…and God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. 1 Corinthians 10:13b (GNB)
This is the 21st and final memory verse that I will use as a guide/focal point to writing these articles. The Table of Contents is available in the series introductory article. For various reasons, I completed the project in 2015 bar this very last one, which I am finally completing now – in February/March 2016.
Immediate Literary Context
The immediate literary context for this memory verse is the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 10. Now see – it can only be God’s timing and divine intention that He has me delay the write-up of this final chapter/article in the Memory Verses writing serial since 1 Corinthians 10 was one of my recent references in the issue of idolatry in terms of my recent Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip.
1 Corinthians 10 reproduced in full:
Lessons from Israel’s Idolatry
10 I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. 2 In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. 3 All of them ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6 These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, 7 or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” 8 And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day.
9 Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. 10 And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. 11 These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.
12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. 13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
14 So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. 15 You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true. 16 When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? 17 And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body. 18 Think about the people of Israel. Weren’t they united by eating the sacrifices at the altar?
19 What am I trying to say? Am I saying that food offered to idols has some significance, or that idols are real gods? 20 No, not at all. I am saying that these sacrifices are offered to demons, not to God. And I don’t want you to participate with demons. 21 You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too. 22 What? Do we dare to rouse the Lord’s jealousy? Do you think we are stronger than he is?
23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is beneficial. 24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.
25 So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
27 If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. 28 (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. 29 It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? 30 If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?
31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. 33 I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.
Verse 13, when contextualised as such shows that the temptation being referenced here is in relation to idolatry and idols we may have in our lives. The verse in itself encourages us to have faith that God is bigger than our temptations and idols; He will provide us with the strength and ability to find away out of the situation or circumstance.
Temptation, as addressed specifically by the memory verse, is not in itself a bad thing. After all, Jesus was tempted by the Devil as part of His preparation prior to commencing his public ministry. God allows us to be tempted by permitting the circumstances which create temptation to arise. Whilst He allows this, God also takes care that nothing prevents or blocks us from retreating and escaping the situation. Whenever temptation arises, there is always a way to escape from it. In this way, the presence of temptations and the ability to resolve/avoid them are part of God’s grand design in which He demonstrates His love and faithfulness to us. God’s answer and solution in salvation, Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross would all be a delusion if there were an insuperable difficulty to our continuing salvation. Verse 13 is thus the most practical and clearest explanation in the Bible of free-will in relation to God’s overruling power. While God makes an open road, we need to walk in it. God controls circumstances, but man uses them. That is where we distinguish between our responsibility and God’s domain.
In moving out to studying the entire chapter, we can appreciate the link between Old and New Testaments. Paul was instructing His fellow Jews by reminding them of the past where God led Israel through the wilderness, showing that the past served as patterns for us too. The focus, back then, as with now, was not on Israel and what they did, but what happened to Israel and the nature and ways of God in relation to His chosen people. Whilst teaching that we have the faithfulness of God, He did and does not permit us to be tempted beyond our strength, but provides a way of escape in order that we may not stumble – our key/memory verse.
God instructs and teaches us that when we consider idols and idolatry, that holy fear helps us avoid the occasion of doing evil, the occasion of falling. God is clearly at work here in this passage since this exact lesson was preached on this morning at Clayton Church – in the context that as part of aligning our inconsistencies and pursuing a life of integrity requires us to walk in fear of God. Those in Israel who ate of the sacrifices were partakers of the altar – these early Jewish/Christian believers also identified with the sacrements of communion and the symbolic sacrifices that the bread and wine represent.
The Apostle Paul repeated his established principle – that he had liberty in all areas, but that on the one hand he would not put himself under the power of anything; on the other, being free, he would use his liberty for the spiritual good of all. To complete this topic, Paul’s instructions were clear that we could eat conscience-free. The moment we are made aware that of something more behind the simple act of eating, our conscience would no longer be free. In this circumstance, the food should then not be eaten, because of the conscience. Paul’s liberty could not be judged by the conscience of the other; for, as to doctrine, and where there was knowledge, the apostle recognised it as a truth that the idol was nothing. Further, in everything we do, in eating or drinking, we ought to see the glory of God, and ensure in all things, He receives the glory.
