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The Peril of Abusing Our Spiritual Privileges (1 Corinthians 10:1-13)

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The blessings and privileges that believers have in Christ are bountiful, to say the least. Scripture declares, in fact, that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3), indeed, we are complete in Him (Col. 2:10). The outworking of these blessings mean a number of wonderful things in a Christian’s life. When understood and appropriated by faith, they mean peace, joy, happiness, comfort, encouragement, and significant purpose. But that’s not all, though this is often all you hear emphasized in many messages and in the conversations of Christians. It certainly seems this is the main focus of many, if not most people, in our comfort and pleasure-crazed society.

However, with our privileges come two more vital concepts: ‘strength’ (ability) and ‘accountability’ (responsibility). (1) Our blessings and privileges mean the ability, by the power of God bestowed in those blessings, to be different from the world as believers in Christ. We can live victoriously over sin and the self-life. (2) But they also mean the responsibility to do so, not in our own strength, of course, but through the ability God gives us through the Savior.

This poses a warning us: Spiritual privilege provides the basis for success, but it never guarantees it. Instead, spiritual privilege demands responsibility. This is part of the warning of this passage. But let’s not miss the context of this warning!

First, in the immediate context, chapter 10 is preceded in 9:24-25 with the image of the athlete as a challenging illustration for Christians. If a athlete is to (1) continue in the race to finish it, and (2) win the prize, he must rigorously train and discipline himself. He must restrain his appetites and compete according to the principles of discipline that promote winning or success; he must run in such a way that he may win (vs. 24).

Second, in verses 26 and 27 Paul shows how he had carefully applied this concept to his own life in view of the very real possibility of being disqualified himself from either finishing the race or from winning the crown. Later Paul could say, “I have finished the course,” and “in the future there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness” (2 Tim.4:7, 8).

Third, with this illustration in view, Paul then focused the church at Corinth on the history of the nation of Israel as an illustration of some of God’s people who were disqualified regardless of their salvation and the marvelous privileges they had (10:1-11).

Finally, he concluded these verses with an application of warning to Corinth and to us. First, we must each take heed lest we also fall (i.e. become disqualified). Second, we should each take courage in spite of the temptations and obstacles we face in the race because God is with us and He provides us with a way of life, the outcome of which is the capacity to handle temptation.

An Important Question: What has prompted all of this? With chapter 10, the Apostle is concluding his answer to their question about meats offered to idols. He begins with a warning in 10:1-13 and follows this up with an application specifically geared to the meat issue in 10:14–11:1. Of course, this involved the question of human taboos or doubtful things and the use of our liberty in Christ.

He divides the application into three parts: First, he deals with participation in heathen religious festivals (vv. 14-22), then with eating meat sold in the marketplace (vv. 23-26), and finally, with eating meat in a private home (10:27–11:1).

There are two key subjects which form the greater context for this concern about disqualification mentioned at the end of chapter 9. The first is that of Christian service or the ministry of those who should live by God’s wisdom to fulfill God’s purposes ( 1 Cor. 1:4, 5; 3:5f; 4:1f; 9:15-23). The second is that of Christian liberty and its proper use. Our liberty in Christ is not to be abused at the expense of others, or at the expense of our ministry to others, or at the expense of becoming disqualified from the rewards we can have for faithful service (see 1 Cor. 3:12f).

Though we do have liberty in Christ, and though God has given us all things freely to enjoy, and though we do have and can joy many things such as marriage, children, homes, recreation, and other forms of pleasure, such must never become our prime focus or goal. Compare God’s warnings to Israel (Deut. 6).

By disqualification we must understand that the apostle was not concerned that he (or we) might lose his (our) salvation. His personal concern and the issues here are: (1) abusing privileges, (2) exercising responsibilities, (3) glorifying the Lord, (4) failing or becoming disqualified in his work as an apostle so that he could not finish the race, and (5) the loss of rewards. This is a real threat for each of us as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, as it was for the Corinthians and even for the Apostle Paul.

Therefore, to show just how real this threat is, he took the Corinthian church to an illustration in the history of Israel which, like the Church, had been blessed with tremendous blessings and privileges from God. If you need an illustration of people who had everything and blew it, then just take a look at Israel. And lest we become smug, we can be just like them and we have much more spiritually speaking than did they. We are all cut out of the same cloth, we are a fallen race whose chief characteristic is to go our own way seeking to live life by our own strategies for significance and happiness.

With this, let’s turn to the exposition of verses 1-13.

An Illustration:
The History of Israel and Her Spiritual Privileges

1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness (emphasis mine).

The Plea Declared: What God wants us to know (vs.1a)

“For” connects chapter 10 with the image of the race and the possibility of disqualification of chapter 9. The connection flows from the truth that there is the responsibility for godly discipline because there is also the very real possibility of disqualification, as the life of Israel proves.

