Matthew 6:13

THE ORDEAL OF TEMPTATION

Matt. 6:13

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.

There are two matters of meaning at which we must look before we begin to study this petition in detail.

(i) To modern ears the word tempt is always a bad word; it always means to seek to seduce into evil But in the Bible the verb peirazein (GSN3985) is often better translated by the word test than by the word tempt. In its New Testament usage to tempt a person is not so much to seek to seduce him into sin, as it is to test his strength and his loyalty and his ability for service.

In the Old Testament we read the story of how God tested the loyalty of Abraham by seeming to demand the sacrifice of his only son Isaac. In the King James Version the story begins: “And it came to pass that God did tempt Abraham” (Gen.22:1). Obviously the word tempt cannot there mean to seek to seduce into sin, for that,is something that God would never do. It means rather to submit to a test of loyalty and obedience. When we read the story of the temptations of Jesus, it begins: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1). If we take the word tempt there in the sense of to seduce into sin, it makes the Holy Spirit a partner in an attempt to compel Jesus to sin. Time and again in the Bible we will find that the word tempt has the idea of testing in it, at least as much as the idea of seeking to lead into sin.

Here, then, is one of the great and precious truths about temptation. Temptation is not designed to make us fall. Temptation is designed to make us stronger and better men and women. Temptation is not designed to make us sinners. It is designed to make us good. We may fail in the test, but we are not meant to. We are meant to emerge stronger and finer. In one sense temptation is not so much the penalty of being a man; it is the glory of being a man. If metal is to be used in a great engineering project, it is tested at stresses and strains far beyond those which it is ever likely to have to bear. So a man has to be tested before God can use him greatly in his service.

All that is true; but it is also true that the Bible is never in any doubt that there is a power of evil in this world. The Bible is not a speculative book, and it does not discuss the origin of that power of evil, but it knows that it is there. Quite certainly this petition of the Lord’s Prayer should be translated not, “Deliver us from evil,” but, “Deliver us from the Evil One.” The Bible does not think of evil as an abstract principle or force, but as an active, personal power in opposition to God.

The development of the idea of Satan in the Bible is of the greatest interest. In Hebrew the word Satan simply means an adversary. It can often be used of men. A man’s adversary is his Satan. In the King James Version the Philistines are afraid that David may turn out to be their Satan (1Sam.29:4): Solomon declares that God has given him such peace and prosperity that there is no Satan left to oppose him (1Kgs.5:4); David regards Abishai as his Satan (2Sam.19:22). In all these cases Satan means an adversary or opponent. From that the word Satan goes on to mean one who pleads a case against someone. Then the word leaves earth and, as it were, enters heaven. The Jews had the idea that in heaven there was an angel whose charge it was to state the case against a man, a kind of prosecuting angel; and that became the function of Satan. At that stage Satan is not an evil power; he is part of the judgment apparatus of heaven. In Jb.1:6, Satan is numbered among the sons of God: “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” At this stage Satan is the divine prosecutor of man.

But it is not so very far a step from stating a case against a man to making up a case against a man. And that is the next step. The other name of Satan is the Devil; and Devil comes from the Greek word Diabolos (GSN1228), which is the regular word for a slanderer. So Satan becomes the Devil, the slanderer par excellence, the adversary of man, the power who is out to frustrate the purposes of God and to ruin mankind. Satan comes to stand for everything which is anti-man and anti-God. It is from that ruining power that Jesus teaches us to pray to be delivered. The origin of that power is not discussed; there are no speculations. As someone has put it: “If a man wakes up and finds his house on fire, he does not sit down in a chair and write or read a treatise on the origin of fires in private houses; he attempts to try to extinguish the fire and to save his house.” So the Bible wastes no time in speculations about the origin of evil. It equips man to fight the battle against the evil which is unquestionably there.

THE ATTACK OF TEMPTATION

Matt. 6:13 (continued)

Life is always under attack from temptation, but no enemy can launch an invasion until he finds a bridgehead. Where then does temptation find its bridgehead? Where do our temptations come from? To be forewarned is to be forearmed, and, if we know whence the attack is likely to come, we will have a better chance to overcome it.

