1 Corinthians 10:6-13
Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY." Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Our text this morning is one of the most wonderful passages of Scripture, although it could be received somewhat differently by some people is certain circumstances. It contains one of the most delightful promises of the Bible and yet it contains a certain amount of serious warning. It teaches us about the Old Testament people and why God caused things to be written about them that are, to be quite frank, disturbing. Right in the middle of the piece of 1 Corinthians that we use as Epistle on this day in the church year, it comes right out and says, Take Heed. And so, this Sunday, that is our sermon theme: Take Heed.
"Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." That is why the missteps and mistakes and failures of the Old Testament people are recorded for us. It is an example and a warning. The Old Testament people likely would have preferred only the good stuff be recorded about them. God could have left us just the record of their successes and their triumphs, but He told us all about them, warts and all. That also serves to show the skeptical that this record is actually true. Because of human nature, we would expect that someone who was making it up would not make the Chosen People look so unseemly. But here they are in all their weakness and failures. God always lets us see that the great heroes of the past were just like us, normal sorts of people who failed, and doubted, and generally felt just like we tend to in the face of all of this. The real hero of the whole thing is God, who loves and forgives and rescues us!
The people of Israel on the Exodus showed us all the foibles and temptations that we tend to be prone to ourselves. That is, of course, demonstrated in the one situation where we would expect the people would have it together. They have just witnessed the plagues and the miraculous rescue from slavery, from what the Bible calls "bitter bondage" in Egypt. They have witnessed wonders with their own eyes. One would think that would have made a lasting impression on them. But, no. Now they wander in the wilderness with a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night that reaches into the sky. They have heard the voice of God at Sinai! They eat Manna daily. They have seen water pour out of the rock at the command of Moses and walked on dry land through the midst of the Red Sea while Pharaoh's armies are drown in the collapsing tunnel through the water behind them. If ever God were going to be a real presence in their lives and minds, and their behavior should be guided by the consciousness of God and His will, this would seem to be the time and place.
They illustrate for us the truth of the perversity of human nature, and the things that they suffer as a result of their sin demonstrate the judgment of God against such perversity and sin. "Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come."
We are to read in their history the craving for evil things. What made some of the things they craved evil was that they could not have them. They craved the comforts of Egypt, limited though they were for an enslaved people, when they had been given the gift of freedom, and God had promised them a land flowing with milk and honey in its place. The things they craved were not evil in and of themselves, necessarily, but their craving of them was! They were craving to undo the work of God and reject His goodness and His good promises for something far less.
When we want to have what others have that we lack, and would replace the gifts of the Gospel with stuff and crave the respect of the culture around us, we might be doing the same thing. We have forgiveness, life, and salvation. We have truth - and the knowledge of the love of God. We have the fellowship of the saints right here. If we would trade that for the public acceptance by the community and some sort of popularity or attention, we would be craving evil things because the craving would be for something else and something less in place of the blessings we have from God.
Of course, they were also craving the pleasures of pagan idolatry. That is what the 'sitting down to eat and the standing up to play' was about. That was the liturgy of the pagan worship described in very simple form. It was also filled with the notion that worship should be about the pleasure of the worshiper, rather than the service of God. We have many forms of false religion in the world today, but the one that fits the description of the conduct of the Children of Israel on the Exodus in our text most closely is the form that infects so many who call themselves Christian today - the worship which is fun, exciting, invigorating, and popular - what we often call contemporary worship. It has fun songs, and it is focused on making people feel good - rather than focused on the Word of God or the worship of God as He tells us He would like to be worshiped. Worship which does not focus on God and His Word is pagan idolatry. It is worship that has lost its focus - looking at the worshiper rather than the One worshiped.
Of course, once one has lost the focus of their religion and decided to please themselves first, immorality generally seems to follow, as it did with them, and we are warned, Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. If you can forget God in your worship, you will probably forget Him in your daily living as well, and do things that you know that you ought not to, following the urgings and tastes of the unbelieving world around you. The Old Testament people did, and God's severe punishment of them serves to warn us. God takes these things seriously! Take Heed.
