The Gospel and Temptation

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:12,13, rsv

Here is a word from God about something you and I will face today and every day we live: testing and temptation. It comes from Paul’s first Corinthian letter, chapter 10, verses 11 to 13. Listen: “Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Along with the apostle Paul, we’ve been trying to look at everything in the light of the gospel, to see every doctrinal issue and every ethical problem from the perspective of what God is doing through the crucified and risen Jesus. Today it’s the gospel and temptation, the gospel and testing.

A HELPFUL REMINDER

Let’s begin with a helpful reminder Paul gives us: testing and temptation are common to man. They’re part of our ordinary lot as human beings. They come, as we say, “with the territory.” True, the world is a vastly different place than it was in Paul’s day. Civilization in some respects has taken enormous strides. But the basic things about our human situation have remained constant. People have always passed through trying experiences, and they have always known the beckoning lure of evil. And we still do, don’t we? I do every day, and probably you do, too. That’s part of what it is to live as a human being in a world like ours.

As far as temptation is concerned, there’s a master strategist of evil who keeps it coming. He is forever trying to entice or intimidate us. The apostle Peter, who knew whereof he spoke, writes of the devil “prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). But he is cunning also. In all of his malicious rage against God’s people, he “disguises himself as an angel of light.” Even while he points us down a road that leads us to misery and ruin, he advertises it as a highway to happiness. We’re tempted because we’re up against the wiles of an adversary who specializes in calling good “evil” and evil “good.”

God never tempts people in this way. He doesn’t want you to fall. He’ll never deceive you or incite you to any evil. But He will put you through testing. He will give you abundant opportunity to show what’s really in your heart toward Him. He will let you pass at times through the refining fire. He’ll send His word to you in the crises of life to see how you will respond. We’re all tested by a God who loves us – loves us too much to leave us as we are.

We ought not to be shocked then when temptations assail us and testings come our way. Listen to Peter again: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). He’s reminding us also that trial and temptation are common to human beings. Any one who lives in this world, even Jesus, the Son of the Most High, has to face these things.

A NEEDED WARNING

Next comes a word of warning. Paul writes, “Let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” If you imagine that you are secure in the midst of temptation and trial, then you are in real trouble.

The apostle has been reminding his Corinthian friends about Israel’s experience of wandering in the wilderness. Remember that? It was not a shining success. Rebellious, complaining, ungrateful, the Israelites had roamed for forty years in a desert wasteland. Though the good land of Canaan had been promised to them, most of them never crossed the Jordan to set foot on it. They let their days of priceless opportunity slip by. They never entered God’s rest.

And these, remember, were His chosen ones. How merciful God had been to them! What mighty works He had done on their behalf! Paul describes it, “I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea” (1 Cor. 10:1). That is, they had all witnessed a mighty deliverance from the Egyptians when the Red Sea waters surged back over their foes. They had all been led with a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. Paul goes on: They “all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink” (remember the manna from heaven and the water in the desert from a smitten rock?) “Nevertheless,” Paul goes on, “with most of them God was not well pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (vv. 3-4).

Imagine it! All that light, privilege and provision, but still the people had failed the test. Though God had revealed Himself to them in marvelous ways, they had kept on chasing idols. They disobeyed His Word; they disbelieved His promise; they even grumbled about His providential care. After a bright beginning, and an unforgettable religious experience, they yet gave in to temptation and failed the test.

“These things,” says Paul, “happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction” (v. 11). In other words, he’s making an application for the Christians of his day. They have passed through the waters too, the waters of Christian baptism. As believers in Christ, they too have partaken of supernatural food and drink, the body and blood of Jesus at the Lord’s Table. They’ve heard God speak more gracious words than were ever heard at Sinai. They’ve experienced a greater salvation than anyone in Israel ever knew. But all that was no guarantee that they would fight a good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith. If they trusted in their own resources, if they imagined themselves self-sufficient, they too would be in danger of dismal collapse. “Let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

In some ways, self-confidence is a good thing. As people created in God’s image, we ought to feel that we have worth and dignity. It’s right to see ourselves as having ability and potential, something worthwhile to contribute. It’s a grand thing to believe that we can succeed in tasks given us or endure whatever trials we may have to face. But genuine self-confidence always rests on trust in God. Without that, it becomes pathetic self-delusion. We are not sufficient in ourselves. When we become proud or complacent, we set ourselves up for a grievous fall.

