Tuesday, September 29, 2020

"The WORLD, the Flesh, and the Devil" - Henry Knapp

 Forewarned Is Forearmed.

I suppose that not all clich├ęs are necessarily accurate all the time. Even a good saying can have its limits. For instance, while it seems obviously true that “laughter is the best medicine”, I suppose there are scenarios where that would not be the case.

But, when it comes to the phrase, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”, it’s hard not to see this as pretty much universally accurate. The prior knowledge of possible dangers or problems allows a tactical advantage that is hard to deny. If we know that trouble is coming, it is so much easier to avoid. I am sure that something like this was in Paul’s mind when he said to the Corinthians that, “we are not unaware of Satan’s schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Being aware of how Satan might plot against us helps us prepare for the onslaught.

Of course, this begs the question a bit—how did the Corinthians become aware of Satan’s schemes? We do not have any explicit story in the Bible or indication in Paul’s letters that he addressed this question directly. Perhaps he did, which is why he could confidently assert that the Corinthians were not ignorant of Satan’s ways. But, how do we become aware of these things? We, too, need to be forewarned against temptation so that we might be forearmed to defend ourselves.

One of the great blessings in every Christian’s life is his or her connection to the overall community of God’s people both in the present, into the future, and in the past. Which means that we are not out here on our own, trying to figure out what faithfulness means. By God’s grace, He has placed us in a Church body with centuries of the experiences of godly men and women seeking His truth. And so it shouldn’t surprise us that the Church, through the ages, has sought to gain an awareness of the schemes of Satan. It is not just up to us alone to figure out how temptation comes; we are not on our own in our desire to be prepared for the struggle against sin. The godly saints through history, striving for faithfulness as we are today, examining the Scriptures and the experiences of daily life, were able to articulate an easy formula for the sources of temptation—the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The world: in all its brokenness, temptation arises simply through the sinful, godless ways our world so often functions. The flesh: it is from within, from our distorted and depraved desires that temptation so often attacks. The devil: as shown throughout the pages of Scripture, there is a demonic being who desires to destroy our fellowship with the Father. To be aware of these, to know that temptation comes so often by means of the world or arising from our own desires or as the result of the evil one… to know this is the way we are tempted is to be better prepared to defend ourselves. With this knowledge, we are not shocked when we are enticed to sin; we are on our guard against the insidious nature of these temptations; we are better able to cry out to our Savior for grace and mercy.

The world, the flesh, and the devil: Our Christian forefathers called them, “the enemies of the soul”. And, so they are. And we best take them seriously—for our Lord certainly does. And by His grace, from these and so much more, we shall be saved.

As you prepare for worship this week, read 1 John 2:15-17 and Daniel 3:1-15.

1. John’s use of the term, “world”, is not always the same. Here “the world” sounds pretty negative and bad. Where else in John’s writing is the “world” used in a more positive sense?

2. What might be the difference in the two usages of the term “world”? In other words, what different ways might that one word be used to mean two different things?

3. What would it mean to “love the world”? What would that look like? How would you know if you are doing this or not?

4. How does verse 17 summarize John’s overall view of the world and temptation here?

5. In Daniel, what is an example of “the world”? How were Daniel’s friends tempted by the “world”?

6. What is the source of the friends’ resistance to the world? What do they use to fight off temptation?

7. In Daniel’s story, the choices seem pretty clear; yet in practice that is not always the case. What can you do to help prepare yourself for the same kind of challenges which confronted Daniel’s friends, and which are part of the world every day?

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

"The Process of Temptation" - Henry Knapp

 If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

Being a child of the ‘70s, I am, of course, a Star Wars fan. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard about Star Wars, and watching the movie for the fourteenth time the other day was like reliving my childhood all over again. Glorious! Of course, like all good Star Wars enthusiasts, I was appalled by the three “prequels”, and somewhat dreaded the last three movies in the sequence. My son, following along well in his father’s footsteps, became a Star Wars junkie as well. So, we saw the most recent three movies together. He was a fan; and, as much to be contrarian as anything, I complained about the movies. Specifically, “They are just like the originals! Same plotline! Same action!” And, Jason’s response? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Sure enough, the same formula worked great, so why change it?

So, millennia after our first parents, Adam and Eve, were tempted by Satan, it should come as no surprise that he uses the exact same tactics against us today. Why, I suppose, not because he lacks the creativity in his approach and evil; but, why bother to do it differently? If the same, good ol’ tried and true method works so very, very well, might as well keep it up!

2 Corinthians 2:11 encourages us “not to be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” But, that’s just it. I fear that we truly are ignorant of his schemes. Not, mind you, that we are ignorant of him and the fact that he is. That is a concern for some more “modern, educated” Christians who would doubt Satan’s very existence, but that is not my present worry. No, my primary concern here is that we are ignorant of the way temptation comes upon us, ignorant of the very means that brings such grief into our lives.

