For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 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.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
He grew up with every advantage; he lived in the most expensive house, had the best chefs preparing his meals, the best private tutors and they were grooming him for a position of national power. He had it all, but he took advantage of that power and murdered someone. He had justified his actions in his own mind that this person deserved it, but he had gone outside the law making him an outlaw and an outcast. We’ve all found ourselves in circumstances like this when we choose to do something questionable because we can justify it in our own mind, but when others find out about it, we are exposed for what we really are. When we choose to do something wrong, it hurts our relationship with others, brings some kind of punishment and it hurts our relationship with God. In our second lesson from 1 Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul reminds us that when tempted, hold on to God’s faithfulness!
As Paul continued in his first letter to the Corinthians, he did not want them to fall into the same temptations as past believers. Our reading begins with Paul telling the Corinthians,
1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.
Paul used this verse to connect the Corinthians with the Israelites. Israel was God’s people and even if the Corinthians were not Jews who could trace their heritage back to one of the twelve tribes of Israel, Paul wanted them to know that their faith in God was what made them Israelites, what made their ancestors God’s people. Paul continued to make it clear he was going to warn the Corinthians about a spiritual kind of ignorance that God’s people can fall into. Paul said that the Israelites had every advantage just like they did. He said that Israel had been baptized and been given things to eat and drink that connected them to Christ. Paul wasn’t saying that crossing through the Red Sea or eating manna and quail and drinking water from the rock was exactly the same as the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but his point was that God had connected them to himself. They were his people, but Paul continued to write,
5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
The Corinthians had every advantage having been baptized, given the Lord’s Supper and the message of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, forgiveness and the hope of eternal life, but they were not out of the wilderness yet.
The ignorance Paul wanted to point out to the Corinthians was that they could fall away from faith in God. Paul used the real-life experiences of the Israelites to show the Corinthians that their own lives could go the way of the many Israelites who died in the wilderness. The Israelites who died in the wilderness died because they stopped trusting God to fight for them. They all followed Moses out of Egypt after the plagues and parting of the Red Sea, but when faced with the armies of the peoples living in the promised land of Canaan, they lost faith that God would fight for them. Paul told the Corinthians that
6 …these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
And these words of Paul reach beyond the Corinthians to all believers. We all face choices to give into temptation or to turn to God to help us fight against it. As Paul explained this, he used the term “ignorant,” from the Greek word ἀγνοέω like agnostic, someone unaware or not sure, to show that this possibility of falling away from faith by giving into temptation must be understand.
When the Israelites chose to give into temptation, they gave up their trust in God. Paul gave a series of four warnings from Israel’s past to warn all of us of the danger giving into temptation brings. He wrote, one,
7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”
This happened when the people made the golden calf idol worshipping it as their god and falling into the pagan rituals that followed idol worship. Two, Paul wrote,
8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.
This happened when the Israelite men joined with the unbelieving Moabite women to worship their gods through orgies. Three, Paul wrote,
9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.
This happened when the second generation of people had wandered the forty years through the desert and repeated their parents complaint that God brought them out of Egypt to die with no bread or water, even though God had given them food, water and kept their clothes from wearing out for the past forty years. And four, Paul wrote,
10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
This happened when a group led by a man named Korah turned against following Moses and God, but God made it clear that Moses was the leader of Israel by having the ground open up to swallow Korah, his family, his followers and all their possessions. Paul’s four warnings all corresponded to sins the Corinthians struggled with and with ours.
Whether it is idolizing paychecks and parties, coming up with every possible kind of sexual immorality not just for behind closed doors, but made available on every sized screen, complaining about our planets lack of resources or grumbling about politics, everything Israel, the Corinthians or any of us struggle against is working against our faith in God. The Bible tells us about other believers who fell into temptation to the point of losing their faith. We need to keep in mind that Paul is not saying that if you commit a sin as a believer you have completely lost your faith from God and are doomed to hell. Instead, he wants us to be aware that just because we have faith does not mean we are immune to losing it. Paul wrote,
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us…12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
The temptations the Israelites and Corinthians faced were not abstract things that we can’t relate to, they were everyday things that we are faced with too. Paul wrote,
13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.
The temptation that ultimately affects all of us, that Paul was making us aware of is pride.
When believers have pride, it makes us think that we can fight against temptation on our own. Instead, God wants us to do the opposite. God wants us to be humble, to have a real understanding of how dangerous temptation and sin are for us, to understand that we need to trust in him to fight for us as Paul wrote,
13…And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.
This passage has been used out of context many times, so it is important to understand what is really being said here. Paul makes the point that God is faithful, then he connects God’s faithfulness to our temptations. The point is that God is with believers to struggle against temptation and not give in to it. This means that we do not simply give into every temptation when it comes, but always fight and fight with the weapon of God’s faithfulness. Now, we aren’t going to win every battle and we will sin, but that was why Jesus came. We are not going to be perfect, even as believers fighting against sin. Instead, Jesus was perfect for us as the writer to the Hebrews wrote,
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
And, he went on to say,
18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
There is nothing for us to do to be forgiven and saved. God has done it for us, but we can do something to lose what God has given us.
In order to fight against losing what God has given us, we need to let God fight for us. We are called to remain humble in our faith trusting God to fight for us. In Galatians 3:27, we are reminded that
all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
And, in Ephesians 6, Paul encourages us to prepare for battle by putting on
13…the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…14…with the belt of truth…with the breastplate of righteousness…16…the shield of faith…17…the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And, in Matthew 26, God gives us food for physical and spiritual strength by eating and drinking his body and blood, and bread and wine,
28 for the forgiveness of sins.
When we are connected to all of God’s weapons, he will fight for us and his is faithful. Paul finished out section by writing
13…But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
God provides his Word and the sacraments to give us the strength to keep our faith even when temptations threaten to take it away from us.
God knows that we must endure many difficult temptations, but he has done everything to keep us from falling away. Our Gospel reading from Luke 13, highlights how patient God is with us when our faith struggles to fight against temptation. Jesus told this parable, there was a man with a fig tree who said,
7…”For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”
But his worker said,
8 “Sir…leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”
We all struggle against temptation, even the temptation to feel like God has abandoned us because we don’t seem to get any better at fighting against sin, but God allows us to remain watered and well fed with his Word and the constant reminder that John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
He grew up with every advantage; he lived in the most expensive house, had the best chefs preparing his meals, the best private tutors and they were grooming him for a position of national power. Moses had it all, but he took advantage of that power and murdered an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. Moses may have justified his giving into temptation, but it was still a sin and he had to flee Egypt as an outlaw. In our Old Testament reading from Exodus 3, this is the man that God chose to go back to Egypt and deliver his people. Moses was not perfect, he even sinned in a way that kept him from entering the promised land of Canaan after leading Israel forty years in the wilderness, but God still said this about him, Exodus 33:11
The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.
We have all been given everything by God and he wants us to hold on to all he has given us by fighting against temptation. He wants us to fight without pride, but with complete trust in him. May God be with all of us, so that when tempted, we hold on to God’s faithfulness! Amen.