Summary: As we see in Jesus' own temptation, the greatest key to dealing with our temptations is staying focused on the God of blessings and his call upon our lives.
Back in late November, one of the candidates newly elected to public office wrote a reflection that circulated around social media. I want to share with you a portion of this politician’s thoughts. Here’s an excerpt:
“I had concentrated fully on my campaign. Ever since my party told me, surprisingly, that they wanted me as their candidate for Congress, I was overwhelmed both by the honor of running for Congress and of serving my people, my country, and the world. All my noble ideas had been smiling at me, beckoning me, telling me that I was now going to be able to achieve them. My one thought through the course of my campaign was: get elected, and at last you’ll be able to change the world; to make things better, to turn things around!
“The whole campaign seems like a whirlwind now: tours, speeches, shaking hands, debating, planning, and finally the election. I still can’t believe it! Victory by nearly ten points! I was wanted. I was chosen. It was my day and it was sweet! But as the high of Election Day fades into the past and my inauguration grows closer, I find myself with different thoughts.
“The lure of power is strong. My ideals are still strong—I still dream of service and of changing the world. But there are these other forces at play now—calling me, beckoning me, ‘Now’s your chance!’ they say, ‘You can make some real money, lots of businesses will want you on their board, to lobby legislators for them. You can name your price! And this is just the beginning! If you play your cards right, if you get to know the right people, you could be a cabinet member, even the President, with fame and popularity, press conferences and TV appearances! You’ve got power and you’ll have more. The world is your chessboard, go ahead and play the game your way.’
“It is no wonder politicians have such a bad wrap,” the reflection ended, “we have such high ideals, but we give in to those other forces far too easily. I hope my career is different. But as I face the burden of this office, I need you to keep me accountable to upholding the ideals that got me here.”
Today marks the first Sunday in the season of Lent, the period of forty days leading up to Easter, during which time Christians around the world focus on fasting, penance, and preparation for celebrating Easter. In essence, it is a time we have set apart to very specifically focus our energies on living the Christian life. So it is only appropriate that we begin this season with a look at the problem of temptation, and Jesus’ own temptation in the wilderness. Because temptation is the first hurdle to overcome in our lives as Christians.
Indeed, there is a lot we can learn from the forty days that Jesus spent in this desolate desert land without food or companionship. As we consider Jesus’ temptation and the problem of temptation in our own lives, it is important to understand the word as it is used in the Bible. In English, the word “tempt” has a consistently bad connotation. It always means to entice a person to do wrong, to seek to seduce one into sin, to try and persuade one to take the wrong path. But the Greek word used in the Bible, peirazin, has a slightly different meaning. It translates more accurately as, “to test” rather than “to tempt” as we know it. Think about it this way, before metal can be put to use, it has to be tested to standards far beyond any stress or strain it will be required to bear; so does humanity have to be tested before God can use us for his purposes. God does not want to entice us into sin, rather God wants to refine us for his work in the world. So what we call temptation is not meant to make us sin; it is meant to enable us to conquer sin. It is not meant to make us bad, it is meant to make us good. It is not meant to weaken us, it is meant to make us emerge stronger and finer and purer from the ordeal.
Now, I imagine that raises a question in your minds about why Jesus, who was one with God, had to be tested. But we have to remember that Jesus, as much as he was God, was also a human just like us. And it is a truth of this life that none of us lives apart from trials, and temptations, and testing, and Jesus didn’t either. How else would he know all our grief? How else could his death on the cross have meaning for us? So it is that we must also see the significance of his temptation in the desert, and how it can help us deal with our own temptations. From the beginning to the end of the day, Jesus had to fight these battles in the wilderness so that he can help us fight ours.