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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Temptation as Opportunity (1 Corinthians 10.1-14)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - July 28, 2013
Text: 1 Corinthians 10:1-14

:: Sermon Audio (LINK) - scroll down for written draft
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Sing Praise to God/We Praise Thy Name" (Shackley)
Song of Praise: "Unfailing Love" (Tomlin, Pierce, Cash)
Hymn of Praise: "How Firm a Foundation" (FOUNDATION)
Offering of Music: "I Need Thee Every Hour" (Indelible Grace)
Hymn of Sending: "I Need Thee Every Hour" (arr. Youngblood)
Postlude: "How Firm a Foundation" (Wyrtzen)

:: Some Visuals Used
 Prelude: Video* on 1 Corinthians 10:1-14

Artwork by Annie Houston

:: Sermon Manuscript
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon, not used in the service. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

**I'm also going to try something new and insert some of the PowerPoint slides at appropriate points. I don't always use these, but did with this sermon. I'm just trying this out here.  :)
“God is faithful [and] will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13b)
I hear today’s memory verse used fairly often. It is quoted, mis-quoted, mis-applied, and never (that I’ve heard) tied to the context around it in 1 Corinthians 10. So, as we have done with our other memory verses this summer, we want to look at the context and try to understand what is and is not being taught here.

Today’s verse has to do with temptation. There is a specific promise given: God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able. But with that promise comes an important context. We must discover to whom the promise is made, whether we have any responsibilities, and what the extent of application is. We will spend a significant amount of time looking at the context, because it is unusually rich. Then we will return to the question of responsibility and application for us.

First a brief word about vocabulary. The word translated “temptation” is a little hard to pin down. Sometimes it means ‘trial,’ sometimes ‘testing,’ and sometimes just what you would imagine, something that lures you toward and into sin. It can also be a combination, in that significant trials or challenges often present the opportunity for sin: to curse God or otherwise turn away from God in unbelief or disobedience. Perhaps a definition that covers most usages is "an opportunity to trust and obey God or an opportunity to sin." As Paul moves through illustration, explanation, and application, I think you’ll see all of those variations and that definition in view. The main point is that God has provided what we need in those situations to avoid sin rather than be entangled and destroyed by it. Let’s dig in to the context.

God’s Deliverance and Provision to His Covenant Community
The Apostle Paul was writing this letter to the Christian church in Corinth, which was being rocked by sin and scandal. The Corinthian church was facing idolatry, immorality, demands, discontent, and more. And the whole letter is meant to address these things. But here in chapter 10, Paul is reminds them that God has delivered and is providing for them even as he did for His people long before them. As they are the community God has drawn together around the covenant promises in Christ, Paul looks back to the earlier covenant community in the Hebrew Scriptures to help them understand what is at stake.

God’s goodness and mercy toward His people were (and are) truly extraordinary. Paul begins with a summary of God’s faithfulness:

Salvation: Deliverance through Trial
While there is one eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, God has been delivering His people since their expulsion from the Garden (even there, God spared them the immediate death that was the consequence of their sin!). Perhaps the greatest of these salvation stories was rescuing His people from 400 years of slavery in Egypt and delivering them from that slavery and the pursuing Egyptian army as, through Moses, God parted the Red Sea and led them through on dry ground. Paul writes of this in vv. 1-2, reminding the Corinthian believers of this ancient faithfulness. Under the “cloud” of God’s Holy Spirit, they trusted and followed God and passed through the waters of judgment and death by the mercy of God. Paul draws a direct connection between the Corinthian’s baptism in Christ and this early “baptism into Moses.” The significance of both baptisms was that God delivered them from the trial of judgment through His appointed deliverer. This is something that all who trust God for salvation share and it is one aspect of what our own baptisms mean today!

Spiritual Provision and Sustenance
And God does not save us to leave us. Paul continues by describing God’s provision and sustenance of His people after coming through the Red Sea. He describes “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” – manna from heaven and water from a rock that physically fed them and at the same time portrayed for them what God would ultimately do through Christ.

The story of God providing the manna can be found in Exodus 16:4, but also note Deuteronomy 8:3, which says that God provided the manna to teach God’s people to trust in God’s Word. Jesus later quoted that passage during HIS temptation in the wilderness: “…man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” God provided water from a rock in Exodus 17:6 at a placed they named “Massah and Meribah.” Paul makes a direct connection between the spiritual provision of manna and water and God’s spiritual provision of Christ. He writes, “…they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” Jesus also made those same connections, describing himself in John 6 as “manna from Heaven” and in John 4 as “living water.” If Paul’s illustration about the Red Sea brings to mind our baptism in Christ, his illustration about Christ as spiritual food and drink brings to mind our other sacrament, the Lord’s Supper or Communion.

The point of all this is to say to the Corinthians and to us that if God was faithful to His people of old by delivering them from death and sustaining them in the wilderness trial, and if Christ is an even more complete salvation and sustenance for us today, how much more has God delivered us and will God sustain us in what we face! Every celebration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is a tangible reminder of God’s covenant faithfulness to His people and to us.

Trials that Led to Sin in God’s Covenant Community

And yet, with all that being true, in the midst of their temptation or trial, the ancient Israelites turned from God into sin. Paul notes that with most of His people at that time “God was not well-pleased” (v. 5) because they “craved [evil things]” (v. 6). The big picture is that God provided what His people needed and yet they sinned against God. What follows, beginning with verse 7, is an account of events where God’s people were tempted or faced trials and they failed to trust and obey God with tragic result.

