Thursday, March 17, 2011

Temptation: The Desire to Put Pleasure Before God

Matthew 4:1-11

What is temptation?  A rather simple answer is the enticement to sin.  I often tell the teens that a simple definition of sin is "selfishness."  Tonight I am looking at the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4, and asking two questions: What was Jesus being tempted with, and what can we learn from this event in Jesus' life?

The more I think about this passage the more questions I began to ask.  I have read that these temptations  correspond to the types of desires found in John's first letter (2:15-17), and are the same desires experienced by Eve and Adam which led to their sin; the desire of the flesh, desire of the eyes and pride of "possessions" ("life" in other translations).  It is difficult however to correlate these three desires with Jesus' first.

What is desire though?  I've never really thought about this until today.  To answer that question I posed another, what do we truly desire?  When I think about desire I automatically think about things that please me.  I desire things that are physically and emotionally pleasing.  So to desire is want pleasure, and right away I was able to pinpoint two types of pleasure; the sensual (physical) pleasure and an emotive (emotional) pleasure, but looking at the desires found in John that correlate to the desires Eve and Adam experienced (Gen 3:1-6) it is evident that there are at least three types of "worldly" desire.  What is the third?

The first two desires John lists he precedes with the word "desire" but not with the last one.  Interestingly enough, for the last desire he uses the word "pride."  This got me to thinking.  The first two desires come stem from things outside of ourselves.  The sensual desire is for pleasure that comes from something outside of ourselves acting upon our senses.  The emotive desire is for pleasure that comes from something outside of ourselves acting upon our emotions, but the third desire does not depend upon what is on the outside (though it certainly involves outside things).  The third desire is for pleasure that comes from something inside of ourselves.  It is pride.  It is pleasure that we produce in ourselves and is due to how we view ourselves.  How we view ourselves may have to do with outside things, but it is a pleasure that is produced from within concerning ourselves and not things outside of us.

When Eve and Adam sinned it says that they "....saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was as delight to the eyes, and the tree was desired to make one wise."  They saw that the tree had fruit that would bring a physical pleasure.  They saw that the tree and fruit themselves was pleasing to the eye (it had aesthetic value and brought forth emotional pleasure).  They saw that the fruit held something that would develop a pleasure within themselves for themselves; namely, it would make them equal to God.

What about Jesus's temptations though?  The first temptation is relatively easy to correlate.  Jesus had been fasting for 40 days.  He was hungry.  There was a definite desire to please the flesh with food.  So Satan took the opportunity to tempt him.  The temptation was to give into the desire to be pleased.  Jesus made the universe surely he had the power to make bread!  But Jesus would later say that he did nothing apart from his Father's will.  He would not sacrifice pleasing God for his own physical pleasure.

The second is a little harder to correlate, but I believe it really makes perfect sense.  Outside of Jesus's physical desires and pleasures what did he most emotionally desire?  He wanted people to come to God and he knew that it was only through him that they could.  Again, God had a plan in how this was to be done, but couldn't it be done a little faster and easier.  God's plan called for his ultimate death, but what if he could do something REALLY miraculous?!  What if he could jump from the top of the temple, above thousands of people (which included the "righteous" of Israel) and as they watched have his angels stop him in mid air?  Again, Jesus was not above putting his emotional pleasures above pleasing God.

The third temptation is even harder (at least it was in my mind) to correlate, but once again I think it makes perfect sense.  From the very beginning of Matthew's Gospel it is shown that Jesus is THE King, but even so, the world would not be bowing down to him any time soon.  During Jesus's own life he would have relatively few people (comparatively speaking) bowing down to him.  Satan, who has been given temporary authority over the world, was offering Jesus a short cut of sorts (though it really wasn't his to offer).  Jesus could take pride in having accomplished what he set out to do so soon.  He could bypass God's plan and accomplish it in a different way (at least that might have been the temptation) by merely bowing down to Satan.  He didn't have to die, but Jesus didn't want pleasure in himself from his own resourcefulness.  He wanted to please God.

True temptation is the desire to put pleasure before God.  Sin is when we give into this temptation.  There is nothing wrong with pleasure.  God created us to experience pleasure, but there is a fourth and greater pleasure that should be sought above all other pleasure.  The fourth and greatest pleasure is pleasing God.  We sin when we put our love for the pleasures of this world above pleasing God.  When we do this we end up hurting ourselves and others.

By understanding what pleases us we can avoid giving into many temptations.  If we make pleasing God the focus of our lives we will find it harder to give into worldly pleasures.  Again, to put our worldly pleasures above pleasing God brings disaster upon us and those around us.  It is okay to experience the pleasures of this world, but it is not okay to make them the focal point of our existence.

Here is something to think about in closing.  Take a look at the list of "unrighteous" Paul gives in Cor 6:9.  What do you notice?  Everyone of the "unrighteous" are people who have made the pursuit of worldly pleasure he focal point of their lives.  Are you one of the "unrighteous" in this list?  If you can't find yourself in this list try Gal 5:19-21.  The point is, have you put the pursuit of worldly pleasure above your pursuit to please God?  Are you continuing to sit on the throne of your life instead of turning it over to God?

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