Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tests and Temptations: Common to Everyone

I Corinthians 10:13
Bob Rakestraw

During the twelve months of 2008 I sent out postings covering the twelve most influential scripture passages from the forty-five years of my Christian life. As the year moved along, I struggled with how to cover all of my favorite texts in just twelve months, studying one scripture passage per month. The result is now history and the postings are available in the archives of this blog, but there are numerous Bible texts that I wanted to discuss yet could not. Now I am free to consider some of these additional passages.

One such text which, when added to the original twelve and thus giving us a “baker’s dozen,” is 1 Corinthians 10:13. In my two January, 2009, postings on anxiety and fear, I referred briefly to this Bible verse. I did so because it had become such a big help to me with my anxiety, and I wanted to at least call attention to the amazing truth of this passage. (By the way, I need to say a major “Thank You” to all of you who prayed for me during the very bleak months of December and January. Through your prayers and friendship, some medications, a book by Claire Weekes [see most recent posting], the help of my doctors and numerous hope-giving scriptures from the Spirit, I have had a significant recovery. While I face daily challenges regarding my health I am extremely grateful for the stability God has given me.)

Trials and Enticements

Before I quote I Corinthians 10:13, I need to mention one word in the verse, the Greek word peirasmos. It means both a test or trial, as well as a temptation or enticement to sin. The context of a particular usage determines which meaning predominates. In our scripture text, both senses are valid, because every temptation is surely a test of our character, and every time we are tested or tried, there is an element of temptation in it, for example, to complain against God, to blame someone else for the trial, or even somehow to “cheat” in the middle of the test.

Some translations use the word “tempt,” while others use “test.” Here I quote the New Revised Standard Version, which uses “test.”

“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13).

As always, there is a need to look at the broader context. While this text, like many others, serves as a “stand-alone” truth from God’s Word, the verses before and after, and the broader historical situation, help us to understand Paul’s thoughts more fully.

The Corinthian Context

The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians around the year 55, near the end of his three-year stay in Ephesus. He knew the Corinthians well, having stayed with them for a year and a half, teaching them the scriptures and seeing many of them come to Christ (Acts 18:1-18). He also knew the city of Corinth well, and its damaging effects, in many ways, on the Christians in Corinth.

The city, with some 650,000 people in Paul’s day (but only about 10,000 today) was a major commercial and cultural center of Greece. It was also known for its religious emphasis (Corinth had at least twelve temples) and for its sexual immorality. The worship of Aphrodite, goddess of love, at one time involved 1,000 sacred prostitutes who served in her temple, high above the city on the Acro-Corinth—a prominent tribute to the goddess and the debased way of “worship” associated with her. The immorality of Corinth was so widely known that the Greek verb “to Corinthianize” came to mean “to practice sexual immorality.” This way of life, not surprisingly, infiltrated the Christian community at Corinth.

Other problems that this young church faced, and which Paul had to address in this first epistle to the Corinthians, included divisions among the Christians, pride in human wisdom and philosophy, divorce and remarriage, lawsuits between believers before pagan courts, disrespect toward the Lord’s Supper, abuses of spiritual gifts, and a general lack of maturity and holiness. In other words, it was much like many churches today!

Warnings from the Past

With this background in mind, Paul’s words in chapter ten become much more vivid. In fact, our focal text—verse 13—comes as the climax of a section (10:1-13) titled “Warnings from Israel’s History” (NIV). The Exodus of God’s people from Egypt, and the wilderness wanderings for the next forty years, are presented as examples to the Corinthians to not depart from the Lord. After all crossed over the Red Sea on dry land, and after all “drank” of the same “spiritual rock” who accompanied them—Christ himself, most of the people died in the wilderness, never entering the promised land.

Before Paul writes his famous verse about testing and temptation, he warns the Corinthian Christians not to set their hearts on evil things. He then warns them specifically against some of the sins during the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings: idolatry, pagan revelry, sexual immorality (for which 23,000 died in one day), testing the Lord, and grumbling. Paul then repeats his statement that these warnings from Israel’s history are given as examples so that the Corinthians—or any of us today—do not fall in the same way. Then, just before verse 13, Paul writes, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (I Corinthians 10:13, NIV).

This warning against spiritual pride is the crucial lead-in to our classic text. It indicates that an attitude of satisfaction with one’s spiritual life is a dangerous frame of mind to have. “Be careful,” he says, “that you don’t fall.” Apparently some of the Corinthians, perhaps most of them, were not wantonly going after the sinful lifestyle in their notorious city, but they were in danger of the pride—including spiritual pride—that goes before a fall. With this background, Paul then speaks of tests, temptations, and the way of escape.

The Remarkable Promise

Once again, I will close this posting with 1 Corinthians 10:13, having prepared the ground, I trust, for its further unfolding in our next entry. This time, however, I will quote from the Good News Bible. This is a marvelous promise and a rich blessing for all of God’s people, in any age or place.

“Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.”

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