Seized By Temptation
Temptation, Strength, Perseverance
If you have ever flown on a commercial airplane, you are probably familiar with the routine that takes place before takeoff. After everyone is seated the flight attendants go through the safety demonstration. They demonstrate how to latch and unlatch your seatbelt (in case you hadn’t figured that out), and then they explain what to do in the event of some sort of crisis. They point out where the exits on the plane are, they tell you that you can follow the lights on the aisle, and they tell you that you can use your seat cushion to float if you need to. They may even show you the proper way to slide out of the plane.
Airlines don’t do this to scare you, they do it because they know that in a crisis situation you need to know that there is a way of escape—and not only that, but you need to know how you can make that escape. They know that you need to know how to get out before the crisis hits because once it’s upon you it’s too late. This morning, as we look at 1 Corinthians 10:13, we find that Paul takes a similar tactic. He tells us that for Christians, there is a way of escape when we are faced with the crises of life. When we are tempted to sin, there is always a way out.
Paul has just finished talking about the importance of learning from the mistakes that others have made before us, and cautions the Corinthians not to get overconfident, lest they fall. After that caution, he immediately proceeds into the verse we are looking at today. Paul intends to encourage believers by telling us that no matter what the temptation, we are able to stand up under it.
No Unique Temptations
Paul begins this verse with the words, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” Paul says that no matter what particular temptations the Corinthians were facing, they were not unique. The temptations we face are common. They may differ in severity or in duration, but the temptations themselves are essentially the same. Look at Eve’s temptation in the garden. You may say, Eve’s temptation was completely different than mine, because I’ve never been tempted to eat forbidden fruit, but you’d be wrong. The root of Eve’s temptation was not about forbidden fruit. Eve was tempted to think that God was holding back, that he was being unfair, and that she deserved better. Eve’s temptation was to elevate herself above God, and to trust herself rather than what God told her. We not only have faced exactly the same temptation, we face it almost every day!
People often excuse their sin by saying “You don’t understand, my situation’s unique.” Our situations aren’t as unique as you think. We tell ourselves these lies all the time though.
- We justify spending too much time at work because, “people don’t understand the demands on my life.”
- We justify fits of rage because, “people don’t understand how aggravating that person can be.”
- We justify sharing gossip because, “other people really need to know about this.”
- We justify misrepresenting ourselves in business because, “it’s the only way I can compete with people who are cheating.”
- We justify greed because, “You don’t know how hard I work. I deserve this.”
The fact is, no matter how highly we like to think of ourselves or how great we like to imagine our crosses to be, our situation isn’t much different from that of everyone else.
Paul explains that our temptations are common among men because he wants to encourage us. He wants us to know that our temptations are not unbearable. We can look around at others and see that they have succeeded in overcoming these temptations as well.
This is the reason that support groups are often so effective. Everyone in the group is facing the same basic temptation. By looking at others and seeing that they have had success, and sharing with one another the ways they have resisted these temptations, each member of the group is stronger than if he were alone.
Think about a person who is grieving. Someone who has lost a loved one often feels self-conscious about the fact that they continue to struggle with grief for months or years after the fact. Grieving people are encouraged to know that others are not coping as easily as they first thought. They are encouraged that other people are sharing their struggle. Paul wants us to understand that because our temptations are common, we can find strength in resisting them together.
God is in Control
So Paul starts by telling us that our temptations are not unique. He tells us that if we are honest, we can look around us and see others who are facing (and resisting) similar temptations. He then continues by showing us that in all of our temptations, God is in control.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 10:13, NIV)
When Paul tells us that God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear, it means 1) that God is paying attention to our situation, and 2) that God will intervene when the temptation gets too great. Think about a parent who sees their child struggling with a difficult situation—maybe a bully, or with their grades. Probably, that parent will sit back and watch as the child tries to deal with the situation, but they will step in and stop it when it gets beyond what the child can handle. God deals with us in the same way.
Often, people misquote this passage by saying, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” The fact is that some situations are beyond what we can handle in our own strength. These are the times when we need to tap into God’s strength for help.
