4:3) who seeks the ruin of mankind. In John 8: 44, Satan is called a murderer and a liar. Satan is described as the roaring lion in 1 Peter 5:8, and he is called the Wicked One in I John 2: 13. In Revelation 20:2, he is called the old Serpent -reminiscent of Satan's first appearance to man. He is a Robber, stealing the seed of God's Word out of the heart of man (Luke 8:12).
The power of Satan in the world is not illusionary but very real. While Martin Luther was in his room in the Castle of the Wartburg in Germany one day, he felt the power of Satan so greatly that he threw his ink-pot at the devil! Robert Louis Stevenson was convinced that Satan was a personal, active power of evil. He said one time: "You know the Caledonian Railway Station in Edinburgh? One cold, east windy morning, I met Satan there." It is said of Jesus that he "suffered being tempted" (Hebrews 2:18). On several occasions Jesus personally encountered Satan (Matthew 4).
It is important that believers maintain a right attitude toward temptation. It is helpful to note that the Greek word from which we translate 'to tempt' means 'to test' far more than it means 'to tempt' as we understand the word. Satan tempts us with one purpose in mind – to seek to seduce us into sinning. However, we must not look at temptation from Satan's viewpoint, but rather from God's viewpoint. God looks at the temptations we endure as mere tests of our character and loyalty. If we look at temptation from God's viewpoint, then temptation becomes not a stumbling stone, but a stepping stone to God. Sometimes it is only in the crucible of life's difficult experiences that man can be purified. Oftentimes it is only after man has been triumphant in life's challenging tests that he can meet life with maturity and strength. Life's tests are for the purpose
of purifying character. To pass one test successfully is to increase ones strength for the next test.
"Yield not to temptation, For yielding is sin, Each victory will help you, Some other to win."
The man who has been successful in life's test is the man whom God can use greatly in His service. "If metal is to be used in a great engineering project, it is tested at stresses and strains far beyond those which it is ever likely to have to bear. So a man has to be tested before God can use him greatly in his service." (Daily Study Bible; Matthew, vol, 1; pg. 226; William Barclay)
For instance, sorrow is not meant to make you bitter, but it is meant to make you sympathetic and understanding and tender-hearted. A difficult life experience is not meant to make you cowardice, but it is meant to make you more courageous. Suffering is not meant to develop self-pity, but it is meant to develop pity and compassion and empathy for other fellow sufferers. When life's tests force you to choose, you are given an opportunity to choose the pathway which leads to greatness and nobility. Life's tests give you an opportunity to choose good instead of evil, truth instead of falsehood, bravery instead of cowardice, generosity instead of selfishness.
When a child is given an arithmetic test, he is given the opportunity to demonstrate his knowledge. The test is not given to him to cause him to fail; it is given to him to demonstrate to him that he is allowed to progress to more advanced math and more difficult tests. God permits us to be tested in order to demonstrate our loyalty to Him and to better prepare us for greater service for Him.
It is important for believers to recognize the nature of sin and temptation. There are various definitions for sin, but one of the most revealing is the following: Sin is a perversion of natural, legitimate desires. Satan seeks to twist and to pervert that which is wholesome and natural. Let us note some specific examples. Self-preservation is an inherent instinct in man, but it can be- misused and abused. There are times that it is better to die than to live. Example: To be loyal to Christ and to die rather than to reject Christ and to live is to be victorious. (In the 20th century there were more persons who died as martyrs for their Christian Faith than who died as martyrs in all the previous centuries of Christianity put together!)
The desire for social approval is natural but it can be misused. It is most natural to have the social urge (i.e., the desire to be acceptable and accepted by others), but this basic urge can be twisted and abused, resulting in sin. An obsession to be accepted 'at any cost' can lead to a sacrifice of ones witness, a compromise in ones standards, and even
a surrender of one's integrity. The story is told of President Garfield who was once urged to take a profitable, but a dishonorable, course of action. It was said to him, 'No one will ever know". His answer was, "President Garfield will know – and I've got to sleep with him."
The desire for success is natural but it can be misused. God wants us to be creative in our work and diligent in our labors. However, to desire success and advancement at any cost is a temptation which a believer must resist. An obsessive desire for success can cause one to disregard other people, can cause a sacrifice of personal integrity, and can result in succumbing to secular and materialistic values.
The desire for sexual fulfillment is natural and God-approved – if such fulfillment is experienced within the sacred confines of marriage. Too often this basic instinct and drive is perverted, resulting in sin. Man can change love into lust, the beautiful into the ugly, the sacred into the profane. Satan wants man to treat sex lightly, but sex is not a sensual toy. Sex is a God-given pleasure to be used under God's control. "Sexual sin is never right: our bodies were not made for that, but for the Lord, and the Lord wants to fill our bodies with himself… That is why I say to run from sex sin. No other sin affects the body as this one does. When you sin this sin it is against our own body." (1 Corinthians 6:13, 1 Corinthians 6:18, Living Bible)
The legitimate desire for food can be misused, and the result is gluttony. The natural desire for ease and pleasure must be guarded, lest one misuse time, develop laziness, or spend money needlessly on excessive and indulgent (and even harmful) entertainment. The inquisitive (curiosity) urge is normal, but it too can be misused and abused. The result? The horrible sin of gossiping and tale-bearing! Christians must carefully guard themselves from the misuse of natural desires, for Satan seeks to exploit and to destroy mankind through the perversion of natural instincts.