“I do not want you to be unaware (or ignorant).” This expresses the Apostle’s plea and what God wants us to grasp regarding the teaching and application of Israel’s history to our corporate and individual lives. I hope we do not miss an obvious general application here. This serves to emphasize that God does not want us to be living in a state of ignorance of the truth of Scripture because biblical truth is fundamental to spiritual health and running a good race. Because of our own sinfulness and because of the many deceptions of Satan, being ignorant or forgetting God’s truth is downright dangerous. God wants us to daily learn from and respond to the truth of Word of God. Hebrews 3:7 says, “today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts as in the provocation …”

The Privileges Described: What Israel experienced (vss. 1b-4)

The little adjective “all” is repeated five times in these verses. Just look at this. All together—the educated, the uneducated, the poor, the rich, the weak, the strong—all of them experienced the same supernatural blessings of God. This means that each one had the same opportunity and capacity to count for God to the maximum regardless of background. Now, what did they experience?

    Supernatural Direction and Protection: “all were under the cloud” (vs. 1b)

“Were” is an imperfect of past continuing action. From the very beginning, as they left Egypt they all enjoyed the guidance of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. As they journeyed on from Sinai to Kadesh they experienced God’s guidance and His protection.

“Under the cloud,” according to the context and the Greek word used here, this signifies “under” not simply in the sense of location, but under in the sense of protection; it was like being under the shelter of the Almighty.

So, (1) today, believers in Christ have the promise of God’s guidance and direction by the Scriptures and by the Spirit of God. Likewise, (2) being in Christ, all believers are hidden and protected in God, their Savior (Col. 3:3). In Him believers are super-conquerors (Rom. 8:32-32). In Him they are accepted and have access in the Beloved (Eph. 1:6).

    Supernatural Liberation: “and all passed through the sea” (vs. 1c)

“Passed through” is best viewed as what we call a perfective aorist which, by the context here, looks at a completed, finished experience. The Israelites had been boxed in and from their perspective death was certain. There was nothing they could do in their power to be saved. They faced the Red Sea in front of them, had the armies of Pharaoh behind them, and the wilderness on either side. Yet God worked supernaturally: He parted the Red Sea, delivered Israel and destroyed Pharaoh’s armies. When it was all over they stood on the other side, delivered from the bondage of Egypt by the power and grace of God.

So today, men without Christ stand helpless, the bondslaves of sin and facing certain death. Yet, God has worked supernaturally through the person and work of His Son to provide a once-and-for-all salvation, a complete and perfect deliverance from the penalty and power of sin. As believers in Jesus Christ, Christians are a delivered people, a people who have passed out of death into life (see also Deut. 6:23; 1:30f).

“I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life, and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life (John 5:24, NET Bible).

    Supernatural Identification: “and all were baptized into Moses…” (vs. 2)

The word “baptized” signifies the truth of “identification.” It’s important to note here that the only people who got wet were the Egyptians. Though the fundamental idea of the Greek verb, baptizw, is “to dip, immerse, plunge or to place into,” the outworking of this metaphorically is that of identification. The word was used of a dyer of cloth who would dip a piece of cloth into the dye to change its color. It would go into the dye one color, like white, and come out another. In the process the identification of the cloth was changed from white to a blue or red piece of cloth.

By their obedience to Moses’ commands, and belief in what God was doing, they became identified with the leadership of Moses and united together as the people of God under Moses, God’s spokesman, and so also identified with God’s deliverance.

So likewise today, when a person trusts in the Lord Jesus, they become united into Him by the baptizing, identifying work of the Spirit, and to one another in the body of Christ. In this position in Christ all believers share all that Christ is—His righteousness, His Sonship, inheritance, death, resurrection, ascension, and session, etc., and we become members of one another with responsibilities to each other in that relationship.

    Supernatural Nutrition: “and all ate the same spiritual food” (vs. 3)

This, of course, was the manna which God provided daily to sustain His people. So likewise, Christians have the Lord Jesus, the ‘Bread’ from heaven who sustains our life and upon whom we are to daily feed by living in the Word and by abiding in Him: counting on Him as our source of life.

    Supernatural Libation: “and all drank the same spiritual drink” (vs. 4)

The Rock which gave water spoke of Christ who, as the preincarnate Christ, actually followed them, sustaining and meeting their needs in the wilderness, day after day. Likewise as believers today, Christ has given us the water of the Word and the refreshing water of the ministry of the Holy Spirit which sustains and ministers to those believers who will walk by the Spirit and drink from the fountains of the Word.

By the last three blessings Paul undoubtedly had the two ordinances of the church in mind—baptism (which portrays Spirit baptism), and the Lord’s supper (which portrays faith in the person of Christ and our need to continue to live by His life). But please note, these two ordinances portray spiritual facts and truth—truth that is to be appropriated by faith and by responsible Christian living. They portray our privileges and blessings in Christ, but they do not afford the believer with some magical protection by which we may presume upon the Lord and by which we may, in self-dependent rebellion, simply go our own way as did Israel, thinking that we have it made because of our blessings.

Now why this emphasis on the fact of Israel’s blessings? To stress the reality of the danger of disqualification to all of us. Privilege never guarantees success. We must exercise our responsibility to discipline our lives and to stay close to God. Thus in verse five we see how the nation became disqualified and was not able to enter the land of promise.

The People Disqualified: What happened to the privileged nation (vs. 5)

Deuteronomy 1:29-40 "Then I said to you, 'Do not be shocked, nor fear them. 30 'The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked, until you came to this place.' 32 "But for all this, you did not trust the LORD your God, 33 who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go.

