Put Us Not to the Test

Scriptures: Psalm 91; James 1:12-18; Romans 5:1-5

We have been doing this series on the Lord’s Prayer. The first week, along with that really good skit that was performed for us, we learned a little bit about the Lord’s Prayer.

First of all, it could be called the Disciple’s Prayer, because Jesus gave it to his disciples when they asked, because they were concerned about praying right. They wanted to be in a right relationship with God.

It contains within it seven petitions. The first three deal with our understanding of who God is and His place in the universe. The other four petitions deal with us. Once we have the right perspective, then we can ask for the right things in the right heart.

So we have gone through this, and as we have gone through this, as I will note later as well, we have seen that really, this entire prayer deals with our relationship with God and our trust in Him.

This phrase we’re going to go through today, if we thought that last week’s was pretty tough with “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” this phrase is one of the most difficult ones in the Disciple’s prayer. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

First of all, we like nothing better than to lay the blame for “temptation” on someone else. Think of how popular the phrase “the devil made me do it” is. But it also causes a dilemma, because of an apparent paradox.

If God is good, and pure, and holy, then how can he tempt us towards evil? We have a partial answer to that in the text from James today, which is what I will be drawing from mostly. That answer is, He doesn’t. “God is not tempted by evil and he does not tempt us towards evil.”

A large part of the confusion rests in the translation. Just as with last week, there are a couple of words in here that we need to look at in particular. The first is the word “temptation” and the second is “evil.”

The Greek word that is traditionally translated as “temptation” in this prayer can mean that. But it can also mean “a trial” (as in a testing, not a criminal proceeding). In fact, when the liturgist was reading James, those of you that follow along in your pew Bibles might have noticed that she had a different translation than you did.

She spoke of “those who endure trials”; your translation talks about “those who withstand temptation.” Enduring trials is probably actually more what Jesus was talking about. At least, most scholars believe that is what Jesus was referring to in the Lord’s Prayer, based on the understanding of Jewish rabbis of the time. Even so, we are going to take a moment to talk about temptation, because I think that the two are actually linked in some ways.

In an online article by Rick Warren, he notes: “Many people are intimidated by the fact that they are tempted, like they shouldn’t even be in that situation or that they should be able to control it. But you shouldn’t feel guilty about temptation. It’s not a sin to be tempted. It’s a sin to give in to temptation. The Bible says that Jesus experienced every temptation known to man, but he didn’t sin. Temptation is not a sin. It’s how you respond to it that matters.”

This does not make temptation a trivial thing, because, as we saw in James, it leads frequently to sin and to death.

Here are some of my thoughts about this. There are two contradictory desires that are the root of all temptation, and of our needing this prayer: The first is our desire to control everything, and the second is our desire to not be responsible (or perhaps a better word is “accountable”) for anything.

One aspect of our desire to control everything is our desire to get what we want. Now that can be good if what we want is in God’s will and is part of a positive drive for accomplishment. If our desire, though, leads to secret longings, secret practices, and other negative achievements, then it is most likely a problem waiting to happen.

As an example, the desire of a man for a woman (and visa versa) is a good desire at its root. It was placed there by God to help ensure procreation and the continuation of the human race. However, when that desire occurs outside the context of marriage with that partner, then it can lead to temptation and sin.

We want another person’s spouse – not for marriage, really (if we are totally honest with ourselves) – but for the gratification of a fantasized sexual encounter (or emotional one in some cases), or to control what we see as an asset on our rival’s side, or even just to hurt the rival out of our envy and anger. Note that all these things objectify the one whom we lust after. We have perverted a good desire into a bad one, leading to evil.

When sin inevitably occurs from following those perverted desires, and people get hurt, then the second desire kicks in – we don’t want to be accountable. We blame other people, the situation, or the “system” – or even God Himself.

How often today do we hear these words of what I’m calling relativism from people who call themselves Christian and say “If God made me this way, why should I be held responsible for (or ‘what could be wrong with’) acting according to my nature?” It is the ultimate in control – to do as we wish, with no consequences. At its core, isn’t that what every sin is about?

By the way, this struggle with God and sin isn’t new. Jewish rabbis in Jesus day struggled with the sin nature and God’s sovereignty and goodness. If He is sovereign, and if He is good, then why create this in us? Or why allow us to pervert what He did create through our bad choices? That old mystery, between free will and God’s sovereignty.

