Temptation is big business. Last year the UK spent a record £20Bn on advertising in the sole aim of getting us to succumb to their temptations and to part with our cash. Some of the adverts are great fun to watch with McVities biscuits and Specsavers topping the bill.
The account of the events surrounding Jesus’ time in the wilderness is told in three of the gospels and must have come from Jesus himself, telling his disciples what took place. He clearly thought they needed to know how to handle temptation and the subject matter is still very relevant as it deals with contemporary subjects of greed and power and the danger of compromise.
Temptation comes in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of consequence, but the Bible teaches us that temptation isn’t the real problem; no, the real problem lies in what we choose to do with it. There are two basic responses to temptation and we see them in the extracts from Genesis and Matthew’s gospel.
The world’s way is shown clearly in how Eve responds to the temptation of disobeying God’s guidance and instruction and then there is God’s way of handling the situation, shown in how Jesus deals with it. The outcomes are very different.
Eve makes a fundamental mistake right at the start; she enters into conversation with her tempter. Once this has begun she has given permission for that voice to continue to speak into her situation and to say the things she wants to hear even though she knows they are not what she should be listening to. Been there? I have. I know when I shouldn’t be thinking or considering certain things, but once I allow the voice to take even the smallest hold on me it’s an easy downwards slope into allowing it to happen and to take root in my imagination.
Eve is manipulated very skilfully. The surest way to persuade someone into doing something that they shouldn’t is to attack their personal identity; to undermine the truth of who they are and what they are capable of.
Verse 5 in Genesis chapter 3 reads: ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God’ – Her ignorance of her special identity is used to attack her. How? Because she was already like God. She had been made in God’s image and as such had all the resources she needed to rebuff the temptation. After that initial acceptance, it is then easier for her to be drawn deeper in and she begins to reinvent the truth into a form that is more convenient for her argument. Been there? I have. She says that God told her that she ‘must not touch it’, which is not what was said at all but reinforces her sense of indignance against not getting her own way.
Contrast this with the way in which Jesus deals with the same tempter. Notice in the account from Matthew that the voice starts straight away with the same method of attack as had been used on Eve. He attacks Jesus’ identity: ‘If you are the son of God’. Jesus knows exactly who he is and doesn’t waste a single breath on entering into discussing it. Instead he rebuffs the voice with a piece of spiritual truth that cannot be answered and so the tempter tries again with a different situation but using the same method. Eventually he realises that this isn’t working and so leaves Jesus alone until, as Luke’s account puts it; a more ‘opportune time’.
Whatever our battle ground is; physical, emotional, spiritual, food, finance, morals, doubt, anxiety etc., follow the example of Jesus. Don’t enter into conversation with the tempters voice; instead, speak God’s truth and life into your situation. That’s why knowing scripture and the truth of who God is, is so important to us.
Jesus responded just as scripture tells us to: ‘Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.’ – James 4:17. So when that voice next makes an appearance, do as Jesus did. Declare that God is in control of your life, speak the truth out loud and he will go.
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale