James 1:14-15(NIV) - but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.
15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Here is a typical exchange between two church members that takes place each and every week in so many churches:
“Good morning, Sister Reed, how are you today?”
“I’m blessed in the Lord. How are you doing Brother Simpkins?”
“Oh I’m blessed in the Lord too, thank you.”
Does that sound familiar to anyone? For many of us, those comments or some variation of them is something that is expected of so called “mature” Christians. Its not necessarily preached overtly in the pulpit or directly taught in Bible class, however, there seems to be this unspoken rule that we, who have accepted Christ in our lives, should profess nothing but the blessings of heaven. I fully agree that God blesses His children on a regular and continuous basis. That goes without saying, however, in our walk with Christ, we will have good days and we will have bad days. Part of the purpose of church is to help equip us with the tools needed to live a Godly life but another very strong component of the church is to be there for each other through trials, tribulations, temptations and strife. Yet oftentimes, the only people that speak about a temptation are those who either just walked in the door of the church or those who have just confessed the need for Christ in their lives. But what about the rest of the church body? Does satan stop tempting us when we reach a certain spiritual age? If I’ve been saved for two years (or is it 5 years) then that means I never have to worry about temptation again? No, I really don’t think that’s the case. More likely, in fact, is that I’ve gone to Temptation Island.
What is Temptation Island? Well, aside from a television program, Temptation Island in the church is where Christians go when satan begins to tempt them. It is an island where your all alone and there’s no one around to see or hear your struggles with any given problem until the point that you fall in the water and begin to drown in that temptation. Then people will notice you very quickly. It is an island where you can look out across the water at others on their islands and shout, “I’m blessed,” but here on your island, your struggling with a problem. Temptation Island looks beautiful and wholesome from a distance but a closer look will reveal storms of chaos, winds of struggle and rains of defeat on all sides. To help better explain what this island is all about, I’ve taken the liberty of renting a small boat. Its moored right down here on the docks, so come on in and have a seat. Put your life jacket on and I’ll take you on a tour of just a few of these islands.
The first island that we come to on our tour is the island of Denise. Denise is a long time member of her church and very active. She’s a member of the choir, an usher, works on the Hospitality committee and loves to go out and witness to the world about Christ. She loves Sunday School and doesn’t miss a Bible Study class if she can help it. Yes, indeed, Denise is a faithful member of her church and is respected and loved by everyone. See how beautiful her island looks? But wait, let me steer our boat just a bit closer and see if we can see anything else. Ah, look over there to the left. See that smoke? No, its not a signal fire, it’s a cigarette. Denise has a problem with smoking that she can’t seem to break. She’s been saved for years now but she struggles constantly with this addiction. She doesn’t smoke all the time anymore but there’s just certain times when the urge is too strong and she has to have one. Sometimes she’ll be in a store, other times the urge comes when she’s having a very bad day but for whatever reason it happens, she gives in and lights one up. The satisfaction is always mingled with guilt and shame and even before she finishes, she’s nearly in tears wondering why she can’t give this up. She’s prayed, she’s fasted and she’s consecrated to overcome it, and she has had many victories. There have been times when she’s gone for two or three months without a smoke. Yet, just as she’s becoming joyful that she’s past it, out of nowhere, the urge returns. What does she do? All during this struggle, she’s still been working faithfully in the church. She’s heard sermon after sermon about being a new creature and walking in the spirit so as not to fulfill the lust of the flesh. How then, can she profess to be a true Christian if she can’t overcome this lust? Who can she turn to for help? If she tells anyone in the church, they might offer her a few words of encouragement but they’ll also “suggest” she step down from the choir, take a break from witnessing for awhile, etc…until she overcomes her problem. In other words, the very place that she should go to for help is the place that’s first to ostracize her cast her away. She’s seen it happen to other faithful members in the past and she doesn’t want it to happen to her so Denise continues to respond with “I’m blessed” as she privately struggles with her problem. All alone on her island, Denise fights to find that way to escape temptation.