34 "Then the LORD heard the sound of your words, and He was angry and took an oath, saying, 35 'Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and to his sons I will give the land on which he has set foot, because he has followed the LORD fully.' 37 "The LORD was angry with me also on your account, saying, 'Not even you shall enter there. 38 'Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there; encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it. 39 'Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them, and they shall possess it. 40 'But as for you, turn around and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.'

Verse 5 of our passage in 1 Corinthians 10 begins with an emphatic statement of contrast. The word “nevertheless” is the Greek conjunction alla, the strongest conjunction of contrast in New Testament Greek. It emphatically brings out the contrast here between how many were blessed, ALL, versus how many with whom God was not pleased; with most of them (Deut. 1:34-40). Though gracious, this is tremendously understated. Over two million people came out of Egypt, 600,000 men able to go to war twenty years and older, their wives, approximately another 600,000, and probably 800,000 children or more. That’s 1,200,000 adults not including the mixed multitude from Egypt. But only two of the original 1,200,000 adults were allowed to go into the land of promise. The rest were laid low, literally, their carcasses were strewn across the wilderness. What an obituary column the paper could have had had they had a paper.

Application: Do we understand what this means? First, it means all but two were not only disciplined severely, but they were disqualified from their ministry and purpose as a special people of God (cf. Ex. 19:5,6; 33:14-16; Deut. 4:6-8). They utterly failed to accomplished God’s purposes for their lives. Here we have a timeless warning: THE PEOPLE WITH THE MOST APPROPRIATED THE LEAST.

Second, it also means that we too can be disqualified and fail in the ministry God has for us—and we have even more than they did (Eph. 1:3). This was Paul’s concern and needs to become our concern as well. May we not presume upon God and simply rest in the fact we are Christians who are blessed with every spiritual blessing, nor in the fact that we are in a Christian environment surrounded by godly people, or that we are in a Bible teaching church, as great as those blessings and privileges are. Let us not trust in our privileged position and think we have it made for, though heaven is secured for us by the power of God as a free gift by grace, we are not exempt from failure, from disqualification in the race and from the loss of rewards. Again, we can never lose our salvation, but we can fail to use our salvation responsibly. And like Israel, we will have to face the consequences of our failure to live and use our privileges in Christ responsibly.

12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:10-18).

So what are some of those consequences?:

    1. Loss of fellowship with the Lord and the power of God on our lives (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19; Psa. 66:18)

    2. Loss of rewards (I Cor. 3:12f)

    3. Loss of glory to God (I Cor. 6:17-19; 10:31).

    4. Loss of fulfilling our goals or nonproductive (John 15:2f).

    5. Ineffectiveness in the horizontal relationships in life (Mark 12:28-31; Eph. 5:22f depends on 5:18).

    6. We become pawns of Satan and the world system around us (Eph. 6:10f; 1 Pet. 5:6-9).

    7. Creates unhappiness and dissatisfaction (Ps. 32:3-4).

    8. Brings divine discipline on our lives (Heb. 12:5f; 1 Cor. 5:3f; etc.).

What else are we to learn from the history of Israel? This grim record is punctuated with a warning and a special reminder on either end of those verses, verses 6b-10 which describe the sins of Israel (cf. vss.6a and 11).

Our Instruction:
Lessons We Should Learn from the History of Israel

6 Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. 7 And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, " The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play." 8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:6-13).

The Principle of Biblical Examples (vss. 6, 11)

“These things” of verses 6 and 11 refer to the history of Israel, specifically, (1) their blessings or privileges, (2) their failures, and (3) their disqualification from God’s purpose. But also and in general, “these things” refer to the whole Old Testament revelation and its truth regarding the history of God’s activities in Old Testament times.

Paul says, they “happened as examples for us.” “Happened” doesn’t mean these things just happened by chance. The verb is ginomai means “to come to be,” but not simply by chance. In other words, the things that occurred in the Old Testament were more than simple historical events; they were allowed by the sovereign will of God and recorded by God through the human authors of Scripture because God had us in mind; they provide us with analogies, illustrations, and Old Testament types designed to warn, instruct, and encourage. In general, they were designed to influence our lives positively for God and His purposes for us.

In other words, Israel’s history is divinely designed to speak to us. We should see it as it is, God’s personal word to us, not just to encourage us or bless us, but that we might be all that we were designed to be—instruments to the glory of God (2 Cor. 4:6, 7).

Well, then, what does Israel’s history say? What are we to learn from this particular passage which Paul has called to our attention?

The Purpose of These Examples (vss. 6b-10)

Many of the lessons of the Old Testament are positive, providing comfort, hope, encouragement, etc. But because of our own sinful natures some lessons are negative and provide us with instructive warnings. They are designed to halt attitudes and behavior that are inconsistent with our new life in Christ. Such are these negative examples. They show what we should not be as well as what can happen to us if, like Israel, we take our blessings for granted and presume upon the Lord.

Since disqualification is always a real danger, the Corinthians’ complacency toward the Word, their emphasis on the showy gifts, their externalism in worship, and their strong tendencies toward self indulgence, required immediate correction or they too would be disqualified. The Corinthian church did not have a long ministry. They failed to take heed.

Let’s note two principles:

First, Christian freedom was never meant to lead to self indulgence, but to inner self-controls that lead, in turn, to servant-like living that thinks of others above ourselves; serving according to the will of God (Gal.5:13; I Cor. 9:24-27; 10:23, 31, 32).

