Turn in your Bibles or on your Bible apps to I Corinthians 10. Today we are going to talk about dealing with temptation. As we begin this Lenten season, this 40-day journey to the cross, many churches will take a look at the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. It is sort of a customary launching pad for this time of contemplation, perhaps a time of fasting, and certainly a time of intentional “spiritual house cleaning” as we give ourselves in a focused way to our relationship with Jesus. Instead of reviewing Jesus’ temptations, I want us to look at what Paul says about temptation in I Corinthians 10.
I encourage you to pay attention to where the Spirit leads you this Lent. Make some notes. Get into the Gospels. Read the Psalms. Take time to be still and write down what God says to you after you do your daily Bible reading. If you are choosing to fast from something in order to spend more time listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, just know that traditionally, during Lent, Sundays don’t count as part of the fast. If you want to keep your fast on Sundays, by all means do so, but in honor of the Resurrection of Christ and the joy that brings to us as His disciples, historically, Lenten fasts are broken on Sundays.
I want you to take note of the heading that appears in I Corinthians 10, as it is a word of warning. I Corinthians 10:1-13-Warnings From Israel’s History
As we read through these thirteen verses, we are going to be reminded of stories from Israel’s history, of times when they got things terribly wrong in their relationship with God. As Paul writes this book, he is begging that history not repeat itself in the ways he is going to recount. Anytime we see a word of warning in Scripture, we want to pay special attention to it.
10 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.
These two sentences refer to the Old Testament Exodus story when God supernaturally delivered Israel out of slavery in Egypt. There were many miracles involved. To convince the Egyptian Pharoah to let the Israelites go, God turned the Nile River water to blood. That is a pretty big complication for the Egyptians to deal with. They counted on the water from the Nile to sustain them. Plague number two was the plague of frogs. God brought frogs out of the river, and they were everywhere. They appeared on their beds, in their kitchens, and even on their persons. Y’all, I can hardly deal with an occasional spider in my basement. I can’t imagine trying to have any sense of normalcy with frogs everywhere. It gets worse.
There was a plague of lice. Literally, the dust of the ground became lice. I don’t know how I would have focused on anything at that point. Plague number four was a plague of flies. Forget all of the swatting, just the sound of the flies would send me to a desperate place. That was followed by a plague on the Egyptian livestock. A plague of boils on both the Egyptian’s skin and their livestock was next in line. Hail then rained from the sky and decimated the crops. Whatever crops were left were taken out by a plague of locusts. All of these feats were followed up by a plague of darkness. It was dark in Egypt for three days. They had no clue if-and-when that would end. Everything literally came to a halt. And then, the devastation of having their firstborn sons and the firstborn of the livestock killed rounded out the show of God’s power.
Pharoah had seen enough and agreed to free the Israelites. The Jewish nation saw just who their God was. He was certainly powerful. He was beyond creative. He was certainly in control. He was the God who was making a way for them to be freed from their bondage. That is Who was leading them. That is Who they were following. How could you not have total confidence in Him? As they were leaving and were making their way toward the Red Sea, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army after them.
That is when God performed yet another amazing miracle. He split the waters of the Red Sea so that the Israelites could cross and when the Egyptian army got into the dry riverbed, He caused the waters to come back together, and He drowned the army. It was over. Over. God’s people weren’t only free, they were free indeed. Their enemy was no longer a threat. They could not be captured by the Egyptians again. The Jewish people were eye-witnesses to the amazing, comprehensive power of God. They saw it with their own eyeballs, y’all!
God took them to be His own as He brought them out. He revealed His presence to them, leading them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Paul deliberately reminds his readers, in this passage about temptation, of this Old Testament story.
We pick up the Israelite story in verse 3: 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.
Here is Old Testament story number two. This is the recounting of how God supernaturally supplied food and drink for His people as they were traveling toward the Promised Land, a place God had promised to give them as their inheritance. It was going to be an exceedingly good land, a place where they would be established and would be blessed of God. There was no reason to believe it wasn’t going to happen. BUT in the process, they grumbled and complained. They rebelled against God, the God who got them out of Egypt, the God who was leading them to an incredible place. They rebelled and for that reason, they missed the Promised Land. The older generation died in the wilderness. Paul deliberately inserts this narrative into a passage of Scripture about temptation. He insists that as we think about temptation we remember Israel’s failures. Let’s continue to investigate what Paul is up to.
