I grew up in a part of the country where there were a good number of deer, which meant that there were also a good number of deer hunters during hunting season. Some of these were “city slickers,” who knew nothing of deer or of hunting. Those of us who lived in the country resented the city folks coming out and hunting deer on our land, deer that we had fattened on our apples and vegetables all year long. Some of these “hunters” were dangerous, hunting and shooting in ways that damaged property and even took human life.
Because of this tension between the city folks and us country folk, there were always stories circulating about hunters. One such story (which may even have been true) was about the city dude who stopped at a country store to inquire what a deer looked like. Here was a hunter who didn’t even know what he was supposed to shoot at. This kind of ignorance caused farmers a great deal of trouble. I read a newspaper article about a farmer who painted the letters “C O W” on his cow, for fear that it would be shot, as many cattle have been during deer season.
Not knowing what you are looking for is even more dangerous when it comes to temptation. My first thought was to view temptation as being a solicitation to do what we know to be evil. Adam and Eve were tempted to do something which God had clearly indicated was evil. The foolish young man in Proverbs (chapter 7), who was seduced by “madam folly” was also enticed to do evil.
When you stop to think about it, Satan hardly needs to work at this kind of temptation. Because man is now a fallen creature, in rebellion against God and under the control of Satan through the lusts of the flesh and the fear of death, man needs little inducement to sin. In Romans chapter 7 Paul tells us that the Law is used of sin to promote evil. When the law prohibits sin, our rebellious nature wants to do exactly what the law has forbidden. When the law commands certain things to be done, our flesh has the inclination to disobey.
Consequently, the greatest, most dangerous form of temptation is that which entices men to do what is ultimately devastating and destructive, as though it were the doing of what was right. That which Satan sought to tempt our Lord to do was not represented as evil, but as good. Satan’s messengers not only appear as the wretched instruments of evil that they are, but also as “angels of light” (cf. 2 Cor. 11:14-15), promoting evil in the name of good.
I found an excellent illustration of this kind of deception this past week. A letter came in the mail. On the outside of the envelope were the words, in red ink, “sexually explicit ad.” On first thought one might be inclined to think kindly of these advertisers. After all, they have been so honest as to “warn” the reader of material which is offensive and objectionable. But on second thought this “warning” can be viewed as the “teaser,” the advertizers “hook,” appealing to one’s curiosity (at best), to tempt him to see what is to explicit.
You and I will undoubtedly never be tempted by Satan as our Lord was. We will probably never rate a personal appearance of Satan or his personal attention to us. More often than not, the temptation which comes our way will not be immediately apparent as a solicitation to do evil. Very often temptation comes to us as a “golden opportunity,” or the “chance of a lifetime.” Temptation comes in various forms, some of which appear to be pious. Thus, we must be very careful to define temptation, to be able to identify it, and then to know how to deal with it.
I am saying at the outset of this message that we not only need to learn how to deal with temptation, we also need to learn how to recognize temptation. This is true for several reasons. The first is that the fall of man has clouded man’s ability to distinguish evil from good. If Satan had been truthful in his temptation of Adam and Eve, recognizing temptation would be no problem for man. After all, did he not assure them that partaking of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would make them wise, just like God (Gen. 3:5)? Sin and Satan do not make sin readily apparent as much as they dull man’s perception of sin (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 2:11). It is our Lord Jesus Christ who, in His coming, has revealed sin (John 1).
The second reason why it is imperative for us to be able to recognize temptation is because most advertising is temptation. Hundreds of times a day we are bombarded with media solicitations to buy something. The methods used are almost identical with Satan’s techniques of temptation. Consequently we have become oblivious to the existence of “tempting” mechanisms and approaches. Indeed, we are almost inclined to expect to be tempted. We are conditioned to purchase that product whose manufacturers do the best job of tempting us to buy it. Consequently temptation is so common we do not even recognize it.
In this lesson we are going to attempt to draw together all of the particulars of the past three lessons and to come up with some overall conclusions and applications. First, we will seek to define temptation, and to identify some of its characteristics, so that we will be able to recognize it when it comes our way. Second, we will seek to clarify the ways in which our Lord’s temptation was like those of our own. Finally, we will identify some of the principles which governed our Lord’s response to Satan’s wiles, which are applicable to us as well.
