Jun 29 - Am I Helplessly Hopeless When It Comes To Temptation?

Am I Helplessly Hopeless When It Comes To Temptation?

June 29, 2014

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

 

AM I HELPLESSLY HOPELESS WHEN IT COMES TO TEMPTATION?

June 29, 2014

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

 

Temptation arises every time we want something that we know is not good or right for us.  It is the desire to do something that is morally wrong or unwise, often carrying with it some negative consequence for ourselves or others (ultimately harming us in some way in the long run).

So we may ignore God’s will when it comes to our lives but hope that God really doesn’t care much how we behave.  Or we may hope that our smoking cigarettes will not end up with us getting lung cancer.  Or we may hope that cheating on our spouse will not affect their commitment to us. 

We can also think of temptation in terms of short-term gratification over long-term benefits.

TEMPTATION: CHOOSING SHORT-TERM PLEASURE OVER LONG-TERM GAIN

The Temp in Temptation is the Temporary Gain (as opposed to the long term benefit)

(Self-)Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most (better said, choosing what you want most instead of choosing what you want most)

The point is that temptation always seems to be gratifying our desires in the short-term despite the potential long-term benefits.

In our passage this morning, Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, talks about temptation.  And in order to do so, he recounts the history of the nation of Israel during the Exodus, from the time when the journey began in the wilderness, to the point when the nation is just about to enter the land. 

So Paul relates to his readers how God was with and sustained the Israelites when they were escaping Egypt.  Firs he reminds them of God’s protective presence with them.  

LOOK AT WHAT ISRAEL EXPERIENCED:

GOD’S PRESENCE

1 You should know, brothers, that all of our fathers were under the cloud, all of them came through the sea.  2 And all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea.

Even though the majority of believers in Corinth were not Jewish, Paul calls the Israelites their forefathers. And he seems to assume that they were at least somewhat familiar with the events over 1,000 years previously as recorded in the Mosaic Law.  We read about the events he is hinting at in Exodus 13 and 14.

And YHWH went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light …                           Exodus 13:21

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and YHWH drove the sea back with a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.                                                                              Exodus 14:21

These events having to do with cloud and fire, with wind and water, were a tangible demonstration of God’s presence with Israel.  Paul compared this to the baptism, and the related indwelling of the H.S. of the believers at Corinth, two events that often went hand in hand and signaled God’s presence within a believer. 

But that wasn’t all, God also provided miraculously for the nation of Israel while in the wilderness.

LOOK AT WHAT ISRAEL EXPERIENCED:

GOD’S PROVISION

3 All of them ate the same supernatural food. (or: spiritual food)

Paul is referring here to the manna that covered the ground 6 days a week as recorded in Ex. 16.

In the evening quail came into the camp and covered it.  And in the morning dew covered the ground in the camp, and when it had dried up, the ground of the wilderness was covered with a fine, flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground … and the Israelites called it manna.                                                                                    Exodus 16:13,14,31

Paul is linking the manna with the supernatural or spiritual nature of the bread that is eaten at the Lord’s supper, which he discusses in the verses directly following our passage.  Paul believed that something of significance happens when we eat the bread signifying Jesus’ body.  Both the manna and the body of Jesus provide an avenue for life.  In one case, for physical life, in the other, for spiritual life.

But God’s provision did not stop there.  Next Paul makes reference to the water that Israel was provided with in a supernatural way at the beginning of their journey and at the end of their journey – which led to the belief among some Rabbis that the water actually journeyed with Israel the whole time it spent in the wilderness.

LOOK AT WHAT ISRAEL EXPERIENCED:

GOD’S PROVISION

4 And all of them drank the same supernatural drink, since they drank from the supernatural rock that accompanied them, which was Christ.