Wider Literary Context
This first letter to the church in Corinth was penned by the Apostle Paul around 53-54AD. With the exception of two verses which stand out as uncharacteristic or consistent with Paul’s teachings, the entire manuscript was well understood within the early church and the authority of the text was without question. The two verses believed to have been added in later were 1 Cor 11:2-16, which dealt with praying and prophesying with head covering. The second passage is 1 Cor 14:34-35 which has been hotly debated. Part of the reason for doubt is that in some manuscripts, the verses come at the end of the chapter instead of at its present location. Furthermore, Paul is here appealing to the law which is uncharacteristic of him. Lastly, the verses come into conflict with 11:5 where women were praying and prophesying.
The epistle was written from Ephesus, as acknowledged in chapter 16, verse 8, in a city on the west coast of today’s Turkey, about 180 miles by sea from Corinth. According to Acts of the Apostles, Paul founded the church in Corinth (Acts 18:1–17), then spent approximately three years in Ephesus (Acts 19:8, 19:10, 20:31). The letter was written during this time in Ephesus, which is usually dated as being in the range of 53 to 57 AD.
This letter to the Corinthians may be divided into seven parts:
- Salutation (1:1–3) Paul addressed the issue regarding challenges to his apostleship and defended the issue by claiming that it was given to him through a revelation from Christ. The salutation reinforced the legitimacy of Paul’s apostolic claim.
- Thanksgiving (1:4–9) Typical of Hellenistic letter writing, Paul thanked God for good health, a safe journey, deliverance from danger, or good fortune.
- Division in Corinth (1:10–4:21) Covering facts, causes and a cure of division
- Immorality in Corinth (5:1–6:20) Disciplining an immoral brother, resolving personal disputes and sexual purity
- Difficulties in Corinth (7:1–14:40) Difficulties covered aspects of marriage, Christian liberty including idolatry and worship
- Doctrine of Resurrection (15:1–58)
- Closing (16:1–24) Paul’s closing remarks in his letters usually contained his intentions and efforts to improve the community. He would first conclude with his paraenesis and wish them peace by including a prayer request, greet them with his name and his friends with a holy kiss, and offer final grace and benediction.
In this way, our memory verse and the chapter on idolatry is part of the fifth section concerning immorality.
In many ways, the Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip inclusion of a visit to the Angkor Wat (Journal Day #7) demonstrates how this passage was applied. The interpretation of the verses, along with other references on idolatry (1 John and Deuteronomy) were all cited. In addition to what has been documented in that article, some of the views that show the diversity of belief within the Kingdom – many people obsess over sports (football) and make idols out of money, shopping, and material possessions – would we interpret Paul’s teaching to take an ultra-conservative position and thus avoid places like the MCG, shopping centres which become the places of worship for these people?
The position I took, which is not so obvious from the journal entry, was that I clearly was not going to the Angkor Wat to worship any idol. Instead, I was going as a member of the Discovery Team, to learn and appreciate the cultural and historical significance of the Angkor Wat given it’s central importance and intrinsic link to the Cambodia/Khmer identity. Further, I already knew of colleagues from the workplace who were visiting Cambodia during the same period and these colleagues would have visited the same temple district for tourist purposes. If I shared with them that I did not end up going, what would the simple message and takeaway be? Unless I had the opportunity to explain in-depth the whole theological debate, the simplified position and reality would make God seem weak – that because of my beliefs and faith, I was not going to go to the Angkor Wat. That I did not believe that my God was greater and had conquered the evil spirits that previously were honoured within? No – I reasoned that this is an opportunity for God to be glorified. That in going, I was going with the full armour of God, with His holy protection and that no form of idolatry was going to be committed.
When we face temptations and challenges, knowing that we have the power and God’s help to overcome the temptation should, in itself, help us claim the victory. Verse 13 is a great reminder for believers as part of our faith journey – particularly when we struggle and walk the valleys. The remainder of Chapter 10 (verse 14 onwards) is in itself an application of the warning issued out (verses 1 through 13) specifically to the eating of food. There are two freedoms that the chapter teaches: Christian freedom was never meant to lead to a self-indulgent nature, but instead to lead to inner self control and a lifestyle of placing others before ourselves in the model of to serve is to lead. The other freedom is also not about having an unrestrained and wild disposition, but instead having the capacity to do as we ought by God’s grace and power, taking our responsibility seriously when we make the decisions based on a reliance on God’s grace and strength.