"Evil Is Strong And We Are Weak."
Today, I am concluding the sermon series of Lord’s Prayer. Lord’s Prayer we know ends with “For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Forever. Amen.” We could meditate about the doxology in another week but the Prayer ends at the sixth prayer, in other words, the third prayer for us.
Please lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
I’d like to make myself clear before meditating the meaning of the prayer. It looks so obvious at the first glance, but it could create a few misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
First, let us think about the meaning of temptation translated from a Greek word, ‘peirasmos.’ The word may be translated as either temptation or test. Most of the English Bible versions translate it as temptation. Temptation refers to what makes us fall into sins. On the other hand, test means an incident shaking our faith. Of course, temptation may test our faith, but there are so many other things other than temptation which shake our faith. Ordeal could be a test, or suspicion could be a test as well. It seems that Korean translation suits better than English translation.
Second, let us think about the meaning of “deliver us from evil.” The Greek word meaning ‘from evil’ could also mean ‘from the evil one’, which the majority of Bible theologians believe is more appropriate and right. Thus, the prayer means neither saving from bad behavior nor bad situation. It means saving from an evil one.
Then who is the evil one? According to words and achievements of Jesus Christ, it points to Satan. We translate it as devil or demon. Jesus believed the existence of a spiritual being who tries to enslave humans and stand against God and God’s will. Satan, demon and evil all point to the head of evil spirits. Satan controls evil spirits and ghosts. Jesus never mentioned Satan as a symbol, an analogy, or as a metaphor. To Jesus, Satan and evil spirits are the real beings.
Modern people, persuaded by a scientific view to the world, find it hard to accept the view of Jesus Christ. They regard the view to Satan as faith one may have only when living in an uncivilized society since legends or nursery stories often talk about devils or evils. Many of those who believe Jesus is the Son of God and the prophet of Truth turn away when hearing Satan or demon. They seem to say, “Jesus was right in all aspects, but was mistaken about Satan.
What do you think about this? Was what Jesus saw a mere illusion? Or, is Jesus uncivilized regarding the view to the world? Or, did Jesus prophesize the world we cannot see? Should Jesus’ view be revised according to the scientific view to the world? Or, should we change ours according to Jesus’ view? If we keep the translation, “deliver us from evil,” as it is, we do not have any issue. But if we revise it as “deliver us from an evil one,” then we would find two views conflicting each other every time we pray.
Third, let us think about the expression ‘lead us not into’ for a moment. The translation seems to carry the meaning of the original script adequately. The ‘New Korean Standard Bible” version translates it as “Do not lead us into temptation”, and this does not carry the original meaning. The prayer sounds as if Jesus seems to say God is leading us into temptation.
Of course sometimes God tests us. God asked Abraham to offer his only son, Isaac, whom he earned at the age of 100. It was a test obviously. While Jesus was praying a fasting prayer for forty days in the desert after being baptized, He was tested; and the Book of Gospel says that it is also the work of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 4:1-2). However, not all the tests are the work of God. The Apostle James says this:
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone (James 1:13)
At a glance, this verse seems to be conflicting with other verses regarding tests in the Bible. However, it is not so. “Tempt” in this verse means ‘temptation.’ God would not want to temp God’s loving children into sin. Such temptation comes from somewhere else. It comes from our greed or evil spirit. Or, just as what happened in the Garden of Eden in the beginning, the combination of human’s greed and Satan’s temptation make us sin. The same is true to an ordeal shaking the root of faith. People complain toward the heaven, “Why are you testing me like this?”, when their business is going slow or a disease strikes them. God seldom tests us as such, as if God is simply pressing the button on the remote control.
Nevertheless, Jesus asks us to pray “Lead us not into temptation” just as God is the source of all the temptation and tests. Not all the tests are the work of God, but they happen, because even though God knows these tests are to happen, God allows them to happen. God knows everything that is happening in the world. God executes some works directly, but sometimes a series of event occur by our choice or by the order of Nature. God lets it happen even though it may become a test or an ordeal to us. God chose to do so when God created humans.
God wants us to be God’s lover, not a robot or a slave. God expected us to love God by our own choice. So God gave us a free will. Of course, humans may abuse the freedom and make a wrong choice. However, neither true freedom nor true love may be earned without taking such a risk. Therefore, it can be said that being tested in many ways due to our free will is the providence of God.
Even though it was the providence of God, however, God will not neglect us by not doing anything when we are going through a trial. With God’s strong hand, God can remove at any time all the temptations and trials that we are confronting, but it is contrary to the fundamental principle of creation that God had selected. Instead, God awakens our spirits with soft voice and takes care of us with gentle hands. God’s voice and hands are so gentle, so the voice is not heard and the hands are not seen unless we are sensitive spiritually. But if we keep alert spiritually, we may not fall into the temptations and trials with the help of such hands.
