One thing we need to notice about the first temptation or the first test is that there is nothing sinful about turning stones to bread. If you are hungry, what do you do? You open the refrigerator. Or if you are a college student, you beg. In other words, you find a way to put food in your stomach. Grab a twinkie or a carrot stick or a slice of bread to meet your physical needs. It’s as simple as that.
But it’s not so simple in this particular situation. Why? Because at this moment, God’s will is for Jesus to be hungry. That sounds funny. Sounds harsh. Sounds like God is punishing Jesus. Why was God’s will for Jesus to be hungry?
In the Garden, God told Adam and Eve not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why? Was the fruit poisonous? Did it possess magical qualities? No, it was a test. If you don’t eat the fruit, by your obedience to what God says, you are demonstrating your love for him. If you eat it, by your disobedience, you are revealing that you don’t really love God after all.
Every relationship, if you think about it, has an unspoken test that keeps the relationship intact. For marriage, the test is fidelity. You fail that test and the marriage covenant is broken. For friendship, the test is loyalty. If you betray your friend, the friendship breaks down. The test serves as a boundary and if you cross that boundary, you jeopardize the relationship.
But the quality of the relationship goes far beyond simply staying within the boundary lines. I might not commit adultery, but that doesn’t mean I have a good marriage. This goes to show a second principle in relationships–love and action are closely linked. I can say I love Jackie all that I want. But if I never spend time with her, if I never pray for her, if I never wash the dishes or do the laundry, and I never give her a breather from the kids, then I would be hard pressed to say I love her. Because love and actions are closely linked. I can say I love her in my heart, or I love her in my emotions, but my actions can betray what I profess with my mouth.
If you love God, certain actions will follow. You will obey what He says. You will seek to do what pleases him. You will spend time with him. You will flee sin. You will be obedient to his commands to go and make disciples of all nations. Quick check–ask yourself, is your love for God backed up by your actions? Repeat.
Love and actions must go together. Actions without love is nothing more than religion. God is definitely interested in our actions, in our obedience, but not for the sake of obedience itself. He is interested in obedience that comes from a heart of love. We can approach Christian life like it’s a bunch of rules–I can’t get drunk, I have to attend church, I have to pray and read my Bible and love my neighbor–but it is so easy to do all of those things and never really grow in our love for God and never grow in character.
This is why God tests us. We are prone to self-deception. We think by obeying certain things, this means we love God. God wants to help us see what is in our hearts. He wants to help us see our character. He wants to help us see what we are made of. So that we don’t remain in our self-delusion. This is the purpose of testing.
You can think you know how to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem, but until the test comes, you don’t know for sure if you do. Likewise, we can say we love God, but how have we done on the tests, both small and big, that he has administered to us? How did you do on the pop quiz last week when you had a choice between your will and God’s will? How did you do when you experienced a crisis last year? Did you doubt God? How did you handle disappointments by people? How did you handle it when your pastor or your church let you down? Did you fall apart?
Jesus’ first test involved eating. To eat is one of the most fundamental things each one of us does day in and day out. Jesus was more than entitled to eat. If anyone deserves to eat, it’s someone who has been fasting for 40 days. Plus, Jesus had the power to turn stones to food. He could have commanded the mountain to turn into a chain of Panera Bread restaurants. But for Jesus, physical satisfaction was not his first priority. His first priority was to love God and he demonstrated his love for God, first by denying his right to eat and second, by remaining in the test. To eat would mean the test would be over. He would’ve failed. But by not eating, he allowed the testing to continue and he revealed a heart that loved God in the midst of difficulty and hardship.
God always sends tests our way. To turn stones into bread would be in effect to refuse the test that had been ordained by God. Or certainly, turning stones into bread would’ve cut the testing period short.
Evaluate your spiritual life. Does your love for God wane when the going gets tough? It’s easy to love God when things are going well. When you have enough food to eat, and you have enough friends, when school is going well and you are getting recognized at work and getting that promotion, our love for God feels strong. It’s a blessing to be in a period of your life when things are going well and it doesn’t take much activation energy to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
But when things are not going well–you are stressed, you are sleep deprived, you have relational conflict, whatever comes out during these times of testing is a better indication of the actual condition of your heart. Your response during crises and tough circumstances is a far better gauge of your heart than how you are when things are going smoothly. Like in Physics, you may say, I know my stuff. While you are surfing the net and watching TV and your life is comfortable the night before the midterm, you think Fluid Dynamics is cake. Then the exam comes and you get a C minus. Your test score reveals your actual knowledge. In the same way, how you respond to spiritual testing reveals your heart’s score.
The problem with many of us in this country is that our lives have been fairly easy so we rarely get to see what’s in our hearts. We are not hungry. Our needs have been met for the most part. Therefore, our love for God remains untested. It’s like animals that are pushed into a corner. That’s when the teeth come out. When you don’t have enough food, you are in survival mode. Few of us have been pushed to those limits.
However, each of us will face testing throughout our lives. If your life has been easy, praise God. Bigger tests are on the way. How have you fared in times of testing? Did your test scores reveal that you really did love God? That you trusted him? How have you been scoring on the tests that the Lord has administered to you?
This first test involved food and the temptation was to appease the needs of the flesh. If you are losing the battles of the flesh, then you’re still not getting the basics down. You’re still on 1 + 1. If you are falling in the area of your appetites and lusts and physical comfort and self-preservation and you repeatedly choose those things without much struggle, then you are still in the school of kindergarten Christianity. Maybe this reveals that you are not saved because you have yet to be freed from the slavery of sin. Or if you are saved, you’re still a spiritual infant. If you fall over and over again into anger and unforgiveness and you clutch onto these manifestations of the flesh, then you’re still on the ground level. How will you ever carry a cross, or put someone else’s need before your own and soar to spiritual heights if you are enslaved by your flesh?