This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Confessions: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 127
Sermon prepared by Rev. Dr. William T. Koopmans, Chatham, Ontario
Dear People of God,
Temptation is like slick ice on the parking lot. One careless move and you fall flat before you know it. Temptation is also like a trap door. One false step and you free-fall headlong down to the next story of sin!
The circumstances and situations of temptation create a danger zone! The warning signs should be up: "Danger – Keep Out!" All of us as followers of Jesus Christ will need to face situations in which we will be tempted. How are we equipped to face and avoid the crippling effects of temptation as we follow God in our Christian walk?
The passages we read introduce the topic of temptation in a clear and helpful way. In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul reflects upon some of the temptations that the ancient Israelites faced while they were on their journey. On the way from Egypt to Israel, under way to the land of hope and promise, they repeatedly faced the obstacles and barriers of temptation.
Circumstances and situations in life may change, but the Christian life will continue to challenge all of God’s children to avoid temptation. The sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer asks that God will not lead us into temptation but will, rather, deliver us from the evil one. Jesus truly understood the challenges that his followers would face. And we must understand that the quality of our Christian life will be directly related to the way that we are empowered to avoid temptation.
In this message we focus first upon the link between temptation and sin. Second, we look more closely at the prayer to be delivered from temptation and evil.
1. The link between temptation and sin
As God’s children we will experience temptation. That is true for everyone. And that itself is not sin. The Bible helps us to distinguish between being tempted and succumbing to temptation.
The sin of Adam and Eve was not that they were tempted but that they yielded to their temptation.
Likewise, it was not sinful of Christ to be tempted in the wilderness. He demonstrated his sinlessness by resisting temptation.
So, too, the fact that all followers of Christ will regularly undergo and experience temptation, as Christ did, shows that temptation does not automatically equate with sin.
Nevertheless, we must be cautious. The fact that being tempted is not automatically sinful, should not make us let down our guard! It is sinful for believers to deliberately place themselves into a position of temptation. To invite temptation is sinful.
We can invite temptation in a variety of ways. Temptation is invited when we use our imagination in sinful ways. If our imagination is focused upon coveting someone else’s possessions, then we are inviting temptation.
If the imagination is focused upon lust, we invite temptation.
If our mind delights to imagine "harm" upon people that we might have a grudge against, with those thoughts we invite ourselves into an arena of temptation.
People also "invite" temptation when they go to certain places. Picture the person who has a struggle with gambling and then deliberately drives by the entrance way to the nearest casino or flies off to Las Vegas. He or she is inviting temptation by going to that position of vulnerability.
To invite temptation in any such way goes contrary to the spirit and intent of the Lord’s Prayer. We are to pray, "Lead us not into temptation." That means essentially praying, "Father, help us to have our hearts set upon avoiding temptation." To pray that prayer with integrity we must also do our part to avoid going into areas of temptation. That means avoiding the mine-fields of the mind in which we imagine situations contrary to the holy life God intends. And it also means physically and practically steering clear of certain places, circumstances, people and situations that are contrary to Christian living. To accomplish that goal as followers of Jesus, the prayer to avoid temptation is crucial and we must consider it carefully!
2. The prayer to be delivered from temptation
There is a detail about this prayer for deliverance from temptation that we must not overlook.
Jesus teaches us to pray "Lead us not into temptation." Carefully notice the word "us!" Lead us not into temptation.
As with all of the other petitions, this part of the prayer is worded as a "group" petition. It is a collective request. The prayer is not merely a private, personal and individual desire.
If this prayer were merely a private matter, Jesus would have instructed us to pray, "Lead me not into temptation." Such a private, individual prayer is certainly also appropriate. There are times and situations in which each of us must sincerely pray individually, "Lead me not into temptation." As God’s children, nobody knows our own struggles and temptations better than we know them ourselves. And so it is appropriate that on a regular basis we should be very open and honest with God. Then we should pray about those struggles that are most specific to ourselves. A significant part of maturing as a Christian is learning to recognize the areas where we need personal growth!
If your struggle with temptation is that you have trouble controlling your anger, then you should pray that God will help you in that area.
If your temptation is in the realm of laziness, of an unwillingness to work for God’s kingdom, then make that your prayer.
Or, if your area of weakness is the temptation to gossip, to speak ill about other people in such a way that you break down rather than build up others in the faith, then you should make that your specific prayer.
By the same token, whether your area of temptation is to be described as one of greed, or of lust, of negativism or of indifference to the Christian faith — whatever you recognize as the temptation which becomes a barrier between you and God or between you and other believers — make that your specific focus of prayer! Name it for what it is as you pray to God. You will see how powerfully God begins to honour that prayer when you get specific!
However, let us realize that in praying that private, individual prayer — that prayer which is so absolutely necessary if we are to walk in holiness with our holy God and heavenly Father — we have not come to the end of our prayers with regard to temptation. The individual prayer is just one part of the bigger picture. Remember, we are also taught to pray collectively.
"Lead us not into temptation!"
To correctly express that collective prayer has a number of benefits.
(a) For one, we pray with and for each other. There is a great strength in praying for each other and with each other. That is part of the beauty of being the body of Christ. Prayer is an avenue by which we share our burdens. We share them not only with God but with each other. There is a sense of solidarity and support when we unite in prayer.
(b) Second, when we pray those prayers together, we are also compelled to put them into practice by being very careful not to lead each other into temptation.
The Christian family that around the dinner table prays "Lead us not into temptation", in that prayer makes a commitment to stand together against temptation. That family makes the commitment together to identify the temptations of Satan and to plan strategies to avoid those temptations.
The couple that in their marriage prays together, "Lead us not into temptation" has a responsibility before God to identify and to combat the areas of temptation that both of them experience. When we do that, openly and honestly, we show sincerity in combating temptation.
