“…Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13)”
The last part of the Lord’s Prayer implores God to lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil (or the evil one). The use of the word ‘temptation’ in this petition requires some explanation for it may give one the impression that God may tempt His people to sin. But that is not possible because in James 1:13-14, it clearly says that “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” Other translations use the word ‘trial’, meaning testing. But according to James again, we are told to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (in James 1:2-3). So if trials are necessary for spiritual growth, why pray to be delivered from it?
The best way to understanding this prayer is that it’s a cry to God to keep us out of spiritual trouble, whether it is in the face of temptation or a trying situation. After dealing with the physical need of man (our daily bread) and his need for deliverance from the guilt and punishment of sin (forgiveness), this is essentially a plea to God to sustain our spiritual well-being throughout our Christian walk on earth. It represents an instinctive cry of a born again believer, having enjoyed the redemptive power of sins forgiven, is now eager to maintain a path of holiness towards spiritual maturity. It’s essentially a prayer for God’s protection from falling into sin in the face of either a temptation or a trial.
There are at least 5 things that can be gleaned from this last part of the prayer:
- It’s an expression of a desire to be watchful or vigilant. Our Lord Jesus admonished his disciples to “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Therefore we watch what we see, what we hear, what we say, where we go and who we keep company with. In a similar theme but using the word Walk as a metaphor for living out our lives, Paul writes in Ephesians 5 to the Christians there to walk in love (v2), walk as children of light (v8) and to walk carefully, not as unwise but as wise. This is contrasted with the sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking and other unfruitful works of darkness that the Ephesian Christians had been called out of living.
- It’s a recognition that dangers lurk all around us. This is not difficult to see in our daily lives as we are incessantly bombarded with temptations that seek to draw us away from God. Things that appeals to our senses, our desires and our pride. The forces of evil through the systems of the world do not cease to try and stumble the Christian. Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 5:8 to be sober-minded; be watchful because “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The imagery of a lion in a jungle is a strong graphical depiction of what it is like to be preyed upon by this ferocious beast. If you are lion’s food, you can be sure you’ll always have to be on your feet or running in order not to be caught and eaten.
- It’s a humble acknowledgement we are not strong enough by our own strength and we need God’s power in deliverance. It’s having a healthy distrust of self as we navigate the traps and pitfalls in a fallen world! Anyone who thinks he’s beyond temptation is inviting trouble and falls into the sin of pride. Paul warns us not to be presumptuous of our own ability when he says in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” When we are confronted with a trying situation, we retreat into the presence of God who is “faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
- Do not pray it if you don’t mean it. In other words, don’t pray this petition and then go expose ourselves to be tempted. That would be hypocrisy. Paul advises Timothy to “flee youthful passions…” and not linger around titillating attractions. Joseph ran from the advances of Potiphar’s wife. If you have a weakness for alcohol, do not spend your time in a pub!
- Though we do not ask for it, trials do have a place in a Christian’s life. It is often an exercise of faith and an opportunity to recognise our total dependency on God and see His glory manifested in His deliverance. We recently studied the example of Abraham when he was tested by God when asked to sacrifice his only son. Peter says in 1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
We have been looking at the Lord’s Prayer for the last few months. I started the journey on learning what Jesus taught about prayer when I sought to have a deeper and more meaningful relationship with our Lord. And boy was it an eye-opener! In contrast to the often mechanical, repetitious and hypocritical prayers uttered by the Pharisees (and me of course!), Jesus taught us that prayer is to be entirely God-centered, spontaneous and God-glorifying. Prayer is not to persuade God to change His mind or bend Him to our will but rather for me to change my attitudes and behaviour to conform to His will. Prayer is to be a time of intimate communion with the infinite, trice-holy God who is also our dear Heavenly Father. It is where we meditate on His nature and His works, understand His priority for His Kingdom and submit to His plan for our lives. It’s the platform where we make our petitions for our sustenance, sins and sanctification in recognition of our absolute dependency on Him.
The Lord’s Prayer found in some ancient manuscript (and added in the King James Version) ends with “For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever and ever!” Although we are not sure if Jesus actually spoke the last phrase, it is a fitting end to reflect that the whole of our prayer should have as its ultimate aim to conform to continue to bring about His kingdom, resting in His power and for His glory alone. I hope we will all find our prayer life lifted up with a better understanding of Jesus’ teaching on this vital means of grace.
(This article is adapted from a series of sharing on the subject of Prayer by Yew Lum to his Lifegroup members.)