The Great Escape
The Great Escape
Look in your Bibles at 1 Corinthians 10:13. Paul says, "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."
New father, Michael Breissen, was not about to let his wife's first Mother's Day pass uncelebrated. But she was a nurse and on that particular Sunday was working at the local hospital, and they weren't able to celebrate together at home. So Michael plunked new son, Jason, in the baby carrier, drove to the hospital, and in front of patients and he surprised Miriam with candy and flowers and balloons that said, World's Greatest Mom.
It was a great Mother's Day. But after celebrating, it was time for Miriam to go back to work and Jason and Michael to go back home. Michael gathered all the things that had been part of the celebration: the candy, flowers, and balloons. It wasn't as much fun taking those things out to the car as it was taking them in to the hospital for the surprise. He begrudgingly tossed the candy on the front seat and got the flowers arranged on the floor where they wouldn't tip over. He pulled the balloons in out of the wind and got everything arranged, and headed home.
That's when life got interesting. People began to honk their horns and flash their lights at him. He didn't realize what was going on until he hit 55 miles per hour on the highway. He heard a long scraping noise go down the roof, followed by a loud thump. He watched in horror in the rearview mirror as the baby carrier bounced off the trunk onto the highway and began to toboggan behind the car.
Michael screeched to a halt. He ran back down the highway to the baby carrier. Jason was okay.
As the waves of guilt and fear and relief began to wash over him, Michael fell on the highway and began to sob, which did not stop a passing policeman from writing him up, nor the local newspaper from writing a story about it. A reporter interviewed Miriam, who showed amazing understanding. She said, "It's so unlike him. He really is a good father."
While there's a part of us that says, "How could he?" there's another part of us that recognizes there is enough Michael Breissen to go around. We recognize all the mistakes we have made, the dumb things we have done born out of flurry and frustration and distraction. We know that there is enough Michael Breissen common in our humanity that we could be guilty of such things too.
The Apostle Paul makes it clear that sins and temptations are common to all of us.
That's the point of this passage. The apostle makes it clear that there are things wrong that are common to us. But rather than minimizing them, the apostle shows that the sins common to us are so great that they require the life of a Son, who was killed for your sake and mine, that that which is common to us might be covered.
When we see the penalty that was required because of what is common to us, we want to be rid of it. We want it to be out of our lives. We want victory, but it doesn't seem to come. The things that happened last week and the week before, the things we prayed release from but were not released from want victory and we wonder how it will come. These verses speak of such victory to come, telling us if we would gain some escape from those sins that seem to grab and hold us we must know first the measure of our sin. It's bigger than you are.
In verse 13, the apostle is talking about temptation. "No temptation has seized you except what is common." Temptation is not a sin. We sin when we yield to temptation.
At the same time, we come to understand the proportions of that temptation so that we can handle it when the apostle says the temptation itself is common among you. "No temptation has seized you except what is common." This understanding gives us some strength, some measure of victory. It is meant to rescue us from despair, from the despairing weakness that says, What I'm struggling with is unique to me. Other people don't face this. This is just me.
The apostle says that is not true. What you're struggling with is common.
You are rescued from despair when you think about the source of things the apostle is talking about. I don't know how you can be a healthy male in this society with the inundation of sexual images all around us and not be tempted by those images. That's part of the commonness we share.
I'm not a psychologist. I don't know if these things are entirely accurate. But if what people say are common differences between men and women, I don't know how you can be a healthy female and not be tempted by the retailing of relational trauma that makes up so much of daytime tv or the softback book market at the local supermarket.
I don't know how you can be a businessman and not be tempted to sacrifice people for profit, or be in government and not be tempted to sacrifice integrity for success. Those are things we are commonly tempted by.
Satan says, "It's just you. You've been a Christian how long and you still struggle with that?"
Against that voice comes the voice of God: "Listen, child, you're experiencing what millions of Christians through the centuries and across the world have struggled with. They have found some measure of victory, and you can too. It's not just you."
Temptation isn't just common to us, but common in us.