Hmm, its getting a bit late and I’ve got to turn this boat back in before 6pm so we only have time to look at one more island. Ah, over there is the island of James. That one looks even prettier from here, but lets steer over towards that beach area and have a look around:
James is a faithful man of God. He’s one of the deacons in his church, he picks neighborhood kids up on Sundays for Sunday School and just recently, James has accepted a call on his life to enter the ministry. He has a beautiful wife and two wonderful kids and, like Denise, he’s respected by everyone in his church. But, James has a problem with lusting after women. As much as he’s tried to get rid of the lust, its still there. No, James doesn’t cruise down the boulevard late at night trying to pick up prostitutes but he does enjoy watching some of the late night pornographic movies that come on late at night on the movie channels. He does enjoy flirting with some of his female friends at work and on occasion, he’ll peruse through some adult magazines when he goes to get his paper at the local bookstore. This private struggle has been going on for years but there have been victories. He no longer feels compelled to go to the adult bookstores and he’s been delivered from the chat rooms. Yet, interspersed with the victories are many failures and defeats. Again, like Denise, he’s prayed and fasted and cried out before God for complete and total victory over this one area of his life. He doesn’t feel like he can go to anyone in his church because they would take away his keys to the front door, tell him someone else will pick up the kids next Sunday and most definitely tell him to forget about being a Minister for God. And so, he continues to struggle and fight his private fight, hoping that one day he will be fully delivered from his island.
Well, its time to head back to the dock and drop you all off. I hope you enjoyed your tour. What did you say? How do these people get off their islands? Well, lets talk about it until we reach land.
These islands are built up by individuals who are afraid to go to their fellow Christians for help through temptation times. The reasons are many but they basically fall into two categories. Either an island is built up by one’s own pride that prevents that person from seeking out help or the church has proven in the past that it does not provide support, direction and fellowship for those members that are struggling through a weakness. Lets look at both of these in turn.
First, if someone has too much pride to seek out help then they are at fault and chances are that they will never fully overcome their struggle. The Bible teaches that there are three basic types of sins: lust of the eye, lust of the flesh and pride of life. If someone is buried deep in all three categories, they will continue on a downward path until they are either exposed or become so defeated that they leave the church all together. If someone loves to drink smoke, that person has a sin of the flesh. When she sees a pack of cigarettes in the store and lusts after it, she is in the sin of the eye. Yet, if she is so caught up in her own glory that she fails to go to her church body for help in overcoming, she is in the pride of life sin. If that person has truly been made a new creature in Christ, then she needs to come to the realization that part of that new life is to leave the old things, habits and attitudes behind and press forward. If she is totally committed to walking in the righteousness of God then she will crucify all of her flesh, including her pride and seek out help.
Secondly, if the local church doesn’t provide support for individuals in need, then that local church needs to examine itself. God established the church for the equipping, strengthening and wisdom building of the church. This means helping those who are in need with programs such as a buddy system whereby someone can call another member when the urge comes along and that member can pray and council with that person to help him overcome it. Because a church sets up addiction or temptation related programs doesn’t mean that that church is tolerating those acts. What it does mean, however, is that that church recognizes that although we have been re-borne of the spirit, yet are we still in the flesh and sometimes all of us struggle with overcoming that flesh. The church that provides these programs understands that sin and the temptation to sin does not end just because you’ve taken a position in the church or because you’ve been saved for years. This is the type of church that will chastise the sin but support the sinner. Just as Paul did with the churches that he established, we should do today. Yes, point out the sin to the person and show what its doing to destroy their lives but then council and help the person to find a way to escape that temptation that they may overcome it. It’s the word of Christ that says we are overcomers if we draw nigh unto Him. It is in our churches that we should gather together to support, love and comfort our own. Would Jesus do anything less for each and everyone of us?
Well, watch your step or you’ll slip in the water. I hope you all enjoyed your tour of the islands. Go back and tell a few people all about your trip for me, will you? Oh, and hey, the next time someone in your church starts to grow a Temptation Island of their own, steer over there and help them out. You never know, the next time someone could be swimming to your island.
~Pastor Dennis Davis