YHWH said to Moses, “…Take note, I will stand before you there on the rock at Mt. Horeb, and you will strike the rock and water will come out of it and the people will drink.”  And Moses did this as the elders of Israel watched.                                                     Exodus 17:4-6

(At Kadesh) Moses raised his hand and struck the rock two times with his staff.  Water flowed out abundantly and the people and their livestock drank.

                                                                        Numbers 20:11

And so the water can be said to compare the sharing of the cup during communion, again, both of them life-bringing elements.

However, despite God’s presence and provision, the Israelites fell away from God, from doing His will.  They were still side-tracked by their desires and their wants, and as such, missed out the blessing of the promised land. 

NEVERTHELESS, THE EXAMPLE OF ISRAEL WARNS US OF THE HUMAN CONDITION:

OUR PROPENSITY TO GIVE IN TO TEMPTATION

5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and so they died in the wilderness.

Here Paul referred to God’s response to the Israelites as recorded in Numbers 14.  Every man and woman 20 years or older, with the exception of the two spies, Caleb and Joshua, would die in the wilderness.

Your dead bodies will fall in the wilderness, and from all those listed in the census, everyone 20 years or older who has grumbled against me, none will enter the land except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.                                                         Numbers 14:29-30

And so Paul brings the whole story directly to bear on the believers in Corinth, possibly because he felt that with their infighting and self-aggrandizement, and in their permissiveness and greed, they too were in danger of disqualifying themselves from God’s blessings.

 6 This happened as a warning example for us, to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things, as was true of them.  … 11 All these things happened to them as warning examples and as instructions recorded for us who have reached the fulfillment of the ages.  12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful lest you fall. 

Paul admonishes the Corinthian believers to keep from allowing the promises of a party, of sexual pleasure, of food and of security and safety to tempt them as they had the Israelites. 

TEMPTATION: THE PROMISE OF A PARTY

7 Do not become idol worshippers as some of them were, because it is written in the Scriptures, “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to party.”  

Paul is writing to the events surrounding the worship of the golden calf while Moses was on Mt. Sinai to receive the Law.  So much easier to worship an idol that allows for self-indulgence. 

Aaron took their gold, made a sketch with a carving tool, and fashioned a calf accordingly.  So the people said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” … They rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings.  They sat down to eat and drink and got up to party.                                                                               Exodus 32:4-6

I could very well imagine that it’s easiest to follow a god who likes his followers to party hardy.  Keep in mind that God isn’t a kill-joy.  Jesus himself went to parties.  However, Jesus did not indulge himself with wine, women and dance (despite being accused of being a glutton and alcoholic). 

TEMPTATION: THE PROMISE OF PLEASURE

8 Let us not commit sexual immorality as some of them did and 23,000 people died in a single day. 

The event described by Paul is found in Numbers 25 – when the Jewish men ended up partnering up with women who drew them away from God.  Paul was familiar with the passage, but his scribe or an early copyist got the number of people killed a bit off.

At Shittim, the men of Israel were having sex with the Moabite women, who in turn tempted them to sacrifice to the Moabite gods.  And the Israelites worshipped the Moabite gods and ate (the food sacrificed to the gods).  So Israel yoked itself to the Baal of Peor and the anger of YHWH was kindled against them. … Those who died by the plague numbered 24,000.                  Numbers 25:1-3,9

The next example that Paul lists is the time when the Israelites got sick of eating the manna day after day, and wanted some variety.  They may have been enslaved when they were in Egypt, but at least they had fish, veggies, fruit, and things to flavor their food such as leek, onions and garlic (Num 11:5).

TEMPTATION: THE PROMISE OF “GREENER GRASS”

9 Let us not test the Lord [or: Christ], as some of them did and were killed by snakes.

(In Edom) The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us from Egypt only to let us die in the wilderness?  There is no food or water, and we loathe the useless food we do have.”  Then YHWH sent poisonous snakes among the people who bit them so that many died.                                                Numbers 21:5-6

While the manna kept them alive, they considered it of no worth. 

