The Pattern of Temptation
There are times when we are on spiritual highs. Some experiences like a retreat, concert or a sermon allows us to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in a very strong and powerful way. During these moments, we can feel invincible in our faith, like nothing could ever possibly make us sin again. But temptations come to believers in many ways and in 1 Corinthians 10:1-14, Paul tells us that we need to be on guard from temptation when we have seen God work in extraordinary ways.
In the first four verses, Paul recalls how the Israelites of Moses’ day saw God’s presence and power more clearly than almost anyone else. They “were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food (1 Corinthians 10:1-3).” Paul is referring here to the events of Exodus when God was visibly with them as pillars of cloud and fire, they passed through the Red Sea and ate the manna that was miraculously provided by God (Exodus 13:17-22, 14:21-25, 16:14). Very few people have seen the undisputable power of God more clearly than they did.
But it was not enough. Paul says in the next verse, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:5).” In the next five verses, Paul shows how sinful they were by desiring evil and becoming idolaters.
It is important to remember that simply experiencing God in a powerful way is not enough to keep us from falling victim to temptation. The key verse is verse twelve: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
The “therefore” is important because it explains the text before it with the text that follows. Paul says, “take heed” or “pay attention.” Pay attention to what? To the Israelites who saw God most plainly. Why? Because after experiencing miracles, they still turned to idols when they were tempted. If we think we are standing firm because we heard a powerful sermon, witnessed a miracle or have been faithful in our spiritual disciplines, it is not enough. Our hearts are still wicked and will turn as fast as the Israelites’ hearts did after passing through the Red Sea. That is the importance of Paul’s “therefore” in verse 13.
As intimidating as the “take heed” in verse 13 is, there is a great promise that follows. “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 Corinthians 10:13).” As sinful as we are, God is faithful. He will never allow us to be tempted beyond our ability not to sin and will provide a way of escape.
How reassuring it is for us to know that we can depend on God to deliver us from temptation and not on ourselves.