I suspect that, because temptation is so subtle; that because it strikes each of us so individually; that because we imagine that our temptations, if not unique, are nonetheless so very personal, I suspect that we think that the manner in which temptation comes is distinctive to each one of us. Because that which tempts me is not likely to attract you, because what lures you from the Lord is different than what entices me, we might think that there is no standard approach to Satan’s attack. And consider: sometimes temptation comes in a package that we know, we know, we should avoid—something where the lure to sin is so obvious and so clearly damaging to our walk with the Lord that we know we should stand strong in resistance. On the other hand, as we’ve been addressing the past couple of weeks, sometimes temptation is not so evil-looking at all; sometimes it is downright good—though still something that would reorient us away from our relationship with Christ. So, given the variety of temptations and the many different individuals who are tempted, can we really say there is a pattern to it all?

Well, a comparison of the two major temptation scenes, one which opens the Old Testament (Genesis 3) and the other that begins the New Testament (Matthew 4), shows an astonishing commonality in the way temptation functions. The serpent’s discussion with Eve is remarkably similar to Satan’s approach with Jesus. The Tempter’s goal in the garden is nearly identical with his goal with Jesus in the desert. The steps along the way, the manner in which he takes the conversation, the promise and hopes he holds out to both Eve and Jesus look so alike. It’s almost like Satan is using the exact same tricks… and why shouldn’t he? They work!

So, what is the process of temptation? Can we really talk about a certain pattern that temptation follows in our lives? And, if there is a common approach to entice us to sin, is there a common defense that we all might cleave to? This Sunday we’ll be asking these very questions—I hope you’ll join us!

Read Genesis 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11.

1. What common elements are present in both situations? What is different in each?

2. Notice how Satan approaches both Eve and Jesus with questions. What is distinctive about that? Where might that same approach be used with you?

3. Obviously, Eve and Jesus respond to the Tempter differently. Where do their experiences begin to differ so that they end up with different responses?

4. What is the role of God’s Word in both temptations (Note: for Eve it would not have been written Scripture, but God’s speech)?

5. Satan is known as the Tempter but also as the Deceiver. Where do you see deception prominent in the two passages?

6. What does Satan offer to Jesus? How is that offer similar to the one he makes to Eve? How might that give you insight into how you are tempted?

7. Think of the temptations King David went through or Abraham desiring a child or Abraham traveling in Egypt with his wife or Joseph in Egypt or Achan in Jericho or… any of the other temptation scenarios we see in Scripture. What is similar with their experiences with temptation and what Eve and Jesus went through?

Monday, September 14, 2020

"Taking Temptation Seriously" - Henry Knapp

So, How Serious Is It Anyways?

I suspect that is one of the more frequent questions that doctors have to face—“how serious is it?” I know that as a friend, that is often one of the first questions I ask when I hear of a bad diagnosis. Since I don’t automatically know all the right technical and medical terms, when someone passes on to me the results of a diagnostic test, I usually need to ask, “How badly are you hurt? How serious is the illness?” Of course, the implications of our questions are that the more serious it is, the more serious we need to treat it, the more in prayer we will be, the more attention the illness will get, the more significant the treatment.

Knowing how serious something is helps us know how seriously to treat it.

This past week we began a new sermon series here at Hebron focusing on the myriad of biblical texts that speak to that most common of human experiences—temptation. While most of us can easily identify with the familiarity of being enticed to sin, it is not always clear how seriously we should take it. For instance, much of the temptation we face seems at first sight to be fairly benign. The little white lie isn’t all that damaging. The momentary loss of temper can easily be fixed. Sharing just a bit of innocent gossip isn’t all that bad. Luckily (we might think), we are rarely, if ever, tempted by those “serious” things—to actually physically harm someone or to denounce our faith in Jesus or to steal something of value. Or, if we are tempted toward those things, we (rarely) actually act on them, so it’s ok… right?

Now, clearly, the earthly ramifications of some sins are much worse than others. True enough. But, does that mean that some temptations can be treated lightly? How earnestly should we be facing our temptations? How serious is it to be tempted, anyways? Is it really that big of a deal?

As always, the measure of any issue is what God Himself thinks of it. The question of the seriousness of temptation is not to be answered by us, but by our Lord. When we see things through this lens, we immediately realize that a cavalier approach to temptation simply doesn’t stand up to the testimony of Scripture. How serious was the temptation that Jesus underwent in the wilderness (Matthew 4)? Remember the challenges placed before Him? Satan tempted Jesus to feed Himself with bread from a stone, to gain the whole world by bowing down to Satan, to show His deity off to all the people by jumping from the top of the temple. Now, the temptation to worship Satan, sure, that’s a big one. But, how serious was the temptation to turn a stone into bread? For Jesus, that would have been easy, and, frankly, not a big deal, right? Jesus’ response seems to indicate otherwise—He took Satan’s temptations seriously and dealt with them appropriately.

