On the front of her T-shirt was a biblical quotation: “Lead us not into temptation.” On the back was what someone intended to be a humorous quip: “I can find it all by myself.” If you’re smiling, it’s because you can relate. You know what it’s like to find temptation, even to find it where and when you would have least expected. You also probably know what it’s like to be found by temptation, or to use Paul’s word from 1 Corinthians 10:13, to be “overtaken” by it. Sometimes temptation appears as a hitchhiker with a thumb out; at other times, it’s more of a carjacker with a gun pointed at your head. The sad truth of the matter is, “I can find temptation all by myself” isn’t really a quip as much as a confession.

All of us likely know far more about this subject from personal experience than we’d care to admit, but most of us probably would have to add that we don’t know as much about it from Scripture as we should. Toward the end of his answer to the Corinthian Christians’ questions about the propriety of attending idol feasts and eating marketplace idol food, Paul talked about temptation. He pointed out what we all should learn from certain Old Testament examples of people experiencing and succumbing to temptation.

The first lesson we learn is that giving in to temptation is much more serious than we might imagine initially. Verses 1-5 recall the great privileges enjoyed by the Jews whom Moses led out of Egypt. They lived under a bright cloud of divine guidance, crossed the Red Sea on dry land, ate the bread of heaven daily and drank from the rock of Christ’s provision; but most of them died in the wilderness. Why? “God was not pleased” with them. Why was that? It was because in times of temptation, they gave in to temptation.

Think of all the privileges afforded you by God’s grace—the way He opened for you out of the land of sin’s bondage, the guidance of His Holy Spirit that brought you to this point in your pilgrimage, and how He supplied you daily “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” The privileges you’ve enjoyed are far greater than those Israel enjoyed. If God was not pleased with them for succumbing to temptation in spite of His grace then, how much less will He be pleased with us when we succumb today?

A second lesson we learn from Israel is not to be desirers of evil. Contrary to how it appears in most of our translations, Paul uses a noun, not a verb, in verse 6 when he speaks of desire. The word connotes someone who has developed an ardent desire for a thing. You might say the person has a taste for it or is a craving consumer.

What did those Jews desire? Evil. However, the word here is a general expression for evil. They wanted food, drink, sex, a life of ease; and they grumbled when they didn’t get these things (vv. 7-10). Really, their tastes weren’t all that different from ours. Satisfied according to God’s design, there is nothing wrong with these things; but when they come to dominate and define our lives, they become destructively evil just as they did for so many in Israel.

The third and fourth lessons we learn from Israel are the bad news and the good news about temptation in a nutshell. The bad news is if it happened to them, it could happen to you (v. 11). No one is so spiritual that temptation cannot get the best of him or her, but the good news is you can triumph over temptation (v. 12). God has His hand on the thermostat. He will not let it get so hot that you—by His grace—cannot maintain your cool and say no to temptation. Others have, and so can you. Resistance to temptation is not futile!

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