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Uniform 07.20.2014: Steadfast in Temptation

1 Corinthians 10:12-22

In our passage, Paul writes some of the most frequently misquoted words in the Bible. Has anyone ever told you that God won’t give you more than you can bear? If so, they probably said this when you were going through a really tough time.

Got suffering? No worries! God won’t give you more than you can handle. (Well, gee, God must think I can handle a whole lot. I wish God weren’t so confident in my handling abilities.)

But what did Paul actually say? “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone,” he wrote to the Corinthians. “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” (1 Cor 10:13). I guess the issue lies in how you interpret the words “tested” and “testing.” Some people think that God inflicts tragedy on believers to test us through suffering. I respect that position, but I tend to think that God weeps when we suffer—even when it’s our fault—walks beside us through such times, and all the while wants us to keep pursuing God.

To me, Paul is talking about temptation in this passage. And that is something we all face, whether we have a firm foundation of what is appropriate or we’re not quite sure which behaviors are right and wrong. We all feel pulled toward certain things, actions, or people we desire. Some of these feelings are pure and true; some of them aren’t. We are tasked with figuring out the difference. Paul had personal experience with such situations. He insisted that God would be right there with us in the temptation and would always equip us to resist it.

Maybe your mind goes to teenagers when you think about temptation. During those tumultuous years when kids are figuring out who they are and trying to develop discernment, temptation is indeed a major part of their everyday lives. But it is a major part of life for adults too.

It’s just one drink.
Everybody’s doing it.
Come on, join us! It’s fun!
This is harmless, especially if you only do it once in a while.
It can’t hurt.
Why are you such a goody-goody?
You just don’t know how to have a good time.

Chances are, you have heard someone say these things to you or to another person. Even if they didn’t speak the words aloud, the thought behind the words was implied. It’s uncomfortable and awkward to be the one who hesitates, refrains, abstains. We get weird looks, we feel left out, we lose friends. Is it worth it to stand on our principles, even for something that seems small in the grand scheme of things?

Paul would say that it is most definitely worth it. The question is how to be steadfast without being pious, arrogant, judgmental, or self-righteous. It can be a delicate balance, but God has promised to be steadfast right along with us, showing us the pathway to humility, compassion, and love—even as we hold firm to what we know is pure and true.

Discussion

1. Do you feel that temptation is a major part of your everyday life? Have you ever heard people say the things listed above when they were trying to get others to do something?
2. What are your experiences with temptation? How often have you given in? How often have you resisted?
3. Do you feel that you’ve ever been dismissed because you chose not to participate in certain behaviors? How did you handle that?
4. Do you think people misquote verse 13 when they apply it to suffering? Why or why not?
5. What are your strategies when you face temptation to do something you’d like to do but know you shouldn’t do? How can you feel God’s presence giving you strength to resist in a way that shows love rather than disdain toward those who tempt you?

Reference Shelf

Paul brings the first stage of his argument, his negative proof, to an end in v. 13 with a word of encouragement that carries overtones of warning. Very literally, it begins,
“Testing has not come upon you except [what is] human.” The term peirasmos, of course, may be rendered “temptation” as well as “test.” In a sense, either meaning fits the occasion, if we view the matter simply from Paul’s perspective. Some of the Corinthians were inclined to participate in meals associated with the worship of idols. For Paul, this could be considered either a temptation to commit idolatry or a testing of their faithfulness, or both. Conceivably, he may have also intended a twist on the “testing” referred to in v 9. As Israel put God to the test, so those who are determined to eat food offered to idols are “testing” God. But would the Corinthians have viewed their experience as either “temptation” or “testing”? They did not see their action as committing idolatry, nor did they consider it to be faithless disobedience. They saw nothing wrong with eating food offered to idols since they could do it knowing that the idols represented nonexistent gods. What they would have considered peirasmos, however, was the pressure and possible ostracism they may have experienced if they refused to eat the food. Eating the food held many advantages in terms of maintaining their old network of relationships and preserving their standing in the community of Corinth. Not eating the food, when it was the normal thing for residents of Corinth to do, could potentially cause them significant loss of social status and social ties. As citizens of Corinth, they had a right to eat the food. As informed believers, they thought they could justify exercising that right and, thereby, avoid the “trials” (peirasmos) that nonparticipation might bring.

Paul’s words in v. 13 assure them that their experience is not unique. Others have faced similar trials. He further assures them that the God for whom they may have to experience such trials is a faithful God. That God will not let them face trials beyond their ability but will make a way out so that they can endure. Notice that the “way out” is not an exit from the trials but a means for making it through the trials. If they are faithful, God will enable them to endure. This assurance is rooted in the faithfulness of God. The only two times in the Old Testament where God is actually called “faithful” are Deuteronomy 7:9 and 32:4. We have already seen that Deuteronomy 32 lies in the background of thought in Paul’s reference to the rock in v. 4 and that it is the source for Paul’s assessment that idolatry actually involves offerings to demons in v. 20. The passage from Deuteronomy 7:9 is even more informative for understanding Paul’s statement here. The verse comes in Moses’ assertion of God’s covenant faithfulness. God is loyal to those who keep the covenant and vengeful toward those who do not. The word of assurance, then, carries the caveat that God’s faithful provision of a way to endure trial is contingent on their faithfulness.

Reference

Robert Scott Nash, 1 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 294-295.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum since 2001. She is a member of West Highland Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction, spending time with her husband and two daughters, and watching British television shows. Her goal for 2014 is to learn to play the piano.

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Comments

  1. This is one of your most helpful commentaries, especially differentiating between temptation and suffering in life. Few commentaries (I have read at least 8 on this passage) point out this most important difference when applying Paul’s words.