Second, true freedom is not the freedom to do as we please and run wild and unrestrained—that is its own form of slavery and the worst kind. Rather, true freedom is the capacity to do as we ought by the grace and power of God (see 2 Pet.2:18-19). Freedom means the responsibility to make right choices which starts by resting in God’s grace and supply for being Christ-like in our behavior.

Perhaps a good illustration of restrained freedom is a train. When is a train free to do what it was designed to do? When it’s off the track and unrestrained, or when it is restrained by the tracks on which it was designed to operate?

Therefore, paralleling the five-fold blessings described above, Paul now describes a five-fold failure, all of which occurred from their failure to live responsibly in the light of their new blessings in the Lord. One of the chief thrusts of Scripture is that our new life in Christ, with all of the resultant blessings, should lead to changed lives, lives that are consistent with our calling (cf. Rom. 12:1f; Eph. 4:1f; 5:1f; Titus 2:10f; I John 3:1f).

So we have here five sins which are related to each other as root to fruit. Verse 6b shows us the root, and verses 7-10 show us the natural fruit. Each of these mentioned had a specific historical circumstance behind it, but the first takes us to the heart of the problem.

So what were the problem sins of Israel that Paul warns against?

    Insatiable cravings and Inordinate desires (vs. 6b)

1 Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2 The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died out. 3 So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD BURNED among them.

4 And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, "Who will give us meat to eat? 5 "We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna. " 7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. 8 The people would go about and gather it and grind it between two millstones or beat it in the mortar, and boil it in the pot and make cakes with it; and its taste was as the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9 And when the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall with it.… 34 So the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had been greedy (Numbers 11:1-9, 34).

13 They quickly forgot His works; They did not wait for His counsel (Psalm 106:13).

Literally, the Greek text says, if I might coin a word, “that we should not be cravers (those who crave) of evil things.” “Crave” is a noun which means, “one who craves.” The Greek word, epiqumhths is an intensive compound noun. It comes from one word, “upon,” and another word, “to desire.” It means to keep your desire fixed upon something. This noun, plus the present tense of the verb “to be,” in the verb that follows (epiqumew), describes this as an enduring disposition, state, or condition of the heart or mind, a condition of greed or craving of the heart.

This brings out the principles of (a) insatiability and (b) loss of control. Things never satisfy or fulfill as we expect or hope, and in our pursuit of them they can literally dominate us. When we crave something, it creates a mad and fruitless search for happiness and fulfillment in the thing desired which it can never provide.

    1. When we lust for things we are in essence worshipping and seeking our happiness, security, and meaning in those details regardless of their nature—position, power, prestige, possession, pleasure, etc.

    2. When we lust for things, we are at the same time operating under the demonic and human delusion that things have the god-like ability to bring happiness and security and significant, etc. The one who craves something treats that something as if it were God with the capacity to make him or her happy and secure. This is a form of idolatry.

What we must not fail to grasp is that craving things stems from a deeper root problem, from wrong perspectives, values, belief systems, and priorities.

The root problem the Israelites faced was that their hearts were never truly fixed upon their spiritual blessings or upon the Lord. While some meant business with the Lord, the majority didn’t and things became their treasure. The result? Things also became their master (cf. Matt. 6: 24; 1 Pet. 1:13-15).

So, when our perspectives, belief systems, values, and priorities are wrong, we become like Israel who craved evil things. Of course, some of what they craved was not evil in itself, but it became evil because they put it before the Lord. Here is a spiritual and psychological law. Our view or perspective of life and what we believe will make us happy and secure always determines our values, our values in turn always determine our goals, and our goals always determine our pursuits, that for which we thirst. Either we are those who thirst after righteousness, or we are those who crave after evil things. And all of this determines our manner of life, our behavior.

The history of Israel should help us get our perspectives right, then our values, and then our priorities. This in turn should result in one who “thirsts after righteousness” and who is thus under God’s control, rather than on who “lusts after evil things” and comes under the control of the sinful nature.

    1. For the concept of our perspectives compare Matthew 6:19-20; I Peter 1:13; and Luke 12:15, 23.

    2. For that of our values compare Matthew 6:21; and I Peter 1:18-19.

    3. For the concept of priorities compare Matthew 6:33; I Peter 1:17.

Now an important question: What exactly do the evil things include? Were they evil in themselves? As mentioned, no, not always. Israel craved the past pleasures of Egypt as summarized in their cry, “Give us meat to eat” (Num. 11:4-34; cf. especially verses 33-34). In principle however, the evil things refer to two categories:

    1. That which is always evil and contrary to the will of God, like idolatry, immorality, etc.,

    2. It may also refer to that which in itself is not evil, but which becomes evil because of our disposition toward the thing desired.

Some things may be legitimate in and of themselves like eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols, but it may not God’s will for us because of other principles that apply. Will it cause a brother to stumble, or have I become obsessed with it? If so, then it becomes evil. God knows what is best for us, and if we continue to crave something He may give it to us, but the results are often bad (Ps.106:15).

Legitimate things become evil when they possess us and become the objects of our devotion, or our security, or our happiness rather than the Lord. One of the first things that will take a person away from God and that can lead to disqualification so that spiritual privileges are abused is a desire for something other than what God has planned for us. Or to put it another way, we can know we have moved away when we begin seeking our happiness in the details of life rather than in the Lord, or when we value things more than God or our walk with Him and the ministries He has for us.

