Liz has written several posts lately about the fruit of the spirit. This is a group of characteristics that are the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s working on us to the set-apart children of God to the world. The fruit of the spirit is evidence to ourselves and to the world that we are touched by a power greater than ourselves. However, that is not the only power in the world. Acting with equal fervour, if not equal strength, is the power that introduces temptation. Temptation is insidious, and while it can be resisted with the help of the power of God, it still manages to wiggle its way into many parts of our lives.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he had a time of preparation. His time of preparation was brought to a close by a time of temptation in the desert. He was tempted by the Angel of Lies with some of the greatest temptations we face. They are so dangerous for the simple fact that we often don’t even perceive them as temptations. They are temptations that we all face almost on a daily basis. If Jesus had given in to any of these temptations his ministry would have been radically changed, if not ended before it started. Giving in would have been putting himself above God’s kingdom or at least above others. He was tempted to turn a stone into bread so he could eat. He was tempted to jump off the height of the temple so angels could save him. He was tempted to accept from the Angel of Lies the power to rule the world as Jesus saw fit, instead of accept from God a radically different kind of power. These are three great temptations that represent many of the temptations that we all face in our daily lives, even when we don’t recognize them as such.
These are temptations that people face when stepping out to do work that is more about other people than themselves, to be a part of building God’s kingdom both at home and abroad. The temptation to provide what you want and need, whereas fasting may allow you to see other people’s needs more clearly. The temptation to prove your own importance by showing how much even God thinks of you, when humility allows others the first spot in line. The temptation to do things your way, with your power (because naturally you have everyone’s best interest at heart), when the way of community, interdependence, and the gospel provides deeper, longer lasting results. These are temptations that have the potential to take us deep into ourselves, but far away from the needs of others even while we are trying to help them. At one point in time we may have started down the road of even these temptations with many good intentions, but in the end we always end up being derailed by self-interest. Turning stone into bread for others results in us wanting more for ourselves. Bringing glory to God results in celebrity Christians. Our being in charge even when we desire a greater good results in dominance by leaders who require the subservience of others whereas the Bible calls for the first to be last, and promises that the weakness of some will shame the supposedly strong. When we travel far enough down the path of our temptation we will find ourselves acting not out of love for others, but out of love for ourselves and our comfort which is a way of operating that God does not list as a characteristic of his kingdom.
Jesus was able to resist these temptations because he recognized them for what they were and because he knew what was most important. As I step out into a continuation of my vocation, but in a completely different place and context than I have trained for I pray that I will have the strength to be weak and the wisdom to be humble. I pray that the comfort of my neighbours will be more important than my own and that my western mindset will never bar me from completing the task at hand – the task of being a part of the kingdom of God where ever I may be in the world. I pray we recognize our temptations for what they are and see God’s work, instead of our own, in our responses to others.