The next thing about which we are warned was "trying the Lord". That phrase means, "putting the Lord to the test". Jesus answered the devil, when he tried to tempt Jesus, that the Scriptures instruct us not to put the Lord to the test. We are to trust God. That is the test He desires we put Him to. The sort of testing mentioned here is the sort that challenges God to keep His Word in accord with our understanding, or misunderstanding, of it. That is not faith or trust, but unbelief. It is to say to God, "Hah! I dare you!" The children of Israel did it by doubting God would do what He promised. The result of their test was the plague of fiery serpents, which was only arrested by the bronze serpent on the pole.
Christians are to trust in the Lord, and expect from Him everything He has promised - that is, the forgiveness of sins, life eternal, and salvation. We are to expect that God hears our prayers and answers, for example. We do not need to test and see if He will. When we feel that God has failed to do what He has promised, the problem is always that we have either misunderstood the promise, and expected something that was not promised in fact, or, we perhaps have established a schedule for the answer - a timetable that was not promised. God always hears our prayers, and answers every single one. Doubting that is to call God a liar.
The last warning that Paul mentions that we should take from the example of the Exodus community, is the warning about grumbling. It is easy to want something else. We often expect better, or sooner, or more than we think we have. Complaining about what God has given us is almost a reflex, when we are unhappy with our present lot. The example of the children of Israel should teach us not to grumble. They wanted something else. When they had no food, they wanted food. God gave them Manna. Then they wanted water. God gave them water from a rock. Then they wanted meat. God sent the quail to land at their feet for them to eat. Then they complained about how they had fruit and vegetables in Egypt, and all they had in the wilderness was that miserable manna - which had tasted pretty good to them at first.
We often want just a little bit more than we ever have. We can always imagine more, and once we have what we want, we want more. Part of the problem is that getting to the goal is more fun than being there. Looking forward to possessing is more enjoyable, many times, than possessing something. Grumbling is the opposite of thanksgiving. The example of the Old Testament people teaches us that God doesn't want us to be grumbling. More appropriate to the child of God is the giving of thanks. St. Paul writes, Take Heed!
We live in the grace of God, but, as the Chosen People of Old illustrate, there is no such thing as once saved, always saved. A person can fall from grace and walk away from God by thanklessness and sin. The dangers of doing just that are real and confront every one of us. The Apostle tells us to be careful, to notice what has happened to others in the past, and to understand what the will of God is and that He will not ignore sin even in His people - in other words, to take heed.
And then he tells us that marvelous promise that forms the last verse of our Epistle. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.
We must take heed and understand that we will be tempted to compromise our confession and say and do things that are not faithful. There is a devil and there will be temptations and pressure from the world around us in abundance, but God has not left us alone or without help. The temptations about which we are warned to take heed are common. The pressures and temptations we face are faced by all those who know Christ. We are not alone in our troubles - and we do not face them alone. God is faithful! Three big words for us. God will not abandon us or forsake us, nor ask us to handle the temptations by ourselves. He is with us to rescue us and keep us.
God will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability to withstand and resist and refuse to give in. He will always provide you with the way of escape, the power to resist, or the way to escape the pressure of the temptation. That doesn't mean that everyone will always use the help God provides. History shows us that many people surrender to sin and evil, and our text shows us the danger of taking that route. But the way out is always provided. The answer to your need is always available with God because God is faithful.
He has purchased you at a great price. He has forgiven you all your sins. He will not just let you go or leave you without a defense. There may be times when you will feel like God gives you credit for greater strength than you actually possess, but He knows you, and He will help you, and He expects you to resist by His strength and not by your strength alone. So take heed, call upon Him in your times of need, and remember, His promise. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to endure, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. God is faithful, after all.
So trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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