In this regard we should note that the four following sins are a by product of the above, a further degenerative manifestation of the sinful nature left uncontrolled. In our society today these sins are rampant—not just in the unbelieving world but in the church, the body of believers. Why? Because we live in an extremely materialistic society, a world of ‘things,’ a world where no matter where you turn the things of the world are vying for our attention and aspiration. O, that we would remember John admonition, “do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him” (1John 2:15).

When we fall into the condition of craving things or loving the things of the world, unless this is arrested, we become more and more disobedient, falling deeper and deeper into sin as we see illustrated in the example (bad example) of the Israelites. Today it is common to see believers caught up in idolatrous materialism (coveting everything in sight), in adultery and immorality, in impatience and dissatisfaction, and in rebellion to authority in the home, in the church, and in government.

    Idolatrous Behavior (vs. 7)

Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 teach us that any form of covetousness or greed is a form of idolatry. One does not have to bow down to an idol of wood or stone to be guilty of this idolatry. It can apply to anything men can covet: popularity, position, power, prestige, pleasure, possessions, marriage, or just being noticed by someone.

Why does it become idolatry? Because it becomes a form of worship wherein we are seeking from these objects of worship what only God can give (Ps. 62:1f).

    Immoral Actions (vs. 8)

The immorality referred to here is sexual immorality. The Greek word is porneuw, “to commit fornication.” It is a general term and refers to just about any kind of sexual misconduct. Sex, as with all of the things that God has designed for our blessing, is good and beautiful. It was designed for procreation and for our happiness and enjoyment within the framework of marriage and a loving relationship of deep commitment for life. It was meant to add flavor and quality to life, but it ceases to fulfill its purpose when we go on the mad search for happiness in another person or just in marriage itself. We can become obsessed with marriage, with romance, and with sex. In the process we can lose the capacity to savor sex within the confines of marriage, so we go looking for what we visualize as better, more exciting, more rewarding. We go looking for excitement in the forbidden. Ours is a society that has become totally preoccupied with sex. It’s worshipped like a god. Sex seems almost to ooze from the pores of our American life. The moral erosion has been accurately captured by Sorokin who wrote about this over forty years ago and, of course, things have progressively grown worse. He writes,

…in the last century, much literature has centered on the personalities and adventures of subnormal and abnormal people,—prostitutes and mistresses, street urchins and criminals, the mentally and emotionally deranged, and other social derelicts. There has been a growing preoccupation with the subsocial sewers,—the broken home of disloyal parents and unloved children, the bedroom of a prostitute, a “Canary Row” brothel, a den of criminals, a ward of the insane, a club of dishonest politicians, a street-corner gang of teen-age delinquents, the office of a huckster, the ostentatious mansion of a cynical business Mogul, a hate-laden prison, a “street care named desire,” a crime-ridden waterfront, the courtroom of a dishonest judge, the jungle of cattle-murdering and meat-packing yards. These and hundreds of similar scenes are exemplary of a large part of modern Western literature, which has become increasingly a veritable museum of human pathology.

There has been a parallel transmutation of the experience of love. From the pure and noble or the tragic, it has progressively devolved. The common and prosaic, but usually licit sexual love that is portrayed in the literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has in the last fifty years been increasingly displaced by various forms of abnormal, perverse, vulgar, picaresque, exotic, and even monstrous forms,—the sex adventures of urbanized cavemen and rapists, the loves of adulterers and fornicators, of masochists and sadists, of prostitutes, mistresses, playboys, and entertainment personalities. Juicy “loves,” “its,” “ids,” “orgasms,” and “libidos” are seductively prepared and skillfully served with all the trimmings.

Designed to excite the fading lust of readers, and thereby increase the sales of these literary sex-tonics, much of contemporary Western literature has become Freudian through and through. It is preoccupied with “dirt-painting” of genital, anal, oral, cutaneous, homosexual, and incestuous “loves.” It is absorbed in literary psychoanalysis of various complexes,—the castration, the Oedipus, the Tetanus, the Narcissus, and other pathological forms. It has degraded and denied the great, noble, and joyfully beautiful values of normal married love.1

    Insurgent and Impatient Opposition (vs. 9)

We live in a society of the ‘quick fix’ and in a time when almost everyone is bent on immediate gratification. This problem is not new; it was Israel’s problem, and it could also be ours. In fact it is a sure sign of immaturity and carnality. John T. Watkins suggests that three patterns underlie many of the impulse-control problems we see in our society today.

    1. Infantilely believing that one has to have what one wants, or infantilely demanding, dictating, or insisting that desires be satisfied at all costs;

    2. Eegocentrically believing that circumstances must not be difficult and that life should be easy;

    3. Believing that any difficulty, delay, or inhibition is too awful to stand.2

    Insolent Unbelief (vs. 10)

Insolent unbelief is rebellion to authority and God’s established chains of command. People always want to do their own thing when they are controlled by a craving after evil things. When people are like this, they rebel against being accountable to anyone because it might hinder getting what they crave.

