COLUMN: Facing Temptation: Applause
Published 8:43 am Monday, August 21, 2023
Last week, a church member asked me if I got butterflies in my stomach when I stood up in front of people to preach. That rarely happens anymore, I told him, because I’ve had a lot of practice in the pulpit; I preached my first sermon over 20 years ago, and I’ve been preaching virtually every Sunday since 2005.
That short conversation made me reflect a bit on what it means to do something in public. It could be preaching, singing, speaking, or doing something with an audience. Often, those moments can be nerve-wracking, especially if we are not used to that sort of spotlight, but when we do it well and receive the applause of others, it can fill our hearts with relief and joy.
Yet that sort of relief and joy can become addictive, and we can desire the approval of others more than we desire the right thing to happen.
Jesus knew all about this. During his temptation in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, he weathered the enticements of appetite and authority. But the final temptation, at least according to Luke’s Gospel, is popular acclaim: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,” Satan told Jesus on the pinnacle of the Temple (Luke 4:9). Such an act would have been a public spectacle, designed to elicit shrieks of amazement from the crowds below. Jesus would have instantly become the talk of the town for his miraculous feat.
Yet Jesus responded, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4:12)
Why would Jesus turn away from wowing the crowds with his divine abilities? He didn’t want to test God in trivial ways, but I think more importantly, he knew that the roar of applause can disappear in an instant. Jesus was interested in showing how to live the life of God’s kingdom in long-lasting, meaningful ways, and that sort of training and inculturation didn’t come from spectacle. It came from the steady investment of a leader in his followers and a teacher in his students. It took time, one-on-one and with small gatherings, to work through their questions and show that he cared for them. It wasn’t about amazing the masses; it was about shaping the heart.
Sometimes, we wish we could affect the world in one big moment of amazing ability. We wish we could speak one word, or take one action, and the needle would move. But that’s not what makes for long-lasting impact in the lives of the people we care about or the community around us. Jesus teaches us that the goal of life isn’t to hear the applause, but to see the embrace of the way of love in the people we invest in, whether that’s one or one hundred or one thousand…and that takes time and commitment.
REV. DR. J. ADAM TYLER is the senior pastor for Farmville Baptist Church. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.