(i) Sometimes the attack of temptation comes from outside us. There are people whose influence is bad. There are people in whose company it would be very difficult even to suggest doing a dishonourable thing, and there are people in whose company it is easy to do the wrong things. When Robert Burns was a young man he went to Irvine to learn flax-dressing. There he fell in with a certain Robert Brown, who was a man who had seen much of the world, and who had a fascinating and a dominating personality. Burns tells us that he admired him and strove to imitate him. Burns goes on: “He was the only man I ever saw who was a greater fool than myself when Woman was the guiding star…. He spoke of a certain fashionable failing with levity, which hitherto I had regarded with horror…. Here his friendship did me a mischief.” There are friendships and associations which can do us a mischief. In a tempting world a man should be very careful in his choice of friends and of the society in which he will move. He should give the temptations which come from outside as little chance as possible.

(ii) It is one of the tragic facts of life that temptations can come to us from those who love us; and of all kinds of temptation this is the hardest to fight. It comes from people who love us and who have not the slightest intention of harming us.

The kind of thing that happens is this. A man may know that he ought to take a certain course of action; he may feel divinely drawn to a certain career; but to follow that course of action may involve unpopularity and risk; to accept that career may be to give up all that the world calls success. It may well be that in such circumstances those who love him will seek to dissuade him from acting as he knows he ought, and they will do so because they love him. They counsel caution, prudence, worldly wisdom; they want to see the one they love do well in a worldly sense; they do not wish to see him throw his chances away; and so they seek to stop him doing what he knows to be right for him.

In Gareth and Lynette Tennyson tells the story of Gareth, the youngest son of Lot and Bellicent. Gareth wishes to join this brothers in the service of King Arthur. Bellicent his mother does not wish him to go. “Hast thou no pity on my loneliness?” she asks. His father Lot is old and lies “like a log all but smouldered out.” Both his brothers have gone to Arthur’s court. Must he go too? If he will stay at home, she will arrange the hunt, and find him a princess for his bride, and make him happy. It was because she loved him that she wished to keep him; the tempter was speaking with the very voice of love. But Gareth answers:

“O mother, How can you keep me tethered to you–shame. Man am I grown, and man’s work must I do. Follow the deer? Follow the Christ the King. Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King– Else, wherefore born?”

The lad went out, but the voice of love tempted him to stay.

That was what happened to Jesus. “A man’s foes,” said Jesus, “will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36). They came and they tried to take him home, because they said that he was mad (Mk.3:21). To them he seemed to be throwing his life and his career away; to them he seemed to be making a fool of himself; and they tried to stop him. Sometimes the bitterest of all temptations come to us from the voice of love.

(iii) There is one very odd way in which temptation can come, especially to younger people. There is in most of us a queer streak, which, at least in certain company, makes us wish to appear worse than we are. We do not wish to appear soft and pious, namby-pamby and holy. We would rather be thought daredevil, swashbuckling adventurers, men of the world and not innocents. Augustine has a famous passage in his confessions: “Among my equals I was ashamed of being less shameless than others, when I heard them boast of their wickedness…. And I took pleasure not only in the pleasure of the deed but in the praise…. I made myself worse than I was, that I might not be reproached, and when in anything I had not sinned as the most abandoned ones, I would say that I had done what I had not done, that I might not seem contemptible.” Many a man has begun on some indulgence, or introduced himself to some habit, because he did not wish to appear less experienced in worldliness than the company in which he happened to be. One of the great defences against temptation is simply the courage to be good.

THE ATTACK OF TEMPTATION

Matt. 6:13 (continued)

(iv) But temptation comes not only from outside us; it comes from inside us too. If there was nothing in us to which temptation could appeal then it would be helpless to defeat us. In every one of us there is some weak spot; and at that weak spot temptation launches its attack.

The point of vulnerability differs in all of us. What is a violent temptation to one man, leaves another man quite unmoved; and what leaves one man quite unmoved may be an irresistible temptation to another. Sir James Barrie has a play called The Will. Mr. Davizes, the lawyer, noticed that an old clerk, who had been in his service for many years, was looking very ill. He asked him if anything was the matter. The old man told him that his doctor had informed him that he was suffering from a fatal and incurable disease.

Mr Devizes [uncomfortably]: I’m sure it’s not what you fear. Any specialist would tell you so. Surtees [without looking up]: I’ve been to one, sir–yesterday. Mr Devizes: Well? Surtees: It’s–that, sir. Mr Devizes: He couldn’t be sure. Surtees: Yes, sir. Mr Devizes: An operation– Surtees: Too late for that, he said. If I had been operated on long ago, I might have had a chance. Mr Devizes: But you didn’t have it long ago. Surtees: Not to my knowledge, sir; but he says it was there all the same, always in me, a black spot, not as big as a pin’s head, but waiting to spread and destroy me in the fulness of time. Mr Devizes [helplessly]: It seems damnably unfair. Surtees [humbly]: I don’t know, sir. He says there is a spot of that kind in pretty nigh all of us, and, if we don’t look out, it does for us in the end. Mr Devizes: No. No. No. Surtees: He called it the accursed thing. I think he meant we should know of it, and be on the watch.