Many of them, in their desire to assert the supremacy of God, ended up saying that ultimately, God caused us to sin by making us the way He did. In our passage from the Epistle of James, we see his deep understanding of this dilemma and philosophical trend, and his rejection of it. He combats it much as Jesus did, who promised that God as Father would not give evil things to His children.

Some of you may wipe the sweat off your brow, and think, “Whew! God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good, so I never need to worry about tough times.” Right? Well, not really. Things are complicated by the fact that sometimes, we are tested by God for our own growth and good. It is pretty well established, even in our human soft sciences like psychology and anthropology, that humans grow and mature the most, and the fastest, through pain and struggle.

These tests or trials can be circumstances (as with Job); other times, He allows circumstances where we have a choice to either be true to God even though it is the more difficult path, or to give in to worldly pressures and our own desires (we see that in Peter multiple times). In this way, sometimes, I suppose, temptation may be used by God as a trial, but He is not the cause of the temptation itself. That comes from within.

There is a story that is in a book, I can’t remember if it’s Holy Humor or More Holy Humor. It deals with two guys and tithing, but tithing is not the issue, I just want you to listen to the story, and understand the relationship between the men and God.

There were two men and they received Christ at the same time and at the same church, and they made a pact with each other when they were teenagers, that as they grew older and they went out into the world, when they made their money, they were going to tithe everything they had to God – money, time, talents.

One of them went on to be a pastor, and he served a church, and he would serve various churches through his career. The other went on to be a businessman. He owned his own business and was very successful.

When he first started out, when he was making ten thousand dollars a year, he tithed to God. Then when he was making a hundred thousand dollars a year, he tithed to God. Then his business took off, and he made a million dollars a year, and he tithed to God, and he noted he was sure giving a lot of money to the church.

Then he really became successful, and he made ten million dollars in one year. He wrote to his friend, and he said, “The church doesn’t need a million dollars. Please release me from my pact, my vow to you, to tithe. Do I really need to do that anymore? Would you pray about it?” The pastor said he would.

A couple of weeks later, his friend contacted him again, and asked, “So, have you thought about it? What kind of conclusion have you come to? Will you release me from my vow?”

His friend replied, “No. I’ve been praying about it, and I’ve come to the conclusion from God that what I need to pray for is for you to go back to making a hundred thousand a year.”

You see, God allowed a situation where the man was tested. Did he care more about money, or did he care more about God? He was faithful up to a point, then his understanding of the world kicked in, and he wanted to be free of his vow to God and his friend. You might say he failed that trial.

Let me reiterate: the temptation does not come from God! He uses our own naturally perverted desires to make His point.

So we have trials, and they cause pain, and struggle, and worry; and off in the wings there is someone just waiting to take advantage of this. Satan and his minions are always there, trying to steal our joy and destroy our faith and life and to keep us separated from God.

In the petition of the Disciple’s prayer that says “and put us not to the test” (instead of “lead us not into temptation,” I’m giving you the alternate translation that they think is more accurate) “but deliver us from evil,” the word for “evil” can be either masculine or neuter. If neuter, it is a general evil; if masculine, it is a reference to the “Evil One” most often in Scripture. We want deliverance from the Evil one, and the evil he intends for us.

I want to take a moment here and make another note: the Bible says to flee temptation. Don’t put yourself in that vise if you can avoid it! But it also tells us to resist the devil, drawing on the power and authority of Jesus Christ, and he must flee.

I make this point because so often as Christians we reverse it. We try to flee the devil, and resist temptation. And so we use the wrong tools for the wrong goal. Jesus knew this tendency, and addresses it directly in the prayer that He taught His disciples.

Remember, this prayer ultimately is about our relationship with God and our trust in Him. It is about trusting in the sovereignty, providence, and love of God the Father. It is about our relationship with Him. It is about recognizing our need for Him, and our relationship as His children.

And as with so many other parts of this prayer, we cannot do it on our own. We need God’s grace. We cannot successfully resist the devil on our own. Not for long, anyways, and not without great cost. This is why Paul talks in one place about putting up an umbrella of continuous prayer, and in another speaks of the armor of God, and the shield of faith that stops the flaming darts of the evil one. It why, in the psalm, the psalmist was speaking of the protection and refuge of God for those who believe and call upon His name.

