Overcoming Temptation

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The word “temptation” has been trivialised. Offer a chocolate to a fashion-conscious lady – she will take one at the same time saying, “You really shouldn’t tempt me.” There is even a perfume called “Temptation”.

But it’s not a trivial matter: not at all! Being tempted is serious stuff and giving way to temptation can be deadly.

This is what the Bible says about temptation:

A person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin … brings forth death” (James 1:14-15 RSV).

Notice the sequence:

  • Desire
  • Temptation
  • Sin
  • Death.

Eve’s Experience

When Eve was tempted there was much more involved than just fruit. The tree in question wasn’t a mere fruit tree; it was a special tree – “the tree of knowledge” and taking the fruit gave her a new experience. By doing what God had forbidden, Eve and then Adam got experience of what it was like to break the law of God. Humans still crave for “knowledge”; they are always in search of a new “experience.”

  • Fortunes are spent on space research because we want to “know”.
  • Youngsters dabble with drugs because they want an “experience”.

Eve was no different and as she looked at the fruit, she might have contemplated what “mind-blowing” experience she might enjoy and what limitations might be blown away. At least she would have done if she had not believed the serpent that God hadn’t really meant what He said (Genesis 3:4,5; 1 Timothy 2:14). She was tricked, but the outcome was the same. Step by step she stumbled into disobedience by breaking the law of God and, like so many others since, she discovered that she had become enslaved to sin, with no way out. Sin resulted in death.

Had Adam and Eve been wise, they would have gone a long way away from that particular tree and should have tried to put it out of mind, whatever the serpent might have said. But they didn’t and both the tree and the serpent were there with the alluring and enticing possibilities of a new experience. It seemed certain that, sooner or later, the pair would stumble, step by step, into the abyss. And the Genesis account gives the impression that Eve and the serpent had conversed about the tree on more than one occasion (see Genesis 3:1).

Joseph’s Experience

Joseph was only seventeen years old when he was sold to the Egyptians. However, he proved himself to be utterly reliable and trustworthy and had outstanding skills as an administrator. He came to the attention of his master’s wife. What a temptation that would be for any lonely, red-blooded young man!

Yet see how resolutely Joseph dealt with the situation – the woman’s advances were firmly rejected as he made these two statements:

  • My master has placed absolute confidence in me; your suggestion would be a wicked betrayal of that confidence;
  • It would be a sin against God.

When Potiphar’s wife persisted, we read that Joseph refused to listen to her or to remain in her presence (see Genesis 39:10-18). What a tremendous example! It would have been so easy to justify compliance with the suggestion; did not Joseph belong to Potiphar and was he not therefore at the wife’s disposal too?

What vengeance might be taken against him if he refused? (In fact terrible vengeance was taken and Joseph had to bear it.) Joseph might have been tempted to “dabble” with the temptation without actually committing adultery – ‘the twilight world of sins not quite committed’ as one writer has described this sort of situation. But Joseph did nothing of the kind – the temptation was firmly and resolutely rejected and the consequences were endured.

David’s Experience

Unlike Joseph, David dabbled with temptation. He found himself with time on his hands and he went up onto the roof of his house – a vantage point that provided views into other people’s homes. Why did he go there? Did he hope that perchance he might see something titillating? Stolen waters are certainly sweet. The sorry account is too well known and everyone knows how this man of God, a man described as being “after God’s own heart“, plunged into a disastrous sequence of events the consequences of which dogged him to his grave. Had David been busy he would not have had time on his hands in the first place – and there is a lesson for us.

Young Man’s Experience

Solomon describes a “… young man, void of understanding” who dabbled with temptation (Proverbs 7:6-23). There was a house of ill-repute and a wise young man would have given the place a wide berth! But the young man in the story found his feet being pulled in the direction of the house as if by a magnet. He waited for dusk and as he edged along the road it became dark and darkness provides cover for folly. He moved towards the corner of the street and he drifted along the street, a ready prey for the alluring seductress for whom he was no match whatsoever. The writer says, “He goes after her as an ox goes to the slaughter or as a fool to the stocks till a dart strike through his liver …” (7:22,23).