6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
What? God took them out of Egypt with a grand demonstration of His power, He split the sea so they could walk right through it, He gave them symbols of His presence so they would be reassured He wasn’t going anywhere, that He wasn’t going to leave them, He had committed Himself to them, and He showed time and time again that He would provide what they needed as they walked toward the Promised Land. Who would doubt a God like that? Who would want to turn and pursue evil? Who would desire anything else? Who would want to set their heart, their affection, their desires, their will on anyone but the One who had brought rescue and care to their lives? And in this passage that is really about how to avoid temptation, Paul wants to make sure we knew their hearts were set on evil, on sinning against God.
7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were.
Boom. There it is. At the root of all sin is idolatry. Loving something more than you love God is idolatry. Wanting something more than you want God is idolatry. Having desires for things that displease God is idolatry. And idolatry is offensive to God. It is evil. And in this passage about avoiding temptation, Paul begins to warn us of the dangers of idolatry.
As it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”[a]
Be sure to visit the footnote in your Bible that takes you back to Exodus 32. There you read the story of the people sitting down to eat and drink and to indulge in revelry. It wasn’t their finest hour. While Moses, their earthly leader, was in a meeting receiving instructions from God about how Israel should live in a covenant relationship with Him, the Israelites decided they needed to make gods to lead them. They thought Moses was taking too long. They wanted to get the “show on the road.” They got impatient. After all they had seen God do, after all He had proven to them regarding His love, care and intentions, they thought making a calf out of gold would be a good idea. They thought they could create a god to “go before them” and lead them the rest of the way on their journey. They would put their trust in a “god” they would make to finish what God had started. What an idiotic idea! Stupid. Dumb. Disrespectful. Rebellious. They wanted control over the timetable of their journey. What a horrible decision. Listen, if you can trust God to lead you out of bondage and provide a way of escape when the enemy decides to come after you, and if you trust Him to supply your needs and give you tangible signs of His presence, but you can’t trust His timing, you are in a bad way. They literally worshiped the golden calf, giving it credit for leading them out of Egypt. Y’all, that is bonkers! They were worshiping a lie! That is what idolatry is! Idolatry is the worship of a lie!
And they did so in the most vulgar of ways. The revelry they were engaging in was literally drunken sex orgies. I don’t have time to get into the rest of the story, but I’ll just tell you God wasn’t pleased. 3000 people died as a result of that rebellion. God won’t be mocked. God will deal with sin. Read about it in Exodus 32. Just note, it’s important to Paul that in this passage about avoiding temptation that we remember this story.
Moving on to yet another episode in the life and times of Israel, Paul says this in verse 8: 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.
This isn’t in reference to the golden calf incident. This is a whole other hot mess of a situation. Look at the story in Numbers 25, and don’t miss the heading for the chapter.
Moab Seduces Israel-25 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them. 4 The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.” 5 So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.”
After all God had done for them, they were enticed by pagans from Moab who got them to sacrifice to their gods, to have a sacrificial meal with them, to bow before their gods, to indulge in sexual immorality with the Moabite women and to align themselves, to yoke themselves to the false god, “Baal.” Y’all, 23,000 Israelites died in one day and 24,000 total died a-a result of the plague God sent on them. And Paul, who wrote to us about avoiding temptation, thought it was crucial to tuck this story inside I Corinthians 10.
Moving on in verse 9:9 We should not test Christ,[b] 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.
Israel’s story is sure colorful, isn’t it? What is being referred to here is a time in Numbers 21 when the people were impatient again and spoke against the LORD. He wasn’t having it. He sent venomous snakes to bite them, and many people died. God was trying to demonstrate how vile sin is and how judgment results when people are bent on rebelling against God. And Paul felt it prudent to slip that little gem of a story into this passage on how to avoid temptation.
He goes on to say, 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!
