Text: 1 Cor. 10:1-14
…These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.
Have you ever heard the old saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle?” Well, it’s not right—or at least, it’s mostly not right. God might bring really difficult things into your life, problems you can’t fix and even sickness and death. The Apostle Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 1:8 that “we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.” I’m not sure if he could “handle” that at all.
What the Bible says is that God will protect and preserve you, even in the times that you can’t handle. And if God should bring you to the end of your life, He will also bring you over into the next life, if you have placed your faith in Him. And the Bible also says that God will not “all you to be tempted beyond what you are able.” God will not place you in a temptation that you cannot avoid. He will not make you sin. There will always be a “means of escape” from that sin.
But it’s not easy. In fact, we are often surprised by the kinds of sins which tempt us. 1 Cor. 10 says our temptations are “common to man,” but which temptations is it talking about? Well, if you look back at the text, the temptations are temptations that afflicted Israel, these are the temptations that afflicted the church at Corinth, and, since Paul tells us that they are common to man, these are the temptations that afflict us.
We know we have these temptations in our life. We know they are real, and we know that we can fall into them. But we also know that we can escape them. So this morning, I’d like to help us identify these temptations, and I’d like to help us identify the way of escape. By looking to Christ, we can avoid destruction and enter into God’s rest.
As we mentioned last week, Paul is drawing a parallel between Israel in the Old Testament and the Church. He says that what happened to Israel in the Wilderness were types for us today. Last week, we specifically talked about the role of the sacraments and that Israel had Christ with them. But that’s really just a set-up to the bigger picture. Despite all of that, Israel fell away. What happened?
Paul mentions four things. These are idolatry, immorality, tempting Christ, and complaining. These are sins that occurred during Israel’s time in the Wilderness, and they had major events associated with them. But when we look up Paul’s references, we see that the lust and idolatry sometimes happened together, at the same event. Tempting Christ and grumbling also turn out to be closely connected. Let’s take a look.
Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell (1 Cor. 10:6-8)
Here Paul mentions both lust and idolatry. The quote “the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” comes from Exodus 32:6, which is the story of the golden calf. The eating, drinking, and playing all refers to the idolatrous worship festival. Ex. 32:19 says that the people were dancing around the golden calf. All of those things are aspects of the idolatry.
Paul then mentions “sexual immorality,” and he cites the events from Numbers 25, when Israel took up harlots from Baal of Peor. But when we read the story in Numbers 25, we learn that those harlots were cultic or ritual harlots. The immorality at Baal of Peor was itself a form of idol worship, of worshiping the Baal at Peor. The two sins are united in the Old Testament.
This seems to be true in Corinth. Idolatry and sexual immorality go together. And it is still true today, though perhaps both sins look a little differently than they once did.
From there, Paul adds two more sin problems. He says, “nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer” (1 Cor. 10:9-10). The tempting of Christ is linked with the time when Israel was plagued by serpents. This event is found in Numbers 21:
Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. (Numbers 21:4-6)
Notice how Paul says that the Israelites were tempting Christ. Originally, in the Old Testament, however, it says that the people grumbled against God. So do we think that Paul believes that Christ is divine? Yes. There’s nothing else that he could mean by this.
Also, the people test Christ by complaining against God’s saving providence. They don’t believe that their time in the wilderness is better than slavery in Egypt. They are tired of the miraculous bread from heaven. It had gotten old. Their memory had grown short. And they became carnal. They “spoke against God and against Moses.” This is what Paul says is “tempting Christ.” And when Israel did this, they were destroyed by serpents.
This tempting Christ is basically a form of “complaining,” which is the fourth sin Paul mentions. “Let us not complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer” (1 Cor. 10:10). The word for “complain” is also translated “grumble” or “murmur.” This is something that we see in a few places during Israel’s wandering. The people murmur against Moses during the story of the water from the rock (Exodus 17:3). In Numbers 14, they are about to be able to enter the Promised Land but grumble and complain instead. There is not an obvious “destroyer” in these stories, though there is in Numbers 16, after Korah’s rebellion. Paul may not have just one incident in mind. He might be summing up the whole experience of Israel being discontent in the wilderness.
The basic point is the same. Grumbling and complaining against God and His providence is a great sin that will merit His judgment. Pair this up with the other sins of idolatry and immorality, and you get the whole picture. These things are rejection of God’s love and His grace for us. They are a turning of the affections away from Him and an attempt to find that love and provision from some other source. That’s why the bring on judgment.
The Same Story in Corinth
Now, so far we’ve been talking about Israel’s story. They went after false gods in the wilderness. They committed immorality with the women of Midian. They grumbled against God and against His appointed leader. But Paul is talking about all of this in order to talk about the Church. He wants to show the Corinthians that they are doing the same sorts of things. “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11).
Notice the time reference. The 1st century church is the one “upon whom the ends of the ages of have come.” This is a recurring theme in the New Testament. Everything that has happened before has been coming to a conclusion, and that conclusion is the saving death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as the formation of the Christian church.
