In this post I am continuing a series on the Lord’s Prayer. What follows are my teaching notes on the text in Matthew. I hope the blog’s readers will find it helpful.
Introduction: Illustration: “In a Frank and Ernest cartoon the two characters are standing before a priest and Frank asks, ‘How come opportunity knocks once, but temptation beats at my door every day?’” (Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes, p.562).
“Temptation beats at my door every day” the character says, and we find it amusing not because it is foreign to our experience, but because it is so common to our experience. And this is the very thing that Jesus assumes about us as well. We have seen that He teaches us to pray daily for our physical needs and for forgiveness of sin, but He also wants us to pray daily for deliverance from temptation because He knows it beats at each of our doors every day.
NKJ Matthew 6:13a “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
In order to understand Jesus’ meaning here, let’s consider the meaning of the Greek noun translated temptation. The Greek word peirasmós has two primary meanings:
1) It is used in a good sense to describe “God’s examination of man” and has the meaning test or trial.
2) It is used in a bad sense to describe an “enticement to sin, either from without or within” and has the meaning temptation (Friberg Lexicon #21267, BibleWorks).
The related Greek verbs peirázō and ekpeirázō are also used in Scripture in both this positive and negative sense.
In order to understand how Jesus intends the word to be understood in the Lord’s Prayer, we must remember several important points that become clear as we examine passages which use this terminology in both the Septuagint (or LXX, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) and the New Testament.
First, God does test us.
Let’s examine several of the many Scripture passages that demonstrate this truth:
NKJ Exodus 20:18-20 “Now all the people witnessed the understandings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, ‘You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’ 20 And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for God has come to test [LXX peirázō] you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.’”
We see here that God tests His people in order to help them to learn to trust Him in order to keep them from sin. So His testing is for our good.
NKJ Deuteronomy 8:1-3, 16 “Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test [LXX ekpeirázō, “to test thoroughly”] you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD…. 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test [LXX ekpeirázō] you, to do you good in the end….”
Again we see that God tests His people thoroughly for their good. He knows what is best for us in the end, and His tests are designed to bring it about.
NKJ James 1:2-4 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials [pl. of peirasmós], 3 knowing that the testing [dokímion] of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
Although James does not specifically say here that these trials come from God, he appears to assume it as he speaks of the way in which they are designed in order to do the same thing the Old Testament teaches that God’s tests are designed to do by helping us to grow in our faith. James certainly knew the Old Testament well, and I cannot imagine he would say such tests come from anyone else! In addition, when we return to this passage later, we will see that James seems to think that his readers will themselves assume such tests are from God, which is why they might mistakenly be led to think that, when they are tempted in the midst of testing, the temptation also comes from God. This leads to the next important point we need to consider.
Second, God does not tempt us.
After Adam fell, he seemed to forget this fact – as fallen human beings often forget it! Notice how he essentially blames God for having given Eve to him, through whose influence he succumbed to temptation:
NKJ Genesis 3:12 “Then the man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’” (Italics mine.)
But it wasn’t God who tempted Adam to sin, for He never tempts anyone to sin! James makes this point quite clearly:
NKJ James 1:13-15 “Let no one say when he is tempted [peirázō], ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
Notice how James has shifted to using the terminology in its negative sense. He was using the terminology in a positive sense when he was teaching about testing, but he knows that frequently, in the midst of testing, we may also find ourselves tempted to sin. When this happens, he wants us never to think that God – who tests us for our good – is Himself responsible for the temptations we may experience in the process. No, James says, all such temptation has has its source our own evil desires (as well as satanic or demonic influence, which, as we shall see further on, Jesus has in mind in this model prayer). But this leads to another important point to consider.
Third, God does allow us to be tempted.
Perhaps the clearest example of this is Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness:
NKJ Matthew 4:1 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [peirázō] by the devil.
The Apostle Paul also teaches that God allows us to be tempted:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation [peirasmós] has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted [peirázō] beyond what you are able, but with the temptation [peirasmós] will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
When Paul says that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear, does he not also indicate that God will allow us to be tempted within what we are able to bear with His help?
Quote: Someone has said, “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.” Whoever said this got it right!
Fourth, God does sometimes test us by allowing us to be tempted.