It’s easy to think that if we had seen God do all of those things firsthand that we would never forsake Him, that we would never look to anything else to satisfy or to guide us, but the truth is, those people saw and still turned to idol worship. Why do we think we would be any different? And honestly, that is the temptation Paul is dealing with here. Paul is dealing with idolatry. Paul addresses the temptation to put anything in God’s place, to look to anything for the help that God is to provide, to seek satisfaction in things other than those things that God outlines in His Word, and to attempt to control the times and details of our lives rather than trusting God’s leading and timetable. And my friends, that temptation to do those things is everywhere. And none of us should think we are exempt from the possibility that we could fall for the same kinds of things the Israelites did in each of those stories.
And so Paul leads us to the climax of this passage in verse 13:13 No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Here is my take on this passage and verse:
- Temptation is part of the human experience. Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. He was tempted on a regular basis to prove His Sonship and His Messianic identity, so we shouldn’t think that we would outgrow the possibility of being tempted.
- Every temptation that comes to us has been deemed “resistable” by Jesus if we fully trust Jesus in the moment of temptation. With God’s help, you can choose not to sin. You can endure the temptation and stay faithful to Christ. You are never powerless when Satan presents you with a choice to sin. In Christ, you will have what you need to stay on the righteous path. II Peter 1:3 tells us that through His Divine power God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. That is everything and in all circumstances. No one “falls” into sin. They choose to sin. Sin is contemplated. Even the most impulsive person makes a choice to sin. It involves an act of our will. So, if someone can choose to sin, they can also choose not to sin.
- God will direct you away from the temptation to sin. God will bring options to your mind. God will deliver you in prayer. God will give you a word from Scripture to sustain you in the struggle. God will bring people into your path to warn you of the dangers of sin. He can literally put roadblocks to sin in your path, but you have to be looking for His way of escape and not just a way of escape. Don’t discount the role of the Holy Spirit in helping you to think on your feet and in ushering you in a different direction. I don’t want to oversimplify how we deal with temptation, but indulge me just this one comment: Any escape from sin is going to be an escape TO Jesus. He is the way of escape. If you run to Jesus, you won’t sin because He will never lead you to sin.
And given all that Paul has just said in these first 13 verses about temptation and about the ways the Israelites blew it, you have to include the next verse in this teaching, even though it is in a new section, because it is the whole reason verses 1 through 13 were shared. 14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. If you flee from idolatry whenever something tries to grab your heart, you give the devil a whole lot less to tempt you with. When you are tempted to start giving your attention and your heart to things God can’t bless, when you feed desires that are outside of a righteous path, when you start flirting with the things of the world, when you get impatient and want to take control of the times and details for your life, when you use your body in ungodly ways, when you allow your eyes to see things that move your flesh to desire that which is unholy, when you become aligned in your heart with the gods of this age like money and sexual perversion, when you deliberately rebel against God as your source and look to vices like drugs, alcohol, pornography, the acquisition of things, gaming, sexual promiscuity, social media, money, affirmation from people, food, an obsession with exercise, or experiences that gratify your flesh…when those things become your go-to for validation and significance or when you base who you are on the feelings you get from those activities and they consume the priority of your life or when you try to attain them for a feeling of power or control, you have an idol problem.
Or even when seemingly benign stuff like sports or hobbies become an obsession, when winning is everything, when that boyfriend or that girlfriend becomes “your everything,” when getting a certain job or getting into a certain college becomes your all-in-all, those things will eventually take the place of God and will stand as idols in your life. It’s almost unbelievable to us to see how Israel turned away from God to idols time after time, and yet we find ourselves being pulled in directions at times, that pull us at the same time, away from God.
The best way to prepare to be victorious in temptation is to choose to reserve your heart for God alone because once your heart is divided, once a love for something other than God takes root, if it is fed and given attention, it will grow. As it grows, it will overtake your heart for God. That is why we pay attention to our appetites, to our desires, to our thoughts, to our impulses, to the cravings in our bodies, to the longings of our souls. That is why we cultivate a love for God by immersing ourselves in the things of God.
If running to God in the midst of temptation isn’t enough instruction or inspiration to help us overcome temptation, how about we learn from history? How about we note the consequences that were endured when Israel chased after their idols? I Corinthians 10:13 tells me I can endure and hold fast to Christ in times of temptation and overcome as a result. I would much rather endure and triumph with Christ than endure the consequences that result from rebelling against God.