Facing the Flame of Temptation
Take up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16).
It was four in the morning when the alarm came in. It was a rollover involving a gasoline tank truck. Even though we had trained for this sort of call on countless occasions and even though we had responded to similar emergency situations, there was still a charge of adrenalin as we responded to the scene.
As we first arrived, I surveyed the scene and gave a quick size-up. A gasoline tank truck had been maneuvering alongside the side of some railroad tracks and had gotten too close to the nearby drainage ditch. Both the tank and the tractor hauling it had rolled over into the ditch that was more of a shallow canal at this time of year.
As I established command, reported a quick size up and called for more units to respond, one of my engine companies did a quick reconnaissance of the area. The other team laid out protective hose lines from the scene back to a fire hydrant that was sufficiently distant from the site of the accident to provide a measure of safety. We had plenty of fire fighting foam in both of our industrial fire pumpers, but it would be better if the volatile fuel did not find an ignition source.
The recon team reported that the hatch covers were all in place and that there was very little leakage taking place. A bit of explanation is in order. Gasoline tank trucks are equipped with hatches on the top of the tank. When a tank has rolled over onto its side, those covers are now on the side of the tank and subject to leakage. Though they have seals, it does not take much for one to fail and to spill out the contents of the tank.
The only way to remedy the situation is to secure the lids and then to drill a series of holes into what is now the highest portion of the tank so that a suction tube can be inserted and the hazardous flammable liquid transferred out. My crews were familiar with the operation and had practiced it on any number of occasions.
Once the protective foam lines were in place, I sent in a crew to secure the hatch covers with special clamps designed for that purpose. The crew reported a problem. They could not reach one of the dome covers because it was hanging over the canal into which the tank had fallen.
I had a decision to make. I could either wait until a boat could be obtained and hope that my fire fighters could then use that as a platform on which to stand as they secured the last hatch, or else I could proceed with the off loading operation and hope that the seals held without any additional clamps. Since it had been reported to me that there was currently a bare minimum of leakage, I chose the latter option.
By this time, I had assembled a large collection of fire engines from the surrounding fire departments, all of whom were eager to assist as a part of our mutual aid system. I appointed units to various groups and divisions so that my span of control would not be too great. By this time, the sun had come up.
As the sun rose higher and higher into the sky, we were faced first with one delay and then another. The chief whom I had appointed as safety officer expressed some concerns over the stability of the tank. Would it begin to roll once it was off loaded? The Technical Rescue Team was on scene and worked at stabilizing the tank. Once this one done, my entry team moved up to begin drilling the tank. Now a disturbing report came in. The leak which before had been only a small drip was now growing into a steady trickle. What was causing it? The answer was obvious. The heat of the sun on the shell of the tank was causing the gasoline inside to expand. The added pressure was pushing against the seals of the tank lids and threatening to compromise them.
The danger that we faced during that scene illustrates a corresponding danger that people face when a temptation is permitted to go unchallenged and unchecked. This is vividly seen in the case of the very first temptation in history.
You are probably familiar with the story. God created the first man and put him into a luscious garden with plenty of food and water and a companion fitted for him. There was only one condition.
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “from any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17).
This condition gave man the freedom to choose for God or against God. He could obey and live or he could disobey and die. Genesis 3 tells the story of what man did with that freedom.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any east of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’”
And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:1-6).
There are several things which we ought to note from this passage.
1. First of all, notice that the temptation came from an outside source.
There was nothing within them to tempt themselves. Allow me to let you in on a secret. I don’t need an outside source to tempt me to sin. And neither do you. I have something within me that like sin - that finds sin fun. It isn’t that the “devil made me do it.” It is that I WANTED to do it.
We call this a sin nature. It is an orientation to sin. But Adam and Eve were not created in this way. They had no orientation to sin. They had the ability to choose not to sin. And so, their choice to sin was all the more despicable.
2. Secondly, note that the temptation began at different levels. Instead of immediately contradicting the word of God, the serpent began by questioning the word of God: Did God really say that?
3. The temptation focuses upon the limitation of God’s command rather than the graciousness of God’s provision. The serpent did not point out that Adam and Eve were free to eat of every tree of the garden. Rather it was the restriction that became the object of the temptation.
4. The lie of Satan was to assign ungracious and unloving motives to God. This always takes place when you are tempted. All temptation involves the idea that you can obtain something for yourself that God is denying you.
5. We should see that a surface reading of the passage seems to indicate that the Serpent told the truth.
Their eyes WERE opened. They DID come to and experiential understanding of good and evil. And most importantly, they didn’t die, at least not in the physical sense and not immediately, although the process of death indeed began that day.
Temptation often involves focusing on a portion of the truth. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day and the devil’s counterfeits often contain a portion of truth. It only takes a spoonful of arsenic added to an entire glass of water to render the entire potion poisonous.
