Fourteenth in a series
1 Corinthians 10:11-13
These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
Perhaps we talk too little about temptation. You and I can be spiritually privileged people. We can be exposed to the means of God’s grace. At the same time, we can lose out on God’s blessings.
All of us are subject to temptation! Even Jesus faced temptation. Satan had access to Him.
God is so good to us. We have so much. With His blessing comes a note of warning.
You may be an active member of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. You may teach in the Sunday school, you may sing in the choir. You may involve yourself in adult education and be faithful in personal witnessing. You may be an elder, a deacon, a Stephen minister. You may even be one of the pastors. You live what appears to be a fine, upright, moral life. Watch out! God’s warning comes to you in this passage. It reads, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” (
No matter how spiritually privileged you and I find ourselves, we are still subject to temptation.
Paul gives warnings to the believers at Corinth and to us today.
He gives these warnings after relating a bit of history.
Remember how, at the end of
He illustrates this in the early verses of
Words tumble out. They are words of history. They are words of remembrance, as he urges the brothers and sisters at Corinth to think back to the days of the Exodus. “Remember the tremendous provision God made for our fathers? How we suffered in Egypt? How tough were those times! Moses was raised up to give leadership.
Remember how we passed through the Red Sea? What a baptism of God’s blessing that was. It was not dissimilar to the baptism I shared with you when you came to faith in Jesus Christ. Then came Pharaoh’s chariots after us. God delivered us. Remember how we followed the cloud during our wilderness journeys? Remember the spiritual food God gave to us? The manna? The quail? Remember how we drank the same spiritual drink? Thirsty as we were, God provided fresh water. It sprang out in a supernatural way from the rock, even as now we have that Living Water from the Rock, Jesus Christ, which quenches our spiritual thirst. You’d think, brothers and sisters, wouldn’t you, that with all the blessings that God gave to our forefathers during the time of the Exodus, they would have been grateful? You would think they would have trusted the Lord, wouldn’t you? Do you remember something? With most of them, God was not pleased. Most of them were overthrown in the wilderness.”
Moving from my rough paraphrase of Paul’s words, we come to one large reason why we have the Old Testament. The Old Testament is more than history. One of our major responsibilities as biblical students is to be certain that we know what the Old Testament means within the context in which it was written. It is important that we study the times and get a feeling for the circumstances that motivated the writers. There is one danger in this. We can lose sight of the multiple reasons for this historical record.
Not only are we given a narrative description of the Exodus, complete with the cultural circumstances of the Mosaic times. This historical record has a purpose to it. It is “holy history,” meant to be our teacher. We can see the spiritual cycles through which God’s people went. This history strikes a note of warning. Paul makes this point. “Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did” (
Do you catch this? It’s a warning. Spiritually privileged people can yield to temptation, failing to benefit from all the goodness God has given.
I love the study of history. My favorite reading is that of biography. Paul uses these historical resources to give warning to both the Corinthians and to us today. He is declaring the vulnerability of spiritually privileged persons.
Who could have been more privileged than the people of Israel as they were led out of those 400 years of slavery in Egypt? Theirs was a supernatural guidance with the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (
One could easily conclude that a people so honored would be a godly people. Paul writes:
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. (
1 Corinthians 10:1-5)
This is the value of biography. This is the value of history. It has been said that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
You and I, who are so exposed to such blessings, who call ourselves Christians and at times do very much love the Lord, can distort our existence and bring tragic consequences to ourselves by giving in to temptation. Paul takes these lessons from history and uses them as warnings for us as he writes, “Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did” (
Then he states some negative prohibitions.
Kenneth L. Chafin, in The Communicator’s Commentary, alerts us to how these negatives can be restated as positives that can revolutionize our present lifestyles.
The “do not desire evil” (
Paul is alerting us to our tendency to overconfidence.
What Paul is really doing is writing to Christians in the first century and today who had developed a high degree of self-confidence that breeds spiritual trouble. He writes, “These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” (
Self-confidence leads to a fall. He shouts, “Be careful! Take heed! Always run a little scared of your own fallibility! Take a look at history. See all those who had the opportunity but muffed their chance. Then say to yourself, ‘There for the grace of God – go I.'”
