Tried and Triumphant
1 Corinthians 10:1-22
This week’s lessons teach us that anyone can fall into sin, but nobody has to.
I do not know of any book of the New Testament that is more practical than 1 Corinthians. Yet of all the practical matters that are handled in this letter, I suppose the most practical and far-reaching of all is the matter of temptation, which Paul discusses in chapter 10, because temptation affects everybody. There are many who have marriage problems, legal disputes, and prideful characters, but temptation is the all-inclusive category. It concerns absolutely every person in the human race. If you are not tempted, you are dead. And if you do not struggle against temptation, you are spiritually dead.
Oscar Wilde, who was physically alive but spiritually dead, made light of temptation. He said in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “The only way to escape temptation is to yield to it.” In Lady Windermere’s Fan, he had a character say, “I can resist anything, except temptation.” That is the sort of thing an unbeliever can say intelligibly. But anyone who is indwelled by the holy life of the Lord Jesus Christ knows what it is to struggle against temptation. If you are not struggling against the temptation to sin in response to what you find all about you in our culture, you are not born again; you are not possessed of the life of Christ. And yet, if you are, you know that faith in Christ does not free you from temptations. As a Christian you have to struggle against them to achieve victory, and how you achieve the victory is a very important matter.
This tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, in a certain sense, has within it all of the bad news and at the same time all of the good news about temptation. Here is the bad news: anybody can fall. That means you, whoever and wherever you are. Then there is the good news: nobody has to. Paul uses the Israelites as an example.
As Paul composed this chapter he must have reflected on Old Testament history and determined that there is no greater example of this fact anywhere in sacred literature – that while everyone is susceptible to temptation, no one has to fall – than in the story of what happened to the people of Israel during the years of their desert wandering. The reason it is such a good example is that there is a sense in which they were all, at least visibly, members of the people of God. He says, “I don’t want you to be ignorant of the fact that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.” The emphasis is upon “all” of them. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them and their bodies were scattered over the desert. In general terms, Paul is saying, “All Israel went out of Egypt in the Exodus and they all accompanied Moses during those years of the wandering.” As far as you could tell, looking at them externally, they were all in the company of God. They all had a certain kind of spiritual baptism. They all ate a certain kind of spiritual food. And yet, many of them perished. The point is that it is quite possible for somebody today to be within the visible church of Jesus Christ, to participate in the sacraments, to do all the right things and, nevertheless, fall as those Israelites did.
What is the one thing from which no one is immune?
What is a necessary characteristic of those who are born again?
Are you depending solely on your participation in church and the sacraments, or your daily Bible reading time and prayer, to keep you from falling? Meditate on Jude 24-25. What is our only hope for being found blameless?