Six-year-old Tommy entered the kitchen with two pieces of candy in his hand.
“Look Mom, I found two pieces of candy in the drawer.” His mother saw his younger brother following him. “Are you going to share your candy with your brother?” Tommy answered, “I can’t share with him; I only have two pieces of candy, and that’s not enough to share.” Mom was not ready to relent. “Now Tommy, let’s think about this for a minute. Are you sure that is the right thing to do. If Jesus was here right now, what do you think he would do?” Tommy thought for a moment and then answered, “I think that if Jesus was here, he would make two more pieces of candy for my brother.”
In an issue of American Sociological Review, a recent study shows that young married couples have a greater tendency to divorce if they live in an area with a high concentration of singles. They analyzed 2,592 married men and women in their 20s. These participants were interviewed annually for seven years then that data was cross-referenced with the demographics of their area. Those surrounded by greater numbers of available partners had higher divorce rates. Temptation works like that. When the majority of those around us are doing things differently than we are, our temptation to join them increases. Sometimes we need to change the environment we are in, or make certain we have ample support to keep us from being adversely impacted by it.
Temptation is an enticement or invitation to sin, with the implied promise of greater good to be derived from following the way of disobedience. A good example is Adam and Eve in the Garden. In this sense, God does not tempt humanity, nor can God as the holy God be tempted (James 1:13). The supreme tempter is Satan, who is able to play upon the weakness of human nature (James 1:14) and so to lead people to destruction.
The gospel of Jesus Christ directs man to resist temptation, promising blessedness to those who do (James 1:12). In the Old Testament, temptation can best be understood as testing or proving. The Lord tests Israel to prove the true nature of her faithfulness to Him. His purpose is not to induce His people to sin but to confirm their faith. As in the case of Job, Satan the tempter can serve the Lord’s purpose. The story is told of an elderly man who, a number of years ago, had lost his right arm in an accident. At first the trauma of the loss totally destroyed the man’s desire to attend or enter into any sports even though they had been so much a part of his life. All this brought him to severe depression; however, it wasn’t long before a caring friend talked him into a game of handball and he was hooked. Amazingly, as fast as his depression came, he lost it. Within a few years he was considered one of the best handball players in his area and had been in numerous tournaments, always doing well and making the game look so easy. In one tournament he easily won his way into the finals and after making it look so easy, he won the final two games against one of the best players in the game, a man thirty years younger. In an interview with the local newspaper after the match he was asked: “How did you do it?” To this he replied, “Decisions.” Not satisfied with such a simple answer the reporter asked what he meant, “It’s easy; every time the ball was hit to my opponent he had to decide which hand to hit it with, however, when the ball was hit to me . . . it was easy because I had already made my decision.” What would our lives be like if every time adversity or Satan himself puts the ball in our “court” we had already decided how we would return it?
Why is it that opportunity knocks only once yet temptation bangs on the door constantly? Have you ever noticed that everyone has a “home remedy” for something? My father-in-law it was garlic. The person suffering on TV it is Philips. Others it is Vicks Vapo Rub and still others something out of the health food store. There are four (4) cures for temptation!
The first cure is to FLEE. Paul writes, Flee from sexual immorality. (1 Cor 6:18) Paul continues to write to the young Timothy, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Tim 6:11) Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants were inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. (Gen 39)
Secondly, the gospel also directs us to pray for deliverance from exposure to temptation and from surrender to it (Matt 6:13; Luke 11:4). Several years ago, Dr. Ruth Berenda and a group of fellow psychologists rediscovered the dramatic power of societal pressure. In an experiment they invited ten teenagers into a room where three charts were displayed. Each chart had three lines of different lengths. The group members were asked to raise their hands when the teacher pointed to the longest line on each chart. One teen in each group did not know that the other nine teens had been instructed to raise their hands when the teacher pointed to the second longest line. The lone teen frequently looked somewhat confused but cast a wrong vote with the other nine students. Dr. Berenda’s data revealed that 75% of the teens allowed peer pressure to override their own better judgment. We all need the affirmation to choose what is right rather than what is popular. Living without Christ is like driving a car with its front end out of line. You can stay on the road if you grip the steering wheel with both hands and hang on tightly. Any lapse of attention, however, and you head straight for the ditch. Society in general-educators, political leaders, parents-exhorts us to drive straight and curb our destructive tendencies. Coming to Christ is a little like getting a front-end alignment. The pull toward the ditch is corrected from the inside. Not to say there won’t be bumps and potholes ahead that will still try to jar us off the road. Temptations and challenges will always test our alertness to steer a straight course. We can hardly afford to fall asleep at the wheel.
Thirdly, the Lord will not allow His people to encounter temptation beyond their Spirit-given ability to resist (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Peter 2:9). A man consulted a psychiatrist. He complained, “I’ve been misbehaving, Doc, and my conscience is troubling me.” The doctor asked, “And you want something that will strengthen your willpower?” The fellow replied, “Well, no, I was thinking of something that would weaken my conscience.” Researchers at Duke University Medical Center studied 1700 older Americans and discovered that those who regularly attended religious services had stronger immune responses than those who did not. Blood tests showed that attending church raised their level of immunity against disease. So believers are healthier in body as well as soul! Of course, attending church will never give you immunity from temptation, but it will make your resistance to temptation much stronger and you will be far less likely to yield to it.
Fourth, is memory. The ceiling of New York’s Grand Central Terminal recently received a $4.4 million cleaning. In October of 1995, Marina Yashina and Mary Flinn started cleaning the 1945 mural under which half a million people walk, or run, to catch trains each day. They removed fifty-two years of residue from diesel fumes, cigarette smoke, steel dust, and floating dirt. In one spot they found a half-inch-thick layer of grime. But these two artists didn’t want their work to go unnoticed so they left a spot. They purposefully did not clean an 8-by-3-foot section of the mural. Marina Yashina, a Moscow native who helped restore the Kremlin, said, “If we don’t leave something dirty, people will forget how it looked before.” Our testimony should be something like that old train station’s cleaned mural. We need to remember just enough of our life without Christ so we won’t be tempted to return to the filth of our sin.