One of the greatest temptations you and I will ever face is to settle into a spiritual complacency in which we are no longer aware of our vulnerability to temptation. Or another way of putting it is that Satan’s greatest temptation is to lull you and me into overconfidence!
Now comes a glorious transition for those of us who are willing to run a little scared. Whereas, in
Just what is temptation? It’s a mixture of a couple of things.
Most of us would probably define temptation as Satanic solicitation to do evil.
The first kind of temptation is precisely that. That’s what Adam and Eve experienced in the garden. There they were, God’s very highest creation. They had everything going for them. Then came Satan with his subtle wooing to evil. How carefully disguised it was. This angel of light is a master at clever rationalization. He makes the wrong look so right. He makes God look so bad. Just think. God is so selfish. He’s got you under His thumb, not letting you eat of that Tree of Good and Evil. He is trying to keep the lid on the mysteries of life and death. You can’t really trust His Word. Gradually, this subtle logic works its way to the point where these two disobey God, almost believing that they are doing Him a favor.
Temptation is so subtle.
Wilson Bryan Key has written a book titled Subliminal Seduction: Ad Media’s Manipulation of a Not So Innocent America. He concludes that the apparent purpose, the blatant surface appeal of an ad may simply be a decoy enabling the subtle powerful motivations to work at a subconscious level. He writes, “It’s what you don’t see that sells you.” He discusses thirty ad illustrations, pointing out an array of alleged subliminal techniques from subtly imbedded graffiti in ice cubes of liquor ads to sexually symbolic forms and shapes. It has been estimated that the average American adult is exposed to more than 500 advertising messages every day. Key estimates that the adult consciously perceives only 75 of the 500, blacking out from consciousness at least 85 percent of the ad messages and daily acting upon an average of 2.5 percent. We could go on and on describing the rapid fire yet subtle influences constantly conditioning us.
What enormous potential this gives to Satan. How many ways he can influence us and our children without us being fully aware. Temptation, whether subtle or straightforward, can be partially defined as a Satanic solicitation to evil.
Interestingly enough, God allows this kind of temptation. God is sovereign. He allows Satan to tempt. Never forget this.
But then this brings us to a transition point in our understanding of temptation. Satan can tempt, but his temptation is not without its potential ultimate redemptive purpose. Until we live in constant awareness of our vulnerability, we are not able to experience the full blessing of God, which is available even in the face of temptation.
This leads us to a different dimension that helps us make up the mix called temptation.
Not only is temptation a Satanic solicitation to evil. It is also a trial of any kind without reference to its moral quality.
So, testing is the second kind of temptation. God has a way of proving you and me. He allows difficult circumstances to confront us as an endeavor to increase our moral fidelity, our holiness and our knowledge of God. Somehow, over the years, we have redefined the term “temptation.” We have seen it more or less in a negative context of Satanic encroachment upon our lives. Temptation also is a divine initiative designed to enhance our spiritual quality.
Are you aware that God tempts? How often have you heard the statement, “God never tempts; Satan is the tempter.” Some blithely quote, “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one” (
God did this to Abraham when He called him to offer up his only son Isaac. He was testing him to see how clear cut was his faith. This is a recurring theme all through the Scriptures. Moses alerts the people of God at the end of the wilderness experience as to what has happened. He writes, “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments” (
That’s what happened with Job. He is a classic case of temptation. His experience combined both elements of this definition. On the one hand, we see Satan soliciting Job to evil. He wants to destroy this man’s faith. He wants to attack his reliance on the Lord. On the other hand, we see the Lord allowing Job to be tempted so as to test the quality of his faith and actually strengthen him. It was not easy. Job had his horrendous moments. At the same time, he measured up to God’s aspirations for him. Satan was defeated.
Jesus never promises that you can avoid temptation. Even in the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to pray, “And lead us not into temptation,” giving the implication that we will be delivered from evil and that we will not be tempted so as to face defeat. Some scholars feel that Jesus was referring to our prayers that we be spared the terrible experience of persons living in the end times. Whatever may be your interpretation of that phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, we see these two strands woven together in a biblical definition. There is Satanic desire to destroy coupled with the godly endeavor to strengthen.