We were thinking a moment ago about Simon Peter. In many ways he was the foremost disciple of Jesus, the acknowledged leader among the twelve. With all of them he had seen Jesus’ mighty works and heard His words. He had made a moving confession of personal faith and had served the Lord with evident zeal. We would expect Simon Peter to be able to resist any temptation, wouldn’t we, or pass any test with flying colors?

But notice that Jesus did not expect that. Rather, He warned Peter about his weakness and vulnerability. He told him with the rest of the disciples, “You will all fall away because of me this night.” Peter, with all of the wrong kind of self-confidence, objected: “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” He must have been shaken by Jesus’ response to that: “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Amazingly, even after that, Peter still seems sure of himself. “Even if I must die with you,” he maintains, “I will not deny you” (Matt. 26:33-34).

We can’t doubt his sincerity here. Peter meant what he said. He intended to remain faithful, whatever might come. He thought he was up to it. But when the crisis came, when the pressure was applied, Peter gave way. The man called “The Rock” simply crumbled. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

A GRAND ENCOURAGEMENT

But I most want to share with you today this word of encouragement: “God is faithful,” writes Paul, “and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Take heart, friends, you don’t need to depend on your own resources; you don’t have to dip into your tiny pool of ego strength. You can put your confidence somewhere else. God is faithful. He is your refuge and strength, your very present help in trouble. He can sustain and uphold you in the worst of your temptations, and when you are sorely tried, He makes this promise: “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isa. 43:1). He will be there. He will see you through.

But how, you wonder, does God help us in such trying hours? For one thing, He doesn’t put upon us more than we can bear. He is the Lord. Nothing happens without His awareness and permission. Even the barking hounds of hell are restrained on His leash. He won’t let you be tempted beyond your strength. The poet says that He “tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.” I don’t know about that, but I know that He is aware of our limits. He has compassion on our infirmities. When the thorn in our flesh seems unbearable, when we don’t think we can possibly hold out, we hear Him say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

But He does more than that. Along with the temptation, along with the trial, He also provides, says Paul, “a way of escape.” The Greek word translated here, “way of escape” can mean a mountain defile. Imagine an army trapped in the heights, yet escaping from a seemingly impossible situation through a narrow mountain pass. When temptation assails you and you seem to be blocked everywhere, you aren’t doomed to capitulate. The situation isn’t hopeless. God provides, just when you need it most, a way out.

Think of the Lord’s temptations in the wilderness. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread . . . throw yourself down [from the pinnacle of the temple] . . . fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:2,6,9). What was the way of escape God provided here for His incarnate Son? It was the way of Holy Scripture, committed to memory, hidden in the heart. Remember how Jesus responded to every assault with the words, “It is written.” In Him the ancient confession of the psalmist was completely fulfilled: “I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11).

Sometimes our way out may be the warning and encouragement of a friend. The writer to the Hebrews urges all Christians to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). Some of us would often fall were it not for a brother or sister. How many have been kept from going down through some timely word of encouragement, by an outstretched hand of help, by the bracing comfort of caring hearts?

Jesus offered another way out to His disciples when they were about to face their sternest test: “Watch and pray,” He said, “that you may not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). He wanted them to know that an ordeal was ahead and that they needed to be prepared for it. The way was watchfulness and continued prayer. Paul the apostle picks up the same theme when he describes the whole armor of God. The master weapon, the means by which we put all the other armor in place, is “all prayer.”

Maybe the way out for you will be quite practical and visible, a door to walk through out of harm’s way. Safety may lie simply in steering clear of places and associations that give you trouble. It may be in picking up the phone to call a friend when you need help. But remember this: You’ll never be hopelessly cornered. Somewhere in the most complicated maze, even when you seem to be hemmed in on every side, there is – because God is faithful – a way of escape.

The question for all of us is: Will we take it? Will we avail ourselves of the support we can get from our fellow Christians? Will we listen to and internalize the Word? Will we take the time day by day really to pray?

Those are so many ways of asking this: Will you trust in this faithful God who is able to keep you? Will you depend upon the Savior, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to deliver you and now lives to empower you by His Spirit? If you will, you can face any temptation, any test, and by God’s grace, come through.

PRAYER: O God, we praise You for Your faithfulness that when we are tempted and tried You sustain us and see us through. In Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.