Somehow, in this mix of life temptation has become a good idea… somehow in the mix of life commitment has become a bad idea… somehow being careful has become cautious and carefree has become exciting… Words don’t always mean what we think they mean, and they certainly aren’t used in the way we might understand them…
I spent some time with a few pioneering types this morning. Now, 300yrs ago that would have entailed wagons heading out west to settle the prairies, and in my previous work a pioneer is a type of plant that is particularly adapted to extreme conditions, but here I was drinking coffee with some youthworkers- pioneers the lot of them and not an ounce of chlorophyll to be seen (or a wagon either).
So yesterday we were thinking, among other things, about temptation- our Bible passage in the morning was from Matthew chapter 4 – the temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness. (we didn’t record it this week, but we did record Bishop Sarah speaking in the afternoon at our baptism and confirmation service here. So, what did I have to say about temptation… well this is what I had written, but undoubtedly it’s not what I said:
Discipleship and Temptation… Friction, resistance, inertia… Momentum, intention, acceleration, direction… Active and passive… Directionless, intentional… Temptation and opposition…
Take your pick- in football there is the opposing team, in sailing there are currents and conditions, in climbing your own fears and the rock, in music the challenge of harmonising and keeping time with others, in faith there is temptation and spiritual opposition.
In life opposing forces exist. When we deny that we limit our ability to withstand and overcome them.
So Jesus has been baptised, is about to start his ministry, goes into the wilderness- led by the Spirit to be tempted by the Devil… an odd turn of phrase but one that recognises an important truth- that there will be temptations on the path, and its sometimes best to confront them earlier rather than later.
My wife and I were married in July 2004, I was ordained in Sept 2008 when our first child was 1, and a couple of years later we decided to go on a marriage course- it wasn’t marriage counselling, it was marriage strengthening- we chose to attend to our relationship, to talk through things that could have become problems in the future, so that they wouldn’t. We’re not perfect by any means, but we have learnt a couple of things that we know help us, and have a better understanding of what makes each other tick… the temptation is to assume that once you’re married it’ll all be fine forever with no effort required (because goodness knows you put enough effort into the wedding)… and that’s just not true.
In our Christian lives, the best and the hardest parts are still to come after we’ve come to faith, been baptised and confirmed. How many folk have we seen come and go over the years? How many of those have we actually invested time in helping to grow their faith- in their discipleship?
The three areas Jesus is tempted in, and the ways he resists are really important to note-
Firstly- material things… don’t be happy with what you have. Jesus has come to the wilderness, he’s fasting on purpose… but bread would be nice. You have a car/job/house/partner, a shinier one would be nice… His response? Material things are not the only things that matter… Jesus looks beyond the temptation, and he bases his response on God’s words, not man’s opinions.
Secondly- people’s opinions of us and our identity… if you are who you say you are… those worries we have about what people think, of whether we’re doing the right thing… if I do this, what will they say? Shouldn’t I just take the easy option- for Jesus this would have been to go public and let people know who he was in a showy and visible way. For us as the church and as disciples it may be the opposite- to step back from public debate about the important things of life or to concede that the Gospel has nothing to say to culturally imposed values… but either way its about who and what guides us… our identity is as children of God before anything else- before our national identity, before our sexuality, our age, our gender, our career, what team we support or anything… and as such we understand life and read the Scripture from that perspective.
Thirdly- Jesus is then challenged about the basis of his identity- what is on the throne in our lives? What do we worship? Not just have a nice car, but the temptation to make the desire for more and better at the heart of our lives- to worship the god of consumerism… The only place that God can fit in our lives is on the throne… there is nowhere else big enough. If we refuse to allow him that place, then what are we trying to do? Cut out the bits we don’t like? Make God small enough to fit into the box we have for Him? Somehow expand life so that God can still be the creator and sustainer of the entire universe whilst still being less important than… our next holiday- when you stop for a moment to think its ludicrous, but it’s the sort of mental juggling that we find ourselves doing all to often.
And then the devil goes (in Luke’s gospel ‘until another opportunity should arise’). Temptation doesn’t go away forever. Nor does opposition, and nor do our own daft habits.
As Disciples the advice we find in the Bible has two parts to it- Paul advises Timothy to flee from temptation- the evil desires of youth (though middle age and older age have their own evil desires too)…. If we think we can stand up to temptation just by staring it in the eye we’re fools. However James writes that Christians should submit to God and resist the Devil- and he will flee from us- where there is spiritual attack rather than temptation we can, by holding close to God, take control of a situation.
To go back to that image from sailing- you don’t sail towards a storm but you don’t just drift with the currents…
For us- the importance of being active in our discipleship because there are things against us- the natural temptations of life and the spiritual opposition- both are present, both are to be recognised, neither should defeat us if we are wise.
Spiritual wisdom starts with awareness, and is a combination of practicality, allowing God to help us and expecting to have to put effort in ourselves… This has got to work, without God this probably won’t work, somehow it appears to be working…