May 30 – Avoiding Temptation

And do not lead us into temptation.—Matt. 6:13a

By itself, the word rendered “temptation” here has a neutral connotation, unlike the English that usually indicates an inducement to sin. But in this context, with its parallel to the term “evil” at the end of the verse, Jesus likely used the word to mean an enticement to sin. Yet elsewhere Scripture tells us that God does not tempt believers to evil, while at the same time we should be thankful for various trials (James 1:2–3, 13). So why did Jesus give us this expression as a pattern for prayer?

The answer to this paradox is not as difficult as it may seem. Jesus is concerned that we truly desire to avoid the danger and trouble sin creates. Saints should so despise sin and want to escape it at all costs that they pray in advance to avoid sin rather than waiting to defeat it when tempted.

Further, we know trials can promote our spiritual growth, yet we do not want to be in a place where we experience an increased possibility of sin. Like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, we should pray, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). The prospect of taking sin upon Himself repulsed our Savior, but He was willing to do so to fulfill His Father’s will and secure the salvation of sinners. Whatever testing we might have to endure is nothing by comparison.

ASK YOURSELF
In addition to asking God not to “lead us into temptation,” we must be aware of instances in which we walk headlong into it ourselves. Ask God for the spiritual strength to avoid those very familiar forms of sin that we too often approach without fear. Aren’t you ready to start gaining victory over them?[1]

God’s Protection

And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (6:13a)

Peirasmos (temptation) is basically a neutral word in the Greek, having no necessary connotation either of good or evil, as does our English temptation, which refers to inducement to evil. The root meaning has to do with a testing or proving, and from that meaning are derived the related meanings of trial and temptation. Here it seems to parallel the term evil, indicating that it has in view enticement to sin.

God’s holiness and goodness will not allow His leading anyone, certainly not one of His children, into a place or experience in which they would purposely be induced to commit sin. “Let no one say when he is tempted,” says James, “ ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13).

Yet James had just said, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (peirasmos), knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (vv. 2–3). There is an interpretive problem, therefore, as to whether peirasmos in Matthew 6:13 is translated temptation or trial. As James tells us, God does not tempt. So why ask Him not to do what He would never do anyway? Yet James also tells us we should rejoice when trials come and not seek to avoid them. So why should we pray, do not lead us into temptation?

I affirm with Chrysostom, the early church Father, that the solution to this issue is that Jesus is here not speaking of logic or theology but of a heart desire and inclination that cause a believer to want to avoid the danger and trouble sin creates. It is the expression of the redeemed soul that so despises and fears sin that it wants to escape all prospects of falling into it, choosing to avoid rather than having to defeat temptation.

Here is another paradox of Scripture. We know that trials are a means for our growing spiritually, morally, and emotionally. Yet we have no desire to be in a place where even the possibility of sin is increased. Even Jesus, when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, first asked, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me,” before He said, “yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). He was horrified at the prospect of taking sin upon Himself, yet He was willing to endure it in order to fulfill the will of His Father to make possible the redemption of man.

Our proper reaction to times of temptation is similar to Christ’s, but for us it is primarily a matter of self-distrust. When we honestly look at the power of sin and at our own weakness and sinful propensities, we shudder at the danger of temptation or even trial. This petition is another plea for God to provide what we in ourselves do not have. It is an appeal to God to place a watch over our eyes, our ears, our mouth, our feet, and our hands-that in whatever we see, hear, or say, and in any place we go and in anything we do, He will protect us from sin.

Like Joseph we know that what men and Satan mean for evil God will turn to the good of His children (see Gen. 50:20); but we are not certain that, like Joseph, we will be completely submissive to and dependent on God in our trials. The implication of this part of the prayer seems to be: “Lord, don’t ever lead us into a trial that will present such a temptation that we will not be able to resist it.” It is laying claim to the promise that “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

This petition is a safeguard against presumption and a false sense of security and self-sufficiency. We know that we will never have arrived spiritually, and that we will never be free of the danger of sin, until we are with the Lord. With Martin Luther we say, “We cannot help being exposed to the assaults, but we pray that we may not fall and perish under them.” As our dear Lord prayed for us in His great intercessory prayer, we want, at all costs, to be kept from the evil one (John 17:15).

When we sincerely pray, do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we also declare that we submit to His Word, which is our protection from sin. “submit therefore to God,”James says. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Submitting to God is submitting to His Word. “Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:11). So the believer prays to be kept from overwhelming solicitation to sin, and if he falls into it, to be rescued from it. Deliver is actually in the form of a command.

In a cursed world where we are battered by evil all around us, we confess our inadequacy to deal with evil. We confess the weakness of our flesh and the absolute impotency of human resources to combat sin and rescue us from its clutches. Above all we confess our need for the protection and deliverance of our loving heavenly Father.[2]


The Sixth Petition

13a. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. Probable meaning: “If it be thy will do not permit us, weak as we are by nature and prone to sin, to enter into situations which in the natural course of events would expose us to temptation and fall (cf. 26:41), but, whatever be thy way with us, deliver us from the evil one.” Though it is true that here as before (5:37) both the neuter “from evil” and the masculine “from the evil one” are possible, and, as Calvin points out, “There is no necessity of raising a debate on this point, for the meaning remains nearly the same,” nevertheless, both because in the consciousness of Christ the devil was very real (see proof on p. 309), and because one naturally associates temptation, mentioned in this petition, with the tempter (see especially 4:1), I, along with many others, give the preference to the rendering “the evil one.” Though it is true that God himself never tempts man to sin (James 1:13), it is also true that there is good reason to ask him not even to permit us voluntarily to run into temptation; for example, by establishing a dangerously close alliance with the world, becoming “unequally yoked” with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14–16); or by going into the opposite extreme and withdrawing ourselves entirely from society (contrary to Matt. 5:14; Phil. 2:15); by becoming so absorbed in our daily affairs that the spiritual atmosphere which should characterize our home is neglected, by serving on so many good-cause committees that matters even more important are not attended to; etc. It is God alone who knows how many tests of faith, and how severe, each saved sinner can endure, as he is constantly being assaulted by the devil (Eph. 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8), the world (John 15:19), and his own “flesh” (that is, whatever in himself is not a fruit of redeeming grace, Rom. 7:23; Gal. 5:17). Instead of going down to defeat in this struggle, may he remain watchful at all times, and in any event, may he triumph completely over the evil one (Rom. 16:20; 1 Thess. 5:23).—For more with respect to Satan and his crafty methods see N.T.C. on Ephesians 2:2 and 6:11, 12.

The logic of the petition is clear. An analogous request would be, “Lord, grant that I may be so careful in observing the rules of health that I may not become ill, but whatever in thy providence befalls me, keep me close to thy side that my faith may not fail.” Here, too, however, “we,” “our,” and “us” should be substituted for “I,” “my,” and “me.” The supplicant is constantly including others in his prayers.[3]


6:13 And do not lead us into temptation. This request may appear to contradict James 1:13, which states that God would never tempt anyone. However, God does allow His people to be tested and tried. This petition expresses a healthy distrust of one’s own ability to resist temptations or to stand up under trial. It acknowledges complete dependence on the Lord for preservation.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 159). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 395–396). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 336–337). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1224–1225). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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