Thursday, March 13, 2008

Temptation – Part 2

After examining the three temptations of Jesus in an earlier post, I would like to now discuss a few other lessons we can learn from this story. I found six things that we learn from this story of the temptation of Christ which can help us in our walk of faith (see Matthew 4:1-11).

1. Two areas of temptation

The three temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11 essentially deal with two broad areas of life, which are the same areas where we often face temptation.

(a) Physical needs and desires

The first major area of temptation had to do with physical needs and desires. Jesus was hungry and weak after fasting for 40 days, but he chose not to use his divine power to satisfy his natural desire for food. Food, hunger, and eating are natural, but the timing was wrong in this case: Jesus was in the wilderness to fast, not to eat. We also may be tempted to satisfy a perfectly normal desire in a wrong way or at the wrong time. Many of our desires are normal and good, but God wants us to satisfy them in the right way and at the right time – not wrongfully indulge ourselves.

(b) Pride

Another area is Pride, which is at the root of many of our temptations. Pride and doubting God were at the heart of the first temptation in the Garden of Eden, and we still face them today. Self-centeredness is a big part of pride, when we are more interested in satisfying our own desires, often at the expense of others. For example, we should remember our vows to our husband or wife, and should commit to look out for his or her interests above our own.

2. Jesus identified with us

The next point about Jesus’ temptation is that he identified with us, just as he identified with us in his baptism and in his death on the Cross. Because Jesus endured much of what we have to go thru, the writer of the Book of Hebrews could confidently say (Heb 4:15):

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin . NRSV

We are often tempted to hide our faith, yet we should openly identify with Christ, not try to blend in with everybody else.

3. Temptation is not a sin

Jesus was tempted as we are, yet was without sin. We should know that temptation itself is not a sin – only yielding to it is wrong. So we should never feel that somehow we have failed because we are tempted – temptation will never go away, even if you are in a monastery. So we should take our faith seriously and commit to grow spiritually, so that we are better able to withstand temptation – we can’t do it alone.

4. Know and obey the Bible

Another thing we learn from this Temptation of Jesus is that we should know the Bible and its proper interpretation, so we won’t be mislead. We see in this temptation story how the devil misuses Scripture to try to deceive, and how Jesus correctly uses it to counter the deception. As Christians, we must know Scripture, because today there are a lot of false interpretations being put forth to fit agendas.

If we have studied the Bible, we can separate truth from falsehood, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and will then be better able to obey what the Scripture says. When we know Scripture, we can call to mind Bible passages that will help us to fight off temptation.

5. Watch out when vulnerable

Another lesson from this story, which I mentioned earlier but bears repeating, is that we are often tempted when we are most vulnerable. We are vulnerable when we are under physical or emotional stress, such as when we are lonely, tired, grieving, weighing big decisions, or faced with uncertainty. But we can also be tempted through our strengths as well, when we are most susceptible to pride.

6. Satan is real

Finally, this story confirms that Satan is real. Today, Satan has been reduced to either a cartoonish little figure in a red suit, or to a mythological figure symbolizing the evil in the world. Yet we see Satan appearing and mentioned in different places in the Bible, and if Jesus talked about Satan as a real person, then I believe he’s real.

Moreover, we see that Jesus didn’t dispute Satan’s ability to turn over the world to him, which means the devil does have real power. The main point of this temptation, however, was the devil didn’t want Jesus to carry out God’s plan to save the world from sin. Satan was trying to distort Jesus’ perspective by making him focus on worldly power, and not on God’s plans. Often he does the same thing when he tempts us: he has us focus on the worldly and not the spiritual.

Some concluding thoughts on temptation in a future post.

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