I have to be fair to the words here. The wording "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man" is not just saying that the temptation we face is common among us but common in us. The three words, "common to man," are actually one word in the Greek, which means that these temptations are or manlike. Bob Yarborough once said to me that you could interpret the passage as, "There's no temptation taken that's not simply part of the fabric of being human." That's not to rescue me from despair but to rescue me from pride.
I can't look at anybody else and say, "I'm so glad I don't wrestle with that thing." You don't wrestle with it only by the grace of God, because your human goodness does not inoculate you against human weakness. How could you say you would not struggle with such things if a David or a Peter, who walked with the Lord, could still suffer under the power of terrible temptation? How could we say we wouldn't be touched by such things?
They do touch us. Take an account of an amazing human goodness, and recognize it doesn't mean anything when temptation comes if you're standing only in human power.
Take Oscar Schindler. Do you remember Schindler's List and the amazing story of the German who used his wealth and wiles to rescue 1,200 Polish Jews? What a noble effort that was.
I was astonished to read in U.S. News & World Report what happened to Oscar Schindler after the war. Here is this one who had been so brave, so noble, who when the war was over, abandoned his wife, became a womanizer and a drunkard, and lived out his life in destitution and dependence upon others. So far did he fall that he took that gold ring that was fashioned for him out of gold harvested from the teeth of the people he rescued, and he pawned it for a bottle of schnapps.
You say, how can that be? How could one so noble fall so far? Because these things we wrestle with are part of our being. Garrison Keillor says scandal is really nothing more than the revelation of the humanity of our heroes. The scandal of Scripture is nothing less than the revelation of the humanity of ourselves. This typifies me, and it typifies temptation gets us. We find it alluring. Even the things that in another moment are detestable to us, we find them somehow alluring. They seize us.
Part of the measurement is not just the commonness of that sin, but its horror. In the earlier part of chapter 10, the apostle says, starting in verse 1, "For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink." You hear these wonderful spiritual privileges of the people of God, and yet what happened to them? Verse 5: "Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert."
Temptation has terrible power . . . and effects.
Part of the measure of temptation is that it has terrible power. The people of Israel had wonderful spiritual privileges. They saw the shekinah glory.
God rescued them from slavery. God was at work in their midst. Yet what happened? The temptation still seized them.
This was not just an ancient history lesson. Verse 13 says that no temptation has seized you. The temptation had gotten the Corinthians, too. What is common has been common throughout history. Even people with great spiritual privilege fall prey to the terrible power of temptation.
One Wednesday morning I met with a pastor who wanted to talk about some counseling he was about to do. His presbytery had assigned him to counsel with another minister who had recently been discovered in an illicit affair. This pastor was chosen to be the counselor because a number of years before he too had become involved in such a discovered relationship.
About an hour after that meeting, I learned that my childhood pastor, the one who had helped my family through some terrible times, had also been discovered to have been unfaithful to his wife. It was a devastating Wednesday morning.
I began to wrestle with these issues. These men have seen the wonder of God. They have preached from his Word. They have seen the living power of the Spirit of God. How could they fall prey to such temptation? Because temptation has power. If you don't know its power, you are far more vulnerable than you think. That's why verse 12 says, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!"
We're not just told about the power of temptation, but its terrifying effects. Verse 5 said that God was not pleased with them, and the Israelites' bodies were scattered over the desert. We're made to see the consequences of temptation when it is yielded to. Look at verses 8-10: "We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did and in one day 23,000 of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did and were killed by the destroying angel."
That's part of the freedom of sin: to say, if I follow it, it has terrible ends. God tells us if he did not love, he would not warn. And so he warns. This is where this leads. It leads to death. It leads to horror.
A year ago I was on a mission trip in Mexico with my son. A man in this little town approached us after we had been there a couple of days. He said, "How do the two of you relate?"
When he was a child, his father, in order to have a relationship with the woman next door, had intentionally driven his mother with a fragile psyche into insanity. This man told us his childhood was so horrible he could hardly remember any of it. He could not remember a conversation with his mother or his father.
