I love my big Airedale, Zeke, and he absolutely loves giving hugs. Unfortunately, he also loves to eat my kids’ pencils… and their homework.
My wife and I tell our kids to keep these items off the floor and out of his reach. They are just too big of a temptation for him. Sometimes they listen, and sometimes they come home to find their favorite pencils in pieces.
The last two phrases of the Lord’s Prayer deal with temptation, and like other lines in the prayer, can seem a bit strange. In Matthew 6:13, Jesus commands us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Before we discuss this beautiful sentence further, let’s see what the early Christians thought about it.
“Lead us not into temptation.” This means, do not allow us to be led into it by him who tempts. For far be the thought that the Lord should seem to tempt us. – Tertullian 198CE Volume 3, p. 684
“And allow us not to be led into temptation.” … When we ask that we may not come into temptation, we are reminded of our infirmity and weakness in that we thus ask, lest any should insolently vaunt himself, lest any should proudly and arrogantly assume anything to himself … when the Lord Himself, teaching humility, said, “Watch and pray, so that you will not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak;” …
We conclude by saying, “But deliver us from evil,” comprehending all adverse things which the enemy attempts against us in this world, from which there may be a faithful and sure protection if God deliver us, if He affords His help to us who pray for and implore it. … For what fear is there in this life, to the man whose guardian in this life is God? – Cyprian 250CE Volume 5, p. 795 [CD-ROM]
One immediate observation one can make is that the early Christians believed the wording of the Lord’s Prayer could better be written, “Do not allow us to be led into temptation.” They observed that since God does not tempt anyone, the prayer is a plea for divine help to not be dragged away from simple devotion to the Father, and thus fall into sin through the devil’s temptations.
Walter Liefeld echoes this thought in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Luke, “The request is clearly for the Father to keep His children from falling away in the hour of trial.” It would make sense for Jesus to call us to pray this way, since He says in the parable of the soils, “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).”
Also, the early Christians remind us that like Peter, James and John in the Garden of Gethsemane, God’s Spirit is willing to help, but our flesh is weak. And if we are not actively making use of God's help by keeping watch with prayer against temptation, any of us can fall into egregious temptation.
I remember as a teenager when I brashly declared I would never get drunk. I remember when I confidently proclaimed I would never do drugs. I remember when I made a promise to wait until I was married to have sex. I also remember falling in each of those three areas.
Like Peter on Jesus' last night, I was so sure of myself. Like Peter, I trusted in myself so much I didn’t depend on God and the power of prayer. I should’ve listened to Paul’s counsel in 1 Corinthians 10:12, "Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall."
I wish I had been exposed to the early Christians much sooner in my life, for they lived with a confident humility. They possessed an immense confidence in the power of prayer. As Cyprian stated, if we are willing to earnestly and faithfully cry out to God for deliverance from evil, we can walk without fear through any situation in life, knowing our great and mighty God is with us.