Updated: Sep 29
“Can I interest you in dessert?”
Typically, we hear this phrase after we have asked for the remainder of our meal to be packed in to-go boxes. We have also had our fill of chips and salsa along with at least one appetizer. So, if we are unintentionally saving part of our meal as microwave leftovers for lunch tomorrow, we are probably not very tempted by the dessert menu.
A better plan would be for restaurants to leverage our weakness for chocolate before the chips or appetizer platter arrives. “As you look over our menu, can I interest you in our hot chocolate lava cake with a melted caramel center, drizzled in white chocolate shavings and sprinkled with happiness? We can get that in the oven right now and it will be warm and delicious by the time you are finished with dinner.” Checkmate.
Sometimes, temptation is all about timing and opportunity.
Other times, temptation is about the failure to seize an opportunity. One of the greatest temptations that confronts over 60% of the population happens to be associated with something you are using right now. Unless you printed this article on paper and are reading it while nibbling on leftovers from last night’s dinner, you are using a smartphone, computer, or another internet enabled device. The temptation to spend time crushing candy, angering birds or swiping through pictures of chocolate desserts is incredibly strong. If you don’t believe me, take a moment to check out your screen time located under your system settings. What percentage of the time recorded there would you define as “productive?” (Hint: playing Words with Friends does not count as improving your vocabulary.) The temptation to play one more game or quickly check our social media feeds often wins over the more productive tasks. Please understand, this is not a guilt trip. Mostly because… I am guilty. Instead, I am just pointing out that sometimes we are tempted by what we chose to do and other times by what we chose not to do.
So in the Lord’s Prayer, when we ask God “lead us not into temptation,” I have to wonder if God doesn’t look back at us and say, “Don’t look at me! You’re doing a pretty good job all by yourself.” In fact, I have always been a bit curious about this particular request. Why would Jesus tell us to plead with God to not lead us toward something that we have no problem chasing after ourselves?
Part of the problem lies in the translation of an important Greek word. Take a look at the difference between a few popular and familiar translations of Matthew 6:13:
“And lead us not into temptation,” - King James Version and New International Version
“And do not bring us to the time of trial,” - New Revised Standard Version
There are some similarities between “trials” and “temptations.” Both trials and temptations add stress to our lives and may result in physical, emotional or spiritual pain. However, there is also a critical difference between the two. Intentionality.
When tempted, our tempter is hoping for our failure. The desired outcome of the temptation is our defeat and disaster. When we are tested, the desired outcome is our success. When teachers tell us to close our books and sharpen our No. 2 pencils for a test, they are hoping that we will successfully demonstrate that we have learned the assigned material or mastered a new concept. While a few teachers may pride themselves on poor results to prove the difficulty of their class, I don’t believe this is the truest intention of education. A good teacher will create a controlled scenario where students can not only learn and grow, but also become more confident when facing tests that are uncontrolled and unexpected.
The problem that we face in Matthew 6:13 is that the Greek word peirasmon does not share the English distinction in intentionality between “testing” and “tempting.” Perhaps a little demonstration will be helpful. Pretend for a moment that it is the year 1611 and you have been asked by King James himself to translate the following verses from the Greek New Testament into English. So, you dip your goose-quill pen into the iron gall and begin writing amid the dim glow of a single candle. Most of the verses have already been translated by your colleagues, but they decided to leave you with all of the places where some form of the word peirasmon appears. You’re welcome! Now, it is up to you to decide how everyone in the English-speaking world will read these verses for centuries to come. Use some form of test or tempt to fill in each of the blanks below.
The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to _______ Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. (Matthew 16:1)
Just then a lawyer stood up to _______ Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the _______.’ ” (Luke 4:12)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be _______ by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)
No _______ has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
No one, when _______, should say, “I am being _______ by God”; for God cannot be _______ by evil and he himself tempts no one. (James 1:13)
Because he himself (Jesus) was _______ by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being _______. (Hebrews 2:18)
• • •
If that was difficult, don’t worry. You’re not alone! Below, I have included the same verses from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the King James Version (KJV). Notice how even the best scholars could not agree on the translation of peirasmon in these verses.
• • •
The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. (Matthew 16:1, NRSV)
The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. (Matthew 16:1, KJV)
• • •
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25, NRSV)
And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10:25, KJV)
• • •
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (Luke 4:12, NRSV)
And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. (Luke 4:12, KJV)
• • •
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1, NRSV)
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. (Matthew 4:1, KJV)
• • •
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, NRSV)
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, KJV)
• • •
No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. (James 1:13, NRSV)
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: (James 1:13, KJV)
• • •
Because he himself (Jesus) was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. (Hebrews 2:18, NRSV)
For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour (help) them that are tempted. (Hebrews 2:18, KJV)
• • •
Many of us may secretly hope that knowing the original languages of the Bible will clarify our questions or produce definitive answers. But Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, the three languages of the Bible, are simply languages. And, like other languages, they were written and read, spoken and heard, by humans. Language itself does not possess the solution to our problem.
To solve the mystery of “testing” versus “tempting” in Matthew 6:13, we need more information. Are their examples of God leading someone into temptation? If so, what were God’s intentions? Why would God put us in a situation where He would like to see us fail?
I cannot think of a single biblical example of God cheering against His people. And, I am not alone. Recently, Pope Francis seemed to have a similar concern with the Lord’s Prayer. In the December 2017 issue of The Guardian, Pope Francis was reported as saying, “It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation…. I am the one who falls; it’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that; a father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation, that’s his department.” As a result, the Pope has suggested a change in the wording of the Lord’s Prayer from “lead us not into temptation,” to “do not let us fall into temptation.”
