Message The Joy of Resisting Temptation
A couple weeks ago we talked about the need to receive and offer forgiveness. Forgiveness, when it is done right, can be an uncomfortable and difficult process, with no guarantee that there will be “no lingering consequences. The less we have to do it, the better off we are. This is why
L: Jesus taught us to pray
P: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For if we don’t fail, we don’t have to do that hard thing of forgiveness.
Temptation * is not from God * He wants us to win over it.
Martin Luther penned the proverb, “We cannot keep the birds from flying through the air, but we can keep them from nesting in our hair." The real issue is not temptation – but how we respond to it when it comes. Temptation is one thing. Consenting and yielding to it is another. Evil never becomes tired. When one temptation ceases, there always arises other fresh ones to attack us.
But why should we have to ask God to not tempt us? We will hear in a minute that God does not tempt us. So then what is the purpose of this request?
A few weeks back you may remember that when we asked for our daily bread, it is not because God doesn’t know what we need or is unwilling to provide it; but to remind us that hunger and poverty and need is all around us; that ultimately, and thankfully (we don’t take it for granted), God is our source of daily provision; and that he calls on us to participate in being the answer to that prayer for others.
- evil is present
- God is our source of victory
- We are called to be God’s instruments to help each other win.
The Bible has much advice, help and strength to give us when we are tempted. The texts speak for themselves. They sometimes mention specific temptations of which the original readers were especially susceptible (such as anxiety (we don’t have that any more today 😊) or anger (we don’t’ have that any more today 😊); but the principles can be applied to our life, whatever may be our temptations… We will participate in today’s Bible texts by singing and reading responsively. We will start with by singing the response twice…
Responsive Bible Reading Selections on Temptation with musical response
Musical Response (R)
He’s my rock, he’s my fortress, he’s my deliverer,
in him will I trust. Praise the name of Jesus. (Repeat)
L: Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, [for it] produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work -
P: - so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
L: Then, having stood the test, you will receive the crown of life that God promises to those who love him.
P: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”
L: For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by their own evil desire, they are dragged away and enticed. After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is full-grown, it gives birth to death.
P: But he gives us more grace. (R)
L: Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
P: [We will] come near to God.
L: and he will come near to you… Wash your hands and purify your hearts. Grieve, mourn and wail – (Repent).
P: [We will] humble ourselves before the Lord.
L: Humble yourselves under God's mighty hand, and he will lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you. Be alert and self-controlled. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
P: [We will] resist him, standing firm in the faith.
L: The family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
P: To him be the power forever and ever. (R)
L: If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is com-mon to humankind.
P: And God is faithful.
L: He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear but will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
P: Therefore [we will] flee from idolatry.
L: Flee from all this. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
P: [We will] fight the good fight of faith.
L: Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called... Put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.
ALL: We will not give the devil a foothold. (R)
Selections lifted from: James 1:2-4, 12-15, 4:4b-10; 1 Peter 5:6-11;
1 Corinthians 10:12-14, 1 Timothy 6:11-12a; Ephesians 4:25-27.
In the comic strip Hagar the Horrible, a church sign advertises the sermon title “The World’s Six Worst Sins”. The church is packed with Vikings wanting to find out how to get involved in them.
Most of us recognize the obviously ugly evils and are not tempted by them. But many temptations are, at least at first, innocent-looking, and appealing activities. They look and taste good, but the soul cannot stomach them.
An old infomercial begins with a tearful lady talking about how much she hated herself a little more each time she gave in because she could not control her temptation...
We experience the cycle: Enjoy a forbidden pleasure, feel guilty, determine to never do it again, take pride in brief moments of self-control, then fail again. Each time we repeat the pattern, the ruts are cut a bit deeper, the chains pulled a little tighter.
Sources of Temptation
1) within ourselves
Luther’s Catechism says that there are three sources of temptation. One is from within ourselves. People say, "I wasn't myself" or "I don't know what possessed me." Well, what possessed us was that we replaced “Thy will be done" with "my will be done." Recognize what is truly evil, acknowledge that there is something twisted within us that resonates, responds, and desires wrong things. They may be different wrong things for each of us – depending upon our different strengths and weaknesses, by various tastes and personalities, tempted by various evil pleasures, or evil distortions of legitimate God-given gifts.
The infomercial leaps forward in time and that same person now says with joy, “Every time I resist, every time I turn down that temptation, every time I gain control over my desires, I love myself a little better”.
And it is true -- every temptation resisted, every trial bravely borne, every obstacle overcome, each persecution successfully handled and forgiven, each hardship endured, each of these gives us more experience, strengthening and building our character and growing us to spiritual maturity. Succeeding through Spirit-led self-control leads to joy.
Sources of Temptation
2) around us
Some temptations are inspired from within our own flawed desires and weak disciplines. Other temptations are external pressures from our environment. Martin Luther says our world is filled with “nothing but hatred and envy, enmity, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, raillery (that’s “humorous” ridicule), slander, [misplaced] pride… honor, fame, and power, his list goes on and one then he concludes, no one is willing to be the least, everyone desires to sit at the head and to be seen before all. (And you just thought it was a modern problem).