The Bible never allows us to treat temptation like it is no big deal. Every time temptation is mentioned, the believer is warned how very significant it is. Our Great Physician tells us how seriously we should respond to the lure of sin—we are to “resist”, to “flee”, to “struggle”, to “battle”. And, why is temptation such a dangerous thing? Always, and forever, because temptation can lead us to sin, which damages our relationship with our God.

The ongoing struggle against temptation is serious business; and, thankfully, God has prepared us well for the battle—He has given us His Spirit, for as always, the battle belongs to the Lord (1 Samuel 17:47)!

As you prepare for worship this week, read Romans 8:1-17 focusing on verses 12-13.

1. Who does Paul envision us to be “debtors” to? And, why are we debtors?

2. What is Paul warning against here? What does it mean to be a debtor, “to live according to the flesh”?

3. What does it mean to live “according to the flesh”? Why would anyone do that? How do you know if you are doing that?

4. Since we all die, what does it mean that “those who live according to the flesh will die”? Isn’t that all of us? Or, does “die” mean something different here?

5. What does it mean to do something “by the Spirit”? Notice the capital letter there—it is the Holy Spirit that is being spoken about.

6. What happens when something is “put to death”? How do you kill something like “the misdeeds of the body”?

7. How seriously does Paul take the whole struggle against sin? How do you know he is serious here?

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

"The Struggle against Temptation" - Henry Knapp

 Temptations Come…

“Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.” 

Malorie Blackman is primarily known for her children's and young adult literature, but this quote is hardly limited to those who are young. As a matter of fact, the longer I have been a follower of Jesus, the more I realize the doorbell is always ringing! There was a time when I thought that through time, effort, and, of course, God’s grace, I might become immune to temptation or at least that temptation would not be a constant companion on the road of life. Instead, I have grown to understand that the sin in my life, the sin in the world, and the work of the Enemy are such that temptation will always be present. The goal is not to be free of temptation but to be faithful in the midst of temptation.

We tend to think of temptation as something that we desire that we know will be bad for us; the seduction to sin which will inevitably bring harm to our lives. And, while this is undeniably true, the idea of temptation is less about how it impacts us and more about our relationship with God Himself. Biblically, temptation primarily refers to a test or trial where the Christian is able to act either faithfully or unfaithfully. Temptation, regardless of the package it comes in, is always about either drawing nearer to our Lord or betraying Him in our thoughts, words or deeds. 

Temptation is often treated rather comically: the presence of a horned, impish devil sitting on your shoulder; the seductive temptress on the street corner; the rich oh-so-bad-for-you chocolate cake. It is amazing how, even in our biblically illiterate society, the image of a bright red apple with a bite taken out of it and a serpent nearby is universally understood as the essence of temptation. Doing just a bit of research, I find that there is even a cologne for men called “Temptation”.

But for those seeking to follow Jesus, for His disciples and servants, temptation is no laughing matter. The Bible takes temptation seriously. Jesus takes it seriously; and therefore, we must take it seriously. Understanding what temptation is, where it comes from, what its purpose is, is but a part of a healthy Christian response. We know that our Lord desires us to resist temptation, that our response should be one of faith and not selfish unbelief; but all too often we underestimate the presence and power of temptation. 

The presence of temptation: It would be easy to identify temptation if it always showed up with a sign announcing its depravity and evil; but it rarely, if ever, does. All too often temptation appears, not as something we know we should avoid, but as the very thing we deeply desire. How often in your life have you embraced something “good”, only to later on realize that it was a temptation designed to lead you away from a grace-filled life in Christ? Temptation is not an occasional thing—it is as present as sin itself.

The power of temptation: We all have felt this—the relentless pull to satisfy our own desires, regardless of the cost or, specifically, the impact on our walk with Christ. It is easy to think of it as overwhelming, a nearly irresistible force. Its power cannot be minimized or ignored—it must be dealt with as we are directed by our Lord. 

If the presence and power of temptation is as strong as we all know, what hope is there for believers? Only the hope that Paul himself clung to: “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

As you prepare for worship this week, read James 1:12-15.

1. What does it mean to be “blessed” in verse 12?  

2. What kind of “trial” might James be addressing in verse 12? Where does this trial come from?  

3. How does one “stand the test”? Look at the end of the verse—“those who love him”. Hmmmm. What is the connection between standing the test and love of God? 

4. Why does James warn people not to say that they have been tempted by God? Why would he need to warn them against that? 

5. Why would people be tempted to say that God is tempting them? Have you ever been so tempted? 

6. What is James’ two-fold “proof” that God does not tempt people? How do each “prove” that God doesn’t tempt people? 

7. How does temptation come according to James? Think of an example from your own life. Where has this pattern (the move from desire to death) been evident in your own life?