‘Blessed is anyone who endures temptation … No-one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God” … But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it’ (James 1:12–14 NRSV).
Last month I wrote that my congregation is without an ordained pastor. Either visiting pastors or lay-readers lead our services. Last Sunday’s lay-reading sermon was on the temptation of Jesus. The short, punchy message hit home with a few truths about what temptation is and how we respond to it.
We have plenty of reasons to be thankful for God’s blessings. For most of us, although not all, our daily life has never been better. Yet, without being unduly negative, we need to recognise that there is still plenty of temptation about. It feeds off the very blessings that make our lives good. Take your pick: materialism, cynicism, anxiety, despair, fear, envy, violence, self-indulgence, substance abuse – we can choose from all of these and more. The more we have, it seems, the more temptation opens itself up.
The sermon made a useful point about that. Temptation doesn’t draw us towards something, it draws us away from something. Temptation draws us away from God into an empty void that strips life of its meaning and purpose.
This affects us as a church. Surely, God fills our hearts with faith and lavishes us with gifts, including the Holy Spirit. We use these gifts in mission and service. Why then, on certain points, do we chase each other around the proverbial mulberry bush? It’s ironic, and perhaps tragic, that we find time and resources for our internal debates, and even run the risk of dividing our church over them, while the world into which God has sent us cries out for his love.
Such temptation does not come from God. It tries to draw us away from God, to forget the basis of faith. Yes, we are sinners, and God accepts sinners into his kingdom. That’s the astounding grace we receive, and which we extend to each other. We can’t stop God from loving us. We can’t stop loving each other, especially those who are not like us or have different viewpoints to ours – even on things we regard as precious.
In faith we are people of courage, not of fear. We will not let temptation draw us away from Jesus. I have that confidence and I hope you do, too. Standing together, we will love the world for which Christ died. The Scriptures show this love plainly for everyone to see. Soon, in Holy Week, the week of Christ’s passion, we will see the Tempter come back to Jesus for one last attempt to derail him from his saving work. We will see how Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. We will see how Jesus responded, and we will learn how our Saviour’s response to temptation was to willingly serve his Father and give up his life for all sinners.
Seeing these things, the core of our faith, we will again discover that we really do belong together, united in Christ, steeped in his forgiveness and chock-full of resurrection life. God gives us everything we need to reach out into the world with his love.