Summary: Test vs. leading into sin...ah now there’s a question for us
Little things can and do make a difference. Remember the big power failure back east last year. The New York Times reported, “one sagging electrical line near Cleveland, Ohio, connected with a tree branch at 3:32 p.m. on August 14, 2003, beginning a chain of events which led to the largest blackout in American history.” And there were those who though it might be terrorism.
The paper continues, “According to the most comprehensive study yet, the failure of this single transmission line caused a utility company in southern Ohio to overload and seal itself off from the now infamous power grid…this created a huge need for power, and Cleveland began sucking an unsustainable amount of electricity from Michigan and Ontario…knocking out more transmission lines and generating plants. When the need for more power reached New York, power plants there sealed themselves from the grid in order to protect their own systems. This, however, created a new problem when New York, ironically, had too much electricity and overloaded its own system. The result: history’s largest shutdown.
Here’s another example of a small beginning with huge consequences-temptation. We smile at the comments of those like Oscar Wilde who said, “I can resist anything except temptation.” Samuel Levenson who wrote, “Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we’ll find it.” Or Mark Twain’s statement, “I deal with temptation by yielding to it.” But we also run a huge risk when we downplay the power and importance of temptation, and when we don’t learn how to deal with it when it comes upon us.
RESULTS AND NATURE OF TEMPTATION
Temptation will shipwreck a life faster than an iceberg hitting the Titanic. Don’t believe me? Every marriage you ever seen wrecked was destroyed by temptation that was let go. Every person you know, whose life was sucked dry by drugs, or other compulsions began those disastrous paths under the guidance of temptation. The integrity of entire religions have taken a horrible blow because of the temptation that some gave into. Careers, finances, personal integrity and political futures have all been driven into the abyss by the power of temptation that takes over a life. So when I say we treat temptation too lightly it’s only because I know what it does it do.
I hope that today we can gain a better insight into how to deal with the whole idea of temptation when it comes to us. Because let me say that as followers of Jesus we will face temptations. In this prayer Jesus teaches us to pray saying “lead us not into temptation”. Matthew recalls Jesus continuing with a second phrase, “but deliver us from the evil one.” Luke’s report of this prayer stops with this phrase. I’ve chosen to divide the two up because I think they each offer us more than enough to think about on their own.
Let me quickly clear up something’s about this idea of temptation. The word used here has two meanings. We generally think of it as a negative term that involves attempting to sway someone to do something bad or wrong. But another equally valid translation is to “test” as in to test the validity of our faith or to test some aspect of our character.
TEMPTATION AND GOD
I believe that Jesus has this second idea in mind when he teaches us because we know from other scriptures that God doesn’t tempt us to do evil. James makes that clear in his letter to a church that was trying to pass off their sins on God (James 1:12-14). God does test us. That’s what the Holy Spirit did when it lead Jesus into the wilderness to be confronted by Satan. It’s what Paul does when he writes the Corinthians about their gifts for the church in Jerusalem. God test’s Paul hearts where tells the Thessalonians that God test’s his and his companion’s hearts.
Roy Zuefeldt, the pastor I worked with in Abilene Texas had a great story he used to tell. Two twins grew up in a home where the father was an alcoholic and abusive. As adults one of the boys became like his father. The other became an outspoken critic of any alcohol use. When they were asked why they turned out the way they did they both answered, “what did you expect with my upbringing?” The same situations, the exact same circumstances can both lead us to sin or serve as a God-given opportunity to test our faith. At such times we can echo Joseph’s comment to his brothers when he said, “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20 NIV)
As the book of Job shows God approves any testing that comes against us. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul says that the temptations we face are common. Yet God will make “the way of escape” when we face them. We need to hear this loud and clear—God believes in us. God believes in our ability to remain true to him. God believes in our love for Him.