Honoring your head

The church in Corinth had a problem with authority.

In 1 Cor 11-14, Paul begins a new section in his letter that will focus on his authority and how they should respond to some issues in their church fellowship. In these four chapters, Paul’s concern is how God’s people conduct themselves in a church worship setting. Paul will discuss three primary issues: gender distinction (11:2-16), the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), and spiritual gifts (12:1-14:40). In Paul’s first section, 1 Cor 11:2-16, we will consider the roles of men and women in the church. In this passage, Paul will say, “Honor your head.” Paul shares three principles in these verses that will guide us in understanding a woman’s role in the church. The first principle is…

  1. Honor your head for the sake of biblical teaching(11:2-6). In these five verses, Paul is going to discuss the importance of honoring your spiritual head. Paul begins this passage with a very surprising verse. He writes, “Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you” (11:2). It is tempting to think that Paul is being sarcastic with the Corinthians (cf. 4:8). After all, how could his praise really be sincere? The church has been disobedient to many of Paul’s “traditions” or “teachings.” In fact, in 11:17, 22 Paul adamantly states that he will not praise them! Therefore, it is likely that Paul begins on an encouraging note to placate his readers so that they will be receptive to critical advice (cf. 1:4-9). Obviously, there is wisdom in this approach. Speaking some positive words to a person that you are in conflict with before addressing your concerns is always wise. It may result in the person(s) hearing what you have to say.

In 11:3-6, Paul introduces the principle of headship and the appropriate response. In 11:3 Paul writes, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” Paul introduces the basic premise that everyone has a “head.” The word “head” is difficult to interpret because it can have three possible meanings: (1) prominence, (2) authority, or (3) source. The same ambiguity is true in English when we talk about the head/top of a mountain, the head/leader of a company, or the head/source of a river. In most cases where “head” does not mean a particular body part, the word carries the nuance of prominence. Thus, Paul seems to mean that just as Christ as the Son acknowledges the preeminence of the Father and men acknowledge the preeminence of Christ over them, so women acknowledge the preeminence of men in the male-female relationship (or at least the husband-wife relationship). But prominence in a relationship does not imply superiority or inferiority; certainly it does not carry that meaning in the relationship between the Father and the Son, and it should not mean that between men and women in the church.

While Jesus was on earth, He modeled sacrificial servant leadership (see Mark 10:42-45). He always put His father first and did His will. Even though He was fully God and equal to the Father, He chose of His own accord to grant the Father prominence. Likewise, men are called to submit to Christ and put Him first in every area. This means living sacrificially for the good of others. In a similar vein, the head of a woman is man.

Evidently, Paul refers to any woman who is in a dependent relationship to a man, such as a wife to a husband or a daughter to a father. Paul probably did not mean every woman universally since he said the male is the head of woman, or a woman, but not the woman. He was evidently not talking about every relationship involving men and women, for example the relationship between men and women in the workplace. Paul is saying that as a wife, daughter, or church member, ladies ought to honor their spiritual head: husband (Eph 5:22-33), father (Eph 6:1-3), or elders (1 Tim 2:9-3:7).

Paul now applies the spiritual principle of headship in 11:4-6 in the context of praying and prophesying in public worship. Paul writes, “Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.” Paul says in the first-century Corinthian setting that men should not have their heads covered, and women should have their heads covered. The reason that men should not have their heads covered was in the world of Corinth this was often associated with idolatry. Men who did not cover their heads in this culture honored Christ as preeminent. In Corinth, women were called to cover their heads with a scarf or shawl. This was not a stylish hat or inconspicuous doily, but a shawl that covered her entire head and concealed her hair. This demonstrated their respect for their husbands and to church leadership.

To refuse to wear such a shawl was “disgraceful.” For a woman to have her head uncovered in mixed company could catch the eyes of men; as it were, she was offering innuendoes of attraction, which in a worship setting could easily distract some from true worship. Can that happen today? Most certainly, for just as in the ancient world, so today women can dress provocatively. But worship is not the time to dwell on male-female attractiveness; worship is the time to focus on God and His Word. Thus, women have a responsibility before both God and men to dress modestly and not attract unnecessary attention to themselves.

Practically speaking, this responsibility is to be shared in the family unit. A husband needs to inform his wife if her attire is immodest. A wife needs to seek her husband’s opinion. Any father worth his salt should be able to tell his daughter to go back in and change her clothes. A godly daughter should want to dress in such a way that her father is pleased. (I know I’m being idealistic.) Older women in the church should help younger women dress with modesty and discretion (Titus 2:3-5). Women need to be reminded to dress with respect at all times, but especially when they come to worship the Lord.

Now, men, I can’t let you off the hook either. We are responsible to vigilantly guard our minds during worship and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5). We all attend church to worship God not to eyeball the opposite sex. Therefore, we all need to do our part and seek to honor one another.

The question that begs to be answered is: Must a Christian woman cover her head in church meetings today? I do not believe this is how Paul would have us understand this passage. What is normative and what is cultural? Well, when women go out in public today in our town without wearing a head covering, is that a sign of rebellion against their husbands? Hardly, except for the strictest Muslims. I suggest that the head covering is merely cultural, while honor and submission is the normative principle. To be obedient to Paul’s words Christian women should not dress in a way that blurs the distinction between male and female. After all, the situation is quite different, at least in the West. For a woman to wear a head covering would seem to be a distinctively humiliating experience. Many women—even biblically submissive wives—resist the notion precisely because they feel awkward and self-conscious. But the head covering in Paul’s day was intended only to display the woman’s subordination, not her humiliation.

Today, ironically, to require a head covering for women in the worship service would be tantamount to asking them to shave their heads! The effect, therefore, would be just the opposite of what Paul intended. Thus, in attempting to fulfill the spirit of the apostle’s instruction, not just his words, and some suitable substitute symbol needs to be found. Furthermore, pastoral experience has revealed that the presence of head coverings results in confusion for visitors and those unfamiliar with the meaning of the symbol. This violates the principle that the church should not do things seemingly strange to unbelievers who may be present in the worship service (14:23).