One of my mentors, the late Richard C. Halverson, stated it in these words:
The first thing to know is that temptation in and of itself is not sin! Our Lord was tempted – “yet without sin.” Not until a man yields to temptation does it become sin. Temptation is designed for spiritual exercise. Exercise helps a man grow strong – virile – efficient. The unexercised man is the weak man – the soft man!
Many good and honorable men are plagued by thoughts that sometimes cross their minds: vile – selfish – lustful – unexplainable thoughts that pop up unexpectedly at the most surprising times. These thoughts are not sin! They do not become so unless a man entertains them – plays with them – encourages them – feeds them with imagination.
Now that we’ve had a word of warning, observed our tendency toward overconfidence and have seen a biblical definition of temptation, we are free to claim the enormous promises of God’s possible victory over temptation, which is available to us as Christians.
Let’s examine this possible victory.
This verse embodies both kinds of temptation of which we’ve talked. One is Satan’s solicitation to evil. The other is God’s strengthening testing.
Let’s look at three aspects of this.
First: You are not the only one to face your particular temptation.
Muse on the statement, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.” Isn’t that reassuring? Do you ever get to a point in life where you think you have the worst problems in the world? You haven’t! There is nothing you are going through that has not been experienced by others.
You may be struggling with horrific Satanic temptation. You can’t imagine that anyone else who loves Jesus has been as tempted as you are to do the things you are tempted to do. You are having to fight evil thoughts. You are struggling with the white heat of lustful passion. Your mind is bombarded with intellectual doubts about the faith. You have come close to repudiating Christianity as unworkable. No, you are not the first. Every single temptation you have has been experienced with great frequency by others. It’s nothing new. There are those who have gone before you who have engaged in just as fierce a battle. Isn’t that encouraging? You may be going through the most severe of testings, not temptation to sin but the terrible struggles of life.
Perhaps you are a widow or a widower alone in this world. You relied on your partner for so much. Now that special person is gone.
Your job is loaded with problems. Just a few years ago, things looked so good. Now you don’t know how you can possibly make it through to retirement. What makes it even harder is that you know you’ve made some mistakes. Some of the problems are of your own making. You’re not the only one who’s gone through this.
You’ve just discovered that little child dear to you has leukemia. Her months are numbered. Your heart feels like screaming. The testing is too great. You are not the only one.
Others have been down those lonely roads before. There’s a commonness to our testings. Just this week, I’ve talked with several persons, each having one or another of these overwhelming challenges. You are not alone.
A week ago Monday, Doug and Michele Ayres said goodbye to their sons Dorian and Dylan who were heading off for ski week at Mammoth with family friends. Never did they dream that, within four hours, fifteen-year-old Dylan would be dead, thrown from one of the two vehicles in a ghastly accident. Tuesday morning, over 1,600 people filled this sanctuary. The heartfelt anguish, the grief was palpable. I asked the question, “How many of you here have lost a child?” Scores of hands went up, Anne’s and mine among them, in solidarity with Doug and Michele who now, like the rest of us, will forever live with one foot in heaven and one foot here on earth.
A week ago Tuesday, Jim Colbert of the PGA Senior Champions Tour was off to a tournament in Florida, and his wife Marcia was on her way to a Pilates workout. By noon, she felt pain and called a retired doctor friend, and was rushed to the Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Desert. During the delay in the emergency room, her system backed up in what they call a septic condition, and by Wednesday she was hovering between life and death in ICU. Her condition worsened over the weekend. Because of our daughter Carla’s friendship with their daughter Kelly from Stanford days and our friendship with Jim and Marcia in those ten years when I was back-up chaplain on the Senior Tour, they called on us to join them in a circle of prayer Sunday night in ICU. Tuesday morning off to Pilates. Sunday night on a ventilator hovering between life and death. How quickly things change! Others have been there. Someday, we will be, too.
Involvement in the church helps us realize that we are not the first or the last to face these particular testings and temptations. Satan would like to make you think that your situation is absolutely unique. He has you right where he wants you, if he can cut you off from the mainstream of your fellow believers who are going through both the struggles with temptation toward evil and temptation of a testing nature. Survey church history. Every single one of the great saints had their deep, deep struggles, their dark hours of the soul. You and I are no different.
