Buffer Zones

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23).
The villagers who live on the fringes of Chitwan National Park in the Terrai of Nepal are in constant danger of attack from the Bengal tigers who live on the park and who are heavily protected by law. The tigers are not adverse to leaving the park boundaries to prey on livestock and even people, especially at times when natural prey becomes scarce, or if the tiger is injured, or old, and not as able to hunt.
One method the villagers have discovered to protect themselves is to maintain cleared strips of land at the park boundaries. These buffer zones deter the tigers from leaving the protected cover of the park and exposing themselves in open ground. The natural habitat of tall grass provides perfect shelter, and they are reluctant to leave it.
If a human walks into the high grass, he is giving the predator every advantage. Danger is real and obvious. Only the foolish or desperate would ever attempt it. Yet, spiritually, we see people doing exactly the same thing on a regular basis. They enter the environment where sin thrives, giving themselves no protection, and then wonder why they are overcome.
Jesus provided himself with space that he might see and avoid temptation. If Peter provided a threat, then Peter needed to get away. Paul echoes the same concept in the command, “Flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). We read these words and think of the young Joseph, running from his master’s wife, in order to resist her invitation. The best way to overcome temptation is to give oneself plenty of space, keeping the desire and opportunity at a safe distance.
Nowhere is this principle taught more strongly than in Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29,30).
That is strong language! Yet it simply emphasizes the extreme importance of removing oneself as far as possible from the danger of sin. Make space! Get away! Whatever it takes, it is worth it. Do we need to change friends, because our old companions continue to tempt us? Then we must make that change. Must we cease old favorite types of entertainment? If they tempt us into sin, yes! No loss or sacrifice is too great if it results in our salvation. “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul” (Matthew 16:26)? We might rephrase this verse, “If we lose the whole world, but save our souls, what have we lost?” Nothing important, in the context of eternity.

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