One important point I want to make from the three verses is that men and women were equally free to pray and prophesy when the church gathered. The meaning of the term “prophecy” is debated. Yet, as we’re going to see in chapter 14, “prophesy” is for the edification of the church (14:4, 5, 23-24) and is very close to what we would call teaching or preaching today. It is reflecting or illuminating the Word of God. It could take the form of a word of instruction, refutation, reproof, admonition, or comfort for others (13:9; 14:1, 3-5, 24, 31, 39). Women in the early church who had the gift of prophecy were free to exercise it. They were also permitted to pray in public meetings. Paul gives ladies great freedom, but he does not permit women to be elders who exercise authoritative teaching gifts during the corporate worship service (1 Tim 2:9-3:7). Moreover, they were to honor their head. Paul is not trying to repress women and to restrain their expression of spiritual gifts, but to impress upon them the need for project modesty and virtue in their dress.[Ladies must honor their head for the sake of biblical teaching. Now Paul provides a second argument…]

  1. Honor your head for the sake of creation(11:7-12). Paul explains further why he wants women to wear head coverings and why the men should not wear them. In 11:7-9, Paul briefly summarizes God’s creativity at work in His purposes for men and women: “For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.” Spiritual headship has been true since God created the world. And the Genesis creation narratives show that both man and woman equally bear the image and the glory of God (Gen 1:26-27; 5:1-2). But in Genesis 2 when God created Eve, He took her from Adam’s rib. So Paul says woman was created from the man and for the man. In other words, woman completes man. As the help and strength man needs, woman helps him be all that God desires. Husbands, I’m sure you can agree with these words. (I certainly know wives can.) Thus, woman reflects the glory of man when she submits to God’s order.

But what does “glory” mean here? To begin with, as many scholars are recognizing today, ancient culture was an “honor–shame” culture. That is, people normally protected the honor of their family and the family name and would not knowingly bring dishonor and shame to it. That this concept may lie in the background here is clear from the references to “dishonor” or “disgrace” in 11:4-6. By going unveiled, a woman was bringing shame on herself and her reputation, as well as on that of her family. By contrast, Paul seems to imply in 11:7 that a woman should be bringing honor and glory to herself and her family, and especially to her husband and any other men in her life (e.g., her father, her sons). Ladies, is this your goal? God’s Word for you today is: Honor your head.

In 11:10, Paul comes to one of the most mysterious verses in the entire Bible: “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” This verse is considered one of the most difficult verses in the entire Bible. So I propose my understanding with great humility. First, Paul is summing up his argument with the use of the word “therefore.” Second, the words “a symbol of” are in italics in the NASB. This means that these words are not in the Greek text. The NASB is suggesting that the head covering is what women ought to wear on their heads. However, my understanding of the “authority on her head” is to allow the term “authority” to have its usual meaning of “having the freedom or right to choose.” The meaning in this case would be that the woman has authority over her head (man) to do as she pleases. She can choose to submit or not. If the ladies continue to disregard Paul’s words to cover their heads, they will suffer the consequences. It is also possible that Paul meant that women have freedom to decide how they will pray and prophesy within the constraint that Paul had imposed, namely, with heads covered.

The final phrase, “because of the angels” is a mystery to all interpreters. Yet, it would seem that Paul is referring to good angels who observe worship services. Perhaps Paul is encouraging women to worship with that same submissive humility as those angelic ministers. Since angels are the guardians of God’s created order it would seem disgraceful for them to observe women behaving badly. The bottom line is again: Honor your head.

Now, in 11:11-12 there’s a wonderful strong emphasis on the mutuality of men and women in marriage in the church. Paul is still arguing from the creation order, and from the beginning it was clear that there was mutual interdependence. Paul writes, “However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.” The phrase “in the Lord” in 11:11 clearly envisions Christian marriage and life in the body of Christ. And this mutual dependence of man and woman speaks of full equality in personhood (1 Pet 3:7). We can’t get along without each other. We are mutually dependent on each other. We complement one another. Paul is concerned to promote love between the sexes.

Neither man nor woman because of their different positions or advantages should consider themselves better, or treat the other with contempt or condescension. Paul says in 11:12 that this mutual dependence of the man and the woman is grounded in creation. The first woman, Eve, was originally created from the man. But from that point on every single man is birthed by a mother. He says their inter-dependence is also grounded in the Lord himself. All things are from God, which gives us another reason for humility in the relationships between believing men and women.

Up to now, Paul seems to suggest an inferiority of women to men, partly on the basis of the story of the creation of woman from man in Genesis 2. But in these verses he backtracks to remind us that ever since the creation of Eve the order has been reversed (i.e., men are now born from women). Thus, when all is said and done, there is an ontological equality between men and women. Neither of them is independent of the other; both need each other. So Paul is insistent even here that as we stand before our Creator and our Redeemer, “there is neither…male nor female” (Gal 3:28). This, I believe, is part of Paul’s struggle in this section. He does not want anything he writes to be interpreted to mean that “in the Lord” women are inferior to men. We all come from God, and all of us equally belong to God through his Son, Jesus.

[In addition to honoring your head for the sake of creation, Paul’s third argument is…]

  1. Honor your head for the sake of pattern of nature(11:13-15). In these verses, Paul appeals to what is natural or typical in Corinth. In 11:13 Paul writes, “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” This is the key verse in this entire section because here Paul clearly emphasizes the single point of his passage: Women should stop praying with their heads uncovered. The reason that 11:13 bears this out is that Paul has oscillated back and forth between men and women in 11:4-15. In 11:13 he breaks this pattern and focuses solely on women. This is a literary device that biblical writers use to bring home their point. Furthermore, this verse contains the only imperative besides 11:6 where the point is that a woman should cover herself.

