Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness: Exploring the Power of Truth Over Self Interest (Part 4)

Reading: Gospel of Matthew 4:8-11

Matt 4:8-11 Again the Devil takes Him to a very high mountain, and shows to Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. (9) And he said to Him. I will give all these things to You if falling down, You will worship me. (10) Then Jesus said to him, Go, Satan! For it has been written: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve Him only.” Deut. 6:13 (11) Then the Devil left Him. And behold! Angels came near and ministered to Him.

This morning we deal with the third temptation of Jesus in the wilderness by the devil. In this temptation the devil is said to take Jesus onto a very high mountain and say to him that if He would fall down and worship him he would give him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

We should be able to recognise this as a familiar voice in us all. The love of self or self interest appeals to something very base in us, in our natural man. There is a side of us that desires to be independent of any authority in our lives, it’s a side that thinks it knows best and feels it has a right to do what ever it likes. This dark side of our nature is called in the teachings of Spiritual Christianity our proprium; a more modern term that comes close is that of our ego. It’s the “me first” part of us, which becomes manifest in and through thoughts of self interest – what this Scripture calls the devil.

In order to understand what’s going on here we need to have a clear idea in our minds of what is meant by worship, for the temptation is a call to fall down and worship the devil. On the surface there is nothing subtle in this, it’s a call to a blatant rejection of God in favour of what the world has to offer. It’s difficult to see how, in the case of those who are seeking to become more spiritual, could ever fall for such an obvious call to abandon God for the devil. But of course what is set forth clearly in the text is not so obvious in our experience of temptation. We have already established that the devil is self interest, and we all can, I think, appreciate the subtleties with which this aspect of our nature can take hold of our reasoning faculties to justify its desires.

When we take a broad view of the term worship then worship is not something we do but what we are, it’s how we live our lives, so refers to our life in its entirety. Our true worship is how we live, its the way we are with others, the decisions we make, what we choose to fill our minds with, the quality of our conversations, the attitudes we bring, to our home, relationships, work and recreation, how we regard our communities, what we value, all this makes up our life and the attitudes, motives and thoughts we enter into these spheres of our existence with will say something about what it is we worship at the inner level of our heart. So our worship or what we worship is tied into the core love around which everything in our life revolves. This is either the love of self, or love to the Lord which is the same as loving our neigbour. Whichever of these loves takes the centre in our life its opposite gets pushed out to the outside. When the love of self is centre stage, then out love for others is merely an extension of our self interest, which means it isn’t really a genuine love at all, but when the love of our neigbour takes centre stage in our life we are then able to hold the influence of our self interest in subordination to those loves and affections grounded in the Lord.

Self interest always seems to promise what we think will make us happy – the only counter to its seductions through the false promises of fulfilment it offers can be found in spiritual teachings drawn from the Word that make it clear that what the love of self promises it actually can’t deliver – placing self first above the interests of others leads to unhappiness, because its an attitude that shuts off the inflow of heavenly qualities into our minds. The Lord can’t support such a state of life because it’s contrary to the created order for our life and so is destructive to our spiritual health and well being. If we could really grasp this we would be well on the way to finding true fulfilment.

It’s a principle of Spiritual Christianity that nothing outside of ourselves, whether that is people or things, can fulfil us, or meet the true needs of the human heart. But that’s all self interest has to offer us. Self interest or the Devil won’t direct us inward to the Lord, or the love of our neighbour, for this would be its own destruction – all its got is what’s outside us – by getting us to focus externally, on people or things outside of us as objects that can meet our needs, it keeps us from dealing with the real issues of spiritual life which are inner issues to do with our connection to the Lord through integrating His Word into our lives.

We become conscious receivers of love from the Lord to the degree that we willingly resist our tendencies to put ourselves before others. When we understand that the only thing that can make us truly happy is our being able to receive this love more inwardly into our life, which means that we have to work to bring every tendency to control, manipulate or put ourselves ahead of others under the authority of those spiritual principles that empower us to love the Lord and our neigbour as ourselves.

Heaven is where love to the Lord and our neighbour find their fullest expression. Of angels we read that they live in mutual love, which is a love of each for all others for the benefit of the whole. Such love reflects something of the Divine, for we know that God is love. He is the kind of love that has not even the slightest degree of self interest within it, and because He has no self interest in Himself He is the fullness of perfection. Self interest is at the root of all the negative forms of fear and destructive behaviours people exhibit and experience, which is why hellish states of life are so wrapped up in fear. Where the Lord is shut out, fear is the inevitable result. So if we want to be fulfilled and free of fears we need to work with the Lord to have our self-interest or proprium brought into line.

One positive way of working to achieve this is to consciously work to see that our interactions with others come from a loving motive. If we find it difficult to act from such a motive with someone in particular then we can take that as the Lord revealing some area or attitude in ourselves that needs work. It’s very useful to set aims like this as spiritual work because when you have an aim you can then see what gets in the way of achieving it. The aim doesn’t create the blockages, these already exist but we are unaware of them until we set an aim for spiritual work. The aim creates the conditions needed for us to be able to see what stands opposed to the spiritual life. Once seen we can look to the Lord to give us further insights into the condition so we can change our responses and open up the way for the Lord to remove those things that keep us bound in selfish states of life and destructive negative emotions.

Self interest promises us the world, but ultimately, only delivers heartache and suffering to ourselves and those around us, because it cuts us off from the life of the Lord whose presence always brings healing and wholeness to everything it comes into contact with and is open to receiving Him. So the devil or self interest takes those it would tempt onto an exceedingly high mountain. From here can be seen all the glory of the kingdoms of the world, which it tries to convince us will fulfil the central, pressing desires of our heart. The temptation is, “Fall down and worship me…” that is look after number one, put self before others and all that you desire will be yours. It is of course a lie, but one that is presented as a truth in virtually every corner of our lives in the world. The illusion is cast everywhere, in the media, books, movies, the way news stories are framed, those held up as hero’s and role models, all look to confirm the lie as something true.