Paul tells us that God will limit the temptation we face, and that He will provide a way out so that we can bear or withstand the temptation. In other words, we are never in a position where we must give in to sin.
That doesn’t mean that we will not fall into sin. We will. Notice that he says “when you are tempted.” He doesn’t say if you are tempted. What Paul is saying isn’t that we won’t be tempted, but that we don’t have to sin. That’s an important distinction. God has given us resources so that we can resist and overcome temptation.
The real question is, since Paul is using this passage as an encouragement to the believers in Corinth to resist sin, how do we go about it?
Often when people look at this passage, they also look at the story of Joseph in Genesis 39. Joseph had risen to a prominent position in the house of Potiphar, and one afternoon when Potiphar was away, his wife came on to Joseph. Joseph’s response when she pulled him in close by his coat was to slither out of her grasp and run away from her, leaving his coat in her hand. We often point to this passage as an example of how we should combat temptation—we should flee from it.
That is certainly good advice. If we find ourselves in a situation that is tempting us to sin, we are well-served to flee from that situation. If you are a shopaholic, you probably shouldn’t go to the mall or look at catalogs. If you are someone who has difficulty with gossip, you probably shouldn’t hang out at Ayerco, the water cooler, or other places where gossip is prevalent. If you have a tendency to look at things you shouldn’t late at night, you should probably choose to turn off the computer or TV after a certain time. Fleeing is a great strategy for dealing with these kinds of temptations—if we can minimize the temptation by avoiding situations that tempt us, then that’s what we should do. But let’s be honest, you probably already know that, even if you aren’t actually doing it. What about the temptations that aren’t caused by the situations that we are in? How do we deal with deal with the temptations that we can’t flee from?
Recognize Your Source of Strength
Think about some of the temptations we face.
- We are tempted to rely on our own strength instead of trusting in God’s
- We are tempted to get angry with God when things get tough
- We are tempted to become lazy in our jobs, or in our family, or in our spiritual growth
- We are tempted to despair and give up when things become hard
- We are tempted to blame others for the problems we face
- We are tempted to keep beating ourselves up for past mistakes
I’ve really wrestled with this question over the last couple of weeks. With Gracie in the hospital I found myself faced with all sorts of temptations. I was tempted to be afraid, to feel helpless, to feel guilty, and to be anxious. I worried about Gracie, about Sarah, about how much it was going to cost me, and about how I was going to manage all of my other responsibilities. In these times, it really isn’t helpful for people to say, “you just need to trust God,” or “Don’t worry!” In the midst of temptation, those kinds of phrases are about as helpful as the doctor whose patient came in and told him that he broke his arm in two places, and the doctor told him not to hang out in those places anymore. The doctor may think he’s being helpful, but it’s completely worthless.
We must remind ourselves that our strength, our ability to resist does not lie within us—but rather with God. He is the one who is in control of the situation, and He is the one who provides us with what we need to endure it, so we need to look to him to help us. To do this we must deliberately stop and turn to Him. Instead of fretting, running, or churning we must stop and seek His strength. How do we do that?
First, we need to pray. Let me tell you how I think we should pray—we need to start by being totally honest before the Lord. I’d encourage you to find a place where you can be alone and pray out loud, and tell God exactly what you’re struggling with. If you are upset with him, tell him. If you feel like you can’t carry on any more, tell him. If you just feel like you have to cry, do it. Be completely honest with God and lay it all out on the table. Sometimes it just helps to be able to tell someone what is really going on. In my experience, while I’m doing this, the Lord also gives me some answers—he often changes my perspective a little, and draws me closer to him.
After you’ve told God exactly what your struggle is, ask him to help you. Be specific. Tell him that you need strength, that you need him to calm you down, that you need help trusting him. This is the first step in overcoming any temptation. No matter what the temptation is, bring it before the Lord. If we insist on fighting our battles alone, chances are we will lose them alone.