Paul’s point is this: In the culture of Corinth, it was not proper for a woman to act as a spokesman for people with God by praying publicly with her head uncovered. To do so would be tantamount to claiming the position of a man in God’s order. The apostle did not think it wise for Christian women to exercise their liberty in a way that would go against socially accepted behavior even though they were personally submissive. Today what is socially accepted is different, but her attitude is still crucial.

Paul continues his argument in 11:14-15: “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.” Paul does not mean “nature” in the sense of “the natural world” or “Mother Nature.” Obviously, Paul cannot mean that in the world of animals all males have short hair and all females have long hair. All we need to do is to think of the male lion, a common biblical animal, with a bush mane. There is, moreover, evidence that for first-century men to have long hair was considered a sign of effeminacy and perhaps even homosexuality—something that Paul in Romans 1 considers contrary to nature.

By “nature” Paul evidently meant how his culture felt about what was natural.

Paul again uses “glory” here when he claims that the long hair of a woman “is her glory” (11:15). Is he using the word in the same sense as 11:7? Probably not. In the earlier verse I suggested that “glory” relates to the honor–shame culture of the ancient Near East. Here, by contrast, this word refers to the beauty of women’s long hair. Because long hair can make a woman look so attractive and beautiful, Paul feels comfortable using this fact as a secondary argument for why women need a covering on their heads.

[Paul now moves from his argument from nature to his fourth and final argument…]

  1. Honor your head for the sake of apostolic authority(11:16). In Paul’s final argument, he again appeals to apostolic authority: “But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.” If any of his readers still did not feel inclined to accept Paul’s reasoning, he informed them that the other churches followed what he had just explained. Some women were evidently discarding their head covering in public worship. Interestingly, Paul brings up the idea of “practice” (i.e., custom) again in the last verse of our section (11:16). These two verses (11:2, 16) serve as brackets to frame Paul’s entire discussion. The issue is obedience to what Paul has said from beginning to end. Will the ladies of the church at Corinth obey biblical instruction? Will Christian ladies today be obedient to carry out God’s desire for orderly and honorable worship?

As we conclude this challenging passage I’d like to offer a few closing challenges:

Wife, please consider your relationship with your husband. If you are acting in a way that undermines your husband, then you should rethink what you are doing. He is not necessarily more capable or better than you, but he is the head in your relationship. Most of the world will see your relationship in that light. Thus, you demean yourself if you bring dishonor to him.

Husband, please support your wife in her ministry. My wife has supported me in our ministry since we were first married.

Church, please reevaluate your view of women in ministry. Why do you hold the views that you do? Have you thoroughly studied what the Scriptures say on women in ministry, or are you basing your conclusions on what you have always assumed was correct or are comfortable with? I challenge you to prayerfully think through some of these issues and interact with people over what role women should play in the local church.

 

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Keeping our community out of jeopardy

Many years ago, Danny Villegas robbed a bank and was sentenced to 70 months in a federal penitentiary. Surprisingly, Villegas decided he liked prison life so much that he committed another crime, just so he could return! Villegas walked inside a Federal Credit Union in Florida and told the teller he was robbing her, adding, “You might as well call the police right now.” He then sat down on a couch in the lobby and waited for police to arrive. Villegas had worked as a roofer in Texas for five years, but had grown tired of the work. As an unemployed roofer, he decided he preferred prison over trying to find another job.

Perhaps many of us are more like Danny Villegas than we care to admit. Either consciously or subconsciously, we prefer to take the easy way out. Instead of working to bless God and others, we choose a selfish prison of our own making. Instead of giving God the worship that He alone deserves, we worship ourselves. Instead of serving others, we seek our own good. When this takes place there is community jeopardy.

In 1 Cor 10:14-11:1, Paul is going to conclude a three-chapter discussion on the freedom that God has given Christians. The passage falls into two major sections. In 1 Cor 10:14-22 there is a stern warning and in 1 Cor 10:23-11:1 there is empathic counsel on how to use our freedom to God’s glory, for the good of other people. Paul is going to tell us that true freedom is putting God and others first. Paul first supplements this idea with a warning.

 

  1. Flee idolatry or fight God(1 Cor 10:14-22). In this first section, Paul informs us that idolatry is sin because God is the only true God, and He is a jealous lover who will not share our affections with anyone or anything else. In 1 Cor 10:14, Paul begins with a straightforward command: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” The word “therefore” concludes the previous discussion (1 Cor 8:1-10:13) and moves toward a conclusion. Interestingly, Paul calls his readers “my beloved,” even though they are practicing idolatry. Now I can think of a lot of names by which the Corinthians could be identified or described, but “beloved” is not one of them. Yet, Paul loves these saints (cf. 1 Cor 1:2). Thus, he wants to remind his readers how precious they are to him even when he speaks harshly to them.

 

As a teacher, I occasionally feel at least a shred of guilt for going through particularly challenging portions of God’s word. My weak and sinful flesh wants to cut people slack and be especially gracious. Leaders want to be liked and to make people feel good about themselves. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t spin things like we do. Therefore, I have concluded that biblical honesty is the best policy. I once heard Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Ballard, WA say, “Soft preaching produces hard people and hard preaching produces soft people.” I like this! Therefore, the most loving thing that I can do is to affirm you in Christ, yet, drill us all between the eyes when necessary.

 

The command in 1 Cor 10:14 is to “flee” idolatry (cf. 1 Cor 10:7). “Idolatry” in the Old Testament was the image and worship of pagan gods. Today, in the 21st century, we’re still idolaters, but we’re just more sophisticated idolaters. Our idols appear more innocent since they are people, possessions, work, and leisure. However, if anyone or anything besides God gets our best thoughts, feelings, and energy we’re idolaters. Let me ask you a few quick questions: Do you know sports or the entertainment industry better than your Bible? If so, you will accumulate endless knowledge that will amount to nothing in eternity. Do you spend more time in your hobby than you do serving Christ? If so, you will have to answer for why Christ and His church meant so little to you during your brief sojourn on earth. Do you spend more time surfing the web than you do with people? If so, you will have neglected eternal souls that you could have impacted. Are you so driven to succeed in your job that you don’t have time to stop and pray? If so, you will never be satisfied. Are you bent on making just a little more money for yourself and your family? “If you make money your god, it will plague you like the devil.”