These series of temptations went unchallenged and unchecked by the woman. What is more, it seems possible that they also went unchallenged and unchecked by the man. This is seen when we take another look at the latter part of verse 6 - she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Was the man with her during the entire series of temptations? I do not know. But there is no mention of his challenging these temptations or resisting them.
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and 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 Corinthians 10:13).
We have a strong word of encouragement. It is that God has made provision for us in our hour of temptation. God will never taken you into a tunnel that does not have a light at the end of it. He will never take you into the valley of the shadow of death without being with you.
1. The Commonality of Temptation: No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man (10:13).
You won’t necessarily believe this when you are in the midst of temptation, so I want you to learn this principle now. It is that your temptations are not unique. Whatever you are going through has been experienced by millions of other people just like you. You are not alone. Even Jesus experienced those same temptations.
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus was tempted in all things as we are. Everything that you go through, He went through. He understands your problems because He experienced them. This means He is qualified to help you.
2. The Faithfulness of God in Temptation: God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able (10:13).
The reason you do not need to fear temptation is because God is faithful. Even when you are faithless, God is still faithful.
He designed you. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows your stress limit. He knows exactly how much you can take and He has promised not to exceed that limit.
This means you have no excuse to sin. You can’t say, “The devil made me do it.” Satan cannot make you sin. If you sin, then it is because you decided to sin. Don’t ever try to blame God because of your sin. He has made a way of escape.
3. The Way of Escape from Temptation: 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 (10:13).
I have spent many years as a fire fighter. It was my job to put out fires. One of the things that I learned was never to go into a burning building unless there is a way out of that building. More often than not, we look for several different means of exiting a building in case one is cut off.
God makes the same provision for me. In the heat of the battle and when the smoke is all around us, He says, “Don’t worry, I’ve put you here and I’ve got your escape route open.”
How can we escape temptation? There are several steps.
Resolve to resist temptation. We are promised in James 4:7, resist the devil and he will flee from you. Remember the story of Joseph as a slave in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar’s wife developed a physical infatuation for him and sought his affection. When he refused her advances, she persisted and went so far as to grab hold of him. Joseph had resolved not to allow himself to be tempted.
The sin that Joseph faced is a common one in today’s society. We live in a land where immoral living is the norm and where such sins have become socially acceptable. We are warned in the Scriptures against this sort of behavior.
27 Can a man take fire in his bosom,
And his clothes not be burned?
28 Or can a man walk on hot coals,
And his feet not be scorched?
29 So is the one who goes in to his neighbor's wife;
Whoever touches her will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:27-29).
The New Testament uses this same fiery language in 1 Corinthians 7:9 to describe the temptations of those who are tempted with premarital relationships.
Use the Scriptures. That is what Jesus did when He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. We read of three different temptations and in all three cases, Jesus responded by quoting the Scriptures back to the devil.
Thy word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against Thee. (Psalm 119:11).
Use your position. Paul says that we are to consider ourselves dead to sin. We have been crucified with Christ and we are to have an outlook that reckons our past life of sinfulness to have been dead and buried. Returning to a life of sin is like a resurrected person returning to the coffin from which he was raised. We are not to live there any longer.
Use the cross. When you are tempted, remember that Jesus died for the very sort of sins to which you are being tempted. Go back to the shadow of the cross and look at the One who died in your place. Remember that His death calls for a response on how you are to live today.
Devote your thoughts to think God’s thoughts. Remember that sin is not only that which is outward but also involves inward attitudes. C.S. Lewis was heard to paraphrase the words of Jesus when he said, “He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it, hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart.”
That doesn’t mean you work at clearing your mind of all possible thoughts. That would be like saying to yourself, “I am not going to think of the word ‘corn’.” Such an exercise would have exactly the opposite results.
Paul alludes to this in Romans 8:7-8 where he takes the example of coveting. He says, “I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind.”
Instead of focusing entirely upon that which we are to avoid, we are called in the Scriptures to fill our mind with God’s thoughts.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8).
Avoid your areas of weakness.
Temptation is tempting. Satan makes it that way. He is intentionally enticing. He baits his hook with the juiciest morsel. When you go fishing, you don’t just throw a bare hook into the water. Fish are not tempted by naked hooks. They are enticed by a fat, juicy worm.
What is your worm? What is it that entices you? That is the spot where Satan is going to come at you.
12 The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Romans 13:14).
Notice the last injunction. It is that you make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. That means that you look for ways to make sin inconvenient.
Pray. Jesus taught His disciples to pray that they would not be led into temptation (Matthew 6:13). He also warned His disciples on the night of His betrayal, “Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
I have spent an entire career in extinguishing fires and am well acquainted with all sorts of extinguishment tactics. The easiest and most effective method of extinguishing a fire is to now allow it to be ignited in the first place. In the same way, there is a great blessing pronounced upon those who resist temptation.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12).