This article is part of the What Does It Mean? series.
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
Disunity and Presumption
This verse makes a staggering promise: God will never allow a temptation that we cannot stand under because he will provide the power to escape through endurance. That is a general truth, but what is Paul getting at in particular?
Paul is commending unity by gospel love in this letter. The Corinthian church is fractured into tribes and a spirit of competition, ruled by values that are of the world, not least the Greco-Roman culture (1 Cor. 1–4). Paul rebukes this disunity and points the Corinthians to the infinitely valuable wisdom of God in the gospel of Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:18–2:16). In the middle chapters of this letter, Paul addresses different issues of belief and lifestyle that are connected to the gospel unity of this church, including how to use wisdom and love to deny one’s rights in order to protect and build up a fellow believer who may have a weaker conscience with regard to a life choice that is not necessarily morally clear (1 Cor. 8–10). It is within this context we find our verse.
First Corinthians 10 begins with Paul using an Old Testament example, that of Israel in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses. Paul reminds the Corinthians that Israel corporately experienced the saving work of God from Egypt, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers 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, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:1–4). But then Paul quickly reminds the church that an experience of physical deliverance did not uncouple Israel from the responsibility to keep faith while they sojourned on, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” (1 Cor. 10:5). Put another way, the Christian must never presume upon the previous grace of God in such a way that future obedience is not required. Israel was gloriously saved, but then went on to worship the golden calf (pagan worship). We must heed their example.
The Power of Presumption
The sin in question for our context is idolatry. The Corinthians were wrestling with the implications of eating certain kinds of meat, given the cultural context of meat being used in pagan sacrifices and how meals were eaten within a pagan temple. Paul is challenging the mature believers in the church to be humble, to resist presumption, and to love their weaker brothers tenderly who were once ensconced in the beliefs and lifestyle of paganism. A steak is just a steak, but some steaks bring up big heart issues if they were used for demonic practices (1 Cor. 10:14–22). The gospel is grand. It is the message of free grace, but that does not mean the Corinthians—or we—can then go on to pridefully bomb our way through ethical dilemmas without carefulness, wisdom, and humility. We must be careful, not trust ourselves, and consider what it means to faithfully follow Scripture in all situations (1 Cor. 10:12).
We must be careful, not trust ourselves, and consider what it means to faithfully follow Scripture in all situations.
From Presumption to Promise
As we consider our own context, while we do not face ethical decisions about meat sacrificed to idols per se, we are constantly bombarded by choices that are not always that clear on the surface but may in fact be very important and loaded nonetheless. A prideful presuming upon the grace of Jesus can dull our senses. Like the Corinthians, we need to lean into the gospel to sensitize us all the more, not out of anxiety, but rather out of confidence in the gospel that does not simply justify us but also sanctifies us.
Finally, note that our verse says that we can escape the power of temptation not by the temptation simply evaporating, but rather by endurance (1 Cor. 10:13). That means we may need to wrestle, but we do so by God’s power. We may need to see a temptation to its end, but God is faithful. When tempted to presume upon the grace of Christ, God will empower us to endure—for our good, the good of the church, and for his glory.
Jay S. Thomas is the author of 1 Corinthians: A 12-Week Study.
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