 

In 1 Cor 10:15, Paul writes, “I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say.” Verse 15 shows Paul’s approach to leadership. He was an apostle of Christ, yet he admonishes these sinful saints to judge his words for themselves (cf. 1 Cor 14:39-40). If this was true 2,000 years ago in Corinth, this is certainly true for us as well. God has called you and me to study the Scriptures for ourselves. He expects that we will be wise and discerning because the Holy Spirit lives inside of those that have trusted in Christ.

 

In 1 Cor 10:16-22, Paul asks seven rhetorical questions in seven verses. As 10:15 indicated, Paul is inviting the Corinthians to carefully consider his words. First, Paul uses the Lord’s Supper and Israel’s sacrificial meals as an analogy to demonstrate that God’s people have always had one God. Second, he warns Israel against idolatry. In 10:16-18, Paul writes, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?” Paul informs us that any kind of idolatrous involvement contradicts our identity in Jesus Christ. Here, he shows how the communion table is a symbol of our relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the very source of our spiritual life. He is also the source of the unity that we have as brothers and sisters in His body. So when we partake together of the elements at the communion table, Paul says it involves a sharing (koinonia) with the Lord Jesus and also with our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. In 10:18, he furthers his analogy and says that the same dynamic was at work in ancient Israel as worshipers ate sacrificial meals in the temple in Jerusalem (see Deut 14:22-27). They communed with the Lord through the forgiveness associated with those animal sacrifices. So both believing Jews under the old covenant and followers of Jesus Christ under the new covenant are defined in terms of spiritual identity by what they eat together. And those meals aren’t just religious ritual…they are a picture of their relationship with the Lord of the universe. So symbolically, when we come to the Lord’s Table, we are saying in essence, we eat this just as we live by it; Jesus is our source of life and strength. This sacred meal defines who we are in Jesus Christ. We have died to sin with Him, and we have been resurrected to new life because of His resurrection life.

 

The natural response to our oneness with Christ and each other should be to avoid idolatry at any cost. In 1 Cor 10:19-22, Paul explains that mixing drinks is of the devil! Paul writes, “What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?” In these verses, Paul is contrasting eating at the Lord’s Table with eating meals in the pagan temples. It is a frightening reality that all idolatry is driven by demonic evil. The point Paul is making is that while the meat that was partaken of in these pagan sacrificial meals had no spiritual power, the meal did represent satanic evil. Demons are the spiritual force behind all idolatry, religious or otherwise. All idolatry, no matter how innocent we may think it is, is built on destructive lies about ultimate fulfillment and purpose in life. So Paul is warning these Christians that even unwitting involvement in pagan idolatry can draw a believer into participation with Satan and his demons.

 

People say, “You are what you eat.” The Christian counterpart to that is, “You are what you believe.”

Idolatry conflicts with our identity in Christ and so incurs the wrath of God. We live out our identity in Christ, so if we identify with something other than Him, then we will live that kind of life. The Christian life and the life of demons are mutually exclusive. No Christian can participate in demon activity with impunity. Christianity cannot be a mere religious hobby to us. No Christian can dip his flag or lower his colors by accommodating what he believes to another religion. Christians are all one big loaf of bread in unity with the Lord Jesus. We cannot inject other religious beliefs into that relationship. Compromise of truth and credence to other religions always weakens our faith. If we compromise truth, we had better check our insurance policy to see if it is up to date.

 

The final verse in this section (1 Cor 10:22) is particularly interesting. Again, Paul writes, “Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?” In the Old Testament, the metaphor of marriage was often used to describe the Israelites’ relationship with the Lord in the context of their flirting with idols. Idolatry was equivalent to the Israelites’ prostituting themselves to another, foreign lover, and as a result the Lord became jealous. This is to be expected. If your spouse said he or she had another love interest, your nostrils would flare, you would see red, and you would pour out your wrath. Similarly, any form of idolatrous involvement provokes the jealousy of God. All through the Old Testament, God identifies Himself as a “jealous God.” But His jealousy is not like ours. It’s totally consistent with His character. It’s also totally committed to what’s best for us. God’s jealousy comes from His loving ownership of us. He loves us too much for us to get away with whatever rebellion or idolatry we’re pursuing. He will intervene; He will crash into our life and it will be painful. He will do whatever it takes to get our attention, because the answer to the question is, we are not stronger than He is. No matter what the rebellion is or how entrenched it is, He is more powerful!

 

It goes without saying that this has not been a very tolerant lesson, but I don’t care to arouse God’s jealousy. The jealousy of God requires us to be zealous for God. The words translated “jealous” and “zealous” are the same in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. The person who is jealous should also be zealous for the object of his love. You and I should be righteously zealous for God’s name and reputation.

 

You and I should be zealous for God’s people—both those who are already His and those who are not yet in the family. When Paul was preparing to establish the church at Corinth God gave him a very encouraging word: “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Well, there weren’t any Christians there yet. What God meant is that there were many who were destined to become Christians, but they needed to be evangelized. Do we have a passion for souls? Do we have a passion for making disciples? Do we have a zeal for serving God’s people? True freedom is putting God and others first.

Then, too, you and I should be zealous for God’s house, which in the New Testament is His church. Do you remember what Jesus said, “Zeal for Your house will consume me?” (John 2:17; cf. Ps 69:9) How do you rate in this area? In every church there are those whose zeal has waned and even evaporated. For many American Christians it might well be said, “Zeal for my job has consumed me,” or “Zeal for sports has consumed me,” or “Zeal for my family has consumed me,” rather than zeal for God’s house. May we focus our zeal on that which will last for eternity, when the rest of these things are burnt up on Judgment Day. True freedom is putting God and others first.