When our Lord dealt with the solicitations of Satan He responded to them as the temptations they were. We will be greatly helped in our struggle with sin if we are able to recognize the temptations which come upon us as such. How can we recognize temptations? In the same way that our Lord did in our text. On what basis, then, did our Lord recognize each of these temptations as solicitations to sin? What are the earmarks of temptation? Our text suggests several characteristics of temptation.
(1) Our Lord identified Satan as the source of His temptations. We know that no temptation comes from God (James 1:13). We also know that Satan is a liar, a murderer, a deceiver, and a thief. Thus, whatever comes from Satan is going to be sinful in nature. Satan never prompts men to act righteously. He may prompt men to appear righteous, but He never promotes righteousness. Thus, we must always view the “offer” in terms of the offerer. Only good and perfect things come from God, the “Father of lights” (James 1:17). Only evil things come from Satan, the prince of darkness (Eph. 6:12; Col. 1:13).
As a further study, I recommend that you read through the book of Proverbs, where the wicked are portrayed as those who encourage their fellow-man to do evil (cf. for example, 1:10ff.). Satan, his demons, and those in this world under his control all are the sources of untold temptations.70 The wicked cannot be the source of good, and thus we must always consider the source of the offer.
(2) Temptation is proposing any act which is inconsistent with the plans and purposes of God for that person. It is not just the wicked who can tempt us, as our Lord’s words to Peter make very clear:
“Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matt. 16:23).
Peter rebuked our Lord for speaking of His suffering and death in Jerusalem. In seeking to turn our Lord from His destiny, Peter was but a mouthpiece for Satan, and thus was addressed as such. Temptation is that which prompts us to do that which is against God’s word and His will. Temptation is thus a solicitation to sin in general, but it is also an enticement to sin in particular, that is it seeks to divert us from what God has for us to be and to do. All three of Satan’s temptations were diversions from Messiah’s calling and ministry. Our Lord recognized them as such, and thus refused them.
(3) Temptation may prompt an action which has the appearance of godliness and righteousness, and may even seem to have a biblical basis. Satan’s final temptation in Luke’s account was one that was “biblically based,” at least in Satan’s mind. Temptation may very well be couched in biblical terminology. Temptation proposes, as it were, a biblical “lion in the road” (to use the terminology of Proverbs), which seems to compel a certain action.
(4) Temptation appeals to man to satisfy a need or a desire, but in a way that is displeasing to God. When Satan tempts men (whether directly or indirectly) he appeals to a human need or desire, which provides an incentive to fulfill it. Satan appealed to our Lord’s hunger, hoping that He would satisfy it in a way that would be sinful. So, too, it would seem, in the second temptation, he appealed to our Lord’s “need” as Messiah to have a kingdom.
(5) Temptation is an appeal to act independently of God and to pursue self-interest above God’s will. Commanding stone to become bread
would have been an independent act on the part of our Lord, for the purpose of satisfying His own needs, but independently of God. Temptation may challenge us to act (make stone into bread) when we should wait (for God to provide), or to be passive (bow the knee to Satan) when we should act (to aggressively attack Satan and His kingdom).
(6) Temptation often seeks to motivate disobedience by creating a doubt about God’s goodness or power, thus prompting one to act in his own behalf. The goodness of God is questioned by the challenge of Satan that our Lord make stone into bread, or to leap from the pinnacle of the temple.
(7) Temptation is an enticement to pursue God’s will and calling, but by motives or means which are inconsistent with that calling. Ostensibly, Satan was encouraging our Lord to pursue His calling and destiny as the “Son of God.” In reality, Satan was challenging our Lord to establish His kingdom by jumping from the pinnacle of the temple, to force God’s hand and to modify God’s timing. Satan would have our Lord attain His kingdom by worshipping him, rather than by worshipping and obeying God.
(8) Temptation proposes a short-cut, an easier way to reach our goals. Satan’s temptations propose some way in which man can meet his needs or goals, but with a lower price tag, with less pain and self-sacrifice. Temptation always seems to offer a big prize for a small price, a kingdom for a mere bowing of the knee, but there is always a higher, hidden cost. Temptation offers future rewards now; it trades the future for the present, pleasure for pain, and the seen for the unseen.
