Following the part of the Prayer that asks for forgiveness and grace, we go to the reason why we need such things: sin. Sin is part of fleshly nature, and its desires lead us into this rebellion against God. Thus, we ask, “And lead us not into temptation, …” (Mat. 6:13). But why do we ask God to not “lead us … into temptation” in this fashion? What is temptation, and why are we lead into it? To answer these questions, and to erase the confusion which leads to these questions, we must go to back through the etymology of the word temptation.
The confusion may have come from many sources, not excluding the lack of understanding many Christians have either from ignorance or the failure of teachers. Some blame may be laid in the confusion that arises with the degradation of language and translating from one language to another.
The Latin for temptation is temptatio, which is a “trial; attack”. This comes from the verb temptare, “to test, feel, probe; to attack; to try to influence, tamper with, tempt, try to induce; to urge, incite”. While these words and definitions are much alike, those found in the Greek, explained below, have additional meanings.
Indeed, while our modern English spelling looks very much like the Latin, the Old English looked much different. Costnunge, the word used by Old English speakers, meant “temptation, testing, trial, tribulation”, which came from costnian, meaning “to tempt, try, prove, examine”. This is very much like the Greek. This is also what was used in the Old English translation of the Lord’s prayer. This changed with the advent of the Norman Invasion and the dawn of Middle English. Thus, the Old French temptacion, which comes from the above Latin, gave rise to the English temptation, the “act of enticing someone to sin”.
So what does the Greek have to say about the word temptation? The Greek word is πειρασμός or “peirasmos” and it has a variety of uses. In short, however, it is defined as thus: “a putting to proof (by experiment (of good), experience (of evil), solicitation, discipline, of provocation); by implication, adversity: – temptation, try.” (Strong’s “3986.”) Temptation does not mean, necessarily, to entice to do evil but to put to the test or try by fire the person.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, we should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. … Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
~ James 1:2-5 & 12 ~
When we face trials, then, we should consider them a joy to endure and a blessing that we may grown in perseverance and faith. In these instances, trials and temptations are a proving, testing “of a man’s fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy, etc” (Thayer). Even still, we should go to the Lord and ask that temptations of the world may be kept from us. Luther explains this:
Therefore, even though we are godly now and stand before God with a good conscience, we must pray again that He would not allow us to fall again and yield to trials and temptations. (LC III, 100)
As we know, in addition to our sinful nature which desires for us to rebel against God, for “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” the “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” so we must “watch and pray” so that we do not fall into temptation (Mat. 26:41, 1 Pet. 5:8).
Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.
~ Luke 8:13 ~
Though some trials and testings may come, some are because of our sinful nature and the sinful world around us. These too must be resisted, and such strength must come from God. This is why we must pray
So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you may stand up under it.
~ 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 ~
When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil not does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows.
~ James 1:13-17 ~
Thus, we ask God to help us during our times of testing and that the temptation the sinful nature entices us towards may be kept from us. And just as He was tempted, and did not fall, so does He sustain us during such times (Heb. 2:18-3:2).
This, then, is what “lead us not into temptation” means. It refers to times when God gives us power and strength to resist the temptation. However, the temptation is not taken away or removed. …we say this prayer so that we may not fall or be drowned in them. … Therefore, we Christians must be armed and daily expect to be constantly attacked. … So there is no help or comfort except to run here, take hold of the Lord’s Prayer, and speak to God from the heart like this: ‘Dear Father, You have asked me to prayer. Do not let me fall because of temptations.’ Then you will see that the temptations must stop and finally confess themselves conquered. If you try to help yourself by your own thoughts and counsel, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil more space. For he has a serpent’s head. If it finds an opening into which is can slip, the whole body will follow without stopping. But prayer can prevent him and drive him back.
(Luther, LC III, 106-111)
Instead of attempting to free yourself from temptation or falling to the temptation presented to us, both of which are desires of the flesh since the Rebellion, submit to God that He may guide and strengthen you.
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 powers 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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
~ Ephesians 6:10-18 ~
Blessings to you and yours,
“costning.” Wiktionary. 2017.
“LC III. 100, 106-111” Kolb, Robert, and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress. 2000. Print. 420-21.
“Temptation.” The Online Etymology Dictionary. 2017.
“Temptati-o -onis.” The New College Latin & English Dictionary. 1995. Print.
“Tempt-o -are -avi -atus.”The New College Latin & English Dictionary. 1995. Print.
The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1985. Print.
“3986.” The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words. 1996. Print.
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