Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Temptation – Part 1

In my last post I wrote on Governor Spitzer’s fall as a result of his succumbing to temptation. I want to write some posts on temptation, using Jesus’ temptation as the basis for the discussion. I hope these posts will you with your challenges.

Nature of the Temptations

Let’s take a look at each of these three temptations of Jesus (found in Matthew 4:1-11), because we are tempted in similar ways.

1. Wrong Use of Power

In The First Temptation, Jesus was tempted by the wrong use of power. The devil knew that if he could successfully tempt Jesus to turn the stones into bread, Jesus could go on to misuse his power – the door would have been opened. Just as small sins can lead to bigger ones, the devil knew that if Jesus succumbed to this temptation, minor as it was, it could lead to bigger things.

We may not think we could be tempted to abuse our power, because we really don’t have any power. But we do have power: as a parent over our children; possibly as a spouse; maybe in the workplace; or maybe we have power and influence over a friend.

We see in the sequence of the three temptations how Satan kicked it up a notch with each one: each temptation got more serious. We are tempted in small ways as well, which can then lead to bigger ones, such as: to cheat in some minor way, to seek some kind of unfair advantage, or to misuse our position or power for our own benefit.

Other small ways we can be tempted are: getting paid “under the table” so we can avoid taxes; making false claims so we can wrongfully collect insurance; bringing supplies home from work for our own personal use. So we have to be careful not to succumb to these small temptations, because they will surely lead to bigger ones. Something that you thought was “innocent” usually becomes not so innocent.

2. Wrong Way to Fulfillment

In The Second Temptation, Jesus was tempted by the wrong way to fulfillment. In a way, this temptation also involved a misuse of power, plus it was a wrong way to gain some sort of satisfaction. Jesus came to earth to serve, not be served and not to indulge himself. Throwing himself down so he could be saved by some angels wasn’t why Jesus came to earth.

We, too, are often tempted to indulge ourselves in ways that aren’t always good, and we have creative ways of justifying this self-indulgence. I deserve it. I have needs. It’s harmless. It’s not hurting anybody. Everybody’s doing it. Ways we can wrongfully indulge ourselves are: overeating; watching porn on the Internet; watching too much TV; calling in sick when you really aren’t; drinking too much; extra-marital affairs.

3. Take the Easy Way

In The Third Temptation, Jesus was tempted to take the easy way and to avoid fulfilling God’s plan. The devil said he would turn the world over to Jesus if only he would fall down and worship him – have Jesus essentially sell out to the devil. Sounds like a good deal – you can do away with the Cross and take the easy way.

How often we want to take the easy way, but the easy way isn’t the best way, and usually isn’t in God’s will. As they say, no pain, no gain. Often we have to go thru the fiery furnace, run a hard race, or endure strong opposition to achieve the goals God set out for us. That’s why I encourage you to take advantage of this Lenten season to take a hard look at your life and the ongoing temptations you are facing.

In what ways are you misusing your power? In what ways are you indulging yourself wrongly? In what ways are you taking the easy way? Remember what Jesus said about the easy way (Matthew 7:13-14, NRSV):

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

We take the easy way when we don’t serve God sacrificially as he has called us to do; we don’t help others when opportunities present themselves; we skip church because we’d rather sleep in; we cheat or deceive, rather than do something the right way.

More on temptation in a future post.

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