(9) Temptation thrives on falsehood, deception, and evasion. Temptation and truth are seldom found together. Temptation is always very selective about the facts it reveals, and most often it lies about the facts. Temptation tells men what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. It therefore minimizes the consequences of an evil act and maximizes the benefits. It promises the knowledge of good and evil, and it denies the penalty of death.
(10) Temptation is very frequently a solicitation to act immediately, hastily, without prayer, counsel, or deliberation. Every act which Satan proposed our Lord perform was an immediate one. That is, every temptation which is described is a temptation to act “now.” Our Lord was to command the stone to become bread now. He was to bow down to Satan in worship, and thus receive his kingdom now. He was also urged jump from the pinnacle of the temple now. Ultimately, sin in unreasonable, and thus Satan gives one little time to ponder his actions.
(11) Temptation usually appeals to our lower motives and instincts. We should not need to be tempted to buy life insurance. A person should hardly require convincing concerning their responsibility to provide for their loved ones. It is the carnival, with its virtually useless “goods” and services which require the “hawkers” and barkers. Temptation appeals to my greed, but truth appeals to grace. Temptation appeals to lust, but truth appeals to love.
(12) Temptation usually appeals to the person who feels the need to prove himself. The commercials appeal to the young man who feels the necessity of proving his masculinity, or to the woman who feels it necessary to prove her femininity. All three of Satan’s temptations were based on a challenge that Jesus prove that He was the Son of God. Note Satan’s big “if.”
In the final analysis, we can sum up the earmarks of temptation from three perspectives. From a Godward perspective, temptation solicits doubt as to God’s goodness, love, and power, leading to unbelief, disobedience, and misplaced worship. From a man-ward perspective, temptation encourages man to seek his own interests, to act on his own behalf, and to be independent and self-reliant. From a satanic perspective, temptation seeks to divert men from serving God to serving Satan.
Christ’s victory over the temptations of Satan had various implications and applications. For Christ, emerging sinless from the temptations proved Him to be qualified as God’s Son to rule over the earth. It further proved Him to be the Lamb of God, without spot, and thus qualified to die for the sins of men. In my opinion, the temptation of our Lord served to clarify and to intensify His sense of calling and direction. He came forth from His testings full of the Spirit and power, and immediately began to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. In addition, He began to attack the kingdom of Satan, casting out demons, and begin acknowledged as the Son of God by them. They even acknowledged that He had come to destroy them (cf. Luke 4:31-34). For Israel, it proved the Lord Jesus to be her Messiah. He identified with the nation by reliving, as it were, Israel’s experience in the wilderness, but without sin or rebellion, as was the case with Israel.
But beyond this, in the temptation Christ identified with mankind, with men in general. In particular, we can say that He identified with us. The question is, “To what extent did He identify with man?”
The writer to the Hebrews expounds the meaning of our Lord’s temptation and testing perhaps more than any other New Testament writer. These two texts focus on the identification of our Lord with man in His temptation and testing:
Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God , to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted (Heb. 2:14-18).
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “THOU ART MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE”; just as He says also in another passage, “THOU ART A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.”
In the days of His flesh, when He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and who was heard because of His piety, although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation; being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 4:14–5:10).
In the first text we are told that our Lord identified with man by taking on human flesh, by becoming a partaker of flesh and blood (Heb. 2:14). We are also told that “He had to be made like His brethren in all things” (2:17). What constitutes the “all things” of which the writer speaks?
The expression “all things” cannot include the sin nature of man and his being born in sin, for our Lord was both “without sin” and “without a sin nature.” As James put the matter, God cannot be tempted by evil (James 1:13). That is, when Satan “tempts” men, he finds within each and every man a natural inborn tendency to rebel against God. This is true both for the Christian (Romans 7) and the unbeliever (1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:5-8; Eph. 2:1-3).
The key to the issue here may be found in the term “made.” Our Lord, says the writer, was created like His brethren in all things. Sin and the sin nature was not a matter of creation, but a matter of transmission. Our Lord was like man in every regard, in those matters which are determined by creation. No wonder Luke goes to such great detail to describe the unique and miraculous birth (creation) of our Lord.
