Updated: Mar 19, 2021
This last Sunday at New Life, as we studied Esther 9:1-19 together, we noticed the threefold mention that God's people in Esther's day resisted taking the plunder from their victories over their enemies (verses 10, 15, and 16). It lets us know that the Jews of Esther's day saw their fighting as safeguarding and preservation, not as a means for economic gain. This pointed us back to Abraham's day, when he refused to take money from the king of Sodom—even though he earned it through his victory in battle—because he did not want anyone to think he had become rich by means of a wicked king (Genesis 14).
Although Israel's patriarch, Abraham, set precedent, Israel itself had a negative history with this. When the Lord commanded the conquest of the Land of Promise, the Israelites devoted entire cities to God. This devotion meant destroying the inhabitants of those cities, as well as taking any gold, silver, and other valuable articles "into the treasury of the Lord's house" (Joshua 6:20-24). There was not supposed to be any personal gain for the Israelites themselves. And yet, time and again, Israel would fall to this temptation.
Immediately after the conquest of Jericho, Israel was defeated at Ai, all because one man, Achan, had taken gold, silver, and a beautiful robe for himself (Joshua 7:11-12). And this wasn't the only time Israelites would take unauthorized plunder. Truth be told, Israel's history has shown that they've generally lived no better than the pagan nations they've warred against. As we've mentioned in our series through Esther, even Israel's first king, Saul, also failed in this regard, not only as he spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites, whom he was commanded to destroy, but also as he plundered the best of the Amalekites' belongings (1 Samuel 15). Where Saul failed in his day, and where the Israelites frequently failed throughout their history, the Jews of Esther's day didn't—they resisted the temptation to take the plunder, and it had everything to do with holiness.
This encouraged us to pursue restraint in our own lives, as well, as we commit to obeying the Lord in our own walks with Christ (1 Samuel 15:22; John 14:15). And this raises an important question: How can we, as followers of Christ today, resist sin and temptation in our own daily experiences? Here are three suggestions:
Committing to God's Word
Psalm 119:9a asks, "How can a young person stay on the path of purity?" Presumably, how can any person remain pure? The same psalm provides an answer: "By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:9b-11). In other words, the more we treasure God's Word in our hearts, the more likely we won't fall to sin and temptation.
This is a great encouragement for all of us! God, in has great grace, his given us his Word not only to reveal himself and his plan for salvation to us, but also to equip us for holy living. It's the reason why Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 when he was tempted by Satan: "It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4, emphasis mine). In other words, Jesus, in his human experience, resisted temptation with the Word of God treasured within his heart (And, by the way, he never sinned in his human experience). With Christ as our ultimate example, I imagine we'd struggle a lot less with sin and temptation if we disciplined ourselves to the frequent intake of God's Word. If there's an area of temptation you've been struggling with, let me encourage you: Consider making a habit out of the daily reading of your Bible.
And here's another helpful suggestion: Start with small steps. Perhaps you could start by committing to one paragraph each day. Wherever you leave off today you could pick right back up tomorrow. Or download a Bible app that pops up a verse on your phone each day. Whatever method you choose, chew on what you read throughout the day. What is it teaching you about God? What is it teaching you about yourself? What is it teaching you about Jesus and his grace? You don't need to overwhelm yourself with a lofty goal, like reading an entire chapter a day. You can start small, and after the habit is settled, you can always increase your time in God's Word later. The idea here is simply to start a new habit that will enable you to better resist sin and temptation down the road.
Committing to Prayer
In Ephesians 3:16-19, Paul wrote this prayer:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (emphasis mine)
From this passage, we can deduce, at the very least, that Paul prayed for (1) the Christians in Ephesus to know the love of Christ, and (2) that they would be filled with the fullness of God. To Paul, knowing Jesus and his love (and walking intimately with him) was just as important as walking in his likeness. If we want to resist temptation and live in ways that are more and more Christlike, with the fullness of his Spirit within us, it seems prayer helps!
And notice also that Paul is praying for others. It encourages us not only to pray for our own purity and holiness, but also for the purity and holiness of the rest of God's people within our community of faith.
But isn't this one of our common struggles as Christians? I don't know of a single Christian who has ever said, "I don't need to pray more." If anything, we all recognize our need to pray more, and that's because we all need God. We are needy people! And we need God to help us in our resistance against sin and temptation. We cannot do it alone. Prayer, therefore, is the means by which we express our neediness and petition the Lord for his help. I pray this encourages us to a renewed commitment to daily prayer both for ourselves and our faith community, that God would work through those prayers and enable us, by his Spirit, to resist temptation.
Committing to Confession and Accountability
And speaking of praying for one another, here's a final suggestion: Find one or two trusted fellow Christians to fight with. In the Esther narrative, a common enemy and edict of death united God's people back then to fight together. It should be no different today in our own battles against sin and temptation. As Paul would say to the Christians in Corinth in reference to unity in the church, "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26).
In the book of Esther, if one Jew was threatened, all Jews were threatened; if one Jew grieved, all grieved; if one Jew suffered, all suffered; if one Jew fought against the threat of destruction, all fought; if one Jew triumphed, all triumphed; if one Jew rejoiced and celebrated that triumph, all rejoiced and celebrated. May our common struggles against sin and temptation unite us, as well, in such a way that when others ask us how our church is doing, we could joyfully answer, "We're not fighting one another; rather, we are fighting for one another."
One of the most beautiful expressions of unity in the church is coming alongside each other to prayerfully fight for one another. I hope you're encouraged to find others to fight with and for. Remember: We are needy people. We need the Lord and one another. As such, James 5:16 encourages us to "confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other," and that's because honest and transparent confession and prayer is how we fight with and for each other. It's this type of loving accountability that opens the door to more victories against sin and temptation in our day to day living, so I pray you're encouraged to find one or two others to fight with.
Resting in God's Grace
Of course, these practical suggestions aren't guarantees that if we put them into practice we'll never fall to sin and temptation ever again in this life. They're aids in enabling us to grow in our resistance and restraint, but we shouldn't expect perfection, neither in ourselves nor in others. We'll still experience failures. Such is the human nature. But even in our failures, we can rest in God's grace. "My dear children," John tells us, "I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One" (1 John 2:1, emphasis mine).
Because of Christ, we can rest from all burdens, including the false expectation that we have to have it all together, or that as Christians we have to live perfectly. Yes, we strive for holiness, and God gives us all we need to fight against sin—his Word, his grace, his Spirit, his people—but he also gives us his assured forgiveness in Christ when we fall short. So as you fight for purity and holiness alongside others, remember that his grace covers any and all failures. This lifts such a heavy weight off our shoulders! And it frees us to rejoice as we resist, even if our restraint against sin and temptation is imperfect.
May our hearts be glad that God's acceptance of us isn't based on our own ability to resist sin, but rather on what Christ has already accomplished for us through the cross of Calvary and the empty grave. Praise God that Jesus has already triumphed for us! As we continue to resist in light of his triumph, we're freed to rest and rejoice in his grace along the way.