Vigilance is important because of the subtle forms which temptation takes. Wrote Peter (who bad himself fallen into terrible sin when he denied his Lord three times): "Be self- controlled and vigilant always, for your enemy the devil is always about, prowling like a lion roaring for its prey." (1 Peter 5:8)
One must be vigilant because Satan is a lying deceiver. One observer noted that Satan promises a crown but gives shame, promises 'heaven' and 'happiness' but gives a 'hell' of a life!
One must be vigilant lest Satan attack him at his weakest point. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link; no Christian is stronger than at his weakest point. Satan attacks one at his weakest point. One must guard against bitterness during times of unexplained sorrow. One must guard against skepticism if he finds it hard to accept the unique and the miraculous. One must guard against compromise if he is a person who is easily led
by the 'crowd'. One must guard against egotism and pride if he is an unusually gifted and talented and capable person. If one is a very affectionate type of a person, he must guard against undue intimacy in some relationships. If one finds discipline hard to exercise; he must especially guard against-the wasting of time.: One who- has a vivid- imagination must guard against wandering thoughts. If one is inclined to look on the dark side of life, he must especially guard against pessimistic and negative attitudes. If one is unusually ambitious and energetic, he must guard against the temptation to be domineering (exploiting others for his own 'gain').
It is important to realize that Satan not only attacks one at his weakest point, but that often times also attacks a believer at this strongest point. Notes William Barclay, "We must always remember that again and again we are tempted through our gifts. The person who is gifted with charm will be tempted to use that charm "to get away with anything". The person who is gifted with the power of words will be tempted to use his command of words to produce glib excuses to justify his own conduct. The person with a vivid and sensitive imagination will undergo agonies of temptation that a more stolid person will never experience. The person with great gifts of mind will be tempted to use these gifts for himself and not for others, to become the master and not the servant of men. It is the grim fact of temptation that it is just where we are strongest that we must be for ever on the watch." (Daily Study Bible; Matthew; Vol. 1; pg. 59). Simon Peter (the 'natural' leader of Jesus' twelve disciples) was known for his courage and forwardness and boldness, and yet Peter's greatest strength failed him in the most critical hour of testing. The result of his overconfidence was horrible! Peter denied his Master three times! Overconfidence has been the downfall of many believers. "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10: 12)
It is important to recognize the difference between temptation and yielding to temptation. Jesus was severely tempted on several occasions, and for as long as He lived, Satan would tempt and then depart "for a season", only to return later to tempt Jesus again. There are conscientious Christians who wonder why they cannot come to a spiritual level in their experience in which they are no longer tempted. But Jesus never came to any such level, for as long as life endures on this 'fallen planet', the Christian must be engaged in 'spiritual warfare' – in the fierce battle against sin and the 'evil one'. Jesus was tempted, but Jesus did not yield to temptation. It is not sin to be tempted; it is sin to yield to temptation. Having evil suggestions come to one's mind is not sin; meditating upon them and cherishing them is sin.
Believers must be prepared to use the 'right weapons' against temptation. The Bible exhorts believers to 'resist Satan'. "Give no opportunity to the devil" (Ephesians 4:27) "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."(James 4:7) "Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist
him, firm in your faith, knowing that tile same experience is required of your brotherhood throughout the world." (1 Peter 5:8, 1 Peter 5:9)
Christians must arm themselves with the Word of God. Jesus always resorted to the Word of God in His resistance of Satan. He said, "It stands written" (Matthew 4). What God said in the prophets of the Old Testament many years ago is established truth! God's Word is relevant for today's battles! The Bible is forever 'contemporary'! The Psalmist said, "Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee." (Psalms 119:11) "And take the helmet of salvation; and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." (Ephesians 6:17)
Christians are commanded to submit themselves into the hands of Almighty God (James 4: 7) "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." (Deuteronomy 33:25) Promised strength for one day at a time! "Because Jesus Himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted." (Hebrews 2:18) "He is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing." (Jude 1: 24)
The Mind That Was In Christ
Equip me for the war, And teach my hands to fight; My simple, upright heart prepare, And guide my words aright.
Control my every thought; My whole of sin remove; Let all my works in thee be wrought; Let all be wrought in love.
O arm me with the mind, Meek Lamb, that was in thee; And let my knowing zeal be joined With perfect charity.
With calm and tempered zeal Let me enforce thy call; And vindicate thy gracious will, Which offers life to all.
O may I love like thee, In all thy footsteps tread; Thou hatest all iniquity, But nothing thou hast made.
O may I learn the art, With meekness to reprove; To hate the sin with all my heart, But still the sinner love.
By Charles Wesley