[Paul has warned us to flee idolatry or fight God. Now he will encourage us to…]

  1. Sacrifice for others or dishonor God(1 Cor 10:23-11:1). In this second section, Paul discusses how we should interact with others over issues of freedom. His counsel is: Be willing to relinquish your “rights” for the sake of your brothers and sisters. In 10:23, Paul shares an important principle: Edification is more important than our personal gratification. Paul writes, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” As Christians we really do have essential freedom in matters of morally neutral things. But our behavior must be tempered with concern for others in the body of Christ. If our freedom is going to be expressed through Christian maturity, it’s going to be concerned with the spiritual benefit to others. That word “edify” means to build up or strengthen. It’s a word from the vocabulary of the construction of buildings. Paul uses it in his letters to describe the strengthening of Christian character in ourselves and other people. So when we’re faced with a decision about a particular practice, first we’ve got to ask ourselves if we have the right to do it. I would say if it’s not forbidden by Scripture, absolutely we have the right. But the next question has to be whether it’s profitable and edifying. Will this activity build people up, both ourselves and others? And again, if the answer is yes, then we can participate with full abandon.

 

A second principle is found in 10:24. Our freedom is going to express itself in serving other people. “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.” Paul is saying: Our thoughts should always be directed to other brothers and sisters in Christ. We should desire to sacrifice for others. Now, granted, there are two extremes when it comes to the issue of freedom: Some say, “I don’t care one iota what anyone says about what I do; I’ll do as I please. I operate on the principle of grace and am free to do as I please.” This attitude approaches spiritual anarchy. There are others who live in a spiritual straight jacket. They are afraid to sneeze without a sense of guilt. There must always be a delicate balance. But if you’re going to err, err on the side of putting your spiritual family members first.

On a flight from Atlanta to Chicago in July 2004, nine U.S. soldiers—home from Iraq on a two-week leave—were among the passengers. Before one of the soldiers boarded, a passenger traded his first-class ticket for the soldier’s coach ticket. As the plane was boarding, other passengers asked to trade their first- class seats for the coach seats occupied by the remaining soldiers. Devilla Evans, a flight attendant on the American Airlines flight, said, “It was a privilege to be flying with those two groups of unselfish people: those who would put their lives on the line to protect their fellow citizens’ freedom, and those who were not ashamed to say thank you.” True freedom is putting God and others first.

 

In 1 Cor 10:25-27, Paul will tell us that liberty in Christ will always triumph over legalism. In 10:25-26, Paul writes, “Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.” In these three verses, Paul majors on our freedom in Christ. He says it doesn’t matter what we eat, including food offered to idols, because neither the taking of it nor the abstaining from it will have any effect on our relationship with God. All food is a gift from God. So Paul says to enjoy life, to not be overly scrupulous. In this context, the old saying, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” is true.

 

In 1 Cor 10:27, Paul explains how Christians should behave when invited to a unbeliever’s home: “If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake.” This verse is one of the favorite verses of mothers all over the world. Now if only children and husbands would abide by this principle. Seriously, in context, Paul informs the Corinthians that they should not make an issue of the origin of the meat or food they are eating. They should eat all of it. Eating a piece of meat that was offered to an idol will not defile the Christian. What defiles the Christian is participating in heathen worship. If eating a piece of idol-meat does not defile the Christian, there is no need to make an issue of it. This simply exercises an overly-sensitive conscience and introduces an unnecessary affront to the hospitality of the host. Paul implies that living out this freedom means that we’re going to have evangelistic entrée into people’s lives. There are nonbelievers who will invite us into their homes, and we have complete freedom to eat with them, whatever they put before us. Paul’s solution to a potential violation of conscience is “Don’t ask!” To the extent that we’re willing to do that, we’re reflecting the life of Jesus, who ate with tax-gatherers and sinners (Matt 9:10-11). But if we are legalistic, uptight, self-righteous, self-protective Christians, “holier than thou” types, our non-Christian acquaintances won’t want anything to do with us anyway. We’re not even going to get invited to their homes. But if we live a life of freedom and openness, that will attract them to Jesus.

In 1 Cor 10:28-30, Paul raises another challenging scenario: “But if anyone says to you, ‘This is meat sacrificed to idols,’ do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?” What Paul is doing in 10:28-29a is raising a hypothetical situation in which you’ve been invited to a non-Christian friend’s home, and one of your Christian friends is there as well who has a weaker conscience. And they are offended or confused by the freedom with which you’re indulging: “Didn’t you know this is idol food? Are you sure you ought to be eating this?” Paul suggests that we might decide to refrain from eating the meat so as not to risk leading that younger brother or sister in Christ into sin or confusing their conscience. But Paul makes clear that even though we may choose to modify our actions for the good of the weaker brother or sister, we are not to adjust our own conscience. Their weakness ought to make us very gracious, merciful, and sensitive toward them. But the legalism of the weaker one shouldn’t make us feel condemned or influence us toward legalism in our own lifestyle. In 10:29b Paul again defends his freedom to partake of any kind of food, especially food that he knows is a good gift from God, and receive it with gratitude. He also says he refuses to be fearful about what other people think of him. He’s not going to be controlled by that.

 

Paul is now ready to summarize this entire three-chapter unit (chs. 8-10). Paul’s use of the word “then” (oun) in 10:31 is intended to draw his discussion on the food issue to a conclusion. As a general principle, believers should do everything “for the glory of God”—and Paul particularly mentions here (understandably) eating and drinking. To do something for the glory of God means to reflect God’s glory in the way we live. Verses 31-32 again talk about the purpose of our freedom in Christ. “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” The aim we ought to have in using our liberty carefully and selflessly is to glorify God. These two verses wrap up everything we’ve been looking at in the preceding verses. We’re to use our eating and drinking to bring glory to God, not to cause conflict, to honor a demon, or to undermine the faith of weaker brothers and sisters. Paul’s desire was to live out his freedom in Christ, partly because of its evangelistic potential for the sake of the Gentiles and the Jews who didn’t yet know Christ, and partly so he could have an influence on the church of Jesus Christ as an apostle. His concern was having an attractively inoffensive lifestyle of freedom. Paul spoke earlier in the letter about the fact that the gospel in and of itself is offensive to some people (1:18, 23). But he didn’t want his own life to bring offense to the gospel in the eyes of anybody, Christian or non-Christian. The real fear here was that legalism, being controlling, would somehow be the offense that would keep people from the Lord Jesus. His desire was to try to live without offending in any direction, always thinking of both honoring Christ and affecting other people in how he lived. And Paul always looked in both of those directions. That’s what Paul is talking about with regard to the purpose of our freedom in Jesus Christ.

