When Jesus was about to begin His ministry, the devil showed up to tempt Him in person, face to face (cf. Matthew 4:1-11). Normally the devil is more subtle about these sorts of things.
Twice in the Scriptures, the devil is given the title of, “the Tempter.” The first is in Matthew 4:3, during the testing of Jesus. The second is in 1 Thessalonians 3:5, where Paul writes to the Thessalonians saying, “For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain (ESV).”
Though it was the same Tempter, his methods in tempting the Thessalonians did not involve face-to-face meetings, but rather a hostile Jewish community and the very real threat of persecution (cf. Acts 17:5-9). We should realize therefore that the devil has various schemes and devices by which he tempts men. Sometimes he speaks to us through the voice of friends enticing us into unruly behavior, sometimes through the voice of our enemies urging us to give in to anger and wrath. He might tempt us through the voice of advertisements on the television urging us to covet, or perhaps he will use the voice of a news reporter counseling us to be fearful. Most subtle of all is when he tempts us through our own desires, speaking to us in our own voice. The Scriptures teach us that this is a very real possibility, telling us: “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (James 1:14; ESV).”
Further, we should realize that when temptation comes, it comes in the voice of reason, giving us arguments for why we should give in to the temptation. Each time the devil tempted Jesus, he gave a rational for the temptation, even going so far as to quote Scripture. Jesus was hungry, what could be more natural than making bread and eating? God promised protection, why not see if God was telling the truth? Jesus came to save the whole world, why not just let the devil give it to Him rather than going through the trouble of dying for it? In each case there was a logic and an argument behind why Jesus should give in to the temptation.
In Psalm 11, David confronts those who were tempting him to trust in himself rather than in God. They urged David to run away and hide because there were real enemies out to kill him, and they wanted David to understand his importance (cf. Psalm 11:1-3). Their arguments had a kind of logic to them, making sense to the mind focused on the things of the world, but David was able to recognize the voice for what it was: the voice of the Tempter, leading him away from God.
When the devil tempts us, are we going to be able to recognize his voice, and thus resist the temptation?
Jesus was able to identify the devil’s temptations for the sins that they were because He had learned to listen to the voice of God. He had devoted Himself to the study of God’s word, and when the devil spoke, Jesus could hear the lies within the arguments, and knew the danger of giving in. And thus, each time the devil tempted, Jesus replied with the words of God, saying, “It is written (cf. Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).”
God still speaks to us today. He speaks to us through His inspired word. Daniel identified the Scriptures as the voice of God, lamenting the sins of his countrymen, saying that they had, “not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in His laws, which He set before us by His servants the prophets (Daniel 9:10; ESV).” We can likewise hear the voice of God in the Gospel of Christ. Again the Scriptures say, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2a; ESV).” Concerning all of this, we are wisely advised: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts (Hebrews 3:7-8, etc.).” In other words, learn to listen to the voice of God.
How we go in life is going to depend on whose voice are we listening to. Are we listening to the voice of the Tempter? Or are we listening to the voice of God?
If we learn to listen to God, learning His word, as Christ did, we will better identify the voice of the Tempter when it comes, and we will be able to say, with Christ, “It is written.” If we don’t listen to the voice of God, when the voice of the Tempter enters our ear, its arguments and coaxings will seem reasonable and rational and we will readily give in to them, to our own hurt.
Let us learn to listen to the voice of God.
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Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.