1 Corinthians 10:11-13
July 22, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:25 in the audio file.
Or, Dangerous Lusts of the Blessed
A long time ago I was told (by a successful triathlete who had her own poster) that if you’re serious about running, you don’t talk about going for a “jog,” you go for a run. This does not mean that you must sprint every mile, it does not mean that you must run every stride as hard as you can, but it means that you are serious about the work.
Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers to run to win. It takes self-control. It requires discipline. You cannot win while getting everything you want, even when what you want is reasonable, even when you have religious reasons for what you want. This isn’t a sight-seeing trot with Brazilian meat stations at every quarter-mile marker. Restrain yourself, including your rights, for sake of the race.
Who really wants to do that, though, am I right? Isn’t it easier to open up the bag and snack on a handful of salty, petty criticisms? “That brother/sister needs to grow up already.” Or maybe someone brought in a whole box of a dozen, cream filled gossip donuts. Slander is like a tasty morsel that goes down deep (Proverbs 18:8); it does not increase love handles. Or what about cutting a corner in the race, taking advantage in a business deal because after all, it’s EDB: how Everyone Does Business. Not only does God not mind, He the sovereign God of the system, so He clearly approves.
The church-goers in Corinth must have made similar arguments, and Paul makes a case from the Old Testament scriptures that not all who run, win, and some who wander are lost. In the first 10 verses of chapter 10 Paul shows how the generation of Jews that exited Egypt failed to run well. Though they had received great blessings of deliverance from God they also turned away from God. They stumbled in idolatry, sexual immorality, impatience, and grumbling.
In verses 11-13 Paul moves from teaching by examples to teaching by exhortation. Here we learn things about the benefit of the Old Testament, about humanity, about God Himself, and about types of temptation.
Verse 6 and verse 11 begin with the same idea: Now these things happened to them as an example. Following verse 6 Paul worked through the types of temptations and sins that caused the exodus generation to stumble in the wilderness. Now in verse 11 and following, gives the reason for the review of the examples.
Reviewing these temptation types is good for us, and God graciously recorded the stories for our benefit: they were written down for our instruction. When it comes to reading the Bible, it’s true that nothing is about us, but it is all for us in one way or another. We get instruction, which is a word (nouthesia) that is more than information, it is “counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct” (BAGD). In some contexts it could be reproof or rebuke. It is warning (Colossians 1:28). The types of temptation we read about admonish us to run a better course. Do we not run better because we do not read better?
We need the instruction because we are those on whom the end of the ages has come. It’s probably better to understand it as “the ends of the ages” (NASB). We (still, almost two-thousand years later) live in a crucial time of history. We run between Christ’s advents. We need to run well.
The point is: get your head on straight. Running is physical but, like all disciplines, it is even more mental. Learn from the example of those who fell before you fall.
Verse 12 is short, it is also the center of Paul’s concern. The examples concentrate on this application: Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
In other words, be careful that you do not become complacent. A complacent man has no criticisms of himself and is pleased with his position. He totally agrees with this exhortation, and believes it, and tells others that not all who run will win, but he thinks it couldn’t happen to him.
Standing is good. Standing means you’re not knocked over or knocked out of the race. Presuming that you could never be knocked out is not good. The Corinthians had “knowledge” about God’s sovereignty as well as about their liberty in Christ. These are true and good things, but the way they thought about the truth made the Corinthians insecure.
He is “the one thinking,” using the same word as 1 Corinthians 8:2, “anyone thinking that he knows something.”
This is a dangerous place for any soul to stand. “Be careful” (NIV). Watch out. Having courage and confidence in the Lord by faith is good. Having faith in your faith, being confident in yourself is not. Perseverance of the saints doesn’t allow saints to get proud or presumptuous. Without humility, a saint may not persevere. Paul expressed his own heeding of himself in 1 Corinthians 9:27.
Are there Christians who are paralyzed by doubt and harsh self-criticism? Of course there are. They are not the target of Paul’s warning.
Because of the Therefore at the beginning of the sentence, verse 12 could be summarized as all the stories of the Old Testament in one warning. This is a conclusion to the first eleven verses, the conclusion to both the blessings and the temptations of God’s people in the Old Testament. If the Golden Rule is the summary of the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12), this is the summary of the history. The TL;DR version of the OT: don’t get cocky. Don’t become complacent, unwilling (and then unable) to evaluate your own weaknesses. Look at the religious people, the blessed people, the people delivered by God, and see what happens when they are pleased with themselves and seek to please themselves more than others. (See Romans 11:20-22 for the same caution.)
