COLUMN: Facing temptation: Authority

Published 8:48 pm Monday, July 24, 2023

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I have two children, and they are some of the sweetest kids I know (though I may be a bit biased!).  They are polite and compassionate and considerate most of the time, and for that I am grateful.  Yet occasionally, especially if they are tired or have watched too much TV, they try to be in charge.  Not just of themselves, but of everyone in the house.  Those moments can be some of the most frustrating for them, because while we give them freedom to be themselves and make their own choices, they are not in charge of our family.

Most of us, if we’re honest, want to be in charge, at least of our own lives.  We’re fortunate to live in a time and a place where we have a great deal of autonomy, and we can make our own decisions, as long as they do not harm others or limit their freedom.  That sort of freedom can be a good, and even God-honoring, thing; as Paul wrote in Galatians 5, “It is for freedom that Christ set us free.”

But sometimes, our desire for freedom and autonomy can lead us into temptation – the temptation to exercise authority we do not and should not have over other people.

In Luke 4, right at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus went through a time of testing in the wilderness.  Last month, I invited us to consider the temptation Jesus faced to give in to our appetites, the things that distract or diminish our connection with God.  The second temptation Jesus faced, according to Luke, was the temptation to authority: to rule the hearts and minds of people through the power of the sword and the power of the state.  To do so would, undoubtedly, have been an easier path than the one he eventually chose, in exchange for bowing to the Evil One.

Jesus, though, chose a different path.  “Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” (Luke 4:8) Somehow, the way of earthly power and political rule was not the way of God, and choosing that path would lead Jesus where God did not want him to go.

Sometimes in life, we can want more control over other people than we currently have, even including the levers of government.  We can hear voices around us demanding that their way is God’s way and must apply to everyone.  Sometimes these voices claim to speak in the name of Christ.  When we hear those voices, we would do well to revisit the temptation Jesus faced and rejected, for his is not the path of coercion or demanding his own way.  His is the path of humility, of compassion, and of invitation.  May we follow in his footsteps and walk in the way of our Lord.

Rev. Dr. J. Adam Tyler is the senior pastor for Farmville Baptist Church and he can be reached by email at