By such a reason, it is correct to pray, "Lead us not into temptation." This prayer does not mean that God leads us into temptation, but it means that we may not fall into temptation if we receive help from God. To put it simply, the prayer means this:
Please help us so we may not become week in spirit to fall into temptations. We know that God tests us to make us strong, but please do not give us those tests that we cannot bear. Please let us be awake all the time so we may not fall into temptation. When we seek help as we go through a trial, please do not turn away our prayers.
We are now ready to think about the sixth meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. What is the reason to ask us to pray like this as the third among the list that we should pray for ourselves? If we offer this prayer with all our hearts, what kind of changes will happen to us? This prayer awakens our spirit to at least three different truths. These three truths are very important things as we live our lives as believers, but we forget these truths too often and too easily.
The first truth is that the evil is strong in the world. Of course, the world is beautiful. When I drive, walk in the woods, or go out to our church yard after daily morning-prayer these days, gasps of rapture come out from me in spite of myself. This world is indeed beautiful. Sometimes, the life that we live in this world is delightful. As the poet Chun Sang-Byung had said, our lives are sometimes happy and delightful, like children who came out for a picnic. However, the evil is permeated into this beautiful world so deeply. Facing the evil reality is sometimes painful. Often times, we end up frowning with repulsive feelings as we read incidents reported in the newspaper.
However, we have to realize the fact that an evil-doer exists behind the evil reality. An “evil doer”, that is, Satan is a deceiver in essence. Satan’s deceptions are covert and vicious. If we think that the evil which we see with our eyes is all there is, we are deceived. We have to see the underlying truth. Only then, we can see the true nature of the evil. In this world, there are so many people who boast sins as they are deceived by Satan. Temptation is everywhere, and evil is strong, because the evil "prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."(First Peter 5:8). Satan has an excellent skill in making people his collaborators or salves without revealing its identity.
The second truth is that humans are weak. For a while when I was young, I felt that this prayer was so passive and defensive. Because I was the person who bragged like "Come on life! I will fight and win the battle!" I wanted to confront the temptations and trials aggressively, win the battle, and triumph over evil. I used to believe that such was the truly powerful faith. I wanted to do like that. So I was unable to understand why someone like Jesus had taught such a weak prayer.
As I became older, however, I became to find over and over that how weak the humans are. I saw the truth over and over from myself, and I became to be more humble. I used to be agile in blaming others' fault, but now, I have more concern in reflecting on myself. It is because I realize that I also have the possibility of all sins and wickedness which other people commit. I am so weak that every part of me can fall down in a moment. Therefore, I pray, “lead us not into temptations,” not because I am timid and coward, but because I know the fact that evil is strong but I am weak.
When I was attending a theological school, I read an interview article in a monthly Christian magazine about a pastor who was most famous in Korean churches at that time. Among the questions the interviewer asked, there was a question like this: "Pastor, you grew up the church to a great extent and participated in many revival assemblies, so I think you might have confronted a lot of sexual temptations. But it seems that you never fell down so far. How did you avoid from falling?" Then, I remember that the pastor answered like this: "A lot. Temptations are always after me. The only tactic that kept me from falling is just this. Decamping! Running away! No matter what, I avoided any chance to be with an opposite sex alone." The pastor knew that he was so weak, even though he was blessed with many great spiritual gifts.
The third truth is that God is strong. If the evil is strong and I am weak, and that is all the truth there is, there are only two solutions. Either you dig a cave underground to live in a hideout or you live as the world pulls you, letting yourself go with the world. There is, however, one who is stronger that the ‘evil one’ reigning the evil world. The very heavenly Father we pray to, the Lord who resurrected, and the Holy Spirit is the one. The God of Trinity is the creator and the all mighty one. Even Satan, the head of the evil spirit, is under God’s ruling authority and is bound to surrender before God eventually. No, already when Jesus Christ died on the cross, the evil one’s headquarter was destroyed beyond restoration.
Therefore, no matter how strong ‘the evil one’ may be, he is still under the reign of God and no matter how vicious the evil is in this world, God will put everything into order in the end. Until the whole world is straightened out, God works through those who believe in God. We are weak but when we rely on God’s power, we can overcome our weaknesses. Hope is not in us. It is in God. As we trust in God’s power, we will not be lead into temptation, and even if we were lead into temptation, we can overcome the temptation; furthermore, we will not fall into the slave of the ‘evil one’ even if we have fallen over the temptation. We can rise up by the power of the almighty God, and live for the kingdom of God and the righteousness.
If we look at it this way, this prayer is neither passive nor defensive at all. Rather, it is an active prayer and an aggressive prayer. This prayer is not the prayer that makes the supplicant step back to the rear to hide in safety but shake off to rise and hold a flag to press forward. It is because, at times we may fall over temptation but this prayer would help us get up again to live for the kingdom of God and the righteousness. It is because even if we are sometimes shaken by temptation, we can overcome with God’s help and live again for God’s kingdom and the righteousness. It is because even if we fall into the evil one’s hands to go through the trials and hardship, we will not surrender to the evil one and will be restored again with God’s help.
