Robert Jeffress - The Truth About Testing - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to, "Pathway to Victory". In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil. So would God put any one of us through that same type of test? And does that mean God is the one who leads us into temptation? Well, there's a big difference between testing and tempting, and that's a distinction I want to make clear to you today. My message is titled, "The Truth About Testing", on today's edition of, "Pathway to Victory".
Well, today we're talking about the subject of testing, so it's only logical that we would begin the message with a test, okay? Take out your papers, take out a pen, and there are three questions to this test. Please keep your eyes on your own paper, okay? A very simple question, question number one, who is responsible for the temptations that come into my life? Is it God? Or is it Satan? Who's responsible for the temptations that come into my life? Is it God? Or is it Satan? Question number two, who is responsible for the tests that come into my life? Who's responsible for the tests that come into my life? Is it God? Or is it Satan? And then question number three, is it all right to ask God to spare me from difficult situations in life, even if those difficult situations strengthen my faith? Is it okay to ask God to keep me from going through difficulties in life, to spare me from all problems in life, even if those problems strengthen my faith?
I think the answer to all three questions will surprise you this morning. We're going to find them in Matthew 6:13. If you would, turn there as we look at, "The truth about testing". Remember the background for this prayer? The disciples had hung around Jesus just long enough to be captivated by the kind of life he led. They saw the supernatural power that flowed through him. They saw that how he had peace of mind, no matter what was happening around him. They saw his intimacy with God, and they said, "You know what? We want some of that in our life". Now, these weren't the smartest bulbs in the universe, these disciples, but even they were able to connect the dots between the kind of supernatural power Jesus experienced every day and his prayer life. They put the two together, they realized that prayer was the channel through which the power of God flowed into Jesus' life. And so they said to Jesus, "Jesus, teach us to pray the way you pray, we want some of that power in our life. Teach us to pray the way you pray".
And remember how Jesus responded? He said, "Okay, you want to know how to pray? Pray in this way". Now he didn't say, "Pray this prayer". Nowhere did he instruct us to pray this prayer word for word. These are not magical words, kinda like hocus pocus, or abracadabra, that if you just say them, great things happen in your life. No, this is a pattern for how to pray. Remember Jesus said, "When you pray, pray this way". First of all, don't come rushing to God with everything you want. There's time for that later. First of all, focus on the glory of God, our father, abba, daddy, papa, our daddy, who is in heaven. Remember that relationship you have with God, but also remember he is holy, hallowed, holy is your name. When you come to God, spend a few moments reflecting on how different God is than you are. And isn't that a good thing, that God is different than you are, or than I am? God, thank you that you are all powerful, when I'm less than all powerful. Thank you that you are all wise, when I'm less than all wise. Thank you that you are faithful, even when I'm faithless.
Remember the holiness, the separateness of God. It only follows that if God is different than we are, than his priorities ought to take precedent over ours. And that's why he says, "Pray thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it's being done in heaven". That is, "Father, just in the same way that one day you're going to rule over this entire world, I want you to take charge of my life. Today, I'm submitting every part of my life to your rule". That's how we begin to pray. But then it's fine to go into a list of things you're interested in, things you want from God. Jesus taught us to pray for our needs, and he mentions three of them, beginning in verse 11. He said, "First of all, we have a need for provision". That means food, and shelter, and clothing, and money. We need those things, God knows that. "Give us this day, our daily bread, give us what we need". Secondly, we're to pray for a pardon from sins, "And forgive us of our debts, our sins, as we have forgiven our debtors".
That's not just a one-time prayer of salvation for our forgiveness of sins. It is a daily confessing, repenting, turning away from sin, so that our family relationship with our father stays intact. And then when we get to verse 13, the final need we all have is for protection. Look at verse 13, "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil". Now that raises the question, does God ever tempt us? Doesn't it stand to reason that if Jesus said, "Pray that God wouldn't lead you into temptation," that maybe sometimes he does lead you into temptation? Why would you pray this prayer if it were not a possibility? Let me ask you this morning, how many of you would say, "Pastor, God never tempts his children, that's clear in scripture. God never tempts his children," would you raise your hands? Come on, don't be bashful. Y'all look like you're not sure, raise your hands, God never tempts his children, okay.
For those of you who raised your hands, listen to Matthew 4:1, "Then Jesus was led up by the spirit, into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil". That's the devil who tempted Jesus, no doubt about it. But who led him into that place of temptation? The Spirit of God. He led Jesus into a time of temptation. How many of you would say, "Well, that convinces me," or, "Pastor, I'm absolutely positive that God does sometimes tempt us," would you raise your hand? Sure, God does sometime tempt us, okay. I want you all to listen to James 1:13-14, listen to what James said, "Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust". Never say I'm being tempted by God.