There are two doses of humility in verse 13, truth about man and truth about God.
There is a special excuse for sin that comes from those who thought that they could not sin, but who end up sinning. It is also a temptation for others who tend toward the martyr side of things, who act as if the moons of temptation revolve around them. Paul says that no one is unique when it comes to temptation.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. The Israelites were a type of temptation, as in, they provided examples of the sorts of temptations that cause runners to stumble and fall. And also, when it comes to types of temptations, there is nothing outside of the ordinary, human temptations.
This is both humbling and encouraging. It is encouraging because we are not alone. But that is what makes it humbling: no man is a temptation hero. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t heroes, but that any given hero has a hero’s temptations. It also means that there are no victims who suffer what no-one else ever had to.
Paul isn’t saying that everyone has all the same temptations. Men have different temptations than women, single people have different temptations than married people, bosses have different temptations than employees, and this is all fine. But no one, regardless of gender or age or nationality or social status, has something happening to them that is unique to mankind.
So, you are not special. You may be having a very hard time, but you are still having a very human hard time. You may not have a friend who is going through the exact same thing as you, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t understand human temptation, and it certainly doesn’t make you special. In fact, thinking that you have an especially unique temptation is a very common temptation. You are not exceptional.
Since the Garden of Eden men have been tempted to serve another god than God, they have been tempted to manipulate or pursue relationships for sexual gratification outside of God’s created and revealed pattern, they have been tempted to be irritated that God hasn’t answered in their timing, and they have been tempted to whine about it. These four temptation types are typical. They are natural for men to face, and there is no fundamentally new temptation under the sun.
The devil tempted Jesus in these: to elevate Himself, to take what He wanted when He wanted rather than according to the Father’s path.
These temptation types are also not impossible to deal with.
The rest of verse 13 is all about God, and the reminder, amidst all of this talk about running, is that God is faithful. It is a theme of His revelation to humans. Depend on Him, He is dependable. Put your faith in Him, He is faithful.
In particular, He is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
The subject of the main verbs is God Himself. He is at work. God is sovereign over temptations, otherwise Paul could not make this claim. God controls temptations (though God “tempts no one” according to James 1:13) as well as individual capacities to handle temptations as well as ways to not sin in temptations.
When it comes to enticements to do something wrong, to run the wrong direction or to quit the race, to give up discipline and self-control, to sin, God faithfully and graciously protects His runners.
Based on this verse I have often heard Christians say that, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” And that is only partially true. A lot of the truth of that statement depends on what we mean by “handle.”
The word “handle” is related to the word for “hand,” so to move or manipulate with one’s hands (“manipulate” itself is from manus meaning “hand”). If you handle a piece of pottery, you are holding and carrying or placing it. To handle a sheet of plywood requires more hands. Figuratively, to handle something means to manage it, to deal with it, even to drive or control a situation.
And this is just not true when it comes to much greeting-card theology. God regularly gives us more than we can deal with, and certainly more than we can control. We fall into great anxiety when we act as if we can figure out and fix our own problems. I’d say God loves to push us past ourselves, our comfort zone, our current limits. When Paul said that he was “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9), he was not saying that he only had what he could handle.
We are insufficient. Paul knew it (2 Corinthians 2:16).
Do not assume that you can handle all of your race. What Paul says is that you can endure the temptation to sin. God will never give you more than you can handle without sinning. He will provide the way of escape, a “way out” (NIV). He will enable us to get to the end, which may be death, but it is finishing the race in submission to Him.
Because God is faithful, you cannot be a helpless victim of temptation. The ship may capsize, but by God’s grace you won’t cry to idols for help. Your spool may run out of twine, but, in Christ, God won’t let go of you.
None of us are victims. We believe that God is sovereign, we believe that God is faithful, we believe that He calls us to humility, love, and self-control.
The typical types of temptations are not hard to find. The Old Testament is full of them, and even in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church we see the temptations played out again.
It’s not just the best that get complacent, it is the blessed. So, take heed. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think (Romans 12:3).
“Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?” “I—I don’t think I do, Sir,” said Caspian. “I’m only a kid.” “Good,” said Aslan. “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not.” (Prince Caspian)
God most certainly gives us more than we can handle, and that is so that we can learn to depend on Him in His faithfulness so that we can run to win without sin.
If the entire Old Testament could be summarized with one warning, it would be this: Be careful that you do not become complacent. Do not be the man who thinks he stands, and so falls because he does not stand in the strength of the Lord’s might. Be the man who takes up the whole armor of God against temptation, so that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Jesus is coming, you have good work to do.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23–25, ESV)