But there’s also a possible conclusion that isn’t so nice. The Christian church might well repeat Israel’s errors. That’s what Paul is warning about. And he’s got good reason. Remember—this is Corinth he’s talking to! What are the big sins that we’ve seen so far in this letter? Well, it began with prideful boasting and grumbling (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:5-17). Then Paul had to address sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 6:9-10). Remember how he said that one of the Corinthians was practicing a sin even worse than what the Gentiles tolerate (1 Cor. 5:1)? And now, what is the sin that he’s talking about in chapters 8 and 10? Why, it’s idolatry. To top it off, Paul has even had a bit of a challenge to his authority, as the Corinthians have complained against him (1 Cor. 9:1-18).
So the Corinthians are committing all of the same sins that Israel did. They are being tempted into idolatry. They are committing sexual immorality. They are grumbling against God and the leader God has sent them. In all of this, they are putting Christ to the test, and, if they continue, they can expect to be destroyed. They need to take heed, lest they fall (1 Cor. 10:12).
The Same Story Today
Paul also calls these temptations “common to man.” That’s important. “Common” doesn’t only mean ordinary, though it does mean that. It also means “shared.” Have you ever heard of the Book of Common Prayer? It was a book that was used for worship services in England, and it was meant to teach people to all pray the same prayers. It was meant to teach them to pray “in common.” Thus, when Paul call these temptations “common to man,” what he is saying is that these kinds of sins are always present with the human race. They are always relevant. They never go away. Israel had them. Corinth had them.
And we have them.
Sexual immorality is everywhere in our culture. The grosser sorts lead the headlines, but the old garden-variety lusts haven’t gone away. In fact, they have become normalized. They aren’t only a problem for “liberals.” Conservatives are routinely afflicted by them. We have to be on guard that we do not fall into something so common.
Grumbling and discontent is also an obvious sin. We quickly forget God’s kindness to us. We forget about Egypt, our old lifestyle, our old bondage. We only see the problems around us, even if they are small problems. And we focus on those problems and let them grind on us. We become hyper-critical. We become unhappy. We become angry. And we find the culprits in leadership to blame. This is a temptation that we need to be very careful with. It’s common. It’s almost natural. But it can bring God’s wrath.
But what of idolatry, do we still have it? Corinth did. Remember, Paul is still talking about the same problem that he’s been talking about—whether the Corinthians can eat idol-food. Some of them only wanted to eat the meat by itself. Perhaps they would buy it in the market and take it home. But others were willing to go into the temples to eat it. Some of them were apparently even participating in the festivals. And Paul said no way!
So what about us, what are our idols? We’ve asked this before, and we have noted how tricky it is to answer. We don’t want to make it too spiritual or symbolic. And so we need to avoid other religions. Start there. Don’t mix Christianity with other faiths. Don’t mix Jesus with other gods.
But we can and should also press into the thing which connects idolatry to these other sins. What connects idolatry to sexual immorality and to grumbling? It’s discontentment. It’s also a lack of faith. Idolatry is no longer believing that God can save you. Idolatry is no longer believing that God can satisfy you. Idolatry is trying to find fulfillment for your soul—for yourself—in some location other than in God. It’s spiritual adultery. Grumbling is its root and its evidence, and bowing down to an image is the most obvious manifestation of it. But they are all connected. They are the turning of the heart away from God to another source. That’s the foundational sin. That’s what we must run away from, what we must flee.
Conclusion: The Way To Escape
Now, this might leave us a little scared. This might shake our confidence. It might cause us to wonder how we are going to resist such strong temptations. What does Paul say?
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Cor. 10:13)
This takes us back to the very beginning, doesn’t it? God will provide a way of escape. He will be faithful in preserving us so that we can bear our temptations. This is good news. You will never have temptations in your life which you cannot overcome. If you are in Christ, you can mortify your flesh, and you can make progress in holiness. We don’t have to give in, and God will give us grace to overcome them.
And He does this by giving us an escape hatch. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry!” (1 Cor. 10:14) This is kind of the answer to all of the temptations. Get out of there! Run away!
If you are around idols, you need to move. Get away from them. Don’t go where they are. This might be as simple as not entering a certain building. It might mean turning off your television. It might mean turning off your computer. But do it. Get away. Flee from idolatry!
It also means fleeing to something. Flee from idols, and flee to God. If you are grumbling against His providence, then you need to run to His saving grace. Remember your baptism. See the manna at the Lord’s Table. Know your salvation in Christ. If you are tempted by lust, ask God to feed your desire with true love. Be filled with Him, and then open your eyes to the good and true things He has given you.
And it means fleeing to worship. Going to church, and going to church in order to meet God, is so important. Don’t let your hearts grow cold to this. You flee the idol by running to the true God, and you should also flee the idol’s house by running to the house of God. This is primarily the worship of God, but it’s the worship of God in the context of the people of God, and it extends to that life together with them. And so pray with your fellow believers, especially fellow Church-members. Take counsel in them, and offer to counsel them. Share with them. Share your possessions and your life. Share your time. Share your affection. And ask for it from them too.
God might bring very hard things into your life, but He won’t make you sin. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. He will always provide a means of escape. So open your eyes. Where is it? Find it. Use it.
You’d better get going.
Let us pray.