The Principle of Instruction (vs. 11)

Again Paul repeats the principle of verse 6, but now he adds “were written for our instruction.” The word “instruction” is the Greek nouqhsia. It literally means “to put sense into the mind.” But in its use it connotes two concepts:

    1. It carries the idea of “blame or censure” and involves correcting something that is wrong in one’s life by the exposition and study of the Word through teaching/preaching, in a one-on-one situation, or through personal Bible study.

    2. But it also includes the idea of an appeal to the volition. It looks for a response based upon the instruction and truth of Scripture (cf. 2 Tim 3: 16).

Scripture warns us, and calls for a response.

Our Exhortation:
To Take Heed in Light of the Peril

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (10:12)

The Presumption: “let him who thinks he stands”

“Therefore,” is the Greek, %wste which points to an inference drawn from the preceding examples. It means that in light of the history of Israel and God’s intended purpose for recording this in Scripture and the ever impending peril this illustrates, the following must be taken seriously.

The clause “who thinks he stands” looks at the problem of presumptive self-confidence or over-confidence. Not over-confidence in the Lord, but in ourselves: presumption.

The word “thinks” is the Greek dokew. It is used of subjective judgment, judgment that is not based on objective facts. We may think we are safe from the behavior and sins of Israel, and we may think so because of our maturity, or years of faithful service, or present love for the Lord, or because of past victories, or abilities, or spiritual gifts, or accomplishments. But to think this way is to presume on the Lord. Actually, every step of our walk is contested by the three enemies of the believer, and only moment-by-moment dependence, watching carefully how we walk, is sufficient to overcome (Eph. 5:15-17).

Victory or deliverance is never based on our record; its basis is always the work of God (Read about the battle with Amalek in Exodus 17).

The Injunction: “take heed”

So what are we to do? We are to “take heed.” This is the Greek word blepw. Literally, blepw refers to the activity of the eyes and means “to see, to look at,” or “be able to see.” But it is also used metaphorically of the activity of the mind, of mental sight, and may come to mean “to direct one’s attention to something, consider, note carefully, or watch out for, beware of.” Included in this are the ideas of discernment, perception, or discovery. So we are never to take our walk for granted and just mosey along, indifferent and careless to everything around us, assuming we have it made for whatever reason.

Instead, according to the meaning and use of this Greek word and the overall context of the New Testament, we should do two things:

    1. We are to walk carefully. We are to be on alert and aware of the dangers and temptations around us. We are to be on guard to our own areas of weakness and propensities to sin (cf. Rom. 7:15-25; Eph. 5:16; 6:13; Heb. 3:13; 4:1; 1 Pet.5:8).

    2. We are to seek to discover and deal with those areas and things in our lives that are contrary to the Word and sound spiritual health (see Prov. 28:13; Ps. 119:59; 32:1-7; 1 John 1:5-10).

But just how do we take heed and obey this warning and what are some of the things that are necessary to do this? Taking heed means we must:

    1. Recognize our weakness and need of the Lord’s constant help (Eph. 6:10f; Heb. 12:1; 1 Pet. 5:6-8)

    2. Recognize and know the times in which we live and the danger this poses to our spiritual lives (Rom. 13:11-14; 2 Tim. 3:1f; 1 Thess. 5:1-11).

    3. Recognize and be alert to the fact of our three enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil and his demonic forces, deceptions and strategies (1 John 2:15- 17; Jam. 4:3-6; Rom. 7:15-25; 8:4-7; Eph. 2:2; & 6:10-13).

    4. Be prayerful. One of the ways that we can take heed and be watchful is in prayer (Eph.6:18; Col. 4:2). Prayer journals can be a very helpful way to remember.

    5. Study and meditate on the Word regularly through daily time in the Word and by regularly assembling ourselves together (Ps. 119:15, 104, 105, 130, 165, 147, 148; Heb.3:7; & 10:24, 25).

    6. Maintain right associations and fellowship with the saints especially around the Word (cf. Ps 119:61 with vs. 62; 1 Thess. 5:11, Heb. 10:23-24, and 1 Cor. 15:33,34).

    7. Walk by means of the Spirit. Remember it is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin, applies the Word to our hearts, and enables us to appraise and discern all things, including our own lives according to the Word, the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:15,16).

The Intention: “lest he fall”

To what does “fall” refer in verse 11? To carnality? Yes, but more. It refers to the concern of continued carnality that can lead to disqualification and failure to run the race God has laid out before us.

… but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27).

Just how then, can we be disqualified? What was Paul’s concern? I think he had in mind four ways that we may be disqualified from service. One is permanent while the other three may be only temporary depending on how we respond to what God is doing in our lives (cf. 1 Cor. 11:30-32).

    1. He may remove our power for service: this means a loss of effectiveness. Samson is an illustraiton (see 1 Thess. 1:5)

    2. He may remove our performance: this means God may take away our ministry. King Saul is an illustration.

    3. He may remove our presence: this means God may take away our life. This is the sin unto death. The man guilty of the sin of incest in 1 Corinthians 5 illustrates this truth, though it appears, according to 2 Corinthians 2 that the person involved repented and was spared (cf. 1 Cor. 11:30-32; 1 John 5:16-17).

    4. He may remove our prize: This means God may take away our rewards or crown(s) (2 Tim.4:6-8; 1 Pet. 5:4).

Our Fortification:
To Trust God’s Provision and
Plan for the Problem of Temptation

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (10:13).