 

Paul closes the section in the last two verses with an unsettling invitation. We could ask ourselves, “Could I issue the same invitation Paul does?” He says that his own life is a pattern of freedom in Jesus Christ, and he invites other people to imitate him. In 1 Cor 10:33-11:1, Paul writes: “…just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profitof the many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Paul doesn’t mean that he was a man-pleaser (cf. Gal 1:10). His concern was that his life would be attractive so that they would be drawn to Jesus in him. “Saved” in this context probably includes Christians and means saved in the wide sense of delivered from anything that keeps someone from advancing spiritually (cf. Rom 15:1-3). Paul is not content simply to live his life as an example for the Corinthians to emulate; he actually instructs them to (lit.) become “imitators” of him. (cf. 4:16). For Paul, as an apostle of Christ, it wasn’t just a matter of preaching and teaching. It was a matter of living out the truth that he taught. And in many of those cities Paul went to, he would be the first and only Christian they would see. So watching him live his life was very important for them to understand the reality of the gospel.

Paul is asking every one of us through this entire passage, “Do you want to know what it means to live a consistent Christian life? Do you want to properly balance freedom and restraint? Do you want to be in the world and not of the world? Do you want to have a positive spiritual influence in your community, but not allow that community to mold you so you compromise what’s true and what’s right? Do you want to live a balanced life, not being driven by the extremes of legalism or it’s opposite, selfish license? If you do, then watch me, follow me, live with me. I may not be perfect, but I try to imitate the selfless life that Christ lived. I want to glorify God in what I say and what I do and in the attitudes of my heart. To the extent that I succeed, then the good news is that you can, too.”

 

 

Finishing well

What do you think of when you hear the following names: Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Ted Haggard? What about Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom? Most people think: How in the world could these people let themselves do this? Why did they give up so much for so little? What would make them compromise their dreams? These are all legitimate questions since these three men and three businesses self-destructed. Each of these experienced so much success, yet in the end they failed.

 

The former New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra once said: “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” Now Yogi is no theologian, but he unknowingly expressed one of the greatest principles in the Christian life. It matters little to have the lead at the beginning; what matters is how you finish. Victory is won at the finish line, not at the starting blocks. Moreover, the Christian life is not a 100-yard dash; it is a marathon that requires endurance and a lifetime commitment to keep running with the intent of finishing strong. The cliché, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over” also serves to remind you and me that even if we have fallen far behind in the Christian race there is still time to finish well.

 

In 1 Cor 10:1-13, the apostle Paul is going to warn us about the dreadful and severe consequences of sin. He is also going to challenge us to avoid sin and persevere in our Christian lives. Paul will argue that there is a very real possibility that many Christians will not finish their Christian lives well. In 9:24-27, Paul shared that he strived to keep himself in check because he didn’t want to end up being disqualified from the prize of God’s approval. What he considered a possibility in his own life he now presents as a sad reality in the lives of God’s people in the Old Testament. Paul gives us a major history lesson, with the express purpose of getting us to learn from the past. Someone has said, “If history teaches us anything, it is that history teaches us nothing.” In other words, those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes. In these 13 verses, God is going to say, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” Two spiritual realities will reinforce this idea. First:

 

  1. ALL of God’s people experience great spiritual privileges(10:1-5). In 10:1-4, Paul tells the Corinthians that they have been blessed with the same spiritual blessings as Old Testament Israel. As we will see in this passage, this is also applicable to us as well. Paul explains, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, 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 were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” These four verses clarify that the Israelites that left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years were saved. They had observed Passover, which was an act of faith, and had come out of Egypt, a picture of salvation. Paul even used the Passover Lamb of Exodus 12 to describe the benefit of the cross of Jesus Christ to the Corinthians (1 Cor 5:7). The saved status of the Exodus generation is also seen in the use of the word “all,” which is used five times in four verses. Paul states: “ALL were under the cloud; ALL passed through the sea; ALL were baptized into Moses; ALL ate the same spiritual food; and ALL drank the same spiritual drink.”

 

Like Israel in the Old Testament, we too have received many spiritual privileges. In the same way that Israel was “under the cloud,” we have experienced God’s protection and guidance. In the same way that Israel “passed through the sea,” we have “passed from death to life” (John 5:24). In the same way that Israel was “baptized into Moses,” we have been “baptized into Christ” (1 Cor 12:13). In the same way that Israel ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:17-34). In the same way that Israel was “followed” by Christ, Christ follows us (Heb 13:5).

 

To what degree do you revel in the spiritual privileges that God has given you? Can you honestly say that you are awed by the fact that God saved you? Do you ponder the wonder that out of all the people in the history of the world, God chose of His own initiative to save you?

After unloading the spiritual privileges of God’s people, Paul transitions into a startling contrast. In spite of Israel’s redeemed state and numerous blessings (10:1-4), Paul writes in 10:5, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.” The word “nevertheless” emphatically brings out the contrast between how many were blessed (“all”) versus how many with whom God was not pleased (“most of them”). This declaration is an obvious understatement of great proportions. Over two million people came out of Egypt, yet only two adults (Joshua and Caleb) were allowed to enter the Promised Land. The rest were “laid low”…as in six feet under! Literally, their carcasses were scattered across the wilderness. These individuals were tragically disqualified by death. They did not go back to Egypt and get “unredeemed.” The blood of the Lamb, which had taken them out of Egypt, was irreversible. They did not lose what they had, but they lost the reward God wanted to give them.