This is why James, in his passage today, prefaced it by saying “Count it all joy, brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” It is why he starts the passage today with “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial…”

For those of you who may not remember or may not know, despite the translation that is frequently used in some Bibles, it does not mean “happy.” You can be happy, but to be blessed by God, in the understanding of the Jews, was to have the hand of God on you, the finger of God upon you, God’s direct intervention in your life. Sometimes that can be a bloomin’ uncomfortable place to be. Sometimes that can be hard. And yet we’re blessed when God is with us in that way.

There is an understanding here of both the inevitability of trials, and the positive nature of them. We are not to be totally stoic and fatalistic about it, but we are to be realistic about it. Trials will come, and if we endure with God’s help, then we will grow in faith and gain in grace.

Part of this realistic perspective is recognizing our own limitations. We are not to actually seek out conflict, because this goes counter to our instruction to be “sober” and “mature”, and “good citizens,” as it says in one of Peter’s letters.

We don’t really need to seek out situational conflict and trial anyway. The world will bring it to us, if we’re faithful in our witness to Christ. Jesus himself alluded to this multiple times, when he spoke about “the world hating you because it first hated me.”

And we don’t want to set up temptations or situations where we will be tempted in order to “strengthen us.” I think that sometimes many Christians fall into that trap, and then they simply end up failing.

Like an alcoholic who has been sober for a while, and thinks he can go into a bar, meet with the same old crew he used to party with, and somehow stay sober because now he is aware of his problem. Let me tell you, he will either end up extremely unhappy and frustrated, because they are “having fun” that he can no longer have. Or he will wind up getting drunk – and be extremely unhappy and frustrated when he sobers up, because of his failure.

Don’t seek out situations where you will be tempted, simply to try to strengthen your character.

This is what we are praying to God about in the Disciple’s prayer. God has promised He will not give us more than we can bear without giving us a way out; but he often gives us more than we can handle to keep us humble and to depend on Him.

As with forgiveness, as we learned last week, we cannot do it completely on our own. We need God. So in our weakness we pray that God would not put us to the test, and that in the midst of any test, He would protect and deliver us from the evil one or any evil we might suffer. We’re in good company, by the way, when we do this. Look at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Implicit in this request is the pledge that we will remain faithful and obedient to God even in these situations. Do you remember what Jesus said in the Garden? “If it is at all possible, take this cup from me. Nevertheless, Thy will be done.” He said he would be obedient.

We see it again, even earlier, in the desert, when Satan came by to try to talk him out of following the Father’s will, during the temptations of Christ. (I will be happy to go into details on that elsewhere if anyone wants to ask, outside the service.)

We need to humble ourselves, each and every day. We need to seek the Lord, study His word, and prepare ourselves for what is to come. There is a story by Max Lucado, in his book In the Eye of the Storm. I’m going to read it to you – it’s short.

Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.

The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She’d barely said “hello” when “ssssopp!” Chippie got sucked in.

The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie – still alive, but stunned.

Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.

Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.

A few days after the trauma, the reporter who had initially written about the event contacted Chippie’s owner to see how the bird was recovering. “Well,” she replied, “Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore – he just sits and stares.”

It’’s hard not to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over . . . That’s enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart.

“Sucked in, washed up, and blown over.” That about sums up how many of us feel at times, doesn’t it? Trials and temptations overwhelming us and putting us through the wringer. And afterwards, you are just kind of in shock. But hear me: there is hope, for the believer among the people of God.

Through this petition in the prayer, we affirm our desire for God’s leading, God’s presence, and God’s protection. Like all the others, it is at its core a statement of trust: recognition of God’s sovereignty, as we acknowledge that He may send us trials for our growth and strengthening, and there is nothing we can do about it except be obedient in witnessing to Him through it.

It is a recognition of God’s providence as we acknowledge and ask for His protection from the evil one, and His strengthening and guidance during our trials. And we recognize God’s love as we place our future and our hopes in Him as His children, knowing He will not give us more than we can bear with Him, and that in the end this too, shall pass. I would also note that we have the comfort and care of our fellow believers, to lift us up and strengthen us.

We admit our own weakness and fallibility and throw ourselves on God’s mercy as we ask for His grace to be ever poured out on us in increasing amounts. To quote Paul:

If God is for us, who can be against us? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We have God’s promise, that in His great love for us, we cannot be separated from Him. He will always be with us and will never forsake us, if we place our trust in Him.

To God be the glory and praise and honor for the wondrous things He has done for us. And may we be faithful in our witness to Him.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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