We should note that this verse begins without a connective. It simply and abruptly begins with, “No temptation has taken you …” Why? After the above warnings one might just think, “who then can possibly stand?” So Paul begins abruptly and emphatically in order to stress a point. It is called asyndeton by grammarians. May I suggest that it is designed to draw our attention to God’s faithfulness, concern, awareness, and provision in the human problem of temptation. There is no cause for undue alarm or frustration, only caution, responsible behavior, and trust in the divine provision of God for whatever life might bring. The Lord is faithful, and furthermore, He is in control.

But what does Paul mean by “temptation?” The word used is the Greek peirasmos. It is used of (1) solicitation to evil or (2) of testing in the sense of a trial, of that which tests one’s character for good or for bad.

Temptations to sin come from Satan and our own sinful propensities or indwelling sin. The Lord, because of His holy character, never tempts men to sin (Jam. 1:13). However, God does test us with trials of various kinds and for various reasons to reveal our character, show our loyalty, to demonstrate His power, to develop our faith and dependence on Him, to cause us to grow, and to manifest Christ’s character in us.

So what are trials? They become mirrors of reproof and instruments of growth. In the trials of life we are, of course, sometimes tempted to sin in some form of rebellion or unbelief. But when this happens the temptation to sin comes from Satan or from our own sinful disposition and never from the Lord.

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death (James 1:13-15).

Verse 13 declares three things about our temptation and struggles with sin that are tremendously instructive: (1) the experience of our temptation is common to all of us, (2) the environment of our temptation is under God’s control, and (3) the escape from temptation is conferred by God.

The Experience of Our Temptation Is Common to all of Us

Regarding the commonality of temptation, may I suggest three things Paul is saying about temptation or testing in this first statement.

First, he is not saying that since this is a common experience, i.e., we all have the problem, let’s just throw in the towel, after all we are just human. This is not an excuse to give into temptation.

Second, and primarily, Paul is saying that our temptations are never unique just to us. They are common to all men, so we should not seek to hide behind the idea that our problem is different and thereby try to excuse our sin by its uniqueness. We must responsibly face, by faith and obedience, whatever the Lord allows into our lives.

But third, while there is a warning here, there is also great comfort and encouragement in knowing that we are not alone and that others have faced similar and even worse testings and temptations and have endured by the strength and faithfulness of God (cf. Heb. 11:2ff).

So first, Paul has warned us about the commonality of our temptations. Now, based on the faithfulness of God, He points out two more things that we can count on the Lord for in temptation.

The Environment of Our Temptation Is Under God’s Control

Now, this may seem strange to us, especially when being overcome by temptations, but the promise here is that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to handle. He knows our areas of weakness, the things that are controlling our lives, the motives, the fears, the strategies we are using to find happiness, etc. He knows our level of spiritual maturity or immaturity, and all the particulars of our lives at any particular moment.

So the point is He guards us against any temptation or testing which we could not handle. If that is true, we might ask, then, why do we keep on sinning?

When temptation comes we may not handle it, but it is not because God’s provision is not available or adequate, but rather it is because either we won’t avail ourselves of it or because we are too immature spiritually to know how. The Christian life is a life of faith, moment-by -moment, but faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). The Christian life is a life of growth (see 1 Pet. 2:1-2). Jesus said, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Further, our inability to appropriate God’s deliverance may be because we have presumed upon our blessings, or because we have not been careful in our daily walk with God.

This also means when temptation or testing comes, (1) we can handle it through growth and maturity, and (2) that the Lord has allowed it for His own purposes, unless we are presuming upon the Lord. Let me briefly illustrate. The way to victory is often through the back door of defeat. Through our defeats and our battle with sin, God shows us that our strategies for making life work, such as gambling or alcohol or drugs or whatever a person has been pursuing, are totally inadequate for peace and life. These include all the various things men do in their search for meaning or to cover up their pain. In other words, we often have to come to the end of ourselves before we will truly pursue God and His plan for our lives.

So, this verse says that God limits the temptations He allows into our lives in accordance with His all-wise purposes.

WARNING: This does not mean, however, that we can take the Lord for granted, and ignore our responsibilities regarding temptation. For instance, we are told:

    1. To flee from certain temptations (1 Cor.10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). A classic illustration is Joseph with Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39. This means avoiding those situations and environments that increase our temptation. One of the ways we do this is by support from friends and the right environment. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals or character’” (1 Cor. 15:33).

    2. To pray regarding temptation, “lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13).

    3. We are not to tempt the Lord (Deut. 6:16; Matt. 4:6,7). How do we tempt God? By unbelief, by despondency, by not trusting in His power and aid, and by being careless, unguarded, or by failing to take heed (1 Cor. 10:12).

So then, we are shown in Scripture that it is always wise to avoid unnecessary temptation and never to presume upon the Lord or tempt Him by playing with fire. When we do, we are going to get burned (Prov. 5:8).

Finally, we come to the third fact that we are to learn about temptation.

The Escape from Temptation Is Conferred by God

First, note the words “with” and “also.” This teaches that when we are walking with the Lord and trusting in His provision, i.e., not presuming upon Him (taking Him for granted), or tempting Him, then temptations and escapes always go in pairs.

Principle: There is no temptation without the corresponding escape, unless, of course, we are deliberately brazen and careless.

