Lead us not into temptation

Lead us not into temptation   By Lord Buckbeak

The Lord’s Prayer (Luk 11 and Mat 6) is the Biblical standard for Christian prayer. It has also been called the Disciple’s prayer as it is the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. 

Yet for millennia believers have wondered and debated and questioned one phrase. They have asked why it is in the prayer and what does it mean.

That phrase is: Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from (the) evil (one).

How, it has been asked, does God lead one into temptation? We know that God cannot sin nor does He tempt anyone to sin. 

Jas 1:13 – When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;

So why would Jesus tell us to pray this way?

I believe that our Lord was recalling the severe trial he had endured in the wilderness directly following His baptism and affirmation by God and the voice from heaven. 

Mat 3:16-17 – As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Mat 4:1-3 – Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted a by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him …

Jesus is giving his disciples then, and for the rest of time, an important warning. If the Son of God was stressed to the very limit of His humanity by the ordeal He was led by the Spirit to endure at the hands of the evil one then who are we to assume we could endure such a trial as well? 

We are to pray that the Spirit lead us not, as Jesus was – driven by the Spirit, into temptation, for we are weak, still abide in sinful flesh, and will easily fall. Rather we ask of the Spirit that He lead us into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. What trials we are appointed for will surely come, for our good and for God’s glory, and we ask, like Jesus, that they be removed and if they are not then that we will bear up under them by the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The following are the ideas and commentary of several theologians of the past century. They variously cover this question, each with his own take. I believe they are helpful but not necessarily correct in every point made. These and other commentaries can found at Biblehub.com online.

Albert Barnes wrote: And lead us not into temptation – A petition similar to this is offered by David, Psalm 141:4; “Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with the workers of iniquity.” God tempts no man. See James 1:13. This phrase, then, must be used in the sense of “permitting.” Do not “suffer” us, or “permit” us, to be tempted to sin. In this it is implied that God has such control over the tempter as to save us from his power if we call upon him. The word “temptation,” however (see the note at Matthew 4:1), means sometimes “trial, affliction,” anything that “tests” our virtue. If this be the meaning here, as it may be, then the import of the prayer is, “Do not afflict or try us.” It is not wrong to pray that we may be saved from suffering if it be the will of God. See Luke 22:42.

Joseph Benson wrote: Matthew 6:13And lead us not into temptation— Or, into trial, as the word πειρασμος, here used, signifies: see note on Matthew 4:1 : that is, into such trial or temptation, as will be too hard for our weakness to endure. But deliver us from evil— Απο του πονερουfrom the evil one,viz., the devil; enabling us to resist and overcome him in all his assaults, of whatever kind they may be. Or, perhaps, the clause may be translated, Lead us not into temptation, but so as to deliver us from the evilviz., either by removing the temptation, when it is too strong for us to withstand; or by mitigating its force, or by increasing our strength to resist it, as God shall see most for his glory. This correction of the translation, suggested by Macknight, is proposed on this ground; that to pray for an absolute freedom from temptation is to seek deliverance from the common lot of humanity, which is absurd; because temptations are wisely appointed by God for the exercise and improvement of piety and virtue in good men, and that others may be encouraged by the constancy and patience which they show in trials. Hence, instead of praying to be absolutely delivered from them, we are taught to rejoice when, by the divine appointment, we fall into them. See James 1:2-3. This petition teaches us to preserve a sense of our own inability to repel and overcome temptation, and of the necessity of assistance from above, to enable us to stand in the evil day.

Charles Ellicott wrote: 13) Lead us not into temptation.—The Greek word includes the two thoughts which are represented in English by “trials,” i.e., sufferings which test or try, and “temptations,” allurements on the side of pleasure which tend to lead us into evil. Of these the former is the dominant meaning in the language of the New Testament, and is that of which we must think here. (Comp. Matthew 26:41.) We are taught not to think of the temptation in which lust meets opportunity as that into which God leads us (James 1:13-14); there is therefore something that shocks us in the thought of asking Him not to lead us into it. But trials of another kind, persecution, spiritual conflicts, agony of body or of spirit, these may come to us as a test or as a discipline. Should we shrink from these? An ideal stoicism, a perfected faith, would say, “No, let us accept them, and leave the issue in our Father’s hands.” But those who are conscious of their weakness cannot shake off the thought that they might fail in the conflict, and the cry of that conscious weakness is therefore, “Lead us not into such trials,” even as our Lord prayed, “If it be possible, let this cup pass away from me” (Matthew 26:39). And the answer to the prayer may come either directly in actual exemption from the trial, or in “the way to escape” (1Corinthians 10:13), or in strength to bear it. It is hardly possible to read the prayer without thinking of the recent experience of “temptation” through which our Lord had passed. The memory of that trial in all its terrible aspects was still present with Him, and in His tender love for His disciples He bade them pray that they might not be led into anything so awful.

Ellicott wrote on Mt 26:41 – (41) Watch and pray.—The first word is eminently characteristic of our Lord’s teaching at this period (Matthew 24:42Matthew 25:13). It became the watchword of the early disciples (1Corinthians 16:13Colossians 4:21Thessalonians 5:61Peter 5:8). It left its mark in the history of Christendom in the new names of Gregory, and Vigilius, or Vigilantius, “the watcher.” That ye enter not into temptation—i.e., as in the Lord’s Prayer, to which our Lord manifestly recalls the minds of the disciples—the trial of coming danger and persecution. In their present weakness that trial might prove greater than they could bear, and therefore they were to watch and pray, in order that they might not pass by negligence into too close contact with its power. The spirit indeed is willing.—Better, ready, or eager. There is a tenderness in the warning which is very noticeable. The Master recognises the element of good, their readiness to go with Him to prison or to death, in their higher nature. But the spirit and the flesh were contrary the one to the other (Galatians 5:17); and therefore they could not do the things that they would, without a higher strength than their own.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown – 13. And lead us not into temptation—He who honestly seeks and has the assurance of, forgiveness for past sin, will strive to avoid committing it for the future. But conscious that “when we would do good evil is present with us,” we are taught to offer this sixth petition, which comes naturally close upon the preceding, and flows, indeed, instinctively from it in the hearts of all earnest Christians. There is some difficulty in the form of the petition, as it is certain that God does bring His people—as He did Abraham, and Christ Himself—into circumstances both fitted and designed to try them, or test the strength of their faith. Some meet this by regarding the petition as simply an humble expression of self-distrust and instinctive shrinking from danger; but this seems too weak. Others take it as a prayer against yielding to temptation, and so equivalent to a prayer for support and deliverance when we are tempted; but this seems to go beyond the precise thing intended. We incline to take it as a prayer against being drawn or sucked, of our own will, into temptation, to which the word here used seems to lend some countenance—”Introduce us not.” This view, while it does not put into our mouths a prayer against being tempted—which is more than the divine procedure would seem to warrant—does not, on the other hand, change the sense of the petition into one for support under temptation, which the words will hardly bear; but it gives us a subject for prayer, in regard to temptation, most definite, and of all others most needful. It was precisely this which Peter needed to ask, but did not ask, when—of his own accord, and in spite of difficulties—he pressed for entrance into the palace hall of the high priest, and where, once sucked into the scene and atmosphere of temptation, he fell so foully. And if so, does it not seem pretty clear that this was exactly what our Lord meant His disciples to pray against when He said in the garden—”Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation”? (Mt 26:41).

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