The difference between our Lord’s lack of a sin nature and man’s innate inclination toward sin can be illustrated in this way. An alcoholic has a known and recognized predisposition toward alcohol. The mere hint of this substance can produce incredible temptation. A non-alcoholic is not affected by this substance in the same way, and thus can be in close proximity to it without great agony or temptation. So it is with Satan’s solicitations to sin. All men are, like the alcoholic, inclined toward sin and thus tempted by it. Thus, we must pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Our Lord, on the other hand, has no such attraction, and thus the Spirit of God could lead Him into temptation and He could emerge victorious.
It is precisely because our Lord was free from sin that He could die as the sin-bearer of the world. On the other hand, the writer to the Hebrews is intent upon stressing all the many ways in which our Lord did identify with mankind. In particular, I believe that our Lord identified with fallen man by taking on his weaknesses and limitations. That is, in our Lord’s temptation by Satan I believe that He chose to use none of His inherent powers of deity, but to emerge victorious from His temptation by utilizing the same resources which are available to every child of God. Just as we cannot withstand sin and Satan in our natural abilities, so in the setting aside of the use of His divine power, our Lord was required to utilize the same resources God has given us. The writer to the Hebrews emphasizes this temporary and voluntary “weakness” of our Lord when he says,
But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for every one (Heb. 2:9).
Christ identified with man, took on man’s weaknesses and temporarily set aside the use of His innate power. The power by which He overcame Satan and carried out His ministry was that which He had in submission to the will and word of God and in dependence on the Holy Spirit. Thus Christ, although He did not have a sin nature, did experience the struggle with sin that man has in his humanity. He did not defeat Satan and resist temptation with His (intrinsic) divine power, but He defeated Satan by those same means which are provided for us—the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and the worship of God.71
The first lesson which we can learn from our text is how to recognize temptation. Let me suggest some tests for temptation, based on the characteristics of temptation, pointed out earlier in this lesson:
(1) Who or what is the source of the offer? Can I trust the tempter? Is he or she a person of proven character? What do they have to gain?
(2) What are the long-term consequences of the proposed action? Do I get immediate pleasure or benefit, but at the cost of long-term benefits? Does the benefit endure, or does it quickly pass?
(3) To what motive or desire does the offer appeal?
(4) How does the proposed action square with God’s Word? Is there a biblical prohibition which forbids it? Is there a biblical imperative which commands it? Is it a matter of personal freedom or liberty?
(5) How does the proposal square with my goals and calling in life? With my priorities? With my values?
(6) How will the proposal impact my walk with God? Will it draw me closer to God? Will it cause me to be more dependent on Him? Will it enhance and enrich my worship? Will it strengthen my faith?
(7) What will it cost? What will the real, bottom-line cost be? What are the hidden costs? Who will pay the cost? Is the proposal one in which I gain at the expense of others, or one in which others gain at my expense (the biblical ideal)?
(8) Am I being hurried to act quickly, rather than to think the matter through carefully? Will the “deal” really not be available in the future? Why not?
(9) How much scrutiny and investigation is encouraged and/or allowed? Does the solicitor want me to check out the offer, or to act quickly?
(10) Am I considering this proposition because I feel that I need to prove something to someone?
In addition to these “temptation tests” our text provides us with a number of principles which relate to our daily lives:
It is not Sin to be Tempted. I know of many who agonize over temptation. Indeed, they should. You will remember that “righteous Lot” was vexed as he saw the sin around him. But while we should be vexed by temptation, we should not feel guilty about being tempted. If our Lord was tempted beyond that which any man has been tempted and was without sin, then we must conclude that being tempted is not a sin. What we do with that temptation can become a matter of sin.
No Temptation is Beyond Our Ability to Resist. If you grant the premise that our Lord faced all of Satan’s temptations with the same divinely provided means which God has given every Christian and emerged triumphant, then we must conclude that there is no temptation which comes our way which is beyond of God-given capacity to resist. As Paul put the matter in his epistle to the Corinthians:
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 Cor. 10:13).
In the first chapter of his first epistle, the apostle Peter says virtually the same thing, only in greater detail. He reminds his readers that God has, by His divine power, “granted to us every thing pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3). God needs to provide no more. The Christian simply needs to appropriate more of what God has already provided. He has given us His Word and His Spirit. As we are guided and governed by these provisions, we will experience victory over sin and temptation. There will not be perfection in this life, but there can and should be growth.
