The following is the ninth part of a series written by one of our members, David Carrico. Previous parts can be found at the links below:
“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:9-13a
We’re almost done with our meditations on the Model Prayer. Today we meditate on the last of the petitions, and the meditation is the longest one we’ve done. Let’s consider “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
This portion of verse tends to confuse new Christians—and probably some older ones as well—for it certainly seems to imply that God is actively involved in some way in tempting us to sin. Literally nothing is farther from the truth than that thought. James deals with that in his short epistle.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. James 1:13
God does not tempt anyone to do evil. No one. None. Has never happened. Will never happen. That is a fact that is just as solid as the fact of Christ’s resurrection upon which our very salvation rests. Believe it. It is totally contrary to His holy nature, and it will never occur. So we can dismiss that from our thoughts about this verse.
Part of the problem in reading this portion of verse is that “temptation” in English carries with it a strong connotation of sin and evil, but it is not the most accurate translation of the Greek word involved. The Greek word is a form of the word peirazó, which is really a morally neutral word. Whether it should be translated with a good connotation or an evil one depends on the context of the passage it’s used in. What peirazó literally means is to put to the test, to prove, to assay (like a mineral ore).
So the verse should more accurately read something like “And do not put us to the test, but deliver us from evil.” It’s not as elegant a translation as the traditional one seen in the NAS and most other English translations, but I think it does a better job of communicating the true meaning of the passage.
Being tested . . . None of us like to be tested. None of us like to be put under pressure, squeezed like a toothpaste tube. None of us like the stress, or the headaches, or the bad feelings of things going wrong. Yet we should not be surprised when those things come on us, for didn’t Jesus say:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:34-38
Jesus was pretty direct with the first disciples that following Him would not be an easy time; that even in their own families, which ought to be their greatest support, there would be division, dissension, and turmoil.
Yes, none of us like to be put to the test. Why? Well, among other things is the fact that it is when we are squeezed that we demonstrate what we really are. It is when the world is trying to hammer us, it is when our bodies agonize and deteriorate, it is when our friends abandon us that we show whether or not we really are disciples of Jesus Christ.
It’s a bit of an icky analogy, perhaps, but I really like the picture of the toothpaste tube. When you squeeze a toothpaste tube, when you put pressure on it, what comes out? Toothpaste. That’s because a toothpaste tube is created to hold toothpaste, and to give that toothpaste to everyone around it when it is squeezed.
Consider whether we should be like that toothpaste tube.
Are we created?
Physically (Psalm 139:13)
Spiritually (Ephesians 2:8-10a)
Should we be filled with something?
With the Spirit of God (Ephesians 5:18)
Do we have a purpose?
A double purpose:
To spread the gospel of Christ (Matthew 28:19-20)
To show the agape of God to the world (Matthew 22:35-40)
So when we are put to the test, what should come oozing out of us is the agape of God constantly replenished by the presence of the Spirit of God. Is that what happens?
All too often, no.
Because we haven’t been tested enough.
And now you’re going “Huh? What does being put to the test have to do with what we show when we’re tested?”
Yes, I know it sounds nuts, but listen to James again:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
It sounds like James is saying that our trials and tests have a purpose, doesn’t it? Well, since we’ve already established that God is sovereign, and that He does in fact have a will and a plan at work in His creation, it’s pretty safe to assume that what James is saying is the case. There is indeed a divine purpose behind our tests: to build our endurance in our faith. To make our faith stronger. Which in turn is part of what is needed to sanctify us, to make us more like Christ.
I’m going to use another physical world analogy here. Take the case of a body-builder, a guy who wants to win the Mr. Universe competition. At the beginning of his career, does he walk into the gym, pick up a set of barbells, pump them up and down a couple of times, then pronounce, “That’s it, I’m good to go . . .”? Of course not. He goes to the gym regularly, and he works hard at the weights, following a disciplined approach that tears down existing muscle mass to replace it with larger, stronger, greater muscle mass, until he arrives at (what he believes is) the ideal physique. It is a long, grueling, and often painful process.
In much the same manner, it is the trials and tests of our lives—health, marriages, children, jobs, etc.—that allow us to build and develop our faith into something that is muscular, that is strong. It is the learning to walk with God through the valley of the shadow of death that strengthens us. It is the facing of cancer or other dread diseases in our bodies, or even worse, in the bodies of our loved ones, that builds in us that 2 a.m. in the morning faith that allows us to trust God even in the darkest hours.
So yes, we should consider it a joy to know that God finds us worthy of growing more like Christ.
We’ve been focusing on the testing part of the phrase; now let’s consider the rest of the phrase: but deliver us from evil.
This reference to evil is probably why most translators use the word temptation in translating the first part of the phrase. But the Greek actually reads literally like “rescue us from the evil.” Because of this, some translations read something like “deliver us from the evil one.” So one way it looks like the prayer is referring to a generic evil or sin; the other way it looks like the prayer is referring to Satan. I lean to the second, myself. The malice and evil of Satan are focused on each of us in a very personal way, and I have no trouble at all in seeing him involved in this.
You see, every trial, every test, every assaying has two sides to it. It’s a pass/fail situation. You’re either going to choose to perform what God’s prescriptive will directs (responsibility of man, remember?), or you’re not. So while God considers it a test, Satan considers it an opportunity to tempt you. And he is very subtle, and very wily, and very very very well aware of our weaknesses. Here’s James again:
But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. James 1:14-16
Because of our human nature, despite our relationship with Jesus, Satan can find all the tools he needs to tempt us to do something other that what God prescribes.
So you see, what we see in this phrase of the prayer is an acknowledgement of our weakness. Left to our own devices, we will succumb to the evil one every time.
But we have a promise to cling to in our tests.
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13
First: Paul warns us against thinking that we can stand on our own two feet; that we will fall if we do so. Second, note that we are not unique: every test and trial we face has been faced by other believers during the ages, and will be faced by more believers in the times to come. But third, see the promise: God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear.
And finally, we have the example of Jesus himself:
And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” Matthew 26:39
Even Jesus, at the moment of His greatest test, asked God if He really had to go through with God’s plan. To me, that is the greatest proof in Scripture that He was fully human, because that is what every human asks in times of test: variations of “Why me?” or “Why do I have to go through this?”.
But His final response is also to me the greatest proof in Scripture that He was fully divine: “Let Your will be done.” That moment of supreme obedience could only be performed by the sinless Christ. Not one of us could have done it if we had been in His place.
So today, following the model of Jesus, when we are faced with tests, what should our response be? Obedience. Pure and simple obedience to the prescriptive will of God. And so this prayer is a prayer that God will work in us every day in such a way that we are not so overwhelmed with the pressure squeezing us that we lose sight of the need for our obedience, that we will be submissive to His will, and that we will be dependent on Him.
In a very real way, this little phrase is the tip of the spear. Everything else in this prayer leads to this part of the prayer. All of the praise, the honor, the confession, the forgiveness, the petitions, they all serve to bring us to this point where we tell God in our weakness that we cannot act as He would have us act without His hand of strength, protection, and provision on our lives. We cannot show agape to the world when we’re being squeezed without God. We cannot even be obedient to God without His help.
God, in Your will, do not let us be tested beyond our ability to cling to You in obedience. Amen.
It is at once perhaps the most honest and yet most liberating prayer we can pray.
Grace and peace to you.