 

The best example of this is Moses. Obviously, Moses was saved, yet on account of unbelief (Num 20:12; cf. Jude 5), he did not finish well. If this can happen to Moses, it can happen to you and me. We must humble ourselves and take God’s warning very seriously. “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”

[So, while ALL of God’s people experience great spiritual privileges, we will now learn further that…]

  1. Many of God’s people experience great spiritual failure(10:6-13). In 10:6-11, Paul draws himself, the Corinthians, and all of us into the story. There’s a warning given to “us” collectively. Paul is going to summarize five stories from the 40 years of wilderness wandering that show a pattern of disqualification. He’s going to tell us that it is important for us to understand these Old Testament accounts, because we stand accountable as Israel did. Look at the first statement, in 10:6: “Now these things happened as examples for us so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.” Now look at 10:11: “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.” These bracketing comments are setting the context for the history lesson that unfolds in 10:7-10. Paul wants us to see ourselves here because there’s a danger that we too might fall into sin like Israel and be disqualified from our reward.

 

Before we look at the four sins in 10:7-10, it is important to note the source of all four of these sins—craving evil things. The “craving of evil things” in 10:6b was an episode that took place about a year after the Exodus (Num 11). Israel had been given the law, they had built the tabernacle, and they had begun to travel. Do you know what the evil things were that they craved? Fresh vegetables! They were sick and tired of manna, and they wanted to go back to Egypt where there were cucumbers, garlic, and onions. We may laugh at this, but how often are we guilty of “craving” a new car, a larger home, a new partner, a new wardrobe? In light of eternity, these cravings are on par with cucumbers, garlic, and onions. Seriously, in eternity, what difference will it make what kind of car I drove or how large my home was? What difference will it make how successful I was in my job? Who will ask me what material possessions I provided for my children? Will I even care about those things? The answer is “NO!” Yet, Paul wants us to know that craving evil things can keep us from finishing well. “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”

 

Let’s now look at the four sins Paul mentions in 10:7-10.

(1) Idolatry: In 10:7, Paul writes, “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.” The idolatry that Paul is referring to took place during the giving of the law at Mount Sinai (Exod 32). While Moses spent forty days on the mountain, the people became fearful and restless. They started to distrust that God even existed, and they asked Aaron to create an alternative god for them. In great weakness, Aaron gave in and created the golden calf. The result was an orgy with eating and drinking. Similarly, the Corinthians were guilty of idolatry through their temple feasts (10:14-22).

 

For you and me, idolatry is putting anything or anyone in God’s rightful place in our lives. Anything can become an idol, but I want to focus on making our Christian experience an idol. We can create religious idols because we are fearful of intimacy with the living God of the universe. The busier we stay in Christian activity, the less we have to deal with Him. So success in ministry can be an idol. Love relationships in the body of Christ can become an idol. A concern for a healthy self-image can become idolatrous, because we don’t believe that God Himself can be enough. So we end up demanding that our Christian experience and activity fulfill us—give us meaning and purpose. Then it becomes an idol. Paul wants us to know that idolatry can keep us from finishing well. “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”

 

(2) Immorality: In 10:8, Paul writes, “Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.” The sexual immorality of God’s people continued through their wilderness wandering. Later in their progress through the desert, the Israelites practiced immorality when they participated in one of the Moabites’ religious feasts (Num 25:1-9). Like the Israelites, the Corinthians were also guilty of sexual immorality. One of their members was having an affair with his step-mother (5:1-2), and others had to be commanded to flee sexual immorality (6:18).

The Corinthian church wasn’t the only church to struggle with sexual immorality; we do as well—in thought and action. So here are some ways to guard yourself against sexual morality:

  • Stay honest with your spouse. Even though it may be difficult, tell your spouse when you are struggling with sexual temptation.
  • Monitor your marriage. Beware of child-centered marriages. Invest, first and foremost, in your spouse.
  • Recognize that work can be a danger zone. Baltimore psychologist, Shirley Glass, has studied adultery and has determined that 25% of women and 44% of men have affairs. Of those men and women that do have affairs, the majority of them have their affairs with a coworker.
  • Beware of the lure of the Internet. Use various safeguards to keep yourself from succumbing to on-line sexual sin.
  • Commit to an accountability relationship. Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, has studied 237 instances of Christian men (most are Christian leaders), who have experienced moral failure. He found one common factor: not one of the 237 had accountability relationships with other men.
  • Spend time in God’s word. Everyone has 96 15-minute periods of time every day. All of us have seven days in each week.

Paul wants us to know that sexual immorality can keep us from finishing well. We have seen this again and again in the Christian world. Thus, Paul exclaims, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” Persevere in your marriage vows. If you are single, stay pure and wait on God to provide you with a spouse. The consequences can be severe when you take matters into your own hands. However, if you wait on God, He will reward you with a greater sense of intimacy with Him.

 

(3) Testing God: In 10:9, Paul writes, “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.” In Numbers 21, the Israelites tested the Lord Jesus Christ by taxing His patience. They continued to complain, even though He faithfully provided for them (21:4-9). His provision of manna and water was inadequate from their point of view, and they despised it (21:5). As a result, God destroyed them with serpents! Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I would pick that way to die. God used snakes to destroy His people because they tested Him in the wilderness. God does not look kindly on a lack of faith.