Perhaps you have heard someone attempt to justify their sin by saying something like this: “But I’m only a man.”
In this sense, so was our Lord, so far as the means He employed to deal with Satan’s best shots. So, too, were all the saints of the ages, who did resist sin and temptation.
No Temptation is Permanently Overcome, Never Again to Occur or to Appeal to Us. Our Lord emerged from these temptations victorious, but just because our Lord prevailed does not mean that Satan threw up his hands and quit. Our text ends with these words:
And when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time (Luke 4:13).
Some of the very same temptations can be found as the recorded life of our Lord continues in the gospels, sometimes on the lips of Jesus’ enemies, and sometimes even from the lips of His disciples (e.g. Matt. 16:23).
No Temptation is Unique to Us, for Which There is not a Biblical Precedent or Principle. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we are told that there is no temptation which will come our way except those which are common to man. No temptation is unique. Every temptation which we will ever face has been faced before, many times. Even the temptations of our Lord were not unique. For each temptation, our Lord found a parallel in principle in Israel’s history, and thus He could refute Satan by citing a biblical principle from an Old Testament text.
All too often I hear people justifying their actions by attempting to justify their particular situation and temptation as unique. In effect they are saying, “No one has ever faced the situation I am in, and if they had, they would have sinned, too.”
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tested in every area, and our account in Luke supports this (cf. Luke 4:2, 13). Since our temptations are not unique, Our Lord has faced it before (with the power God provides all His children), and the saints have faced them before, victoriously.
The Biblical Antithesis and Antidote to Temptation is Exhortation. As I have thought about the matter of temptation it occurred to me that we can better understand it in the light of its opposite. What is it that is the antithesis of temptation? I believe that it is exhortation—encouragement. If temptation is the solicitation to do that which is wrong, exhortation is the encouragement to do what is right. This is one benefit which we have which our Lord did not. Even His closest disciples failed to grasp what God had called our Lord to do—to die as a criminal on a Roman cross, to bear the sins of men. Thus, rather than encourage our Lord, they, resisted the reality of His life’s calling. So it was that Peter rebuked our Lord for talking about His coming death in Jerusalem in Matthew 16.
The Bible frequently exhorts the saints to encourage one another:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near (Heb. 10:23-25).
And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another (Rom. 15:14).
Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing … And we urge your, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men (1 Thes. 5:11, 14).
Encouragement entails the Christian coming alongside another, warning him or her of the consequences of pursuing a path of sin, and urging that they pursue the path of righteousness. This is one of God’s divinely provided resources against sin.
Our Lord Dealt with Temptation Positively, Rather than Negatively. I am not talking about the kind of “positive thinking” which is so popular today. Rather, I am stressing that Satan always seems to be striving to cause the saint to think negatively, to think in terms of what he or she cannot do, rather than in terms of the freedom God has given. Thus, rather than to point out all of the trees which God had given Adam and Eve to eat of Satan drew their attention to the one tree from which they could not eat. Every offer of Satan that our Lord declined, He declined because He was pursuing a higher, positive good. He did not think in terms of His hunger, but in terms of the superiority of His life in obedience to the word of God. Just as an Olympic athlete gladly gives up some things to attain a “better reward,” so our Lord viewed those things which Satan offered and He declined.
There is a final lesson to be learned from our text which is not immediately apparent, but which is vital to an understanding of the nature of the kingdom of which our Lord was appointed as King. The nature of our Lord’s kingdom is something like the operating system of a computer. The computer is a wonderful piece of equipment, but it has no value unless there is an operating system which defines how the various components of the computer are to work. The operating system must always be operating, even though it is not apparent to the user. Whether you are doing word processing, using a data base or a spread sheet, the operating system is quietly doing its work. Interfere with that operating system and the program is crashed. In the temptation of our Lord Satan was seeking to “crash the system,” to “terminate the program” of the kingdom of God. He was seeking to do so by changing the very principles on which the kingdom of God was based.
Put simply, Satan’s “operating system” is one that is based upon raw power and authority, while that of our Lord is based on love. Throughout the temptation of our Lord, Satan challenged Jesus to prove His sonship and to establish His kingdom by using His power, by forcing things to comply with His needs and wishes. That, of course, is precisely the way Satan operates. I have never heard of anyone who has become a follower of Satan because of love, but only because of power. Either they fear Satan’s power and serve him to appease him, or they want to have use of his power to benefit themselves.
