Lead us not into Temptation
Pr. Gibson Joy
The Lord’s Prayer as we know it has been a model for Christians around the world even 20 centuries after the words were first uttered from our Saviour’s lips. The way his disciples first reacted to it and the way we do might be worlds apart. Especially since the disciples were philosophi-cally in the world of Greco-Roman wherethe idea of being able to pray to God was incompre-hensible especially with “evil” physical bodies. The spiritual framework of the Judean world implement-ed strictly by the Pharisees of that day didn’t offer them much in terms of a relationship with God too. God was someone who had to be obeyed, the lack of which would mean ousting, death and the like. Jesus’ model of the prayer begins with relationship. We can only imagine the kind of jolt it would have given the disciples when they first heard the words, “Our Heavenly Father”. What sense of belonging, joy, and identity comes from those words!
Right in the middle of the prayer we find a strange phrase which I’m sure boggles many of us today. “Lead us not into temptation”. It is strange because of the implications of such a phrase. Does God really lead us into places where we are tempted? If he does, what if we do sin? Does it mean that God is at fault? How do we reconcile this with James 1:13 in which James clearly tells us that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”? How do we understand this?
There’s a story said of a rich business man who hated lying. Now this rich man wanted to leave part of his business to one of his two sons. Before he did that, he wanted to make sure that the they would also walk in his truthful ways. So he waited for the right time when this ethic would be tested in them. He saw that one of his business partners wanted to get his sons to be engaged in a busi-ness that would involve a lot of customer manipulation and sub-standard business ethics. The father watched as the partner met with them, offered them money, recognition and shortcuts to success. He waited, watched and hoped that the sons would not give in or at least come to him for his advice. He hoped that they would remember who they were and hold on to the integrity they had seen in him all these years. Neither of them came. “You can prove to your father that you can build an empire on your own”, the partner told the older son. “Don’t you want to be richer and more famous than your big brother?”, the partner teased at the younger son. Pulling out every trick in the book, the older brother finally gave in to the partner’s proposition. The younger son remembered a well-learnt lesson he learnt from his father’s model.
Many years ago, his father had lost everything in his business. With nothing in the bank, no food in the house, the pressure was mounted on for him to engage in under-handed methods to gain wealth. His father refused and decided to start from scratch. The younger son decided to follow his example. The father watched as the choices of his two sons unfolded before his very eyes. Disappointed and hurt as he was by the older son’s decision, he knew the younger son had passed the test and proved himself a man of integrity. He knew he found the son who would carry on his business.
The rich man of course didn’t want them to lie or cheat. He wouldn’t tempt them to do so either. But when he saw the situation they faced, he knew that if he pulled them out in between, he would be denying them the opportunity to make the right choice and strengthen their resolve.
To say that God tempts anyone is a direct contradiction of His holy nature. But God does allow us to be put into circumstances where our faith and resolve will be tested. In Mathew 4:1 we see how Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil”. Jesus had to go through this trial to truly depict his holiness and zeal for God’s glory.
The Greek word translated “temptation” is actually peirasmos. This word can also be translated as trials. In fact some translations use the word temptation and trial interchangeably. There are trials that God will allow into our lives. An example of this is Job’s severe trial described in the book of Job. The people of Israel were tested at various times during their time in the wilderness en route to Canaan. In Deuteronomy 8:2, Moses tells the Israelites that God led them for 40 years in the wilderness to humble them and to test them to know what was in their heart. There were many tests the Israelites had to face (Ex 15:22-17:7). All of these were designed to help them grow in their faith. Israel chose to murmur, complain and at times even walked away from God. Their faith stood strong in the good times but would falter during the tough times.
The Hebrew root word for trial has to do with the kind of testing involved in checking the quality of equipment or to probe. Peter reminds us that the trials we face held to prove the genuineness of our faith and therefore will result in glory and honour to our Saviour (1 Peter 1:6,7). James encourages his readers to, “Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). From all this we understand that tests and trials not only help prove our faith but also to strengthen it. It is compared to the refiner’s fire purifying gold so that it may truly live up to its true worth.
It must also remain clear in our minds that God does not tempt with the intention to trap us in sin. Our desires can be aroused in the middle of a test leading us to sin (James 1:13-16). The devil can also take the opportunity that a test affords and lead us astray if we allow him to (Genesis 3:1-7). Due to our basic nature of wanting to live self-centred lives, tests offer us the opportunity to choose to live the life God has for us – a God-centred life. Like someone said, “You’ll never know that God is all you need, until God is all you have.” There is a risk in testing that God takes. The one being tempted might harden his heart to God’s ways and choose to sin against God. This is why the writer of Hebrews advices us against hardening our heart to the voice of the Lord during trying times (Hebrews 3:7,8).
This is where Jesus’ prayer becomes relevant. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. It is a prayer asking God to deliver us from the evil that can take advantage of a vulnerable place we find ourselves in when we are tempted. No one likes tests and trials but even if they do come, our assurance is in the protecting and perpetual presence of our Saviour. It the Lord, like Jude says, is able to “keep us from falling”. Therefore trusting him to give us only what we have the grace to bear, we will go through and come out victorious.