Lead Us Not into Temptation
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13)
This last request may seem strange to our ears. For some it raises questions like, “Since God doesn’t tempt anyone with evil (James 1:13-14), then why do I need to pray that he doesn’t lead me into temptation?” How do these two verses correspond to each other?
It may help to recognize that we have two words with which we translate the one word here translated temptation: testing and temptation. When James 1:13-14 says that God does not tempt anyone with evil, it is communicating that God does not lure us into evil actions themselves, but that those actions are the product of our own evil desires and enticement. Enticement can come in many forms and is always sourced in the age old serpent, the devil.
James 1:13-14 doesn’t exclude the possibility that God will allow us, and even plan for us, to be tested under even severe trial. One reading of the book of Job can make that clear. Yet the purpose of God was not for Job to do evil, but rather for Job’s faith to be proven. Job passed with flying colors. So why this prayer request? What is the point of this request, especially if such a test can result in our faith being proven genuine and maturing us (see James 1:2-4)?
First, it teaches us about our weakness. Have you ever heard someone talk about how the church in America needs persecution in order to become pure? I won’t debate their accuracy, but such statements are often communicated arrogantly or presumptuously, as if they themselves would obviously pass the test. The only ones I know that would obviously pass the test are Job, Jesus, and Paul (chronologically listed). In Job’s case he didn’t ask for the test. In fact, he even pleaded for God to lift the test and raised questions to Him about the justice of it. Jesus prayed three times that He would not have to endure the test, but was willing to, if it be God’s will (Matthew 26:39-44). And in the case of Paul, he pleaded with the Lord three times that the test would be withdrawn (2 Corinthians 12:8). None of these three presumed upon their own strength.
This request expresses our complete dependence upon the Lord to walk in righteousness. It declares our own inability to even guide our steps down the right path. It presumes that we are weak and that trials are difficult. It is a plea for mercy. It also says, “In the event that you do lead us into a place of testing, deliver us from evil (or the evil one).” In other words, “If it is not possible that you take that cup of testing from me, then give me the strength to pass the test.”
Second, this request teaches us what to do about our brothers and sisters that are weak and continue to stumble into sin. The pronoun is plural. This is not, “Lead me not…” but, “Lead us not…”. We must pray for one another daily. “Watch and pray,” (Matthew 26:41; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2; 1 Peter 4:7) may best be seen in this request. This request teaches us to cry out to God to help our weaker brothers and sisters and will certainly keep us from walking with a critical spirit toward them. This request is a means of protection for one another as we stand guard (watch) on the city wall.
Our Father… forgive us… and lead us not into testing… and if you do bring us to a place of testing, deliver us from the evil one’s plans, strengthen us in your grace to pass the test.
Live the Gospel,