The second thing that we can do is to recall God’s promises. If you are struggling with a specific sin, find a verse of the Bible that is applicable to that struggle. If you are concerned about your finances, remind yourself of what Jesus said in Matthew 6—that God cares for the birds of the air and the grass in the fields, and he will care for you too. If you are having trouble forgiving yourself, remind yourself of the passages that tell of God’s forgiveness, and how when he forgives us, he no longer remembers our sins. (cf. Isaiah 43:25, Jeremiah 31:34) If you are struggling with greed, remind yourself of what Jesus said in Luke 12:43; that the type of treasure we try to gain (whether earthly or heavenly) demonstrates where our true devotions lie. If you are struggling with anger remind yourself of James 1:19, “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
I would encourage you to work at memorizing verses like this. Sometimes it takes repeating a passage a number of times before we truly begin to internalize what it means. Write a verse down on a note card and keep reading it aloud until you can say it without the card in front of you. The things that we memorize stick with us and influence us. That’s why we believe AWANA is so important. The kids may not remember the exact wording of their verses, but they do remember the promises they’ve learned. The same is true for adults. If we want to resist temptation, we should be influenced by God’s word.
Third, we need to recall God’s track record. If we can take the time to take a step back and look at how God has worked in our lives in the past, we’ll see that he has always been faithful, and has always taken care of us, and has always (in hindsight) had a greater plan for us. Think about all the answers to prayer that we have seen. As I was sitting in church last week, churning about what was going to happen with Gracie, I was struck by the fact that at least three of the people we were praying for had doctors tell them in the last week that they didn’t understand why they were doing so well. I was reminded that prayer works. Recall the times when you felt overwhelmed but God saw you through the storm. Look at the way that God dealt with the men and women in the Bible. God has been faithful in the past so we can trust that he will deliver once again.
Obviously our greatest resource is the Lord. We need to trust God. However, we can also enlist the help of others. Remember, there are other people dealing with the same temptations you are. Go ask a friend to help you. Ask them to help you remember God’s promises. Tell them about the struggles you have in trusting God, and ask them to help you. Ask them to pray for you and perhaps with you. If we want to overcome temptation, we need to remember that we can’t do it alone.
If we are honest we must confess that we would really much rather not have to deal with temptation. We’d rather God just take temptation away from us. Why does God allow us to be tempted at all? Why did God allow Satan to test Job?
Think about a young puppy that you are trying to train to stay. You keep telling the dog to stay and eventually you can see that he is starting to get it. He begins to stay when you tell him to. But, the only way that you can tell that the dog has mastered the “Stay” command is to put a treat down in front of him and tell him to stay. He looks at you and waits for you to tell him it’s ok. It is only when he resists that temptation that you know he will do what you tell him to. It isn’t until the dog demonstrates that he will listen that you will trust him to be off his leash.
The same thing is true with our faith. God tests us because it is a way of helping us to grow in our faith. We may look like we are devoted to him on the outside, but if we immediately cave in to the first temptation that comes our way, our true colors are shown. As we resist temptation, we become stronger, and we are able to be trusted with more and more, because God has found us to be trustworthy.
Let me encourage you to take comfort in the fact that we have God’s help in facing our temptations. We can seek out the help of others in battling our temptations. Temptations are not bad things. They are ways that God can test our faith. Let me leave you with the words from James chapter 1.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may become mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4, NIV)
I’m not to the point where I can consider it pure joy when I am faced with temptations or trials, but I’ve found that if I can take a step back, look at the situation, and see that God is ultimately working for my good, to make me mature and complete, not lacking anything, I’m a little more willing to endure the hard times. And not only am I willing to endure them, I’m more eager to resist them. As you go into this week I can make you a promise: you will be tempted. When the temptation comes, remind yourself that you are not the first person to face this temptation. Remind yourself that you do not have to face the temptation in your own strength. Turn to the Lord, confess your struggle, recall His promises, and rely on His strength.
I can’t tell you that your life will be easier or more comfortable if you resist temptation. In truth, it is much easier to simply give in. However I can tell you that with God’s help you can have victory, and you can become mature and complete, not lacking anything. That sounds like a battle worth fighting.