A note from Kelly King: I’m currently in the middle of a thirty-day plan where I’m watching what I eat, eliminating several things from my diet, and replacing bad things with a better substitute. My willpower is weak, and I’m easily tempted to cheat and eat something high in sugar. And while those temptations aren’t always a sin, I’m easily reminded that various kinds of temptations are all around me. As Courtney Veasey explains in today’s article, we must combat temptation with Scripture and remember that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.
In the song for which he is famously known, country singer Charlie Daniels sang of how the devil went down to Georgia and got into a fiddle duel with a boy named Johnny, his soul the prize at stake. With our salvation secure in Christ, we don’t concern ourselves with our souls being up for grabs as the song goes, but we are aware from the biblical witness and our own life experiences, that the devil does come to tempt us in ways of damaging our influence in leadership. While the New Testament writers were far more focused on the greater One who is within us than he who is in the world (see 1 John 4:4), Jesus was also clear that a disciple is not above his teacher (Matthew 10:24), nor a servant greater than his master (John 15:20). We who follow Him will contest, as He did, with the one who is against Him. Let’s take a look at one of Jesus’ more direct encounters with Satan as recorded in Luke 4:1-13 and see what we may apply from His example to our own encounters of temptation in leadership.
Following His baptism in Bethany (John 1:28) and prior to returning north to Galilee and launching His public ministry, Luke records that Jesus spent a period of forty days in the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil. The word used in Luke 4:2 to say that Jesus was “tempted” is peirazó in the original Greek, which often occurs in the New Testament in reference to either a temptation or test depending on the circumstance. The term carries the idea of being scrutinized or put to the test, and in this context where Satan is the source, we understand it to be in a negative sense where the intent is not to build character but rather to try Jesus’ virtue and entice Him to sin. The word diabolos is used here to reference the devil, a term which describes a false accuser or slanderer. It combines the words dia meaning “through” and bolos meaning a “javelin or missile” type object, also portraying the notion of “piercing through,” perhaps being a reason for Paul’s reference in Ephesians 6:16 to the “flaming arrows of the evil one.” As we move through the text, notice how these descriptions ring true and what we can expect in our own dealings with the same accuser.
In Luke 4:3-4, the first challenge issued by the devil is to Jesus’ own identity. Fully aware of who Jesus is, the devil says in verse 3, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” “If you are the Son of God…” How many times have we too had this kind of conditional message whispered in our ears? Maybe it sounded like, “If you are a part of this ministry team, make your voice heard…” or “If you are a modern woman, prove it…” Being secure in the approval of His Father (Luke 3:22), Jesus does nothing out of God’s will to prove Himself to the devil or anyone else, and neither should we. Rather, He indirectly responds with a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3.
Next in verses 5-8, Jesus is tempted to compromise the very mission for which He came. After being shown all the kingdoms of the world (v. 5), the devil offers a deal that he has no real authority to make or keep—giving Jesus all the domain and glory of earth in exchange for His worship. Quoting again from Deuteronomy, Jesus declares allegiance to God alone (Deut. 6:13; 10:20), and in doing so demonstrates that He is not willing to take any alternative routes to accomplishing His ultimate aim.
We too are often presented with opportunities to shorten what might otherwise be longer, more difficult paths required for our callings or to justify ungodly means in reaching desired ends. A few years ago, for instance, I was serving full time on church staff while also working to finish a Master of Divinity degree. With only two Hebrew classes shy of finishing with a concentration in biblical languages, I was given the option of not taking those courses and graduating at an earlier time with a general, standard degree. Weary from long days of ministry coupled with long nights of paper writing and translation work, I considered the offer, but when in prayer about it, nearly immediately God brought my attention to Proverbs 19:2 which says, “Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge, and he who hurries his footsteps errs” (NASB). The message was clear, and I pressed on to finish, not knowing that the Lord would later lead me to pursue two further degrees and other ministry assignments which required those two courses to have been completed. We may not see it today, but He has a reason for every step He asks us to take. Never let Satan, other people, or your own tiredness cause you to take short cuts of any kind along your given path of ministry.
In the third and final temptation (vv. 9-12), Jesus is again challenged to prove Himself, but this time by way of testing what has been said about Him in Scripture. The devil rightly claims from Psalm 91:11-12 that should Jesus throw Himself down from the top of the temple, angels would come to His rescue at the command of the Father. Without denying the truth of the claim, Jesus yet responds with another text from Deuteronomy (6:16) to say that God should not be put to the test. We as well do not deny the truth of our having been saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-10) or that God is patient and forgiving (Num. 14:18; Ps. 86:15), but these realities should never be used as an allowance for sin.
What more can we apply to our own dealings with temptation from this experience of Jesus in the wilderness? First, notice that He stood His ground with Scripture. Knowing that while on earth we too will do battle with spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:10-12), we must also be ready with the Word—both in our hearts and hands. Next, Jesus demonstrated His trust in the Father. He never wavered from the path set before Him, even knowing the great sacrifice it would require. And lastly, keep in mind that Jesus entered the circumstance of the wilderness under the leadership of the Holy Spirit (4:1) and emerged from it in the power of the Spirit (4:14). We are governed by no less of the Holy Spirit than our Lord, and as we remain steadfast in the trials of temptation we face, we too will carry out our ministry leadership in this same power. So, the next time the devil shows up in Georgia (or Ohio, or California, or wherever it is you serve), take no bets with him. Instead, be ready to call on Jesus—the decided Victor—knowing that He who recognized and refuted the devil’s schemes will help you do the same.
Courtney Veasey is a PhD candidate in biblical interpretation at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She is the former Director of Women’s Academic Programs and faculty member also of NOBTS. Courtney is a frequent speaker for women and teenage girls and has contributed numerous articles, devotionals, and book chapters for such publications as Essential Connection and Parenting Teens magazines, LifeWay’s Ministry to Women blog, and most recently Broadman and Holman’s The Devotional for Women and The Psalms and Proverbs Devotional for Women. Courtney currently resides in her home state of Florida where she enjoys being near family, spending time on the water, and cheering for her beloved Florida State Seminoles.