Sermon for Sunday March 24th, 2019, the Third Sunday in Lent

 

The Lessons: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Text: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Topic: The command to withstand and overcome temptation

INTRODUCTION

Our Second Lesson/Epistle today demonstrates the value of the Bible for the edification of the faithful:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

 

(2 Timothy 3:16, KJV)

LESSONS FROM 1 COR. 10:1-13 CONCERNING ISRAEL’S HISTORY

The principle that St. Paul puts forward first in this Epistle, is that the Israelites, being the spiritual ancestors of the Church, were supernaturally and spiritually delivered from the Egyptians and sustained by God in their wilderness wanderings, but God was displeased with most of them, for they died in the wilderness. This principle is that belonging to God’s people and being sustained with God’s life do not guarantee one’s eventual salvation. St. John the Baptist expressed this principle much more dramatically in these terms, when addressing the crowds that came out to him for baptism:

O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

 

(Luke 3:7b-9, KJV)

To express it in ecclesiastical terms, the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion will not save us from being rejected by God if we refuse to turn from our sins and obey God from the heart.

The Israelites, St. Paul is explaining, experienced a kind of baptism spiritually, when on dry ground they crossed the Red Sea, and God’s cloud of glory went ahead of them in the day. Similarly, they all ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink, the manna and the water from the rock being symbols of this spiritual sustenance. Yet with most of them God was not well-pleased, St. Paul points out, since they were struck down in the wilderness.

It was no accident that they were struck down in the wilderness, but the fact that they were, is a lesson to all Christians today. We must avoid the sins of which they were guilty, so that we may live in a way that pleases the Lord and that our lives be not suddenly cut short. We must take note of their sinful examples recorded in Scripture for our benefit, and abstain from the sins which they committed. St. Paul commands us to abstain from lusting after evil things, and from all these sins: idolatry, immorality, putting God to the test, and murmuring or complaining against God. All these sudden punishments, such as plagues and death by poisonous snakes, St. Paul concludes, happened to them as examples, and were written down for the admonition of all Christians, upon whom “the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11c, KJV).

Now someone may argue that he is not guilty of lusting after evil things or of idolatry, immorality, tempting God, or grumbling against him. As if anticipating such a response, St. Paul states, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). St. John Chrysostom expounds this verse as a warning against pride:

Again, he casts down their pride who thought highly of their knowledge . For if they who had so great privileges suffered such things; and some for murmuring alone were visited with such punishment, and others for tempting, and neither their multitude moved God to repent , nor their having attained to such things; much more shall it be so in our case, except we be sober.

 

(From: John Chrysostom: Homily 23 on 1 Corinthians) [1]

No-one must proudly assume he is exempt from these sins and will never be tempted or give way to temptation. We must not be like the frog in this story:

Two ducks and a frog struck up a friendship. When their pond dried up, the ducks knew they could fly to another location, but what of their friend the frog? Finally they decided to fly with a stick between their two bills, and with the frog hanging onto the stick by his mouth. All went well until a man looked up and saw them in the sky. “What a clever idea,” said the man. “I wonder who thought of that.”

“I did,” said the frog.

(p. 637, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007)

Instead of succumbing to pride by believing we can overcome temptation in our own strength, each of us must strengthen ourselves with God’s grace and take care not to yield to temptation. St. Peter even warned us:

 

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

(1 Peter 5:8, KJV)

How easily and quickly one can yield to temptation and be overcome by sin, if one is not watchful and spiritually alert, since temptation may come so suddenly and so quickly, in ways that one does not expect! It is not the case that Christians are tempted beyond their ability to withstand temptation, as St. Paul assures us:

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

 

(1 Cor. 10:13, KJV)

The “way to escape” to which St. Paul refers was a nautical term for a safe landing. It does not mean one escapes temptation, but God gives one a way to overcome it and the spiritual strength to do so. Then as a further tip to overcoming temptation, St. Paul adds the command, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). This injunction both sums up his counsel against falling into temptation and shows us how to overcome temptation by refusing to allow anything in our lives to take the place of God.

CONCLUSION

The fact that God allows us to be tempted to sin does not mean that he withdraws from helping us overcome temptation; rather, he enables us to bear it and overcome it by all means. Our daily responsibility is to be alert to all temptations, to discern and know our own weaknesses, and to be determined to withstand them, overcoming them with the grace that he has given us in the Lord Jesus Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit.

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