Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Focusing on the Correct Object

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God 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.  (1 Co 10:13)

I memorized the above verse several years ago as part of a discipleship curriculum.  Though pulled out of context for the sake of of instruction, the verse contains comfort that temptations are not insurmountable, and there is a wonderful promise of God’s faithfulness and care for us in the midst of temptation.  While individuals run to this verse for help in dealing with whatever might be working in them, the next verse indicates a broader application:
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.  (1 Co 10:14)
How does the comfort in temptation lead to the warning of idolatry?  At face value it is an unnatural progression, but context makes it clear.

The verses under question are part of a section that begins at the first verse of chapter eight with “Now concerning food offered to idols….”  The Corinthians had opportunity to buy meat offered to idols for personal use, and Paul was offering his learned opinion on the matter as one “entrusted with a stewardship” (1 Co 9:17).  He instructs them concerning their freedom to purchase the meat with clear consciences, however the better course is to set the freedom aside so as not to cause stumbling to the weak, drawing from his own life among them as an example to be self-controlled in their Christian lives.  Paul then uses the wilderness wandering of Israel as an historical example from which to drive home his point.

There are several parallels between the elect of God who followed Moses out of the bondage of Egypt and the elect who followed Christ out of the bondage of sin: baptism of water, eating of spiritual food, drinking from the spiritual Rock.  Here the apostle goes on to explain that even though Israel had all these benefits, many fell along the way.
  • Idolatry (1 Co 10:7) – Exodus 32:4-6
  • Sexual immorality (1 Co 10:8) – Numbers 25:1-9
  • Testing (1 Co 10:9) – Numbers 21:5-6
  • Grumbling (1 Co 10:10) – Numbers 14:2; 29-37
In each case, the group succumbed to desires instead of believing the Word of the Lord and suffered the consequence of death.

The temptations faced by Israel were similar to those facing the Corinthian assembly.  Paul has already warned them in this epistle of immorality and grumbling, and wants to cover idolatry before venturing into the issue of testing wherein some were sick or had died for their disregard in the Lord’s Supper (1 Co 11:30).  By heeding correction and holding fast to the truth of God through the temptation, these believers could avoid the harsh discipline of the Lord awaiting them.

Temptations remain today for local assemblies of believers.  Some temptations are brought in by leaders who are not true shepherds but fierce wolves: their focus is on themselves. Other temptations are brought from outside because of their appeal for success in addressing whatever internal need has the immediate focus.  These same issues have occurred in the past and are nothing new, so take note that the apostle returned to his central theme:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  (1 Co 15:1-5)
Keep the the focus, the central theme, Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

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