One of the most subtle temptations that followers of Christ and particularly ministers of the gospel face is to think that their life and ministry are for their own self-aggrandizement. Even Jesus Christ faced such temptations throughout his life and ministry on earth. For example, before he began his earthly ministry, Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness fasting and praying. During this time of loneliness, Satan tempted him with various offers of which one was his suggestion for Jesus to use his vocation for his own selfish purposes. Satan wanted Jesus to exalt himself and to use the power and authority at his disposal for his personal glorification. We know that Jesus fiercely resisted such temptations because he knew that his life was not his own. Jesus knew that he was sent for a purpose and he had to accomplish the mission for which God had sent him to earth.
Such temptations did not end with the forty-day period of fasting in the wilderness. In fact, they continued throughout his life and did not leave him alone until his death on the cross. People impressed with Jesus’ life, teaching, and ministry often surrounded him and wished to make him their leader and even king. In all these situations, Jesus withdrew himself from such people and circumstances. At times, even his disciples did not know where he was going to escape such temptations of aggrandizement by spending time alone with God.
How was Jesus able to resist such temptations that many Christian leaders and ministers easily succumb to, today? The answer is simple: Jesus always surrendered his will to the will of his Father. This continued even in the Garden of Gethsemane where, again, Jesus was found praying alone to the Father. Notice that Jesus concludes his prayer by surrendering to the will of God:
“Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[e] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26: 38-42)
This life of surrender was finally completed only with his death on the cross, when Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” Therefore, if God’s Son had to surrender to the will of God in order to overcome temptations, we have no other way. I know that surrendering is not easy. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things due to our sinful human nature. However, if we do not want to succumb to the daily temptations of using our life, ministry, church, our finances and resources, for self-aggrandizement, we need to learn to live like Jesus by daily surrendering to the will of God. When we learn to live in surrender, God brings out something beautiful from a surrendered life, which become a blessing even for others. I close with what E. Stanley Jones wrote on self-surrender:
“With self-surrender, Christ asks us to take the one thing that we own (the self) and give it back to God. Self-surrender is the only remedy. I cannot go down any road on anything with anybody who has problems without running straight into the necessity of self-surrender. All else is marginal; this is central. I only have one remedy, for I find only one disease – self at the center; self trying to be God” (E. Stanley Jones: Victory Through Surrender. Exact quote cited from: http://www.estanleyjonesfoundation.com/about-esj/theology/victory-through-self-surrender/)