Lastly, Paul points to a time when they refused to enter the promised land because they would have to battle those who were already living there.

TEMPTATION: THE PROMISE OF “SECURITY”

10 And let us not grumble, as some of them did and were killed by the destroyer. 

Why is YHWH bringing us into this land only so we will be killed in battle?  Our wives and children will be taken captive.  It would be better for us to go back to Egypt … Let us choose another leader and go back.                                                                                                           Numbers 14:3-4   

The destroyer is only referenced in Exodus 12:23 where God allowed the destroyer to enter the house of the Egyptians to kill the firstborn sons.[1]   More common in the OT was the term “the angel of YHWH” as the one who could bring death to the Israelites.

The historical event that Paul is thinking of could be the rebellion of Korah in Numbers 16, where 14,700 died of a plague (v.49).  Or it could have been in reference to Numbers 14, where grumbling is a major motif (vv.2-4,26-27), but only 10 die of a plague (v.37).

Prior to his death, Moses is recorded as saying to the people of Israel, among many other things:

This commandment (to obey and turn to God with one’s whole heart and soul) that I have commanded you today is neither too hard, nor too far off, for you (to obey).  It is not in heaven so that you have to say, “Who will ascend to heaven for us, bring it down and proclaim it to us so that we can obey it?”  Neither is it on the far side of the sea, so that you have to say, “Who will sail over the sea, bring it back and proclaim it to us so that we can obey it?”  No! The word is very near to you.  It is in your mouth and in your heart so that you can obey it.                                                                                       Deuteronomy 30:11-14

Moses was convinced that it was more than possible for the Israelites to obey God and turn to him with all of their hearts.  And he did so with language reminiscent of the description of what God would do under the New Covenant (new heart and new mind, place my law upon their hearts…).  However, as history tells us, Israel did in fact fail, even to the point that some sacrificed their children to the god Moloch in the attempt to have Moloch bless their harvest.

The Problem: Israel’s apparent inability to resist temptation.

They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood   Psalm 106:37-38

So now Paul reiterates to the believers in Corinth, some of whom were in fact involved in all kinds of poor and sinful behavior, that they should and can do better.

OVERCOMING THE HUMAN CONDITION: THE ABILITY TO WITHSTAND TEMPTATION

13 Yet no temptation has come over you which is not common to humans.  And God is faithful.  He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability and give you a way out of every temptation, so that you will be able to resist it. 

The problem with temptation is that our desires can and will trump our values, our beliefs, our convictions.  And so, at times it seems that we are helpless pawns to our desires and cravings. 

My problem:  my apparent inability to resist temptation.

For example, some people eat the food that is bad for them because of their desire for the way it tastes.  Others may drink alcohol because of their desire to get a buzz.  Others again may start smoking because of their desire to fit in. 

We may enter into a bad relationship because of our desire to feel desired or loved.  We may live half of our lives on-line because of our desire to be distracted or not have to deal with the responsibilities of real life (like the person who lived one year without using the internet but who didn’t use the time productively but ended up playing video games for that year). 

We may spend most of our time at work because of our desire to be successful.  We may put our lives in danger with extreme sports because we desire an adrenalin rush.  We may buy something even if we do not have the money for it simply because we desire it. 

But this also extends to our attitudes and the way we interact with others.  We can yell, be mean, manipulative, angry, because we desire to have others do as we want them to. 

Or our desire may simply be to avoid anything uncomfortable.  We may not exercise because our desire is for rest.  Or we may not socialize because our desire is for seclusion.  Or we may not do certain things because of our desire to avoid anxiety or stress.  Or we may not help someone because we desire to focus all of our energies on ourselves.

Now Paul is calling his readers to learn a lesson from the Israelites.  Learn from the mistakes of others. They looked at the short-term gain.  They lost sight of the long-term gain.  And they paid the price because of it. 

