The Book of James, Part 12:
Temptation: More about God's Goodness


Last week, we discussed a couple of aspects of the goodness of God.   I had planned to continue that study this morning, but I decided to chase another rabbit that was raised at the end of class last week.   You may remember that James tells us unequivocally that God does not tempt us.

Given this statement, the question was raised about why the Lord's Prayer includes a prayer "lead us not into temptation."   In the New American Standard, it is stated as "do not lead us into temptation."

As I studied this question, I came across a profound quote from Martin Luther.   In writing about The Lord's Prayer, and particularly concerning the part of it "lead us not into temptation", he said, "I wish that women would repeat the Lord's Prayer before opening their mouths."   I did not come up with that.  Blame Martin Luther.

As I researched the question this week, I found that this is not a new question.   For hundreds of years Christian scholars have been wrestling with this part of The Lord's Prayer.   It is universally agreed, as James so clearly told us, that God does not tempt us or anyone.   Temptation comes from within us, from our human sinful nature.   So what was Jesus talking about?

The Lord's Prayer is found in two locations in the New Testament.   The first is in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.   In that instance, Jesus goes on from Matthew 5:3 through 7:27.  To understand what the Sermon on the Mount was about, we only have to read Matthew 5:1-2

He is teaching the disciples what they needed to know and understand.   He starts with the Beatitudes, followed by their role in the world, about personal relationships, giving to the poor, prayer (The Lord's Prayer), fasting, anxiety, judging others, the golden rule, narrow gates, you know the tree by its fruit, and to base your life on the solid foundation.   This was a major set of teaching to the disciples.

According to Luke in Luke 11, at another time and place Jesus told them how to pray. Here is what Luke tells us:

Do you notice how shortened this instruction is?   What is missing? Notice that there is no ending, no doxology!

The long version, in Matthew (The Sermon on the Mount) says:

This is how he told them to pray: Notice that the end of verse 13 is in parenthesis.  That is because the older copies of the New Testament did not include the doxology, as it is known.  Most scholars feel that the doxology was added at a later date after the model prayer had become a part of liturgy to be recited as public prayer or chanted in public.   There is not much support for it having been a part of the actual quote of Jesus.   Remember, there are many "original" Greek texts, some with the doxology, some without it.  The Doxology is not the subject of the teaching from Jesus, nor is it the subject we are talking about today.

Debts = Sins:

I hope that you can realize that the word debts, in the phrase "forgive us our debts" is a metaphor for our sins.   The Greek word is opheilema [of·i·lay·mah] which means that which is owed, which is justly or legally due, a debt, metaphorically an offence, sin.  So Jesus is telling us to ask God to forgive our sins and to commit to forgive those who sin against us.

To deal with the question of "do not lead us into temptation," let's look at the whole clause:

Deliver us from Evil:

Let's take the easy part of it first.   The Greek word translated "deliver" is rhoumai [rhoo·om·ahee] which means to deliver from, or rescue from.

The Greek word translated as "evil" is poneros [pon·ay·ros] which means evil, wicked, wicked one, evil thing.   This word is in the nominative case which denotes a title in the Greek.  This means that it is a title of something or someone. Hence Jesus is saying, rescue us from "The Evil", or The Evil One, and is probably referring to keeping us from Satan.  Most scholars agree that the prayer is a prayer that God protect us from Satan.

That is a pretty reasonable thing to pray.   Help us fight off Satan, protect us from him, rescue us from his influence in our lives.

Lead us not into temptation:

Now let's get to the harder part.  James clearly states God does not tempt us but Jesus, in showing the disciples how to pray, says do not lead us into temptation.   By the way, I would argue that Jesus was teaching them how to pray, not what to pray, not the words to pray.   That is a whole other lesson about rote repetition of prayer, which Jesus said not to do, versus being taught how to pray.   We just read that Jesus said "do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do."

"Lead" comes from the Greek word eisphero [ice·fer·o], which means to bring into, to lead into. So this very clearly is a request not to be led into something.   The "something" is interpreted as temptation.

Temptation is from the Greek word peirasmos [pi·ras·mos] which means a trial, a proving or an enticement.  This would include, but not be limited to adversity, affliction, or trouble, sent by God and serving to test or prove one's character, faith, holiness.  Since James, without equivocation, tells us God does not entice is toward evil or the evil one, then we must interpret peirasmos as a test from God to develop us, mature us, prove us.

Remember that Jesus has just said: "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven".   Jesus says that we should be praying that we will not sin, which is God's will.  Anyone who wants to avoid sin and is praying to be forgiven for the sins committed would reasonably ask God's help not to sin again.  I think it is clear that this phrase is a plea that God prevent us from being put into a situation or condition which would involve grave temptation to sin.   It would also follow naturally that we would ask for God's help in defending against Satan and our human tendencies that come from his original corruption of our human nature.

I think the best understanding of this phrase is a prayer for God's help against being drawn or sucked into temptation, by our will and nature, with would lead to our sin, if we yielded.

This understanding is supported by the instructions of Jesus to his disciples when he told them in Matthew26:41:

More about God's Goodness:

Now back to the point that James was making, before we took the detour, that God is really really good to us.   Last week we dealt with:

  1. Because God is good, He does not tempt us. (Last week)
  2. Because God is good, He gives us good gifts. (Last week)
  3. This week we continue with

  4. Because God is good, He gives us new life.
Notice how the emphasis here is on God's work rather than ours.  It was His choice to make eternal life available to us.

How does new birth come about?

I think there are at least two meanings built into this phrase.   James was writing this letter to the new believers that had been disbursed after Pentecost.   So they were the first wave, the first generation of Christians. The first wave of the fruit (the results) of the teaching of Jesus.

In a broader sense, remember that God in the Old Testament required that the first fruit from each harvest be sacrificed to him.   So the fact that these new Christians were dedicated to Jesus, they were sort of the gift to God, like the Old Testament model of the sacrifice of the first fruit of the harvest.

There is one other aspect of "God is good" that you need to remember.

     4.  God is good and he does not change.

God does not change.   He does not deviate.   There is no shifting.   God is dependable.   Not only is God good, He will always be good! He never changes. What a wonderful source of comfort and security this truth can be for us. God was good, he is good, and he will be good, forever.

Remember that we broke this part of James' letter into four sections:

  1. Acknowledge The Danger of Temptation (1:13-15)
  2. Appreciate The Goodness of God           (1:16-18)
  3. Avoid the Appeal of Anger                      (1:19-20)
  4. Abandon the Rest of Sin                          (1:21)
We have now finished 1 & 2.

Next week:

In addition to another detour to chase a rabbit, we will try to cover 3 & 4.

Reread James 1:13-15 to prepare.   Consider the issue of anger and how you handle it, from yourself and from others.   See what the Holy Spirit has to say to you about anger and all the rest of the sins covered in the "the rest of sin."