 

Like Israel, the Corinthians had given evidence of being dissatisfied with God’s provision. First, the Corinthians were disgruntled with God’s servants (1 Cor 1:12). Second, the Corinthians repulsed God with their sinful arrogance (4:18; 8:1). Third, the Corinthians indicated dissatisfaction with the Lord’s Supper by participating in pagan feasts (10:14-22). Fourth, the Corinthians were divided over class distinctions (11:17-34). We can test God in similar ways as well. When we do so, we risk the chastening hand of God. Paul wants us to know that idolatry can keep us from finishing well. “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”

 

(4) Grumbling: In 10:10, Paul writes, “Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” Tragically, the image of grumbling characterizes the whole wilderness experience of Israel (Exod 15 through Num 17). And this sinful behavior began one month after the Exodus. Sadly, God’s people grumbled incessantly for a period of two years, and then God decreed that all those twenty years old or older will not be permitted to enter the Promised Land. They will be made to wander in the desert until the last rebel is dead (Num 14:26-35).

Paul’s deliberate link with testing God (10:9) demonstrates that grumbling is particularly associated with putting God to the test (Exod 17:2-3). Specifically, it seems that the episode Paul is reflecting upon is the Israelites’ grumbling about food. On these occasions, God’s anger was particularly kindled against them (Num 11:1; 14:2-4). In Num 11:1-3, God sent fire that consumed some of the people on the edge of the camp. If this is the occasion Paul has in mind, Paul adds that God executed His wrath by using an angel, a fact that Moses did not mention in Numbers. However, the translators of the Greek OT used the same term, “the destroyer” (olothreutes) to describe the angel who executed the Egyptians’ first-born on the night of the Exodus (Exod 12:23; cf. Heb 11:28).

 

In Numbers 16, Israel also grumbled against both Moses and Aaron. This resulted in a man by the name of Korah leading a rebellion where nearly 15,000 died. How would you feel if today’s newspaper reported that the military had executed 15,000 people? Suppose the victims were not criminals, foreign agitators, or political radicals, but ordinary citizens who were protesting the way their country was being run. Such a possibility seems unthinkable. Yet, in Numbers 16 we read that God responded like that to ancient Israel. He took the lives of 15,000 of His chosen people because they were complaining about the way He was caring for them.

The theme of ingratitude for all the blessings that God had given them marks this section. God’s people wanted more. His presence, His provision, His availability, and His power weren’t enough. Can you relate? Have you ever thought about the fact that when you grumble and complain, either against God directly or against those to whom He has delegated leadership over you (like parents, teachers, pastors, bosses), you are really questioning His wisdom, His grace, His goodness, and His righteousness? May I encourage you to cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Pick your friendships wisely. Later, in 1 Cor 15:33, Paul will warn, “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

 

Many Christians believe that every Christian has a guardian angel. I’m not sure that we can argue this from the Scriptures; nevertheless, undoubtedly various angels are protecting us from spiritual and physical harm. Yet, there comes a time in the lives of certain rebellious believers when God “pulls the plug” and assigns a death sentence! Instead of dispatching angels to watch over us, He assigns the destroying angel to take us home to heaven early!

The last two verses of this section (10:12-13) give a wonderful summary. In them are balanced an important warning and a hopeful word of encouragement and grace. In light of all that Paul has said, he challenges the Corinthians with these words in 10:12: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” Those who have great beginnings may still fall and ruin the latter days of their lives. The child of God who thinks he has arrived is being set up by the devil to be knocked down. Those on the mountain top are the most vulnerable to attack. The taller they are, the harder they fall. The higher you are, the farther the fall. Elijah was on the mountain when he defied the prophets of Baal. The next day he ran across Israel as fast as he could, away from the painted face of Jezebel. He went from one magnificent, climatic victory to dismal defeat. There he sat under the juniper tree, defeated and discouraged. God came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He went from bravery to shrinking cowardice. Are all the breaks going for you? Even so, you must believe, “It could happen to me.”

Fortunately, we can choose to avoid disqualification and finish well. Paul closes this passage in 10:13 with these powerful words: “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, so that you will be able to endure it.” Before we look at this verse, we must keep in mind that the Greek word translated “temptation” (peirasmos) can also be translated “testing.” Practically speaking, this term could be translated “temptation and testing.” Every temptation is a test; every test is a temptation.

 

In 10:13, we can see three principles about temptation:

  1. Temptation is common to every person, so there is no temptation that is unique. In the Greek, the three words translated into our English, “common to man” are actually pressed into a single term. A more literal reading would be, “No temptation has seized you that is nothuman” (anthropinos, i.e., manlike). No one can hide behind the argument that his sin is unique and so he can be excused. It is impossible to be in business and not be tempted to sacrifice people for profit. Government workers can be regularly tempted to forfeit integrity for promotions. A mother of preschoolers will be tempted by this culture’s priorities to think of herself as a victim of her family’s needs.

 

  1. God controls the context of our temptation. We’ve all seen load-limit signs on highways, bridges, and elevators. Knowing that too much strain can cause severe damage or complete collapse, engineers determine the exact amount of stress that various materials can safely endure. Posted warnings tell us not to exceed the maximum load. Human beings also have their load limits, which vary from person to person. Some people, for example, can bear the pressure of trial and temptation better than others; yet everyone has a breaking point and can take only so much. In this verse, Paul promises that God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tested or tempted beyond what you are able. Yet, we must draw on God to deliver us. Mother Theresa (1910-1997) once said, “I know God won’t give me more than I can handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”

 

  1. God personally and providentially provides a specific way of escape. The use of the definite article (“the”) with both “temptation” and “way of escape” points to a particular way of escape that is available in each temptation. Paul did not mean there is one way of escape that is available regardless of the temptation. His point is: Look for the escape route! There is a way out! Overcoming temptation is not a matter of simply sitting down on a sofa with a box of chocolates and telling God to make the way of escape from whatever sin is tempting us. We are responsible to do our part as well. In 10:13-14, Paul states that we discover God’s saving plan in the key words: “bear,” “stand up,” and “flee” (10:12-14). Paul wants us to be victorious. He wants us to persevere through our tests and temptations. He is for us!

 

Paul is telling you and me that we must learn from our fathers—from Israel. We don’t have to repeat their mistakes. We can be obedient to God and finish well. Remember, it doesn’t matter how you begin, it only matters how you end.