He said, "I don't know how to exist as a family. I don't know what I'm to be as a father. Now I'm beginning to see the repercussions in my family. Some of my experience is beginning to scar my children, and I want it to stop."
A man's relationship with the woman; next his child; and now his grandchildren. Bodies being strewn over the desert of that family as one person after another is hurt. God is saying this is the consequence; this is the horror of sin.
David Blakenhorn in his book, Fatherless America, says 40 percent of America's households now have children being raised without fathers in the home. Here is a nightmare existence of sin running its course.
While temptation is common, God is faithful.
While temptation is common, God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. Against this simple, human expression of the commonness of sin is the sovereign promise of God: "I, who created the universe and continue to uphold all things by the word of my power, will not allow sin and temptation to be greater than you can bear."
God reveals a sovereign promise and a saving plan. "He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear so that you can stand up under it." These are the terms of human resistance. It's the idea that we fight.
I know a group of Christian businessmen who are plain about the fight. They meet once a month and ask each other questions: The last time you traveled on a business trip, did you stay pure in your hotel room? When you returned from your business trip, did you stay honest on your expense reports?
Those are tough questions. Why would they put themselves in such embarrassing positions? Because they are in the fight. Because they are at war for the goodness of their souls, for their relationships with each other and with the Lord.
It's not just a matter of fighting; it's fleeing it. Look at verse 14: "Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry." That's part of the battle. I need to admit that there are things that do tempt me. They seize me. Christians are tempted at times to point to other people and say, "Well, they don't struggle with that, so I shouldn't have to struggle with it." Garbage.
If it's a problem for you, stay away from it. Proverbs 4:14 says, "Do not set your foot on the path of the wicked." Don't go near the path, but turn from it and go the other direction.
But we want to say it's not a problem for them, so I ought to be able to get close to it. For him who knows to do good and does it not, to him it is evil. If you struggle with it, stay away from it. With honesty and rigor look at your heart and say, "Is this temptation to me?" If it is, flee it. Change the channel. Stay away from her. Do what is necessary so that God can work his grace in you.
The greatest strength of all comes not from the sovereign grace of the promise nor the plan, but ultimately in knowing the Savior's love for you. Verse 13 speaks so powerfully of sin, its presence, its temptation, its power, and so powerfully of the Savior's love.
Apart from that grace we cannot fight sin. Robert Holdain in his commentary on Romans says, "Until a sin is mortified in conscience it cannot be mortified in the flesh." Until I know I am pardoned by the grace of God, I have no strength to fight the sin. But when I know God has forgiven me, he releases me from the guilt of my sin, and the power to fight it comes. Calvin said it more simply. "Love is the beginning of religion. He who would obey God must love him first." It's in love for God, taking his grace fully, that the things around us don't tempt us as much.
When my two older boys were young, they and my wife went to the St. Louis zoo when it had just opened Big Cat Country, in which all the tigers and lions were put in open habitats. Visitors went over large bridges to observe.
My wife, children, and some of the neighbor's kids were going up one of those large ramps to an overlying bridge. The neighbor got something twisted around the stroller wheel, and my wife bent to undo it. As she did, my two sons ran ahead and found a gap in the fencing of the lions' cage. They had been told that they could get over the lions and look down on them. So they went through the gap, only, climbed up on the rocks over the lions, looked 25-30 feet down, and yelled, "Hey, Mom, we can see them!"
Well, she could see them. But the gap in the fencing was too small for an adult to get through. What was she going to do? She didn't want to scream and startle them in their precarious position. So she got down on her knees, opened her arms, and said, "Boys, come get a hug." They scrambled down away from the danger.
That's what our Savior does. He shows us fully his forgiveness, his grace, his love. He says, "Come seek my help. I love you. In my grace I will provide for you." It is that love that is the attraction from the things that will attack your soul.
Bryan Chapell is president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is author of Each for the Other and Christ-Centered Preaching.
(c) Bryan Chapell
Preaching Today Tape #181
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Bryan Chapell is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.