Question: Please explain Matthew 6:13. Why would Jesus teach us to pray, “…Lead us not into temptation,…”? He would never lead us into partaking of temptation and I did not think He would lead us into the presence of temptation. James 1:13 says that God tempteth no man, and then we read where Jesus was led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. I can’t seem to get these scriptures working together, so I would appreciate some explanation on them.
Answer: These scriptures do indeed appear contradictory and baffling on the face of them and this question may be of importance to more people than just this questioner. These scriptures are not contradictory when rightly divided and understood.
The word “temptation” has a double meaning which, when understood, will help us to understand the apparent contradiction here. One meaning is, “an inducement to evil.” Another meaning is, “try, test, prove, probe.” The text in James 1:13, “…God cannot be tempted with evil; neither tempteth he any man,” means that He does not tempt men with evil, or endeavor to induce them into evil. In Matthew 26:41, Jesus admonished His disciples to “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation:…” The strong temptation for evil was right at hand and lying just immediately ahead of them. It came upon them and Peter fell grossly into it to the point of denying the Lord Jesus with cursing and swearing. The others fell into it also in a lesser degree than Peter in that they forsook Him and fled. The only one of those twelve who stood with Him that memorable night was John the beloved disciple. This is what is meant by entering into temptation partaking of it or being victimized by it. Then Jesus continued in the last part of Matthew 26:41, to say that “…The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Many who fail to recognize this important truth fell that if they are willing in their spirit to live for God and seek earnestly to please Him in their lives, that somehow God will overlook and consider the frailty of their flesh if they give way and are overcome in the time of temptation. This is not the case. When one is overcome in the time of temptation and victimized by it, and partakes of it, it requires repentance before he can be restored, regardless of how willing his spirit was to live for God. Peter went out and wept bitterly (bitter tears of repentance) when he was struck with the reality of what he had done. When one has a deep sense of the reality and truth of Jesus’ words, “…The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he will be constantly and continuously seeking to build up himself on this most holy faith (Jude 20) and to be “…strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.” (Ephesians 3:16.) This way, when he is enthralled and enveloped with temptation strong and keen, the power of the spirit within will prevail over the weakness of the flesh without, and he will not fall a victim to the temptation. One great comfort that we have, and really the only one that we need, is, “…Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” I John 4:4. As we yield ourselves more and more to the workings of the Spirit of God in our lives, the truth of this statement will be more and more confirmed unto us.
The other meaning of the word which is “to try, test, prove, or probe,” means that God tempts us all in this sense. Daniel 12:10 says, “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried;…” God will surely have a tried and proven people to take to heaven. The reason for this is clearly apparent. God, in the beginning, created man in His own image and after His own likeness, which is declared to be “righteousness and true holiness.” We all know how man (Adam) failed and committed sin; and as a result of that all his posterity, the whole human race, was plunged into sin (Romans 5:12). We see all around us the appalling effect of this and the ruin of the race which has resulted from sin. Now, in approximately 6,000 years, the world has become almost an unbearable place for a righteous man to live. If this degree of ruin and devastation has been wrought by sin in 6,000 years, pray tell me if you can, the extent of the havoc which would be wrought in that eternal world without an end if anything faulty or evil were to get there. Every person who enters those portals will first be tried to the limit that he may be thoroughly purged from every imperfection and impurity before he is accepted in that company. God is absolutely taking no chances this time.
All of this relates to the text to which the question relates: Matthew 6:13. In this text Jesus taught us to pray, “…Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:…” Adam Clarke says in his commentary on this text that the phrase interpreted here “Lead us not into temptation,” means, in the translation from the original Greek text, “Bring us not into sore trial.” He also says that several of the primitive Church fathers have added to this the phrase, “which we cannot bear.” He further adds that “The word not only implies violent assaults by Satan, but also sorely afflictive circumstances, none of which we have, as yet, grace or fortitude sufficient to bear.” Then he says that “Bring us not into,” or “Lead us not into,” is a “mere Hebraism; God is said to do a thing which He only permits or suffers to be done.”
A key text in this connection is found in I Peter 1:6, where it says, “…though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.” The key words are “if need be,” and this refers to what has been said before about God testing, trying, purging, and purifying everyone to prepare them for heaven. One of our songs contains these words: “God is sweeping through’ the nations, With an awful searching eye; Every spot of imperfection Must be purged, or hope must die.” God is the One who determines “if need be.” He determines when one needs a trial and what kind of trial it should be. He sees every spot of imperfection about us; even the ones we do not see and realize ourselves. He has decreed that all these things must be purged and His method of purging them is through the trying, testing, proving, and probing experiences of life. He permits only those things in our lives which He sees will accomplish His desired end: the purging and purifying of the soul, and the perfecting of us in the image of His Son, Jesus.
He taught us to pray right along with, “…But deliver us from evil:…” Some render this, “Deliver us from the evil one.” We can be sure that in all those trying experiences God sees necessary to subject us to in order to prepare us for heaven, the “evil one,” Satan himself, will be on hand to attempt to take advantage of us in the trial and seek to persuade us to cast away our confidence in God or take a wrong attitude toward God, or circumstances, or people connected with our trial. The devil will try to hurt us in some way; but we can be assured that if we keep our trust in God and remain subject and submissive to Him that His grace will be sufficient, and the trial will never be too great for us to bear. This is spelled out in certain terms in I Corinthians 10:13, which you may read as a conclusion.