Again the big lesson is to nip temptation in the bud with resolution and firmness. Dabbling with temptation is a sure road to burnt fingers.

The Experience of Judas

Judas was addicted to money and the craving of an addict can never be satisfied. Why he became a disciple is a mystery – perhaps he hoped that Jesus would spearhead an attack on the Romans and if so, then he, Judas, might have something to gain. It is significant that Jesus appointed him as treasurer for the group thus putting Judas’ weakness to the test. Judas began in a small way, putting his fingers into the common purse; but he hoped for bigger things and was diverting money given for the poor into his own pocket.

Perhaps he became exasperated that the longed-for push to drive out the Romans was so long in coming and so he looked for a short cut. The desperation of the Pharisees to eliminate Jesus was well known and Judas saw his chance. The 30 pieces of silver was a mere down payment – a much bigger sum would follow when the deed was successfully accomplished.

Jesus knew exactly what was happening and he warned Judas several times hoping that the man might turn back but warnings went unheeded and so the final word was in the Upper Room as Judas moved towards the door, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27). Thus did Judas betray the Son of God for money and the ultimate irony is that he used a kiss – a token of love – to identify the wanted man. What do we learn from Judas? That conscience can be suppressed and if it is repeatedly suppressed then, like a muscle that is never used, it will waste away.

Paul wrote of individuals whose conscience had been seared as with a hot iron. The lesson therefore is this –God has blessed us with a mechanism which can warn us when we are stepping dangerously close to the mark and an active conscience governed by the teaching of Scripture is a valuable part of a Christian’s life. But if we repeatedly overrule the pricks of conscience, eventually it will wither away, and we will drift into spiritual catastrophe.

The Experience of Jesus

Jesus “… in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Because Jesus had to struggle against temptation he is very sympathetic with us in our struggles. His were far more severe than the temptations that arise in our lives.

None of us has been tempted to miraculously provide for all our needs by the abuse of God’s power; none of us has been tempted to win the adulation of the masses by presumption on Divine protection, and none of us has been tempted to seize absolute power over the nations.

Our temptations are much more modest – perhaps we serve our fellowmen yet hoping that our ‘good works’ will be noticed and win praise from others; perhaps we seek authority within our church group or in our daily work – authority because we want the feeling of power over others.

How did Jesus vanquish temptation?

  • His desire to serve his Father was stronger than his desire for self gratification and,
  • That desire to serve his Father was reinforced by a profound knowledge of the Scriptures and the ability to meet each temptation with a powerful, relevant Bible quotation. His conscience was extremely acute and active.

The Teaching of Jesus

Jesus advocates radical surgery! “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away …” (Matthew 5:29). What does he mean by this? Perhaps Jesus is saying something like this: `If something in your life is coming between you and God, eradicate it altogether, compromise will never succeed’. So how can that work in practice? Here are a few practical examples:

Suppose you find certain television programmes to be very alluring and yet in your heart you know that you will be defiled by watching them – arrange to be out of the house on the evenings when those programmes are on; the temptation then to ‘switch on’ will not arise. More drastic still, perhaps, take your television set to the local car boot sale!

Or suppose that you find crossword puzzles to be irresistible and that the Lord’s work is being skimped because hours are being soaked up by what has become an addiction. Resolve not to buy the publications concerned and thus avoid the temptation; if the puzzle is sitting there under the nose then the decision to spend “no more that ten minutes” is futile because we know that the ten will be multiplied many times over; more drastic action is required.

Perhaps we find that friends are pulling us away from the right path; the answer is to seek other friends who share our ideals.

The final word must be, “Seek first of all the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” If that is our priority then other matters will fall into place.

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