I understand the inconsistency that the Pope is struggling to reconcile. Why would God give us commandments, and then put us in a situation where we are likely to break them? Why would God lead us to the banks of the river of sin, watch us jump in the water and then decide to send Jesus to rescue us from the destructive current? While I understand the problem, I disagree with the Pope’s solution. To ask God to keep us from temptation is to limit our ability to choose. The entire point of planting the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden was to give us a choice. Would we choose to follow God’s instructions or to follow our own path? If He didn’t want us to have the ability and freedom to choose, there was a simple solution: don’t plant the Tree.
Giving us the ability and opportunity to make our own choices does not mean that God takes our hand and leads us to the Tree and suggests that we give it a try after telling us it is off limits. In his letter to the earliest Christians, James writes:
No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; (James 1:13–14)
Clearly, James doesn’t believe that God tempts us, or leads us to be tempted. Thankfully, rather than changing the Lord’s Prayer, we have another option. If we decide to translate peirasmon as “testing” instead of “tempting,” we focus on God’s intention to see us grow and succeed. That doesn’t mean that the tests will not be real, easy or painless. Real tests rarely are. We might not want to be led into a time of testing, but we can have confidence knowing that God is on our side, working for our growth, and cheering for our success.
Since we asked for examples about God tempting us, are there examples in the Bible where God tests someone, intending for them to succeed? If you mentally just raised your hand like a child in Sunday School and said, “Jesus!”, you would be right! Gold star! Jesus was definitely tested.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
The key part here is the phrase “as we are.” According to the author of Hebrews, Jesus did not have a “get out of tests free” card. He did not have an unfair advantage when facing trials. When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane to avoid the intense suffering and rejection that awaited Him, he was not going through the motions. Gethsemane was a real and serious test. Thankfully for us, Jesus passed. God tests His people, including His Son.
Some of the tests and trials we face may come from God. Others may be the direct result of the actions or attitudes of those around us. Either way, we are not alone. We have help when facing our moments of testing.
Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. (Hebrews 2:18)
We will be tested, but we are not alone in the midst of it. Our help does not come from a poster on the wall of a kitten clinging to a tree limb with the caption, “Hang in there.” Jesus Himself knows what testing and trials are like. Amid our most difficult trials and our most painful tests, we can turn to Someone who truly understands.
Now, one final question. Why would God “lead us” into these times of testing? Clearly, tests are difficult and stressful at the very least. So…why? Well, would you want to go under anesthesia with a surgeon who graduated from a medical school that never required any examinations? Would you board an airplane if you knew that the pilots never took any flight tests to demonstrate their skills?
When I was a flight instructor, I had the privilege of teaching a group of Chinese students how to fly. Most of them had never driven a car, and now they were learning how to safely operate a complex piece of equipment in three-dimensions. They were also still learning English, while trying to master the intricacies of communicating over the radio with air traffic control. All of them were diligent and hardworking, but they were facing trials that most Americans who were learning to become a pilot did not have to contend with. And, that was just the beginning.
One beautiful spring day, we were flying over the Arizona desert on our way to a small uncontrolled airport northwest of Phoenix. My student was doing a fine job at the controls, so during the cruise portion of the flight, I decided to test him on his emergency procedures. I reached over, pulled the throttles to idle and told him that the engine just quit. The test had begun.
For a split second, my student froze. When he gathered himself from the initial shock, he reached for his emergency checklist, which then slipped through his shaking fingers and fell to the floor. As his eyes darted between the instruments and searching for the checklist that had just slid out of view, I could see that he was becoming increasingly unsettled. Instead of flying the airplane, he futilely searched for the checklist at his feet. The horizon began to roll to the right and our altimeter began to spin faster and faster as our descent rate increased. The situation snowballed. When he looked up from the floor and saw a lot more desert than sky out of the windscreen, he panicked. Before he could perform any unsafe maneuvers, I told him that I was taking control of the plane. The test was over. Once the aircraft was stable and in level flight, I turned to my student to talk him through what had happened and how to avoid making a similar chain of errors in the future. But before I could get any words out, sweat began pouring down his face and his skin turned pale. I offered him one of those special bags that are “found in the seat pocket in front of you,” and he promptly filled it.
My next task was to get some fresh air into the cabin. I carefully reached behind my student and opened the little four-inch square window next to him, and gave him a few minutes to recover. By the time I had turned my attention back to the flight instruments, my student said, “Sir, do you have another bag?” I thought to myself, “Those are pretty big bags and he probably weighs less than 150 pounds. How in the world did he fill it?” As I looked over, he added, “The one you gave me got sucked out the window while I was using it.” I was so glad we were still flying over uninhabited desert…
My student failed the test. Did I want him to fail? Absolutely not! After all, I was in the plane. I had a vested interest in his success.
After landing, we had an excellent conversation about what went wrong and how he could be better prepared next time. He did not dwell on his failure. He had let the fear, frustration and discouragement of the moment fly out the window with his sickness bag. Instead, he practiced and memorized procedures. We would spend a couple of hours each week in a mock-up of the cockpit rehearsing different emergency scenarios over and over again. In time, he became my best student at handling emergencies and passed his final flight test easily. That one test over the desert made him a better pilot.
But the test was not just about him. As I look back over my time with that particular student, I realize that testing him helped me as well. His determination to grow, challenged me to be a better instructor. We were in this together.
As he progressed and began passing test after test, I became more comfortable with him in the cockpit. And not just for myself, but for the thousands of passengers who will one day trust him to safely transport them to their destination without even knowing his name.
Tests and trials have the ability to make us better, reveal unseen weaknesses and help us grow. But they are only effective if we have the fortitude to face them and the willingness to learn. Tests are never easy, but they are necessary.
Tonight, as we prepare for the test and trials that will undoubtably arrive tomorrow, I leave you with the following words from James:
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy,
because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)