Temptation. It seems to come in many forms to tax our strength and test our faith. Who can bear up under such intense and varied persecution from the enemy? Well I, believe the Lord when He said that we can (1Cor. 10:13) and although, the presentation of temptation has a myriad of guises, temptation itself really only comes in three forms as demonstrated in the example of the temptation of Jesus. Let’s take a look at the story of this in Matthew.
‘And the tempter came and said to Him, “If [since, because] You are the Son of God, [then use your status, position, power and] command that these stones become bread [so you may eat and live].”’ Mat. 4:3
Now, this particular temptation seems rather innocent as many do at first, for what can be more innocent than feeding oneself in order to survive? But let us remember that at the beginning of this chapter that Jesus had been led by the Spirit into the desert for a period of fasting and testing (Mat. 4:1,2). This was a Spirit-led endeavor for a specific spiritual purpose. While the flesh is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 6:19) and has an important part to play in God’s plan, it is the spirit within us that is God’s precious possession and the primary focus of His attention for He is the lover of our souls (Gal. 2:20).
The devil purposefully attacks the flesh, the weakest point of our being, with devastating attacks because if he wins the battle here, he can prevent deep roots that would anchor and feed our spiritual growth from forming. Like the parable of the sower (Mat. 13:1-23), this is the plant that sprouted but cares of world choked it out before it could become fruitful (Mat. 13:22). For those of us who have withstood the first two perils of the sown seed, this is the most dangerous kind of attack we must overcome to continue becoming the kind men and women of God described in Psalm 1. The danger in this first temptation is a three-pronged attack on our flesh.
One, it challenges you to take the lead, instead of being led by the spirit, taking the reins out of God’s hands. Two, it entices you to take your eyes off the eternal crown of salvation and puts it on the temporal, the fading glory of this world. It skews your focus from Jesus, to the storm. Three, it attempts to put the importance of this physical life above the importance of our spiritual one. All of these sow to the flesh, attempting to place your will, your vision, and your wisdom above God’s. Ultimately asking, whom will you obey? This is an attack on our obedience.
But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” Mat. 4:4
In essence saying something like, “Bread may satisfy the flesh for a time but true life, eternal life, is only found in the words that flow from the mouth of God. Obedience to God is life.”
The second temptation almost seems like a reasonable rendering of scriptural advice despite its twisted interpretation. It plays to our pride in the reputation of our piety under the guise of evangelism because it asks us to use our faith in God to have Him prove His reality through miraculous circumstances. This is the same thing the Pharisees and Sadducees were asking from Jesus in Matthew 12:38.
‘Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,
‘HE will command His angels concerning You’;
‘On their hands they will bear You up,
so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’” Mat. 4:5,6
Basically the devil was saying something like, “Since You are the Son of God and it is evident that you trust in Him, throw yourself from this temple to let the world know that your faith is justified when God saves you.”
True confidence in God, isn’t based on any extraneous evidence, such as miraculous signs and wonders. Real faith is based solely upon God’s unchanging character and faithfulness. God does not lie (Num. 23:19; Heb. 6:18). Therefore asking for further justification of our faith through a sign or miracle is in essence saying that we don’t truly trust that God is who He says He is. That is not to say that signs and wonders are bad and shouldn’t be prayed for but if the reason behind that prayer is really justification of ones faith then it is a prayer with wrong motives (Jam. 4:2b-3a) meant to bolster our lack of faith, rather than to testify to God’s loving kindness and mercy. This temptation plays on our pride but it is an attack on our faith.
‘Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Mat. 4:7
Jesus’ rebuttal here essentially affirms that, “God’s character is the proof of His faithfulness and there is no need to test Him.”
Now, this third temptation to me seems like the devil has nothing left to lose which is why he uses a blunt force temptation aimed at the strength of our Godly ideals. Testing our patience and perseverance with an “easy way out”. Scripture tells us that God is refining us, just as precious metals are refined through fire (Is. 48:10; 1Pet. 4:12,13; Ps. 119:75), so the Lord uses the affliction we face to “test our spiritual metal”. These can be exhausting and painful so it can be extremely tempting when a way is presented to us that at first glance accomplishes our spiritual goals and bypasses the painful trial.
‘Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Mat. 4:8,9
I would paraphrase this as, “I will give you all that you seek after right now, there is no need to endure the cross, if you just listen to me and do my will.”
This temptation strikes at our perseverance and dedication to God. It’s insidiousness is often hidden in the guise of compromise. Sacrificing a bit of morality for the sake of quick progress in achieving an otherwise honorable goal. This is an attack on our faithfulness to our Redeemer.
‘Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Mat. 4:10
Essentially, “You are wasting your breath Satan. Leave me! As it is written, God alone is worthy of faith and obedience and I will serve Him faithfully.”
When the word says that Jesus was tempted in every way (Heb. 4:15), I believe that it means that every temptation is one of these or a combination of these attacks. It seems to me that all sin can be related to falling prey to one or more of these three examples. Testing our obedience or submission to God’s will, trying our faith or trust in God’s faithfulness and wearing on our resolve or dedication in serving Him in the face of opposition or affliction.
Just like fire, each type of trial can either destroy you or refine you but it’s the choices that you make in the face of such temptation that determines the outcome (1Cor 10:13). If you believe in Jesus and His work on your behalf, then you can rest in His saving grace, so persevere (hold fast) until the end, and you will receive the crown of salvation.
“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12