STRENGTHEN THE BRETHEREN, NO. 2
T. PIERCE BROWN
In our previous article, we began a study of the statement of Jesus to Peter found in Luke22:31-32, “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” In that article, I raised several questions that may be helpful in our understanding how to overcome temptation, or strengthen the brethren. I suggested that my readers answer the questions themselves, and then compare the answer I give of some of them in this article with your answer.
First, our study of the Bible leads us to the conclusion that any of Satan’s temptations of God’s children are only by God’s permission. In the Garden of Eden, there is no reason to assume that Satan entered without God’s permission and tempted Eve. The question as to why God permitted it is a different one. However, the simplest correct answer we give is: In order for God to have a person in His image with freedom of choice, and for God’s ultimate glory, He must have one who would demonstrate the willingness to choose God in the face of temptation not to. Otherwise he would be but a puppet or machine.
The story of Job also indicates that Satan had to have permission to bring certain pressures and temptations to bear. Of course 1 Corinthians10:13teaches that God will not permit certain kinds of temptations to His children, which means that He decides when to permit and not to permit them. In the strictest sense, then, when God makes a decision allowing only some kinds of temptations, He has made a decision about all kinds. If one makes a decision to have only one kind of fruit on his table, he has automatically made a decision about all kinds. God makes no promise, as far as I can find, about giving any such help to those not in His family. He helps and blesses aliens in various ways, but we know of no value in speculating about what He may do. If we want His sure promises, we may have them on His terms.
There is great comfort in the thought that God guarantees the “security of the believer” to the extent that no power on earth or in hell can cause a person to be lost whose faith is such that he chooses to belong to and continually follow the Lord. “My sheep hear my voice (literally `are hearing’) and follow (are following) me.” No one can pluck those–the ones who are hearing and following–out of his hand (John10:29). If we are walking in the light, the blood of Jesus continues to cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
Did Peter’s faith fail? Our conclusion is that although his faith did fail to provide him with the strength to overcome the temptation, it did not fail in the sense of which Jesus spoke. That is, Peter did not lose his faith. It was weak. He denied that he knew Jesus, not because he ceased to believe in Jesus as God’s Son, but because he ceased to believe in himself. He did not see how confessing that he was a follower of Jesus would benefit him then. The difference between Peter’s faith failing and his denial of Christ is the difference between apostasy and any other kind of sin. It is the difference between rebellion against a government and running a stop sign. Those with a weak faith are to be received (Romans 14:1), but those like Hymeneus, Alexander and Philetus whose faith failed are to be rejected (Titus3:10).
Some of the most interesting of these questions do not really need any sort of detailed answer. For example, “What did God do to keep Peter’s faith from failing?” may be an interesting academic question, but it is doubtful if the answer is any of our business. It is similar to the question, “What does the Lord do to give us this day our daily bread?” It may be answered in a general way, “He provides the means–earth, sunshine, rain, opportunity.” What else He may provide in the way of providential circumstances, motivational thoughts, surrounding influences, etc., we have no way of knowing. We do not really need to know how He provided that Moses’ mother and Pharaoh’s daughter got to the same spot on the river at the right time in order to appreciate the fact that He can work things for good to those that love Him (Romans 8:28).
Of one thing we may be sure: By whatever means the Devil provides the temptations that would lead our faith to the breaking point, God will provide the means to escape from it if we care to choose that means! However, He will not force us to take the means He provides.
Although we discover that this article would be far too long if we were to deal with every question raised (a good excuse for not answering hard questions), some deserve special attention.
Would Peter have been able to strengthen his brethren as well without the testing? If so, why should we pray, “Lead us not into temptation?” If the trying of our faith worketh patience” (James 1:3), why not rather look for temptations by which our faith may be tried, and which will make us more patient and better able to strengthen our brethren?
First, let us point out that there is a great deal of difference in rejoicing when you fall into temptation (or testing) and in walking into it deliberately. The difference may be comprehended more readily as we consider that Paul rejoiced in jail, but did not deliberately try to get put there. Second, a person who deliberately chooses a temptation would be lifted up in pride in the assumption that he could withstand it, or would be demonstrating a careless indifference toward sin, either of which would be bad. Thus, we should pray to be delivered from it.
At the same time, we should realize that if the benevolent hand and infinite wisdom of God allows us to be tempted, we can rejoice in the awareness that he will overrule it for our good, if we love Him. Daniel was under no obligation to fall into a den of lions to see if God would protect him, but having been put there, he could rejoice in God’s power to deliver, and was stronger for having gone through the ordeal.
The Prodigal son who wasted his substance in a foreign land was better able, through the mercy extended by his father, to give advice and help than the prodigal brother who wasted his father’s love and care while staying at home. But that does not mean that it is better to leave home and live in the hog pens of the world than it is to stay at home and enjoy the Father’s care and protection. But it is better to leave home, disgrace yourself and your Father, then repent and return than it is to stay at home physically, but leave in heart and soul and never return.
So in Peter’s case, it would have been better for Peter to have had the strength and faith to have resisted the temptation. In that case, he could have strengthened the brethren. But since he had a weak faith and a strong pride, he had to be broken and mended before he could help mend others who were broken. A man with a twisted arm may have to get the bone broken before it can be properly set, but that does not mean that it is better to have a broken arm than a good one. It only means that under those circumstances, breaking may be better than not breaking.
Concerning Peter, our conclusion is this: Under the particular circumstances–given Peter’s arrogance and pride in his own strength (“Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” Mt. 26:33), he would be better able to strengthen the brethren after his sin and conversion. But that is no reason to assume that he had to go through the humiliation and shame of that denial if he had been willing to give up his arrogance without that. If God can control us the easy way for His glory and for our good, He will be glad to do so. If it takes the activity of Satan to sift us as wheat before we can learn to submit, He will permit that. In any case, it is for our good and the good of others. We can therefore rejoice in any thorn in the flesh, any trial, any temptation, without seeking out the thorns, persecutions and temptations on our own. We may be able to strengthen the brethren without having to commit all the sins the brethren may be committing. It is especially important for us to realize this in a day when many young (and probably old) seem to have the philosophy, “If you have not tried it, do not knock it.” If you have to smoke pot before you can talk about it intelligently, then you may have to eat slop (or carob pods) before you know it is better to be in the house of the Father than in the hog pens. Such reasoning (?) is not only dangerous, but plain stupid. Peter was able to strengthen his brethren after his fall, but he did not have to go that route! Neither do we.