Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:3 – 4
Temptations happen after and before – after a high point when we think nothing can touch us, and before we are launched into something God has in store for us. We should want the Spirit to lead us, but we will not always like where He leads; yet we should not fight it even when He brings us into the wilderness. God has a reason for us there, so we should learn fast and learn well. The temptations that Satan brings are also what God uses to test us, a test that may discredit us but also help find what is good about us. The enemy is real, cunning and subtle, so we need to understand his strategy as we delve into the first of the three temptations.
What Is Satan’s Strategy?
The temptation starts in the wilderness, but goes into increasing heights and intensity to the temple and then the mountain. Ultimately, the Enemy attempts to question and confuse our identity in order to detract and distract from our assignment. In all three instances, Jesus uses Scripture to counter the temptations. Behind this first temptation, there are four sub-points to help us understand what the enemy is trying to do. and help us to examine ourselves against what the Word says.
Tempted to Depend on Physical Desire
After 40 days of fasting, Jesus would have been hungry, and Satan tried to tempt Him to depend on fulfilling his physical hunger to throw Him off track. If we lust or crave for power, money, success, and are willing to trade to satisfy that fleshly desire, the enemy is happy to make that trade. Just like Esau who traded his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew, Satan was tempting Jesus to give up His right to rule in order to satisfy his immediate hunger. If we choose to sin by pandering to our fleshly and physical cravings, we essentially say that our right as children of God is worth nothing. When God’s chosen people the Israelites complained about manna and craved for meat as recorded in Numbers 11, they were fed, but spiritually dead (Psalm 106:15).
God created us with these desires, and He will provide for our physical needs, but He also wants us to know that there is a realm higher and more important than the physical realm, that we should hold on to as an eternal hope. Hence Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4. That is what it means for the kingdom of God to be with us – we move and live by every Word that the King decrees, under the reign of a loving and good Ruler who knows everything about us. Our role is not to worry about our physical needs, but to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”(Matthew 6:33) The Lord will provide, but will we be satisfied?
There are times God allows us to experience physical hunger in order to reveal what is in our hearts and what we truly need. “And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) The irony is that Satan comes with mere bread to tempt the Bread of Life who fulfils our deepest spiritual hunger. Jesus knew his identity as the Living Word, the Logos – God’s wisdom and ways by which mankind shall live by and depend on, and not just bread alone.
Tempted to Act in Self-Preservation and Survival
When we are pushed into a corner, we are likely to go into survival mode and start thinking about desperate measures to save ourselves. Our theology at that point is tested as we question where God is. It is one thing to do our part because God commands us to, but another for us to try to help God. When Sarah tried to help God by offering Hagar, they ended up with Ishmael. When Saul made offerings on his own instead of waiting for Samuel, he was compelled by self-preservation. Saul is not living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, he has disobeyed. On the other hand, David waited for his time and did not kill Saul even though the opportunity was there, because God had not given the instruction. The verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” in Philippians 4:13 means that no matter what circumstances we are under, our strength is found in Christ and not in what we have. God’s kingdom and kingdom Assignments are upside-down from a world that looks at human strength and ability. We serve God whether we are full or empty, and He will ensure our survival.
Tempted To Act Independently
To act independently of God means disregarding what He has said to us instead of living by every word from the mouth of God. The enemy tempts us to act independently with the question: “Has God indeed said…”, casting a little doubt on whether we really understood “every word from the mouth of God”. We then end up disregarding God’s word and rationalising our actions. Discerning God’s word is a fine line, but that is what our relationship with God is about – to make mistakes and learn so that God can test us and approve of us.
Jesus could have turned the stones to bread, but He did not because He did not hear from the Father. “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19) Just like Jesus, we need to deal with the temptation of acting independently, and instead rest in the Father and only go when He says so or does so. To learn Christlikeness is to learn from the Son saying to the Father in Gethsemane ‘not my will, but yours be done.’ Instead of taking a pragmatic approach of ‘do whatever works, God will understand’, we need to radically deny ourselves in discipleship, laying aside our own activities, self-preservation instinct and agenda as we hear God and obey His will.
Tempted to Prove Our Position and Power
We all struggle with insecurity and a great need to vindicate our identity as Christians, trying to prove ourselves in ministry with numbers and feats as evidence of God’s favour and blessing. Here, the enemy uses a phrase better translated as “since you are the Son of God” – the enemy is trying to get Jesus to prove Himself by turning the stones to bread. We tend to gravitate to the world’s measures of success in power and position – not that we shouldn’t have power, but that we should not work to prove it, because in trying to prove it we abuse it. God is more interested in our humility in weakness, submission in obedience, and when we focus on these, power comes on us to defeat the enemy. Likewise, as we serve in the kingdom, instead of trying to rationalise and judge how others are doing in ministry, we should instead journey with them and remind them of their identity in Christ.
How then should we apply these lessons?
Fresh Bread, Not Packaged Answers
As Christians, we may be going to church each week to have ‘pre-packaged’ sermons poured into us, but do we go to the word for fresh insights? Packaged answers will not take us through temptation. We need to receive fresh bread so that we can share it with others, for freshness comes with anointing that breaks yokes and brings encouragement.
This means we need to feed daily on the Word, for we are what we eat. If we only have feeding once a week at church, we are malnourished. When we take in the word, sometimes it is not easy as we need to chew on it and digest it for it to become a part of us. Today, we are in a ‘fast-food’ church, where messages are sometimes sugar-coated to feel good, but we need to receive “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”, pure and unadulterated. We need to receive both the good and the unpleasant, loving the blessings, and heeding the warnings.
Not Just Hearers but Doers of the Word
As we receive this fresh bread, we must act upon it as well. The book of Ezekiel has this rebuke about the people who treated Ezekiel’s preaching as entertainment( Ezekiel 33:30 – 32).
We do not need more teaching; rather it is now on us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). We need to go beyond just quoting the Word, but to live by it. This calls for radical discipleship that relies on God instead of aiming to fulfil our physical needs. We need to renew our mind and understand the will of God so that our assignment is aligned to it.
Temptations are the enemy’s attempt to question our identity. He wants to keep us focused on the things of the world which will draw us away, but there is more to life than this physical realm. God awakens us, aligns us and assigns us as we seek the spiritual and eternal, setting our minds on things above. Let us consider how we are faring in these temptations, knowing that we do not overcome them with our own strength, but by the same Holy Spirit who was with Christ and is also with us. He will help us focus on the right things, and go beyond just talking about the Bread, but to live by the Word.