We all face temptation of various sorts. It is to our own disadvantage, to our own detriment, if we are not willing to face the reality of such temptations.
Picture this scene for a moment.
A married couple agrees to pray together. They bow their heads, politely. They pray the Lord’s Prayer, including this petition, "Lead us not into temptation." …and the rest....and, "Amen."
Then he opens his eyes; she opens her eyes. He says to her, "You know, I don’t really have many temptations to speak of. No serious ones anyway. Maybe sometimes some little, trivial stuff. Nothing big."
And she says, "Nah, me neither really. No big deal."
And then a million angels in heaven are going, "Whoa, hold on, wait a minute."
Talk about temptation! This couple has just walked right into one of the really big ones! To feel a smug sense of self-righteousness, complacency, and lack of need for personal direction from God is one of the most dangerous temptations.
We’ve got to back up a minute! Press rewind! Back this couple up to that prayer. "Lead us not into temptation!"
They conclude their prayer together. After the "Amen" there is a moment’s pause. And then he says, "You know, we face an incredible number of temptations every day! I face temptations at work." He adds, "Sometimes I have hard choices to make: Do I choose what is financially best for me? Or, do I sacrifice financially to do what seems more right? And sometimes I face temptations with other people at work."
She adds, "You are so right about all the temptations in life. We often face temptations, as a family, to compromise our Christian lifestyle: Sometimes it is in the forms of entertainment that we choose, or the way that we spend the money God gives us, or the priorities that we set for our time, or the attitudes that we harbour with regard to the church and other believers."
Do you see what has happened with this couple? They got specific. They identified the real temptations for what they are. And, with the help of God, through prayer, the Bible and the help of the Holy Spirit they take a real stand. That is what God is offering us in the prayer "Lead us not into temptation."
Then you see the benefit of the prayer that is to be prayed collectively.
Lead us not into temptation!
That is a prayer to be said together by families.
It is a desire to be prayed by young couples while they are dating. "Lead us not into temptation!" It is a prayer for friends to say before they go out together for an evening of fun.
Young people, if you want to find a true friend, a friend that will be a good friend for life, find someone who will pray with you, when you go out Friday night or Saturday night, "Lead us not into temptation."
When people sincerely pray that prayer together, we may know that they have a heart that seeks the will of God. The prayer "Lead us not into temptation," when sincerely spoken, places our lives together squarely at the mercy of our Heavenly Father.
Yes, we know! Our human nature urges us to pray a different prayer. By nature we want to mumble something like this prayer: "Lead us just far enough into temptation that we can have fun but not get ourselves into trouble."
If we take seriously the implications of this line in the Lord’s prayer, then as brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow children of the heavenly Father, and as heirs of salvation in Jesus, we will not only pray together but we will do what we can to help each other to avoid temptation.
Then it is our responsibility not only to pray for each other but also to be sure that we are not leading each other into temptation. And that also means that when we feel tempted we should be able call upon other believers, trusted Christian friends, to help us to avoid temptation.
Now we can just hear all the objections that get formulated in our minds.
Some will say, "I don’t mind asking for prayer requests if I am sick. I don’t mind sharing that kind of a need with another Christian. And if I didn’t have bread on my table, I might even ask other Christians to join me in that prayer too. But you’ll never in your life hear me ask another Christian to pray for me about my specific temptations."
By nature we have this feeling that when it comes to dealing with temptation we must be lone rangers!
But if that is our attitude we deprive ourselves of one of the true riches of Christian fellowship. There is great benefit in developing the kind of closeness as fellow Christians where we can pray for each other, not just for material blessings, not just for physical healing, but also for deliverance from temptation.
We need not doubt that when we sincerely ask for strength to withstand temptation God will be faithful to answer that prayer.
Recall once again the last half of our text, 1 Cor. 10:13 "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it."
When we pray for deliverance from temptation, we pray to the Saviour who has gone before us! We pray to a Saviour who knows the struggle of temptation. But he is a victorious warrior. He has overcome temptation and withstood its effects.
When we feel the lure of temptation let us not hesitate to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus and earnestly ask him to lead us on the road to wholeness! Amen
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
Welcome and Announcements
*Call to Worship: (from Isaiah 55:1,3,6)
Leader: God says to his people, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;"
All: "And you who have no money, come, buy and eat!"
Leader: "Give ear and come to me;
All: hear me, that your soul may live"
Leader: "I will make an everlasting covenant with you."
All: "Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near."
*Opening Song of worship: PsH 501:1,2,4,6,7 Oh, for a Thousand Tongues
*God's Greeting: "May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all. Amen."
Songs of Praise: PsH 553 Jesus Calls Us; O’er the Tumult (or Faithful One)
GOD CALLS US TO HOLY LIVING
Prayer of Confession
God’s Will for Our Lives: (Psalter Hymnal page 1015, responsively)
Song of Gratitude: PsH 267:1,2,4 And Can It Be
God's Promise of Grace
GOD GIVES US HIS WORD
* Song of Preparation: or prayer for illumination
Confessional Reading: HC LD 52, Q&A 127
Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Sermon: Praying to Avoid Temptation
Prayer of Application: "Father God, we thank you for the gift of prayer. We not only pray that you will help us to avoid temptation, but we also commit to obedience in doing our part to avoid inviting temptation into our lives. We thank you for the forgiveness we receive in Jesus Christ. In His name we pray, Amen."
GOD RECEIVES OUR RESPONSE
*Song of Response: 557 My Jesus, I Love Thee (stanza 3 a cappella)
*God's Parting Blessing
Doxology: 629 Worthy Is Christ (or How Great Is Our God)