Second, we should note that the verse reads “the way of escape” and not simply “an escape.” Why? I think we are being warned here about seeking solutions to either temptations or testings that are not biblical. “The way” of escape refers to God’s methods for dealing with the problems of life as outlined in the Word of God (cf. Ps. 119:45, 133, & 165; Prov. 3:5-7; 14:12).

Third, the word “escape” is the Greek ekbasin which literally means “a way out.” But it is only used two times in the New Testament, here and in Hebrews 13:7. In Hebrews 13:7 it means “issue, result, outcome.” But it also had this usage or meaning in extra biblical writings.

This is significant. May I suggest something here? In the Hebrews passage it is used of that which is the outcome of a manner of life. There the outcome is godly character, but this is the result of a close walk with God, the fruit of men who have spent their life in the Word, the fruit of spiritual maturity.

Now what’s the point? It is my conviction that this is at least part of what Paul had in mind when he used ekbasin here in this passage. Our means of deliverance or the way out of temptation is not just the result of some one thing or some sudden deliverance which the Lord supplies like a man being snatched out of the fire. Though at times that may occur, that is not the primary promise here and this is suggested or supported by the words “may be able to endure it.” It’s not removal or escape from temptation like having a tooth extracted by a dentist that God is promising, but the ability to bear up under it, the capacity to handle it without sinning. It’s not removal or escape from temptation that God is promising, but the ability to bear up under it, the capacity to handle it without sin by the power of God. One of our problems today is that people are looking for quick and easy solutions and too often are being falsely promised the same by preachers who prey on the moods and mentality of our day where people want easy solutions without the pain of discipline and growth.

So instead, we have two important points:

  • “The way out” is itself the fruit of something, an outcome, the outcome of adhering to the principles of the Word on a daily basis. Of course, the more we grow and the closer our walk with the Lord, the greater our ability to handle testings or temptation as long as we are taking heed to our walk.
  • “The way out” means the ability to handle the temptation, not necessarily its removal, though ability to handle temptation often means our ability and responsibility to flee temptation.

This view is further supported by the next point which explains what the ekbasin, “the way out” means.

Fourth, the verse closes with “that you may be able to bear it.” The NASV, the KJV, the NIV translate this as a purpose or result clause. In other words, God gives the way of escape in order that or so that we can endure the temptation or testing without falling. But that is probably not the best way to take this clause grammatically according to two outstanding Greek grammars, those of A. T. Robertson and J. H. Moulton (The Prolegomena). Grammatically, it is appositional or explanatory telling us what the way of escape is. The NEB may have had this in mind when they translated this, “enabling you to bear it.” We could translate it, “the way of escape, the enablement to endure.”

The point is, “the way out” is the fruit, the outcome of walking with the Lord while also the ability to endure or to handle the testing or temptation. God, by His grace through the provision of fellowship with Him, provides the capacity to handle temptation and it is our responsibility to responsibly appropriate that into our life.

Explanation of “The Way of Escape”

But what is this way of escape that God provides in some specifics? They include the basic biblical principles of deliverance as:

  • walking by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16; Rom. 8:2f).
  • living in the Word (Ps. 119:9; 2 Tim. 2:16,17; Heb.3:7f; 4:12).
  • fleeing or the principle of avoiding undue temptation (1 Cor. 10:14).
  • praying faithfully and in faith (Matt. 6:13; Eph. 6:18).
  • watching and controlling our mental processes and attitudes (2 Cor. 10:3-5; Phil. 4:8).
  • walking circumspectly, soberly (I Pet. 1:13; 4:7; 5:8).
  • living by faith (2 Cor. 5:7; Gal. 5:5).
  • reckoning on our position in Christ (Rom.6:1f).
  • seeking the right associations and fellowship (Heb.10:24-25; 1 Cor. 15:33, 34).
  • having right perspectives, values, priorities and pursuits (Matt. 6:21f; Tim. 6:6f).
  • reflecting on the consequences. Sin always has its wages—loss of fellowship, divine discipline, loss of effective ministry, destroyed relationships, loss of rewards, and most of all, dishonor to the Lord.

So, what has this text taught us?

    1. From the greatest blessing can come the greatest fall. Privilege never guarantees success.

    2. Privileges demand responsibility. We must never therefore take our privileges for granted or in time we may become disqualified.

    3. Our privileges must be seen and used in view of divine goals and priorities. They are never an end in themselves.

    4. When our lives become wrapped up in our privileges and the blessings of God rather than in God the Blessor, we lose the real joy of the blessing and fall into the empty pursuit of the details of life which, rather than providing satisfaction, can disqualify us.

    5. In the light of the peril, we must walk circumspectly; we must take heed to our walk, keep our eyes on the Lord, and use our blessings in Christ for godly living. If we will do this, we will develop the ability to handle temptation and avoid disqualification.

    1 Charles R. Swindoll, Strengthening Your Grip, Word: Waco Texas, 1982, pp. 57-58 quoting Pitirim Sorokin, The American Sex Revolution, Porter Sargent, Boston, 1956, p. 19

    2 John T. Watkins, "The Rational-Emotive dynamics of impulsive Disorders" in Albert Ellis and Russel Greiger, Handbook of Rational-Emotive Therapy , Springer, New York, 1977, p. 135.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life, Rewards

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