Idolatry (v. 7)
In verse 7, Paul begins with IDOLATRY, quoting from Exodus 32:6, in the middle of the account of the golden calf. While Moses was on the mountain receiving the Law from God, the people turned from God and turned all their gold jewelry into a literal idol like what the Egyptians worshiped. Having just been delivered, they looked back towards those who had enslaved them and offered worship. They were looking for divine help and turned to old habits and a false promise and the result was false worship, which was not only useless but also an offense to the true God who had saved them. Paul offers this as a warning to the Corinthians, who were also participating in idolatrous feasts comparable to the feasts around the golden calf.

Immorality (v. 8)

In verse 8, Paul links the Israelites’ idolatry with a subsequent IMMORALITY which is recorded in Numbers 25. A willingness to worship false gods opened the Israelites up to immoral relationships with pagan peoples who worshiped false gods. In Numbers 25, some of the Israelites “joined themselves” to the Moabites, who worshiped Baal. This joining involved sacrifices, food, worship, and sexual relations in a context of following that false god. And the specific judgment of God on that sin resulted in the massive deaths noted by Paul. Paul offers this as a warning to the Corinthians, who were participating in similar immorality around sacrifice, food, worship, and sexual immorality.

Demands: Testing God (v. 9)

In verse 9, Paul references events in Numbers 21, in which doubts and struggle turn into DEMANDS of God. Serpents fell upon the Israelites after they had spoken against the Lord and complained bitterly about the food and water God was providing. This is a clear example of what Paul is trying to teach. Faced with the trial of the wilderness, the Israelites complain that they were better off in slavery in Egypt, they have no real food and water, and they are going to die. They turn from trial to sin in speaking against God rather than recognizing how God has delivered them and sustained them. Yet even then, in the midst of serpents and poison snake-bites, Moses intercedes and God provides a way out, a bronze serpent lifted high on a pole, that all who turned to God in faith and trust for deliverance would be saved. Jesus later references this very story in John 3 in his conversation with Nicodemus about how to be born again. Jesus would himself be the fulfillment of the curse lifted high on a tree that all who believe might be saved.

Rebellion: Grumbling (v. 10)

Finally, in verse 10, Paul references the grumbling of the Israelites. Now this could be any one of dozens of times; they grumbled a lot! But one likely reference is “Korah’s Rebellion” in Numbers 16. There are several instances of “grumbling” (that word is specifically used) in Numbers leading up to a big showdown in chapter 16 against Moses as their leader. Korah and his immediate family questioned why Moses and Aaron should lead rather than themselves, playing on the grumbling and unrest of the people for support. Paul had experienced something similar from some of those in the church at Corinth who were questioning him as an Apostle and had just spoken to this grumbling in the previous chapter (ch. 9) of 1 Corinthians. While grumbling itself is problematic (more than just a temptation), it can turn into the much greater sin of open REBELLION, which is what is in view here.

This is not an exhaustive list of sins, but examples of times that God’s people, facing trials and temptations, turned away from God into sin rather than toward God and His faithful deliverance and provision. Indeed, this is the thrust of Paul’s message: God has provided all that His people needed to endure, resist, or flee trials or temptations that so easily lead to sins of idolatry, immorality, demands, and rebellion.

Opportunity: Life in God’s Covenant Community Today
Neither those in the ancient covenant community of Israel nor those in the New Testament covenant community in Corinth were immune from temptation. Indeed, because these temptations are “common to man” (v. 12), they are to be expected. What is particular to the covenant community is that the faithful God has provided means to resist, endure, or escape. Note that though at first glance “way of escape” (v. 13) is deliverance out of, Paul defines escape as both “endurance through it” and also urges his friends to “flee from [it].” This resonates with experience and reality that sometimes God delivers us right out of something and sometimes walks with us through it, temptations included.

That may be an important distinction for you to hear this morning. You may be praying or hoping for deliverance from a particular trial or temptation and missing God’s sustenance, protection, and provision. Imagine an Israelite who had come through the Red Sea asking why couldn’t God part the desert and get them to the Promised Land THAT fast. Why not grumble through the years of manna and water in the desert?

We can fall prey to a cheap view of God’s grace that says, “I can do whatever I want; God will forgive me anyway.” This is similar to the attitude of the Israelites and the Corinthians who somehow thought that being ‘in’ Israel or the church was sufficient to excuse any behavior or sin. On the contrary, the signs of our membership in the covenant community – baptism and the Lord’s Supper – point powerfully to how God faithfully fulfills verse 13. What God has done at great cost is precisely how we are to flee, resist, or endure temptation. But to yield to temptation and embrace sin BECAUSE of it is to turn our back on God and His love.

What is the takeaway from today? I think it is the realization that what this memory verse holds out is far more than an empty promise that we will never be tempted. It repudiates that outright. It holds out more than a magic hope that we’ll never face more than we can handle. Think of the Red Sea with the Egyptians behind… that was WAY MORE than Moses could handle! What it holds out is the promise that God is faithful and has provided the strength, resources, and more for us to face the trials that tempt us to sin.

Hear the Good News: The way of escape may be out or may be through, but that way of escape is most completely understood to be JESUS, whom God has given to us in love and at great cost as Deliverer and Provider.

Flee sin and trust no other, but lean on Jesus Himself, crying out that He would show you and be that way of escape. Amen!

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