We generally know that most problems that plague individuals — addiction, overeating, crime, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases, prejudice, debt, unwanted pregnancy, educational failure, underperformance at school and work, lack of savings, failure to exercise – is the failure to say “no” to temptation.

Unfortunately many of us forget to look back and learn the lessons of history.  Maybe that is why every generation seems prone to often make the very same mistakes – they don’t learn from the mistakes of previous generations.  It’s sad really.

What about hindsight?  We speak of having 20/20 vision after the fact.  Looking back on my life, I know that, had I known the long-term consequences of some of my actions, I would have done things differently.  For example, I would not have jogged in my 20’s on asphalt with $ 5 running shoes.  I would not have worked in a fiber glass factory. 

Here is one question I would like you to come up with:  If you could look back 10 years and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

(Knowing what I know now), IF I COULD GO BACK IN TIME BY 10 YEARS, WHAT IS THE ONE THING I WOULD TELL MY YOUNGER SELF?
WOULD I HAVE LISTENED?

Now some of you were very young 10 years ago.  Maybe the only thing you could tell yourself is to grow up, or not to grow up.  But most of us are old enough that there may be something we would want our younger self to either do or not do because it would have made a huge positive difference. 

But now think about the second questions as well. 

IF I CAME BACK FROM 10 YEARS IN THE FUTURE TO TODAY, WHAT IS THE ONE THING I MOST LIKELY WOULD TELL MYSELF?

What is the one thing that I am currently doing or failing to do that likely will have the most negative consequences over the next 10 years?  Think about this carefully.  Take the time. 

AM I GOING TO LISTEN?

Why in the world would you not?

Even if we think through the negative consequences of our choices … the weight gain, the heart attack, the failed relationship, the migraine, the debt, the broken promise, the alienation from those we love, the health problems, the effect on our family, the feeling of guilt and failure … even when we force ourselves to think about the cost of our decisions, we can still choose to pursue the momentary, fleeting pleasure or joy we get from our poor decisions.

Why?  In part, because we tell ourselves that somehow, some way, we will not experience the negative consequences of our choices, that we are somehow immune to them.  In part, it may be that we tell ourselves that if there are consequences they won’t touch us for a long, long time.

And so, despite our better judgment, we allow our desires and cravings to drive our decisions.  And even though we may rationally tell ourselves we shouldn’t give in to our desires, we do so anyway.  It is as if our desires overpower our reasoning. 

As a result, some people question the ability of humans to actually make real choices, that are not somehow predetermined by their genetic make-up, their home of origin, the environmental influences, and so on.

QUESTION: Do we have the ability to choose?

DETERMINISM:  My DNA, my upbringing, my experiences, etc. determine my choices.  Given the same factors, I will always make the choices I did.  Free will is an illusion.

IMPLICATION: Ultimately I am not responsible for my actions.

Hobbes: it is scary if the things we do are inevitable

So on the one hand you have determinism, on the other you have free choice.

QUESTION: Do we have the ability to choose?

FREE WILL: Having the real ability to choose one option or another

IMPLICATION: We are personally responsible for our decisions, actions and attitudes.

Hobbes: Too bad you were fated to be tripped by me and end up in the dirt.  Calvin:  that wasn’t fate.  I know die-hard determinists where their determinism breaks down as soon as someone does something they do not like.

Now, if we accept the premise that we have genuine freedom of choice, we may ask ourselves what freedom actually is.  Saw a T-shirt at a big store just this week with the slogan on it: Freedom – Doing what I want.

Question: What is Freedom?

Is it freedom from others - The ability to do what you want?

Or is it freedom from self - The ability to do what is right?

Calvin: no right or wrong … moral relativism … don’t worry if it’s right … until Hobbes pushes him into the dirt.

Both are types of freedom, but Paul has been reminding his readers over and over again, that the second is by far the more important type of freedom.

Given I have the ability to choose, to say “no” to my desires and wants, the inner fortitude to do so is called self-control.  Self-control allows us to make choices in keeping with our long-term interests.  It allows us to bring our impulse choices under control.  And self-control is much more effective when it is internally rather than externally motivated.  