By the way, that word by, that preposition in the Greek language is a preposition of indirect agency. In other words, James was saying, "When you're tempted, don't say, 'God tempted me, I'm being tempted by God'". God is not directly tempting anyone. In fact, he's not even indirectly involved in your temptation. He has zero to do with it. You know why temptation comes? He tells us here, here's the formula, "Each one is tempted when he is carried away," that means drawn by an inward power, "And enticed," that means hooked, "By his own lust". James said the reason we fall into sin is because of our corrupt desires on the inside, and Satan, who dangles the right bait in front of us on the outside. Satan is a master fisherman, he knows exactly what bait will hook you. For some people, it's sex. For some people, it's prestige. For some people, it's money. He knows exactly the right bait to dangle in front of you. And when your corrupt desires see that bait, and you snap at it, James says your hooked. That's what the word enticed means. It's a fishing term that's used for the hooking of a fish. That's how temptation comes. Our corrupt desires, coupled with Satan's temptation.
So how do you reconcile what James is saying here, that God has no part in our temptation, with Jesus' clear instruction to pray, "Lead us not into temptation"? Now folks, this isn't just theology or philosophy. What I'm going to share with you affects your everyday life, so stay with me on this. The only way to understand this apparent contradiction in scripture is to understand the difference between temptation and testing. Now in English, we have two different words. We have one word, temptation. If you look up temptation in Webster's dictionary, it means to entice to do evil. That's what temptation is, it's an enticement to do evil, and it's true, God never entices anybody to do evil. He never uses evil, he never wants people to commit evil. God never is involved in tempting people. That's what Satan does. He tempts people in order to destroy them.
On the other hand, we have a word test. And when we talk about testing, that always has a positive result in mind. It means a difficult circumstance that is used to strengthen our faith. And the Bible says God tests people all of the time. He tests his children not to destroy them, but to strengthen them. And that's why James 1:2 says, "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance".
Now here's where it gets interesting. Even though we have two different words, temptation and test, in the Greek language, there's only one word, peirasmos. And that word sometimes means temptation, the enticement to do evil. And sometimes that same word means to test, to strengthen our faith. One word that has two meanings, and if that seems strange to you, we have that in the English language, don't we? For example, what does the word bank mean, B-A-N-K, bank? What does that mean? Well, it depends the context in which you use it. You can say, "I'm going to make a deposit in the bank," we understand that. But if we say, "The airplane's about to bank to the left," it means something completely different. Or if we talk about, "The river overflowed its bank," it means something else. The meaning of the word depends upon its context.
Now this is true for the word peirasmos, which is best translated a difficult situation. Sometimes that word peirasmos can mean a temptation, an enticement to do evil. Sometimes it can mean a test, a difficult situation to strengthen our faith. In James 1, James uses that same word to mean both things. In James 1:2 he says, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various peirasmos, trials, difficult situations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance". But then down in James 1:13-14, even though the English language changes to temptation, James uses the same Greek word. He said, "Let nobody say when he is tempted, peirasmos, same word, 'i am being tempted by God'".
Now here's the important point, a difficult situation can be both a temptation and a test at the same time. When you go through a difficult situation, it can be both a temptation and a test at the same time. Let's say the doctor tells you you have cancer. Is that a temptation, or is it a test? Well, Satan's going to use that difficult situation to tempt you to deny God, to destroy your faith, to make you think, now if God really loves you, why in the world would he let you have cancer? So for Satan, it's a temptation. But at the same time, God is using that difficult situation in your life to test you, to strengthen your faith. Whether that difficult situation ends up being a temptation that destroys your faith, or a test that strengthens your faith, depends on your response to it.
You see, a peirasmos, a difficult situation is neither good nor bad. It's neither evil nor righteous. It depends upon your response to it. Think about job, you know, one day Satan came to God and said, "Look at your servant job. Look at all the good things he's done for you. No wonder he worships you, but let me have a round or two with him. Let me touch him, let me take away all of these blessings, and he'll curse you". So God says, "Okay, you have at it". God didn't directly cause these problems, but he gave Satan permission, so he was ultimately responsible. Now job didn't know any of this, he's just sitting there one day, minding his own business, when all of a sudden he gets word that all of his cattle had been destroyed. And then he gets another word that a freak windstorm collapsed the roof of his house and killed his 10 children. And then he starts looking at the boils on him, and he loses his health. All of these things in a short period of time, he goes through this tremendous time of testing.
Now, Satan is using this difficult situation to destroy job's faith. "Why not curse God and die," his wife says? At the same time, God is using this difficult situation to strengthen job. And because job ended up trusting in God, even though he didn't understand the answer to the why question, these difficult circumstances became a test rather than a temptation. You understand that? Difficult situations are neither good nor bad. They're a type of temptation or a test, depending upon our response to them.