Sources of Temptation
2) around us - avoidable
Some external temptations are avoidable. But too often, we want to play with it. We get as close to it as possible without “crossing the line”. The problem is, the closer you get to that line, the blurrier that line becomes, and it gets harder and harder to tell when we have crossed it. Philip Keller recommends that, for examples, that "If you've got sticky fingers [do you know what that means? yes you like to steal], then don't handle other peoples' things or money. If you can't handle power, then don't assume it – don’t accept places of position and power. (A Layman's Look at the Lord's Prayer).
A long time ago, I read about a new show that was designed to test individuals who were in serious relationships against the potential of a new exciting one. (via Fox.com on the Internet) This “reality” show made a game out of relationships and encouraging the people to prove their
"strength" by flirting with disastrous opportunities (and probably hoping for the worst).
Can we go to old haunts where old habits are so entrenched? Can we go to NEW dangerous places just to see how good we can do? It's like saying "I'll subscribe to porn, I just won't watch it." “I'll keep making or buying cakes and cookies and sweets and rolls, I just won't eat them”. I'll keep getting exhausted, stressed out, and full of headaches, and still manage my temper just fine.
Be smart and alert. Recognize your weakness, your vulnerabilities, learn how to adjust your life to avoid such situations. Avoid the avoidable. This is living out what it means to not be led into temptation.
Sources of Temptation
2) around us - unavoidable
We run from sin and evil. We are also instructed to pray, “deliver us from evil”. This part of the petition tells us that not all situations are avoidable. When we cannot run, we must be ready to resist so that evil runs.
A woman is in her apartment going about her daily tasks. A neighbor phones, wanting to borrow three dollars for laundry. He comes over in immodest tight cutoff shorts, receives the money, hesitates; then leaves. Realizing her husband is working as is his wife; he returns, falsely implies she sent signals to him as a way of pressuring her to give in to his advances. Luckily, this man finally accepts her refusal and leaves.
Sometimes what we think is something innocent throws us into an unavoidable test. You never know when evil pressures will metaphorically, or literally, knock at your door. That is why we must be ready, alert, never letting down our guard. We must be prayed up and studied up, able to claim God’s promises and resources – surrounding ourselves with every support we can so that we can resist the temptation that is always roaming about, looking for an opportunity to defeat us.
1) abandon old habits -- develop new ones
Alter destructive lifestyles, end or repair destructive relationships. It may not seem like it to us – it may seem like we are living in the moment, but more often than not, our life is governed, not as much by what we feel, think, or act in the moment, but by our established experiences and habits that we have formed over the years, that teach us how we are going to act in any given moment, how we are going to feel in any given moment. We need to learn the life we want to live -- bind up and imprison bad habits that keep us from what we want to become, and what God wants us to become. And develop good habits to replace those bad ones, and over time, as we create successful wins, we will find our lives freed to seek out new ways of living and relating to each other in which our spirit will reflect God's Spirit – and a restored human spirit. Successful living through Spirit-led self-control brings true joy. This is living out what it means to be delivered from evil.
Sources of Temptation
3) evil powers
Sometimes the phrase is translated “but deliver us from the evil one.” That is the third source of temptation. It is that direct attack on your spirit. When you are running late, and you get every red signal on the way, it is the power that whispers in your ear that it manipulated the lights just to get you angry. When the elevator gets stuck between floors, you sense it as the force that jammed the elevator “just to frustrate you” and deter your life. It is the small voice in your heart that convinces you into thinking that loving relationships are all hot kisses and never a pile of dirty dishes. It is that distracting energy the makes want to neglect loved ones who so desperately need your encouragement. It is that “random” inner voice that spews lies that you are not valued, not loved, not important. That life is against you and you cannot win…
Whether literal or metaphorical, we all know the reality of these kinds of attacks. It can come in many subtle or aggressive forms, wanting to cause conditions in which is it is easy for us to fall into hatred, develop a spirit of doubt and unbelief, appropriate attitudes of envy, and support structures of destruction.
2) humbly accept God’s help
When it feels like evil is attacking from within and from without, surrounding us on all sides – chasing and hunting us down like a baby gazelle separated from the herd -- pray. Pray that God will not allow us to be worn down. And even if we do experience a failure, to not give up. To keep returning to the strength of God and the strength of the herd (the herd is our fellow Christians). Allow him to warm our hearts and strengthen our resolve, to subdue our rebellious nature by his love, so that by his power and strength we may resist -- and temptation loses its power -- and the grace of Christ transforms our character from one victory to the next.
Closing Prayer Let’s pray. Dear Lord, while we live on this earth, we are confronted by temptations from within, from without, by evil [the evil one] None escape the allurement of temptation. When Jesus lived among us, he experienced temptation, yet he was victorious because he deeply depended upon you and your word, and by so doing became a light to the nations of what it means to be human as humanity is meant to be. We are amazed that as we turn to you, we find promised resources that you lavish upon us again and again; that we will have every opportunity to run or to resist by the power of your limitless love.
Closing Blessing Now, Lord, we go in the name of the One who does not withhold his love, but faithfully listens to the prayers of those who reverently worship him. Amen. Let’s stand and sing our closing song which you will find on the back of the bulletin or on the projection…
Closing Hymn He Giveth More Grace