In every man there is the weak spot, which, if he is not on the watch, can ruin him. Somewhere in every man there is the flaw, some fault of temperament which can ruin life, some instinct or passion so strong that it may at any time snap the leash, some quirk in our make-up that makes what is a pleasure to someone else a menace to us. We should realize it, and be on the watch.

(v) But, strangely enough, temptation comes sometimes not from our weakest point, but from our strongest point. If there is one thing of which we are in the habit of saying. “That is one thing anyway which I would never do,” it is just there that we should be upon the watch. History is full of the stories of castles which were taken just at the point where the defenders thought them so strong that no guard was necessary. Nothing gives temptation its chance like over-confidence. At our weakest and at our strongest points we must be upon the watch.

THE DEFENCE AGAINST TEMPTATION

Matt. 6:13 (continued)

We have thought of the attack of temptation; let us now assemble our defences against temptation.

(i) There is the simple defence of self-respect. When Nehemiah’s life was in danger, it was suggested that he should quit his work and shut himself in the Temple until the danger was past. His answer was: “Should such a man as I flee? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in” (Neh.6:11). A man may escape many things, but he cannot escape himself. He must live with his memories, and if he has lost his self-respect life becomes intolerable. Once President Garfield was urged to take a profitable, but dishonourable, course of action. It was said, “No one will ever know.” His answer was, “President Garfield will know–and I’ve got to sleep with him.” When a man is tempted, he may well defend himself by saying, “Is a man like me going to do a thing like that?”

(ii) There is the defence of tradition. No man can lightly fail the traditions and the heritage into which he has entered, and which have taken generations to build up. When Pericles, the greatest of the statesmen of Athens, was going to address the Athenian Assembly, he always whispered to himself: “Pericles, remember that you are an Athenian and that you go to speak to Athenians.”

One of the epics of the Second World War was the defence of Tobruk. The Coldstream Guards cut their way out of Tobruk, but only a handful of them survived, and even these were just shadows of men. Two hundred survivors out of two battalions were being cared for by the R.A.F. A Coldstream Guards officer was in the mess. Another officer said to him, “After all, as Foot Guards, you had no option but to have a go.” And an R.A.F. man standing there said, “It must be pretty tough to be in the Brigade of Guards, because tradition compels you to carry on irrespective of circumstances.”

The power of a tradition is one of the greatest things in life. We belong to a country, a school, a family, a Church. What we do affects that to which we belong. We cannot lightly betray the traditions into which we have entered.

(iii) There is the defence of those whom we love and those who love us. Many a man would sin, if the only penalty he had to bear was the penalty he would have to bear himself; but he is saved from sin because he could not meet the pain that would appear in someone’s eyes, if he made shipwreck of his life.

Laura Richards has a parable like this:

“A man sat by the door of his house smoking his pipe, and his neighbour sat beside him and tempted him. `You are poor,’ said the neighbour, `and you are out of work and here is a way of bettering yourself. It will be an easy job and it will bring in money, and it is no more dishonest than things that are done every day by respectable people. You will be a fool to throw away such a chance as this. Come with me and we will settle the matter at once.’ And the man listened. Just then his young wife came to the door of the cottage and she had her baby in her arms. `Will you hold the baby for a minute,’ she said. ‘He is fretful and I must hang out the clothes to dry.’ The man took the baby and held him on his knees. And as he held him, the child looked up, and the eyes of the child spoke: `I am flesh of your flesh,’ said the child’s eyes. `I am soul of your soul. Where you lead I shall follow. Lead the way, father. My feet come after yours.’ Then said the man to his neighbour: `Go, and come here no more.'”

A man might be perfectly willing to pay the price of sin, if that price affected only himself. But if he remembers that his sin will break someone else’s heart, he will have a strong defence against temptation.

(iv) There is the defence of the presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not a figure in a book; he is a living presence. Sometimes we ask, “What would you do, if you suddenly found Christ standing beside you ? How would you live, if Jesus Christ was a guest in your house?” But the whole point of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ is beside us, and he is a guest in every home. His is the unescapable presence, and, therefore, we must make all life fit for him to see. We have a strong defence against temptation in the memory of the continual presence of Jesus Christ.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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