Several weeks ago, we had the director of Joni Eareckson Tada's ministry worshiping with us. I shared this with our crowd last Sunday night. Joni, you know, was in that freak diving accident 40 years ago, she's been in a wheelchair ever since. And just recently, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And the director of her ministry told me the first words out of Joni's mouth when she learned she had cancer were, "I wonder what God's going to do through this in my life"? See, that was a difficult situation, but she had determined that it was going to be a test to strengthen her faith, not a temptation that destroyed her faith. So whenever we're praying this prayer, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us into evil," that word temptation could be translated, "Lord, do not lead us into difficult situations, but deliver us from evil".
Now what exactly is Jesus telling us to pray for? Two things, write them down. First of all, he said, "When you pray, pray for an exemption from problems, lead us not into difficult situations". There is nothing wrong and everything right to ask God to keep you out of difficulties. "Lord, just protect me from difficult situations," why? Because tests, although they have the possibility of great success, they also hold the possibility of failure, don't they? I mean, let's say you're taking a class in school, and the teacher says, "Now, at the end of the class, at the end of the semester, there's going to be a final exam. But the final exam is optional". How many students do you think would voluntarily say, "Oh no, I want to take that final exam". There's one or two nerds in every class, there's, "Oh boy, yeah yeah, man, I'm studying to show how smart I am, you know". Those are few and far between. Most people would opt, if given a chance, not to go through a final examination, because they know, although an exam has a chance to give success, it also has a chance to highlight failure as well.
That reminds me of a story I was reading this week about a college sophomore who was really dreading his final exam in ornithology, the study of birds. The professor was tough, he was notoriously hard on this final exam, but the student prepared the best he could. He walks into the classroom and to his dismay, there's no blue book on the table. There's no multiple choice exam. Instead for the final, the professor had put 25 pictures of birds around the classroom, and not just pictures of birds, but just pictures of birds feet. And the final exam was to identify each of the 25 birds by looking at the feet. Well, this student was so frustrated, he slammed his book down and he said, "Professor, there is no way anybody could do that. No way you could identify a bird just by looking at the feet". Professor said, "Well, that's the final exam". The students said, "Well, I'm not going to do it". He said, "If you don't do it, you're going to fail". So the student stands up, and walks out the door. He said, "I'm finished with this class". The professor says, "If you walk out that door, you have failed". He said, "I'm not taking the exam". The professor said, "Okay, you fail, now tell me your name". The student stopped, pulled up his pants legs, took off his shoes and socks, held up his feet, and said, "You figure it out for yourself".
Now, we don't like tests, do we? They may show how smart we are, but they may show how stupid we are as well. Jesus said, "When you pray, ask God to spare you from testing," nothing wrong with that. You know why Jesus said it's okay to ask God to keep you from testing, from difficult circumstances? Because that's how Jesus prayed himself. Remember when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane? The choir just sang about it, the night before he was crucified, what did Jesus say to God? He said, "God, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather not go through this experience. Let this cup pass from me". It wasn't just the physical torture Jesus dreaded, but the spiritual suffering of bearing the sins of the entire world, of taking God's condemnation upon himself. He said, "Father, I'd rather not go through this". Why did he say that? Because he knew this test could go either way. If indeed he were obedient to the father, then there would be great victory. But if he refused to submit to the father's will, and gave into Satan, it would be the greatest disaster in history.
So he said, "Father, if it's all the same to you, I would just prefer not to have to go through this test," but then he quickly added, "Yet not my will, but your will be done". Jesus said in the same way, we ought to daily ask God to protect us from difficult situations, lead us not into difficulties. In his book, "Prayer, the great adventure," David Jeremiah list four specific exemptions we ought to ask God for from dangers. He said first of all, we ought to pray for an exemption from persecution. We ought to ask God to exempt us from persecution. You know, in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus said to his disciples, "Now when you are persecuted for your faith, rejoice, for great is your reward".
Five chapters later in chapter 10, he says, "Now, when persecution comes, run for the hills". Why did he say that? He said it because he knew persecution could strengthen somebody's faith, but it could also destroy somebody's faith. David prayed for exemption from persecution in Psalm 7:1-2, David prayed, "Oh Lord, my God, in thee I have taken refuge. Save me from all those who pursue me, and deliver me, lest he tear my soul like a lion, dragging me away while there is none to deliver".
Second, we ought to pray for an exemption from danger. Now listen to the request of David in Psalm 22:19-21, "But you, oh Lord, be not far off. Oh my strength come quickly to help me. Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of lions. Save me from the horns of the wild oxen". Now when's the last time you prayed that prayer? "Lord deliver me from the dogs, from the oxen, from the lions". We don't pray those prayers, because they don't represent real dangers to us, unless, you know, you go to the Dallas zoo, and something gets loose at the zoo, you're probably okay from the tigers and the bears and the lions and so forth. But in David's day, those were very real dangers. And David's saying, "You ought to pray that God saves you from danger". Today, if David were telling us how to pray, he would say, "You ought to pray this way, Lord deliver me from cancer. Spare me from muggers. Save me from those SUV's that come pouring past me on the Dallas North Tollway".