We will run into many trials, temptations, and sufferings as we try to live according to God’s will in the evil world. The evil one, Satan, raises the intensity of his attack toward those with stronger passionate desires to live by God’s will. There is a saying, “you do not kick a dead dog.” Satan is not interested in those who have nothing to do with God and live by their greed. It is because they have already become his prey. However, Satan gives his attention to those who are spiritually awake and seek to fulfill God’s will. That is why those who pray must give this prayer more earnestly. What happens when we pray as such? The scripture we read today declares like this.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God
so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world
and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore put on the full armor of God,
so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground,
and after you have done everything, to stand. (Eph. 6:10-13)
If we believe in God who is truly immense and strong, we should pray, but we should not face the demanding struggle alone. You should form an alliance with brothers and sisters of faith and build battle camps to fight against the evil one. This is why we do not pray, “Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil” but pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”. For me to not fall into temptation and be saved from the hands of the evil one, all people living with me should become like that.
In this regard, church is truly important. We need a community of faith to share our lives truthfully in faith. We have to strive to grow spiritually, praying for and serving one another in that community. We should become one body in Jesus Christ in such a way, and work hard to pray for each other and look after one another lest we may not fall into temptation, take care of those who have fallen into temptation, and save those who have fallen into the hands of the evil one. Without such community, we are like a lonely soldier fighting against the enemy soldiers alone in a battlefield.
In this way, we are finally able to fight the reality of evil scattered in this world. God wants to heal the evil of this world through us until the new heaven and the new earth is realized and the evil of this world is healed. We should not be satisfied with not falling into temptation and being protected from the hands of the evil one. Striving for our spiritual security and growth continuously, we should work hard to reduce the evil rampant in this world. Gathering in church together, the evil of the world should become a primary concern for church. Believers should look for things to do to minimize the reality of evil at our home and workplace and put much effort into achieving that work.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what kind of situation are you currently in? By any chance, aren’t you facing a temptation? “The evil one’ is the one who threw the bait of temptation at you, and you cannot win by fighting it alone. Do not forget how weak you are in front of temptation. Whenever you feel tempted, you should pray earnestly; "Please lead us not into temptation."
Perhaps you have already fallen into temptation and are being drowned in sin. Although what had happened should not have happened, do not give up thinking that it is too late. If you give up, you will become a slave of the evil for good, and run into an irreversible fate. It is still not too late. Pray to our Father in Heaven, "Save me from the hands of the evil one who tries to enslave me.” The Father in Heaven, who is greater and more powerful than the evil, will save us by extending God’s hands.
Perhaps you are facing a serious trial that is almost uprooting your faith. Some of you may be in the midst of trials and tribulations, cry out "God, why are you doing this to me?", and ask "Does God really exist?" While suffering through severe trials, we may feel like giving up everything we have. In such a situation, even if we try to pray, we cannot pray properly. That is why the Lord taught us this prayer. So pray to Jesus “because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18) Prayer to Jesus; “Do not lead us into temptation through this suffering.”
I know one believer who is recently going through the trials that seem so hard to overcome. Even the pastor as the bystander feels so helpless, so what must it be like for that person going through the trial? The person’s trial is no mere ordinary hardship. In this situation, I know that prayer can do the most good, but still felt sad that all I could do was only the prayer for the person. And then he sent me very comforting words. In order to withstand the ordeal, he listened to each one of my Lent Morning Prayer sermons from the very beginning, and found his peace of mind in them. I prayed with deep gratitude when I received the mail from the person, because I have known that many would leave God when they need God the most.
Some of you may think that these stories are only for others. You may not face now any serious temptations or any trials that are enough to shake your faith. But the evil does not give up in any situation and looks for opportunity to shake your faith. While you say, "We are fine," you may become spiritually insensitive and numb. Faith is most dangerous when you feel at peace and safe. So the Apostle Paul exhorted; "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall." (1 Corinthians 10:12) Therefore, even though we feel safe and at peace, we should pray every day; "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil".
When we strive to pray and rely on God, God will protect us, save us, and strengthen us. Then, free from the burdens in ourselves, we can devote and sacrifice ourselves for the Kingdom of God and righteousness. Therefore, we should strive not to fall into temptation, but even when we fall into temptation, we should not fear. The only thing that we should fear is to turn ourselves away from God. If we live by relying on God, while knowing how evil the world is and how weak we are, we do not need to worry even if we fall into temptation. So the Apostle James said:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (1:2-4)
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever your situation may be, do not waver in leaning on the Heavenly Father, serve the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit. As long as you are within the hands of God, no tests will shake us, but make us mature and complete. And our lives will be used for the Kingdom of God and for righteousness, and in combating the evils of this world. I pray that all of us receive the overflowing grace and blessings from God.
Help us to open our eyes
Help us to see the evil one
Through the evil in the world
In front of the reality of evil
Help us to realize how weak we are,
And to know how strong our Heavenly Father is
Lower us every day in front of our Father
Help us to rise anew every day
and to live for our Father’s Kingdom and righteousness.