Temptation, it’s all around us and it affects every one of us. It might involve what we eat, what we watch, what we search for online or what we strive for at work. It can involve where we look with our eyes, where we go with our feet, what we say with our lips and where we allow our hearts to wander. Temptation is there in every stage of life because while our hungers and desires change through the years, temptation does not. It is always there and here’s the bad news – it always will be. Temptation will always be by our side but the good news is that we are not left to overcome it on our own. This month we are going to look at how God helps us overcome temptation by looking at how Jesus overcame temptation in his life.
As we look at temptation there are 2 important things to remember.
1. There is always more at stake when we are tempted than what we might think.
2. Our ability to withstand temptation has more to do with our confidence in God then the strength in ourselves.
1. There is always more at stake when we are tempted than what we might think. In every temptation we face, there is more than what meets the eye, in fact when we are tempted there are always three important things that are in danger: our future, our family and our faith. If the temptation has to do with food, it’s not just a matter of eating too much; we run the risk of health issues like heart disease and diabetes which can ruin our future. If the temptation has to do with gaining status or wealth, it’s not just a matter working long and hard, working too hard or too long can impact our marriages and children so that our families might suffer. If the temptation has to do with any kind of immoral activity, it might feel good for the moment but the long term effect will be to pull us away from God’s will which undermines our faith. There is always more at stake than what lies on the surface and we need to remember this when we face temptation because if nothing else, our future, our families and our faith depends on it.
2. Our ability to withstand temptation has more to do with our confidence in God than in the strength in ourselves. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:13. The ability to overcome temptation doesn’t come from our own personal strength or self control; it comes when we trust God to provide for us a way out. If our confidence is in God and not in ourselves, then we can begin to experience freedom and victory over the temptations we face in life because we find the power to fight it off.
Now what usually happens when we face temptations is that we push these two ideas away. We think that the temptation we face isn’t a big deal, or we tell ourselves it won’t make any difference or hurt anyone so it’s ok for us to give in. At the same time we assume that we are alone in fighting temptation and we know just how weak and vulnerable we are, so again we just give in. So we tend to push these two truths away but if we can pull them together and remember all that hangs in the balance when we face temptation and that God does give us strength to find a way out or a way through the struggle, then we will be better able to overcome the temptations that we face.
During this series we are going to look at the 3 temptations Jesus faced at the beginning of his ministry. They are found in Matthew 4 but today we are going to set the stage a little bit by looking at what happened before these temptations came. Matthew 3:16 – 4:1
When Jesus was baptized God clearly stated just how much he loved Jesus and how pleased he was with him and yet immediately after these words of affirmation, God led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. God loved Jesus and yet that love and confidence didn’t keep trials and temptations away, in fact it led him right into it. What we learn from this is that all those who are loved and called by God are led to challenging places where we are tempted. Abraham was called by God and then tempted to trust his own wisdom when he faced difficult situations. Moses was called by God and then was tempted to trust in his own strength. Peter and all the disciples were called by Jesus and yet they were all tempted in different ways and so we should not be surprised when we are tempted. It’s not a sign God doesn’t love us, God loved Jesus and led him into temptation.
Maybe this is why Jesus tells us to pray, lead us not into temptation, because Jesus was led there and he knows how difficult it was. The truth is we will all face temptation but we can learn from Jesus how to overcome it. Matthew 4:2-3
Notice that it was after 40 days of fasting that the tempter came to Jesus. The temptations didn’t come when Jesus was strong and the words of affirmation given by God were clear, it was weeks later. Jesus’ temptation began on Day 41 when God’s words of love were just a memory and Jesus was physically, emotionally and spiritually weak. Temptation never comes when we are strong; it comes when we are weak and vulnerable. Temptation comes on Day 41, when we are tired, feeling helpless and alone. Temptation comes when we aren’t thinking about all that is at stake and when our confidence in God’s love for us and his offer of strength are just a distant memory. Temptation comes on Day 41 which means we need to be prepared and one way we can prepare ourselves is to pause in the face of temptation and remember all that is at stake and that God is with us.
Think about what was at stake for Jesus when he faced temptation. It wasn’t just his life and future, it was ours. If Jesus gave in to temptation here then he would not have been the sinless one which means that he could not have paid the price for our sin. Our salvation, our future, our lives were hanging in the balance when Jesus was tempted. Jesus knew exactly what was at stake and in every temptation we face we need to pause and think about our future, our families and our faith and count the cost.
So it was on Day 41 that Jesus faced 3 temptations and we are going to look at each one of these in more detail during the next 3 weeks but one of the things we see here is that every temptation we face in life begins right here. In each temptation Jesus faced we find the seeds of all other temptations – so in some sense when it says in Hebrews 4:15 that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, it is true because every temptation we face can find it’s beginning right here.
The 3 temptations that Jesus faced which we all face are these:
The temptation to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way.
The temptation to leverage God for our own end or benefit.
The temptation to take a short cut.
Every temptation we face can be traced back to one of these three. The temptations we face dealing with food, sex and money are all legitimate needs we have. We need food to survive. God gave us sex as a gift to be enjoyed and celebrated. God provides for us wealth and riches out of his abundance and God wants us to be successful and prosperous in all that we do. The needs that we have in these areas are all legitimate but when we are tempted to meet them in ways that are outside of God’s will and boundaries, when they are illegitimate, things start to go wrong. The temptation to meet legitimate needs in unhealthy and inappropriate ways leads to the destruction of our future, our family and our faith.
When we ask God to help us without giving any consideration to God’s will and plan means that we are trying to leverage God for our own benefit. This can be a very subtle thing and often goes unnoticed, but we often ask God to help us without giving thought to how God might want to work in us or through us. We all face the temptation to ask God to do things our way instead of pausing to think about how we might be better off doing things God’s way.
And how many of us have been tempted to take a short cut. We consider taking a short cut on our taxes, on the final exam or paper for school or the project at work. How often do we take a short cut when it comes to spending time with our families or time with God? When we think that one hour a week on Sunday is all that we need for a deep and vital relationship with God we are trying to take a short cut in our faith. Most short cuts in life lead to more pain and problems or at least don’t bring us the desired results.
It’s amazing to think that most of what we are tempted with in life finds its beginning right here. This is important to understand because if we are able to see that every temptation is really just one of these, then the mystery and power of temptation begins to go away. It’s like what happens when Dorothy and her friends are able to see behind the curtain.
Did you notice what happened when the curtain was pulled away? The power of the Oz diminished and the confidence and strength of Dorothy and the others grew. When we are able to see behind the curtain of temptation and understand that there are only three ideas pulling all the strings of temptation then the balance of power shifts. Temptation loses its power and our confidence in God grows and when that happens we are victorious.
It’s important to unmask the temptations we face because they are never going to go away, but if we can learn to pause when they come so that we can see what is going on behind them and learn what is truly at stake with them, then we can begin to dismantle their hold on us and find confidence in God to overcome them. This week we need to begin to pause when temptation comes so we can learn how to overcome it.
Pause ~ Day 41
1. Read the Story of Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4:1-11.
What was at stake for Jesus (and us) in these temptations?
2. Jesus was tempted on Day 41, after 40 days of fasting. When are you most vulnerable to temptation?
3. Name the three greatest temptations you face:
4. What is at stake in each of these temptations?
5. How might these temptations impact:
• your future
• your family
• your faith
6. How are the temptations you face linked to one of these? The temptation to:
• Meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way*
• Leverage God for our own benefit*
• Take a short cut*
*more details will come through this sermon series
When faced with temptation this week,
pause to consider all that is at stake and then
pray, asking God for strength to overcome.