O LORD, who for our sakes did fast forty days and forty nights: give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued by the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Epistle 2 Corinthians 6
Gospel S. Matthew 4:1-15
There is a clear link between the Lord’s temptations and the Apostle Paul’s temptations. Both received a ministry, both were tempted at the key points of their ministry. Both overcame, the Son of God, perfectly; the great Apostle better than any other mortal man before or since. You and I have received a ministry of God, and suffer the same temptations. What are these?
First, false conversion. Our Lord had received a ministry, and then was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. One of the most popular spiritual exercises I heard about from fellow clergy was to shut themselves in darkness, with dark thoughts, then come out into the light. Ignatius Loyola was wounded when commanding the defence of Pampeluna and was in pain and darkness for a long time, then had an experience and came out into light and started to destroy the Reformation. Christ had a true experience of the horrors of the devil, and so did the Apostle.
Second, seeking popularity. Our Lord was forty days and nights waterless and foodless. It was a miracle he survived the thirst! That he was so hungry that making stones into bread became His overriding temptation, proves God intended to teach us something. Give people what they most want—easy living, and they will make you their king. No need to get crucified, just be popular. Make stones into bread.
The Apostle also received a ministry from God, and his problem was rejection of himself and his message. His temptation was to make his ministry acceptable. He refused, and never pared down the rough old Cross. In my lifetime I have seen many, many an evangelical make shipwreck here. Either ‘have influence’, by ‘broadening out a little’, by wearing a stole, the essential garment of the Roman Mass, so as to obtain a living , or be despised, marginalised and ignored. Poor deluded fools, all can spot a hypocrite a mile off. Man lives by every word of God.
Third, over-trusting God. You will say ‘but no one can believe in Christ too much.’ Can they not? The Lord Jesus was tempted to make his ministry count by throwing himself off the highest point of the Temple, so all would believe. Likewise the Apostle was tempted. He lists the hard side of ministry, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, by pureness, by knowledge. His temptation was to avoid the hard side of ministry, and you and I find the very same thing. Then devil whispers ‘trust God, be faithful and leave the results to him’. And we lay aside to strive so hard, to watch into the nights, to give ourselves to fasting, to be so pure, to study such long, weary hours. We fail by supine laziness, which masquerades as ‘trust’. And I do not mean men in dog-collars only.
Fourth, to worship Satan. You will say, ‘that is no temptation to me’. Oh, no? Christ could have avoided the cross and won the world—at least that is the mirage Satan promised. And it was the same for Paul, to ‘trust’ God by lessening his efforts, and so worship Satan. To avoid any real, costly love, just to feign it. Not to weep and walk with just one end in view, that the power of the Holy Spirit, of God Himself, should be put forth through him. To lay aside the armour of righteousness, to avoid dishonour, evil report, being a deceiver in men’s eyes. Thus to be accepted and known, not as shunned, as dying daily, as chastened, as sorrowful, as poor, and as having nothing. The Devil is tempting us each one to worship him, and so be a success and gain the whole world. Strive, agonise, wrestle harder, so refuse to worship Satan by refusing his flattering suggestions.