Your struggles are even more common to Jesus. Jesus resisted all temptation. He refused to use His wonderful powers for His selfish ends. He would not employ them for himself. He wanted to identify with you and me. The author of Hebrews puts it bluntly:
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (
See Jesus now in the wilderness experience. He was tempted to self-indulge His own comfort. He refused to turn the stones to bread. He was tempted to a self-display of power. He refused to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. He was tempted to achieve political power. He refused to make the compromise that would give Him everything in this world. He was tempted to avoid the spiritual and physical agony of the cross. He held up under the pressure. His temptation was complete. He experienced it in every area. You are not alone. He identifies with you.
Second: God knows you and will protect you at your stress point.
Paul writes, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength . . .”
Every one of us has different points of vulnerability. These change as you move through life. The temptations of a teenager are not necessarily those of someone in his seventies. The struggles of the sins of the flesh for some tend to give way to temptations of the spirit. Ambition that would trample over others is replaced by resentment for goals unachieved. Doubt may make way for lethargy. You may never struggle again with sexual passion, but you may be tormented by your struggle with jealousy. Is it power? Is it alcohol? Is it money? Is it cynicism? God knows your vulnerable point. There is no greater mystery in the world than the unequal proportions in which temptation is distributed. We don’t understand why there is such a variety in vulnerability.
Fortunately, God is faithful. Don’t forget that. God is faithful! He will not let you be tempted above your power to resist. The apostle Paul is not only aware of the fierce drives of temptation. He also alerts us to the reality of divine sustenance. At your time of testing, at your time of trial, at your time of temptation, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is immediately available.
It’s fascinating how He even knows your limits. He knows your high-water mark. He knows just how much you can handle without breaking.
John Bradford, the martyr, was often subject to rheumatism and depression of spirit. But an interesting thing happened when he was laid in a foul, damp dungeon and knew that he would never come out, except to die. He wrote, “It is a singular thing ever since I have been in this prison, I have had other trials to bear, I have had no touch of my rheumatism or my depression of spirit.”
God knows just how much you can handle. I could give you story after story of persons whose struggles in one area have been counterbalanced by blessings in another. One goes through terrible financial agony but is blessed with good health and happy family relationships. Another has health and family problems but is blessed with financial abundance and some wonderful friends. One is tormented by unjust imprisonment and torture and yet comes out of that cell years later to give testimony to the “peace of God that passes all understanding, which kept heart and mind through Christ Jesus.”
Third: Escape is available to you.
Paul writes, “. . . but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
The great word “escape” literally means “egress.” It is a way out! It suggests an army trapped in the mountains, slipping out through the narrow pass. It is a picture of a man boxed into a maze who, at the point of utter desperation, suddenly walks down the right path and out the exit. The exit is there all the time. Right from the beginning of the temptation, God has shaped your way of escape.
There are many ways of escaping.
One is through observing the experience of others in building protections. With God’s help, we guard ourselves up front. It’s like a private community that has a guardhouse. It is easy to keep the thief out of the house, if he is never allowed in the community in the first place. We see the destruction that has come to some, so we guard our thoughts. We, like Joseph of old, literally run from sin.
Two is living in a constant awareness of our vulnerability. We do take heed. We are alert to our weakness. We know those thoughts that lead us to past failure and could easily lead us that direction again.
Three, we remind ourselves of the punishment that our sin brings upon our lives. We remember the discouragement of spirit in those times in which we waved our fist at God when His testing seemed too great.
Four, we submit ourselves to the Lord, living lives of prayer. We memorize the Scriptures. We equip ourselves for difficulty. We open ourselves for the right way of escape, not cleverly devising our own means, which would get us into more trouble. Wherein the problems do not clear up readily, we claim the forgiveness of the Lord, also His endurance, sincerely believing that He knows what He is doing.
What a warning! How alerted we are not to be overconfident! Therefore, let any one of us who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall! And what a promise of possible victory in temptation!
Let’s live in all of these realities!
John A. Huffman, Jr. is Senior Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.