So what are some of the things that may give us the self-control we need?

WHAT CAN STRENGTHEN MY SELF-CONTROL?

FEAR

AVOIDANCE

SUFFERING

REPLACEMENT

LOVE

GRATITUDE

HELP

FAITH

1. Fear

Sometimes we can easily set aside our desires because our fear of the negative consequences outweighs any short-term benefit we may derive by giving in. 

Let me give you an example.  If the speed limits on our roads and highways were never enforced, in other words, you would never get a speeding tickets, then there isn’t a lot of deterrent to not speed.

So, if our doctor tells us that we will die in short order if we don’t lose weight or stop drinking, it may sufficiently motivate us to change our lifestyle.

Or if he tell us that we will face a very painful and invasive operation if we don’t change our lifestyle, it can strengthen our resolve.

Or, the fear of detection or exposure or humiliation may also keep us from choosing to follow our desires.

Or the fear of losing our job, or our family, or our self-respect, may be strong enough to give us the self-control we need.

I think one of the fears that Paul was alluding to is not only the potential punishment in this life that we receive for what we have done, but, more importantly, whether or not our choices will disqualify us from eternal life.

2. Avoidance

This is really a strategy where we avoid the triggers that cause us to be tempted.  We stop watching the cooking shows that tempt us to eat even when we aren’t hungry.

We stop watching old movies that may cause us to be tempted to light up.

We stop driving by the donut shop.  We stop buying alcohol.  We disable facebook when working at home.  We hide the remote control. 

We get rid of that credit card or the line of credit. 

All of these ways are super when it comes to avoidance.

3. Suffering

Whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.

                                                                                    1 Peter 4:1

Whenever you go to visit someone who is seriously ill in the hospital, you will find that, by and large, they are done with temptation.  They are not thinking about gratifying their desires in ways that may harm them. 

4. Replacement

Do something else – replace one activity that leads to giving in to temptation (watching TV in the evenings) with another activity where you aren’t tempted (a walk around the block). 

5. Love

I’m not just thinking of the sense of being loved, but truly being concerned for our loved ones.

There will be times when our love for others can give us the strength and motivation to overcome temptation.

For example, the thought of our own demise may not scare us a lot, but the thought that our loved ones may suffer should we no longer be around, may change everything. 

We may stop smoking altogether once we have children because we do not want them to breathe in second hand smoke.  Or we may stop drinking because we can see how it is tearing apart our marriage.

6. Gratitude

Thankfulness will allow us to lighten up and let fun into your life. Allow yourself to have fun so that you lose that sense of depriving yourself. Make it your goal to ensure that your family and friends are having fun too.

7. Help

We can partner up, have a buddy you swim with, or get your spouse and kids on board when it comes to loosing weight…  celebrate progress together.

Sometimes we need an accountability group, sometimes a counselor, sometimes a listening ear.

8. Faith

I’m thinking of a deepening delight in God; receiving the kind of love that will want us to love God and experience Him in our lives.

The writer to the book of Hebrews says this about Jesus:

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who, in every respect, has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.                                    Hebrews 4:15-16

It is also faith in ourselves.  So while we should seek God’s forgiveness, just as importantly, we need to forgiving ourselves when we fail.  We can’t allow ourselves to wallow in your failures and become defeated:  I can’t do anything right.  I will never overcome this.  Etc. 

Now what?

Prepare for temptation by deciding now how you will act when you face it.

Plan to resist that one temptation by holding out for 10 minutes.  That may be long enough for the wave of desire to ebb.

The reality is that we are not helpless pawns when it comes to our desires.  We can in fact practice self-control.  I believe that indeed God has given us a way out of every temptation … but I also think he has given us the ability to find whatever that way may be for us.

 in other passages, YHWH himself is said to have killed them