First Mennonite Church
February 9, 2014
A Profile of Battle Against Temptation: Adam and Eve
Texts: Genesis 3:1-10; Romans 8:1-17
You might remember very well when you had young children and you had just finished painting a door or wall and you said to them, “Do not touch the wall; I just painted it.” You know what happened next. After leaving for just a second you come to find finger prints on your wall!
When we were in Indiana, Emmanuel was around 3 years old and one day Lilian was mixing flour and other ingredients and Emmanuel was there standing on a chair “helping” Mom. Lilian needed some other ingredient from the cabinet and told Emmanuel, “Please do not put your finger in the mix”. Emmanuel did not notice I was recording with my camera what he was doing. As soon as Lilian turned around, there went the little finger inside the bowl. When Lilian came, he had wiped his fingers clean pretending he had not done anything.
You tell your children, do not touch the stove burners; they are hot. And before long you hear them scream because they have touched it.
It seems there is within us humans a craving, a burning desire born out of curiosity to experience or do what we are prohibited from doing. Put in simple words, tell us the rules there are and we will break them!
In this foundational story of humankind, we find in Adam and Eve the prime example, the archetypical human struggle against temptation and sin. Adam and Eve display before us the ongoing struggle between good and evil that takes place in the heart of every human being.
What happened in this story has been called “The Human Fall.” The story poses some unanswered questions:
- Why did it have to be the serpent, that one among all other animals, to arouse curiosity regarding the commandment God gave Adam?
- Why did the serpent have to address the woman, when in fact Adam was the one who got the commandment firsthand?
- Why is it so easy to doubt the fairness of any commandment?
And among some more speculative questions are:
- What would have happened if Adam and Eve had obeyed God?
- What kind of a world would there be?
The holy writer begins by saying:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Have I got this right? Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The text leads us to assume that at the beginning there seemed not to be any animosity between humans and serpents. It seems that conversation between animals and humans was nothing out of the ordinary. And one more thing: it seems the serpent somehow knew what God had told Adam regarding the special tree in the garden.
And the sacred writer takes note and tells us that the serpent was shrewd and more crafty or cunning than any of the wild animals God had created.
If we notice closely we will see how temptation comes. First there is the crafty serpent which misquotes God’s words. There were Eve and Adam close by. And they are all close by the special tree.
The serpent very cunningly begins:
“Help me, please; did I get it right that God said to you, ‘You shall not eat of any of the trees’”?
Eve, without hesitation engages in the conversation. Yet in her attempt to correct the serpent she also adds more to the commandment. She indicates that God not only asked them not to eat of the fruit but also told them not to touch it or they would die. As she says that she directs her sight to the tree and the force of temptation strikes her, overwhelming her senses.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
We probably all have heard the saying: You cannot avoid the birds from flying above your head, but you surely can prevent them from making nests on your head.
The biblical equivalent to this advice comes from Paul when he writes to the Corinthian church regarding the seducing power of immorality:
Flee from fornication.
He also warns Timothy about the dangers of the blind pursuit of material things and wealth, which according to Paul lead to ruin, destruction and grief:
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (1Timothy 6:11).
Christ was tempted in all forms, yet was without sin, says Hebrews 4:15. We too suffer temptations. For the one who has trouble with love of money, taxes time can highlight that problem. He might be tempted to find ways to increase his returns, even if he would have to increase losses, deductibles, and other items. Some struggle with thoughts of immorality. Some have difficulty not being prejudicial to others. Others have trouble with honesty, pride, speaking truth, and so on.
The kind of temptations we struggle with tells much about who we are.
We should avoid circumstances, situations, places or groups of people who might make it more difficult for us to overcome our weaknesses.
Instead of staying away from the tree of life, Adam an Eve lingered, only to be deceived by to the seeds of doubt planted by the serpent. James describes the process by which temptation, sin and death come.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when he or she is dragged away by his or her own evil desire, and is enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13-15).
It is not sin to be tempted. Jesus was tempted in all ways, but he did not commit sin. Temptation is only possible because we can make choices. When we are tempted, the gift of freedom God gave us is confronted in us. And we are forced to show allegiance to one master. That master can be God or our flesh and its desires. And temptation demands us to choose.
Paul had great insight about the nature of sin and its power over the human nature. In Romans chapter 7, verse 14 ff. whether Paul was speaking about his own struggles with sin or whether he included himself to illustrate the Christian struggle with sin, he points out that the problem with sin is not necessarily because we want to disobey God, but because sin already dwells in our human nature. Sin is embedded in the flesh (the unredeemed human nature). It is like the color red embedded in blood. One cannot exist without the other. [Are you saying that man cannot exist without sin? But Jesus was man!]
Paul laments that in spite of his every good intention to do what is right and good he ends up doing everything he hates. He cries out:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this death sentence?
But readily he rings out in a triumph song:
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
In chapter 8 Paul argues that if power of death rules over us because sin dwells in us, so also, if the Spirit of Christ dwells in us, we will have the power to overcome sin and therefore have life.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ dwells in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you (Romans 8:9-11).
The characters and themes we find in Genesis 3 are archetypal and illustrative of any and every context of human life. And although the Hebrew ancient writers do not show any interest in further describing the agent of temptation beyond saying it was a serpent, which “was more crafty than any other wild animal,” we find that temptation always proves overwhelmingly powerful to seduce its victim. [Is this true? We do not always yield to temptation.] And that is central to the struggle we have with sin. The leverage and power of temptation over us reside in the very nature of our flesh. The flesh finds sin pleasurable and seducing. Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and believed the serpent–that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, [and] she took of its fruit (v. 6). If temptation would show us the consequence of our actions, we would flee from it. But the truth is that temptation seduces our eyes and desires, and envelops us. We forget what will come after; we fail to contemplate the consequences to come. The nature of sin, which abides in our flesh, challenges the logic of our intellect. Therefore, in this ongoing struggle we have with sin, let us remember the words of Paul who says: Live by faith not by sight.
So let me close with the words of Paul.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.
(Romans 8:12-14) Amen!