Week of April 23

How to Overcome Temptation

Read: 1 Samuel 19; 1 Chronicles 7; Psalm 59; Matthew 4
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
Matthew 4:1, ESV


Mature Christians will know that temptations provide them with crucial preparation for service to the Lord. Have you ever viewed temptations in this way? Jesus encountered temptation right on the heels of His mountain-top experience of God’s affirmation at His baptism and sets a wonderful example for us to follow (3:16-17). We will often reach crossroads where we must decide whether to pursue God’s path or bypass His way to follow a different one. Let’s learn from Christ’s example how to overcome temptation by following God’s principles.

The Meaning of the Text

Our supreme example when we are tempted
Christ’s mission on earth could have been easily derailed had He fallen prey to earthly temptations. There was the constant pressure to lay aside the humble attire of a suffering servant and to have clothed Himself in the glamorous political or military apparel of Israel’s liberator. Christ had to overcome these tests in order fulfill the ministry that God had given to Him. The Savior was tempted mightily to satisfy inappropriately His physical hunger (4:3; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3), to test God’s power to preserve Him (4: 5; cf. Deuteronomy 6:16), and to fulfill the lust for power (4:8-9; cf. Deuteronomy 6:13). Christ’s own encounter with temptation makes it possible for Him to truly sympathize with us.
Following the right “Guide” when we are tempted
I need to clarify a troubling statement in chapter 4, verse 1. The Bible states that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be “tempted” by the devil. The word “tempted” means “the act of leading somebody astray.” The aim is to cause them to commit an act of wrongdoing. Surely, the Spirit did not lead Jesus to commit an act of wrongdoing, nor is God in cahoots with the devil. Is He? Absolutely not! The Bible teaches us that God does not tempt us to do evil (James 1:13). Instead, the Spirit leads Jesus to the place of temptation, but He does not cause the temptation. We may be encouraged by this event and learn from it. There are several lessons to keep in mind.
Helpful insights when tempted
First, Jesus, our Savior was tempted, yet without sin. His humanity is in full view, and He provides us with an example to follow (Hebrews 4:15). Secondly, we need to see that the Spirit oversees this event and not the devil. There is not some cosmic duel going on between God and the devil with an uncertain conclusion. There is absolutely no doubt that God prevails over evil (cf. Job 1:6; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:56-57). Thirdly, we may learn a lesson about mountaintop spiritual experiences. They show our maturity, but they also are often followed immediately by valleys of testing (cf. 1 Kings 19:1-18; Romans 7:14-25; NAC)! You and I will be tempted, but this does not mean that we must fail and fall into sin. There is another point to consider.
Jesus shows us how to respond to the devil and his temptations. He was “led by the Spirit,” which is critical to gaining the victory over temptation (4:1). The Savior always relied upon God’s word in the trial (4:4). Notice, He quoted the Scriptures (4:4, 7, and 10; Deuteronomy 8:3; 6:16, and 6:13). There is much to be said about reading and memorizing the word of God! Now, let me widen our view for just a moment longer.
Key principles to apply when tempted
Please slow your minds down for just a moment. Jesus’ response to the tempter was based solidly upon biblical principles and teaches us a key moral lesson about how God’s world operates, and how His children follow Him. A recent Pathway Devotional on Matthew 1 reminded us that we are children of God’s family, so our faith-walks will resemble the same type of commitment that believers have exhibited through the centuries. They followed God’s principles, so we may be encouraged by their examples (cf. Hebrews 11). That’s the big family picture, but we need some practical direction. The Lord has provided it in Matthew 4.
The first principle teaches us that God knows our needs and supplies them for us (cf. Matthew 6:31-33). God fed Israel in their wilderness wanderings, and He will feed you, too, so trust Him. We need to take care, in the age of coronavirus when we lose our incomes, and in the age of plenty when we have an abundance, not to give way to the temptation to place physical needs over spiritual ones (cf. NAC; cf. Philippians 4:11-13; Matthew 6:34).
The second principle teaches us not to put God’s faithfulness to the test (cf. Psalm 91:1; NAC; EBC). In other words, we must not place ourselves in situations where we force God to act in certain ways (see Moral Pathway below). Sometimes our actions indicate our rebellion and not our dependence upon God (cf. Exodus 17:1-7)!
Thirdly, worship of God must be evident in our daily lives, or it is false worship (Exodus 20:1-3). The allure of power, authority, and wealth will surface again and again in Jesus’ earthly ministry, but He overcame each test and earned the victory (cf. 16:21-23). He was tempted to take an easier path than the “cross-walk.” We also must remember that earthly charms are tied to false worship (4:8-10; cf. Matthew 6:24). Let’s apply one of these principles in real time.

The Message for Our Lives

A “perfect” diamond was auctioned at Sotheby’s in April 2015 and ultimately sold for $22 million. “The 100-carat, emerald cut, D color, internally flawless diamond was the largest of its clarity and cut to ever have been shown at auction” (CNN). It was thought that a diamond of such impressive scale was nonexistent. Ah! The diamond had weighed 200 carats when it was mined and required careful refinement across a year to bring it to its final size and cut. We might say that the final beauty came through a most excruciating testing. Hmm.

Jesus represents our priceless, perfect “diamond.” He came into this world clothed in human flesh, lived a sinless life, died in our place on a cruel cross, and was raised victoriously from the grave on Easter morning. He offers us Easter hope!
Also notice the parallels with Jesus’ temptation experience and that of Ancient Israel: He participated in a forty day fast that was reflective of their forty-year wandering (Deuteronomy 8:2); there were hard lessons to be learned by Israel about life’s provisions (Deuteronomy 8:3, 5; cf. Matthew 5:6, “Hunger and thirst after righteousness”); they often put God to the test by their impudence (Exodus 17:1-3); they also lusted after a king even when God had pledged to be their Leader (1 Samuel 8:19-22). We, too often, fall prey again and again to the same temptations.
Follow Christ’s supreme example when we are tempted. Compare your own “Christian history” and pinpoint times and places where you fell prey to temptation! The glory is in the phrase, “yet without sin!” (Hebrews 4:15). The sinless Christ suffered and died when we were so utterly fallen in every conceivable way—nationally and individually—and incapable of earning God’s forgiveness. Matthew opens our understanding as to the reason Jesus would do this sort of thing—His passion for a lost and dying humanity (Matthew 4:23). Praise God for Christ’s supreme sacrifice on our behalf and His guidance when we are tempted.

For Thought and Action

1. Take time to recall a recent failure on your part. Review the principles and examples as stated above to see where you may have failed. Ask God to strengthen you for the future.
2. For Families: What kinds of things tempt your children? Do we parents know these things about our kids? It may be cookies in the pantry or candy in the bowl. It may be a certain game on their phones, or playing instead of doing their homework. It could be lying to parents, or taking money that does not belong to them, or cheating on a test, or some other kind of temptation to cross the line between good and bad choices.

Bring a fishing tackle box to the supper table and, after you have cleared the dishes, pull out your tackle box and show your kids all of your hooks, lures, spinner baits, and items designed for catching fish.
Show your kids on your phone pictures of painted fish with hooks attached, and ask them what would happen if a big fish were to swallow that bait. It looks very pretty, but once the fish swallows it, they are hooked and cannot get away!

The enemy uses “bait” and “hooks” to trick us into crossing lines of truth and lies, rebellion and obedience, and good and bad decisions. We are hooked when we listen to the Enemy and “take the bait.” Jesus helps us to choose the best path in these times if we will only recognize the temptation and quickly ask for His help!

Memorize together 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV):
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can escape it.”
May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock