Proverbs 4:14 Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.
15 Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.
Alexander was trying to save all the pennies he could in order to buy a baseball bat. But he had a hard struggle.
One night when he was saying his prayers, his mother heard him say fervently: "O Lord, please help me save my money for a baseball bat. And, God, don't let the ice cream man come down this street!"1
If you are as serious about living a godly life as Alexander was about buying a baseball bat (hopefully you are even more so!), then you should have the same attitude about sin that Alexander had about ice cream: you don't want it anywhere near you as a temptation. Your prayer should be, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13).
I wish more people would pray, "Jesus, help me live a godly life. And don't let Satan come down my street. Don't let him come into my house. Don't let him come to my TV and radio. Keep him out of my video cabinets. Keep him out of my bookshelves." And if you are serious, you will do your part--getting rid of anything you already have which you know to be sinful.
Unfortunately, many professing Christians have a very different attitude. Some feel careless about temptation, and others sadly even desire it. For those who are serious about living a godly life, our attitude toward sin must be nothing but hatred and revenge. The Bible verses above state one great theme in six variations: we are to avoid sin and temptation wherever possible.
I would like to discuss two great benefits of avoiding temptation:
- It removes the opportunity to sin
- It reduces stress
Benefit #1: It removes the opportunity to sin
The first benefit of avoiding temptation is that it removes the opportunity to sin. Alexander knew he couldn't waste his hard-earned money on ice cream if the truck didn't come by in the first place. We should have the same attitude against sin. My pastor once said he knew of a sure, 100% effective method to prevent all alcoholism, guaranteed to work: Never take the first drink.
You might think, "I'm strong; I can handle it." Perry Nobles, the pastor of the mega-church Newspring, made quite a big deal about what he felt was his Christian liberty to drink in moderation.2 But his belief and mockery of those who disagreed led him down a sad path of addiction and bondage, not liberty.3 The surest way to avoid being bit by a rattlesnake is just to leave it alone and keep plenty of distance.
Benefit #2: It reduces stress
The second benefit of avoiding temptation is that it reduces stress. I enjoy shooting guns sometimes. One day, as we trekked through fields to get to our target practice site, I walked behind someone carrying a 308 rifle slung over his shoulder. The sling didn't look quite tight enough, and every now and then, the muzzle would droop down backwards over his shoulder and point right at my head! I must say that this made me quite uneasy. I would try to step out of the way of that muzzle whenever I could, and although I'm sure his safety was on and his finger was nowhere near the trigger, I couldn't help feeling nervous as I walked behind him. The surest way to avoid such stress is to make it impossible for an accident to happen--i.e., by unloading the gun and pointing the muzzle either straight up or into the ground.
Temptation is not, in itself, a sin; but it does add a lot of stress. As Billy Sunday put it, "Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in."4 Why allow the devil to look through your keyhole if you can help it? Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights before (and during) His temptation by Satan! It is a serious drain on us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Of course, we cannot avoid all temptation; even Jesus went through that. But most of us could manage to go through less temptation in our lives if we really wanted to. This would free up our energies to focus on other good things.
This is illustrated by a story of a man needing a little sleep:
A man had been driving all night and by morning was still far from his destination. He decided to stop at the next city he came to and park somewhere quiet so he could get an hour or two of sleep.
The quiet place he chose happened to be on one of the city's major jogging routes. No sooner had he settled back to snooze when there came a knocking on his window. He looked out and saw a jogger running in place.
"Excuse me, Sir," the jogger said, "do you have the time?"
The man looked at the car clock and answered, "8:15."
"Thanks," responded the jogger as he jogged off.
The man settled down again and soon another jogger tapped on the window. "Excuse me, Sir. Do you have the time?"
"8:25," answered the man.
The jogger said thanks as he left. Now the man could see other joggers passing by, and he knew it was only a matter of time before another one disturbed him.
To avoid the problem, he got out a pen and paper and put a sign in the window saying, "I do not know the time!"
Once again he settled back to sleep. He was just dozing off when there was another knock on the window.
"Sir! Sir! It's 8:45."5
This man would have been better off avoiding the jogging area altogether! Temptation, in a sense, "pesters" us constantly, and we are good to avoid it whenever possible.
I think many of us Christians would be happier of we avoided more temptation and just "unloaded the gun" to remove as much possibility for sin as we can. Maybe you watch a TV show that's usually pretty good but sometimes has some episodes that aren't very godly. If it becomes a constant stress to have to frequently determine which episodes are acceptable, why not just get rid of all that stress and stop watching the show altogether? You may find your heart is lighter and freer to focus on other things. The same goes for the places you eat, the music you listen to, and many other things. If it's a constant question mark and cause of stress, just avoid it when possible.
Let's set the "safety standards" for our hearts higher than others do. Don't make your goal simply to avoid sinning, though that is important. Make your goal to avoid the temptation to sin whenever possible. You will be following the commands of Proverbs 4:14-15. And you can be like Alexander, who didn't have to endure the song of the ice cream truck luring him into spending his life's savings on ice cream cones which wouldn't last more than a few minutes on a hot summer day.
Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations, 1998; p. 2932, #13093 ↩
https://perrynoble.com/blog/sunday-night-reflections-63, accessed 2018 April ↩
http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/august/fired-megachurch-pastor-perry-noble-second-chance-newspring.html, accessed 2018 April: "This was a spiritual and moral mistake on my part as I began to depend on alcohol for my refuge instead of Jesus and others,” he wrote before spending a month in a rehab facility in Arizona last summer." ↩
Brown, Elijah P., Billy Sunday: The life and work of the baseball evangelist--The real Billy Sunday, Ambassador International, Ambassador Publications Ltd., p. 172 ↩
Hunter, Charles and Frances, Healing Through Humor: Fabulous Jokes from the Happy Hunters, Creation House Press, Lake Mary, Floriday; 2003, p. 9 ↩