Let’s begin again with a couple of Old Testament examples:
NKJ Deuteronomy 13:1-3 “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’ — which you have not known — ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing [LXX peirázō] you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Here God’s desire is to test the Israelites by allowing them to be tempted by a false prophet. We find a similar situation when we read about God’s reason for allowing the pagan nations to remain in Canaan to test the Israelites:
NKJ Judges 2:20-23 “Then the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He said, ‘Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, 21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 so that through them I may test [LXX peirázō] Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the LORD, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.’ 23 Therefore the LORD left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua.”
God knew these nations would tempt Israel to sin, but he allowed such temptation to remain so that He might test them. God Himself did not in any way tempt them to sin, however, but only allowed them to be tempted. Remember our earlier reading of James, in which he emphatically asserted that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” In fact, let’s take one more look at James 1:
NKJ James 1:12-13 “Blessed is the man who endures temptation [peirasmós, or better “under trial” as in ESV and NASB]; for when he has been approved [dókimos], he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted [peirázō], ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
James is relying upon the dual meaning of the word peirasmós in order to make the point that the very testing of our faith (mentioned earlier in verses 2-4) which God brings about and that leads to our being proved/approved may also become a time of temptation for us. But we should never make the mistake of thinking that this temptation comes from God. God may test us, but if such tests become temptations for us, this is not God’s doing!
What does Jesus intend in the Lord’s Prayer? Is He referring to testing or temptation?
There are those who think that Jesus is telling us to ask the Father not to lead us into times of testing, but this seems unlikely since we know that God will do so for our own good. However, it may be possible to understand this as a request not to lead us into times of testing that are so severe that we may be tempted to stumble.
On the other hand, there are those who think that Jesus is telling us to ask the Father more specifically not to lead us into times of temptation. This option is reflected in most translations (such as the KJV, NKJV, ESV, and NASB) and is the most likely option given the second half of the petition: “but deliver us from the evil one.”
In other words – although God may allow us to be tempted – we are taught by Jesus to ask Him not to let us be tempted such that we might be overpowered by the evil one. But this last part of the petition brings up another question:
Does Jesus teach us to ask God to “deliver us from evil” or to “deliver us from the evil one”?
That is, does Jesus refer to evil in general or to a specific and personified worker of evil, namely the devil. I think He intends to refer to the “evil one” (Satan) for a couple of reasons:
1) He used the article – the evil – as well as the masculine form of the word and thus most likely refers to an evil person or being.
2) Earlier in the context Jesus used a similar Greek construction in a clear reference to a personal evildoer:
NKJ Matthew 5:39 “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Italics mine.)
This understanding also reflects other Biblical teaching. For example:
NKJ Ephesians 6:10-18 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints….”
NKJ James 4:7 “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
NKJ 1 Peter 5:8-9 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” (All italics mine.)
So we can see that it makes perfect sense for Jesus to teach us to pray that God will deliver us from the evil one, which is Satan. But He doesn’t want us to finish praying on this note. He wants us to finish praying with another reminder of the ultimate goal of our lives, which is to bring glory to God.
NKJ Matthew 6:13b “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Some manuscripts do not include this last part of the verse, but I think it is best taken as genuine, and it certainly does reflect other Biblical teaching. In fact, it is similar to other doxologies in Scripture. For example:
NKJ 1 Chronicles 29:10-11 “Therefore David blessed the LORD before all the assembly; and David said: ‘Blessed are You, LORD God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as head over all.’”
NKJ Revelation 5:13 “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’”
I think Jesus wants us to finish our prayers with such a focus on God’s glory because this focus is what should characterize the motives and desires of all true believers. So we don’t ask Him not to lead us into temptation but to deliver us from evil simply for our own good. We do it because this is the way we best glorify Him and acknowledge His Lordship over all things.
Conclusion: Quote: As C.S. Lewis once wrote:
No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. That is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is …. Christ, because He was the only Man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only Man who knows to the full what temptation means. (As quoted in Today in the Word, November, 1998, p. 24)
This is why I want to conclude with an encouragement to take all our struggles with temptation to Christ, for He knows how to help us:
NKJ Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16 “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. 4:14 -16 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”