Just before Jesus begins his work as king, Satan tempts him to abandon his allegiance to God. Jesus goes to the wilderness, where he fasts for forty days (Luke 4:2). Then he faces the same temptations the people of Israel faced in the wilderness of Sinai. (The answers Jesus gives to Satan are all quotes from Deuteronomy 6-8, which tells the story of Israel in the wilderness.) First, he is tempted to trust in his own power to satisfy his needs, rather than trusting in God’s provision (Luke 4:1-3; Deuteronomy 8:3, 17-20). “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread” (Luke 4:3). Second, he is tempted to switch his allegiance to someone (Satan) who flatters him with shortcuts to power and glory (Luke 4:5-8; Deuteronomy 6:13; 7:1-26). “If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Third, he is tempted to question whether God really is with him, and therefore to try forcing God’s hand in desperation (Luke 4:9-12; Deuteronomy 6:16-25). “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” (the temple). Unlike Israel, Jesus resists these temptations by relying on God’s word. He is the man that the people of Israel — like Adam and Eve before them — were meant to be, but never were.
As parallels to the temptations of Israel in Deuteronomy 6-8, these temptations are not unique to Jesus. He experiences them much as we all do. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Like Israel, and like Jesus, we can expect to be tempted as well, in work as in all of life.
The temptation to work solely to meet our own needs is very high at work. Work is intended to meet our needs (2 Thessalonians 3:10), but not only to meet our needs. Our work is meant to serve others also. Unlike Jesus, we do not have the option of self-service by means of miracles. But we can be tempted to work just enough for the paycheck, to quit when things get difficult, to shirk our share of the load, or to ignore the burden our poor work habits force others to carry. The temptation to take shortcuts is also high at work.
The temptation to question God’s presence and power in our work may be the greatest of these temptations. Jesus was tempted to test God by forcing his hand. We do the same thing when we become lazy or foolish and expect God to take care of us. Occasionally this happens when someone decides God has called him or her to some profession or position, and then sits around waiting for God to make it happen. But we are probably more likely to be tempted by giving up on God’s presence and power in our work. We may think our work means nothing to God, or that God only cares about our church life, or that we cannot pray for God’s help for the day-to-day activities of work. Jesus expected God to participate in his work every day, but he did not demand that God do the work for him.
The entire episode begins with God’s Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness to fast for forty days. Then, as now, fasting and going on a retreat was a way to draw close to God before embarking on a major life change. Jesus was about to begin his work as king, and he wanted to receive God’s power, wisdom, and presence before he started. This was successful. When Satan tempted Jesus, he had spent forty days in God’s spirit. He was fully prepared to resist. Yet, his fast also made the temptation more visceral. “He was famished” (Luke 4:2). Temptation often comes upon us far sooner than we expect, even at the beginning of our working lives. We may be tempted to enroll in a get-rich-quick scheme, instead of starting at the bottom of the ladder in a genuinely productive profession. We may come to face to face with our own weaknesses for the first time, and be tempted to compensate by cheating or bullying or deception. We may think we can’t get the job we want with the skills we have, so we are tempted to misrepresent ourselves or fabricate qualifications. We may take a lucrative but unfulfilling position “just for a few years, until I’m settled,” in the fantasy that we will later do something more in line with our calling.
Preparation is the key to victory over temptation. Temptations usually come without warning. You may be ordered to submit a false report. You may be offered confidential information today that will be public knowledge tomorrow. An unlocked door may offer a sudden opportunity to take something that isn’t yours. The pressure to join in gossiping about a co-worker may arise suddenly during lunch break. The best preparation is to imagine possible scenarios in advance and, in prayer, plan how to respond to them, perhaps even write them down along with the responses you commit to God. Another protection is to have a group of people who know you intimately, whom you can call on short notice to discuss your temptation. If you can let them know before you act, they may help you through the temptation. Jesus, being in communion with his Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, faced his temptations with the support of his peer community — if we may so describe the Trinity.
Our temptations are not identical to Jesus’, even if they have broad similarities. We all have our own temptations, large and small, depending on who we are, our circumstances, and the nature of our work. None of us is the Son of God, yet how we respond to temptation has life-changing consequences. Imagine the consequences if Jesus had turned aside from his calling as God’s king and had spent his life creating luxuries for himself, or doing the bidding of the master of evil, or lying around waiting for the Father to do his work for him.
Thanks to everyone who has invested in the Theology of Work Project! Thanks to your generosity, we were able to meet all our needs for 2017! We ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers and charitable giving in 2018 as we equip Christians to connect to God's purposes for work.