Our Lord’s kingdom was not going to be based upon raw power, but on love. Christ was not going to compel men to be a part of His kingdom by the use of His force, but attract them to Himself and His kingdom by love. The Sermon on the Mount was, as it were, the “constitution of the kingdom.” Instead of retaliating, one must turn the other cheek. Instead of a kingdom composed of the rich and powerful, it was a kingdom of the meek, of peacemakers. The reason was simple: men would not enter into the kingdom on the basis of their merits (strength, wealth, power), but on the basis of the shed blood of the Messiah.
Our Lord’s disciples were often guilty of thinking in terms of power, rather than love, just like others. When our Lord was resisted, they wanted to use God’s power to wipe out their “enemies” (Luke 9:51-56). When the disciples thought about the kingdom, one of their principle concerns was what position of power they would hold (Mark 9:33ff.). When Jesus spoke of His own suffering and death, they resisted the thought (Matt. 16:21ff.).
Love, on the one hand, relinquishes power, but on the other love is itself the great power. The use of force simply prompts the other party to resist with equal or greater force. Love disarms the other party, and makes it easier for this person to change and to enter into a relationship of love and genuine fellowship. The power of sheer force quickly vanishes in the absence of the power broker, but the power of love lingers on, long after death.
I do not mean to represent force and love as complete opposites, totally incompatible with each other. I do mean to say that power or force must always be governed by love. In the kingdom of God, the power of God is directed by God’s love. Love may require the use of power or force, but force is most often employed without love.
I believe that the relationship between power and love is one of the most difficult issues of the Christian’s experience. The Corinthian saints were awe-struck with power, but they were lacking in love. The Corinthians were mesmerized by “charismatic,” persuasive, powerful, people. They thus took pride in who their leaders were. They prided themselves in the possessing certain gifts, which they assumed were evidence of greater spiritual power. The 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians underscored the superiority of love.
The church at Ephesus, as described in the second chapter of the book of Revelation (vv. 1-7) was marked by its purity and its perseverance, but it was rebuked for its lack of love. The entire Old Testament Law was summarized by two commandments, both of which were to love. The goal of Paul’s instruction was love (1 Tim. 1:5). That which marks out the disciples of our Lord is their love for one another (John 13:35). It was God’s love for the world which brought Jesus Christ into the world, to be rejected of men, and to die that men might be saved (John 3:16). Love is the one thing which Satan can not grasp, and which he sought to turn our Lord from. The basis of the kingdom of Satan is raw power and fear; that of our Lord is love, which casts out fear.
This view of the relationship between love and power enhances my understanding of a couple of difficult texts in the Bible. In Ephesians we read,
And, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).
The explanations of this text are many. The question must be asked, “Why is it that fathers are viewed as being in danger of provoking their children to wrath, when mothers are not?” I think that the answer is that fathers tend to resort to power, to force, to authority, rather than to rely on love. “Don’t ask why, just do it!” “Because I told you so!” The easiest way of getting things done is to resort to raw power. But discipline and instruction is the product of love, not power (cf. Heb. 12). Notice that our Lord appealed to His disciples to obey Him out of love for Him (cf. John 15).
The same thing can be said with reference to this exhortation to husbands:
So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for not one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body (Eph. 5:28-30).
Why are wives not commanded to love their husbands, while husbands are commanded to love their wives? I think that the answer is that husbands have a higher authority, and thus are tempted to resort to their power, rather than to love as the guiding principle and moving force in their relationship with their wives. The biblical command for wives to submit in Ephesians 5 becomes a club in the hands of an unloving husband, who uses these texts to enhance his power and position, not to enhance his wife, as Christ has given Himself for His church.
It is my contention that Satan, somewhat like a computer “hacker,” was trying to “crash the program” which God had for His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Ultimately, he was trying to turn our Lord from the path of love (for God and man), submission (to the Father’s will) and service. It is my conviction that it is in these very areas that most Christians are tempted and fail. Let us seek to walk the path of love, by the power of God’s Spirit, to His glory.