The Lord’s response to this temptation demonstrates the need to base ones life on spiritual teaching drawn from the Word, which everywhere instructs us that we are to worship and serve the Lord God only. This is the only counter to the destructive influence that self interest has in the human mind. But what do we mean by worshiping and serving the Lord our God. The terms Lord and God are important terms in the teachings of Spiritual Christianity and they have a very specific meaning, which is able to bring a real practicality and spiritual practice to what is being said here. Dual terms are often used in the Word and when these terms are used together they point us to the essential nature of the Divine and in what we can find Him if we are to worship and serve Him as we are instructed to do here.

The term Lord is a term that refers to the Divine Love, in the Old Testament the term Lord is used in translating the name Jehovah which means “being” or “what is”, “what is real”, or “what is the essential substance of all that exists”. Spiritual Christianity teaches that the source of everything is the fullness and perfection of love which is the Divine love. And because love is the source and maintainer of all that exists, it is what rules in everything and so is what is understood by the expression Lord. Now love operates by the laws of its own being – for example it is a law of love that it will not force itself on anyone but will leave them in freedom to choose to return love or not – this is a law of love, or a principle of wisdom. Such principles in Spiritual Christianity are understood by the term God in the Word. So God refers to the Divine Wisdom or the Wisdom through which and according to which Love operates.

Therefore to worship and serve the Lord God alone – is to devote ones life to love and to finding the wisdom through which it can be expressed more fully and completely in our dealings with others. It makes complete sense that a life that is looking to make love its central principle through seeking the wisdom found in truths or spiritual teachings that look to that end, is a life that is progressively moving away from self interest into a more genuine sense of what it is to love the Lord and ones neighbour. This enables us to see more fully what is meant by the Lord being our saviour. It’s talking about the power of love to deliver us from the destructive effects self interest has on our spiritual well being when it is placed at the centre of our lives. When we make love the centre it brings heaven into our lives and pushes self interest with all its hellish and devilish influences out and we enter into the life we were created to enjoy.

So this week as you go about your daily life – and you see self interest beginning to take the lead, remember these words of the Lord in response to that devil, and look to bring love into the centre of your situation that anything of self interest may be pushed out.

Amen.

AC 1594 That which causes the severance is chiefly self-love, and also love of the world, though not so much as self-love does. The reason a person does not know this is that his life is devoid of charity, and when his life is devoid of charity, how can he see that the life of self-love and its desires is so contrary to heavenly love? Also there is within self-love and its desires a kind of flame, and from it a feeling of delight which so affect a person’s life that he can scarcely conceive of eternal happiness consisting of anything else. For this reason also many people suppose that eternal happiness means becoming great following the life of the body and being served by others, even by angels, while they themselves are not willing to serve anybody except for the concealed motive of being served themselves. When at such times they assert that they wish to serve the Lord alone, it is a lie, for people who are ruled by self-love wish that even the Lord should serve them. And to the extent this does not happen they depart, so strong is the desire in their hearts to become lords and rule the entire universe. What kind of government it would be when the majority, or indeed all, are like this, anyone can think out for himself. Would it not be a government like that exercised in hell where everyone loves himself more than anybody else? This is what lies hidden within self-love From this it may become clear what the nature of self-love is, and also from the fact that it conceals within itself hatred of all who do not submit themselves to it as its slaves. And because it conceals hatred, it also conceals forms of revenge, cruelty, deceit, and further unspeakable things.
[4] Mutual love however, which alone is heavenly, consists in not only saying but also acknowledging and believing that one is utterly undeserving, and something worthless and filthy, which the Lord in His infinite mercy is constantly drawing away and holding back from the hell into which the person constantly tries, and indeed longs, to cast himself. He acknowledges and believes this because it is the truth. Not that the Lord or any angel wishes him to acknowledge and believe it just to gain his submission, but to prevent his vaunting himself when he is in fact such. This would be like excrement calling itself pure gold, or a dung-fly a bird of paradise. To the extent therefore that a person acknowledges and believes that he really is what he in fact is, he departs from self-love and its desires, and loathes himself. To the extent that this happens he receives from the Lord heavenly love, that is, mutual love, which is willing to serve all. These are the people meant by the least who become the greatest in the Lord’s kingdom, Matt. 20:26-28; Luke 9:46-48.
[5] These considerations show what it is that severs the external man from the internal – chiefly self- love. And the chief thing that unites the external man to the internal is mutual love, which is in no way attainable until self-love departs, for they are complete opposites. The internal man is nothing else than mutual love. The human spirit itself, or soul, is the interior man which lives after death. It is organic, for it is joined to the body so long as the person lives in the world. This interior man – that is, his soul or spirit – is not the internal man, but the internal man is within the interior when the latter has mutual love within it. The things that belong to the internal man are the Lord’s, so that one may say that the internal man is the Lord. Yet because the Lord grants an angel or man, so long as his life has mutual love in it, a heavenly proprium so that he has no idea but that he does good from himself, an internal man is therefore attributed to a person as though it were his own. The person in whom mutual love dwells however acknowledges and believes that everything good and true is not his own but the Lord’s He acknowledges and believes that his ability to love another as himself- and if he is like the angels, more than himself- is a gift from the Lord and that he ceases to enjoy that gift and its happiness to the extent he departs from acknowledging that it is the Lord’s
From the work Arcana Coelestia by Emanuel Swedenborg

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