Examples (1 Corinthians 10)
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. ... Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11)
Bobby Pinson wrote the song "Don't Ask Me How I Know" in 2005. It has the tone of a father giving his son advice on things that shouldn't be done. "Don't ride your bike off a ramp that's more than three bricks high." "Don't sneak out of a two-story house usin' bed sheets for a rope." "Don't drink the water in Mexico." All sage advice for life, but he ends every verse with the phrase, "Don't ask me how I know."
St. Paul gives similar advice in his first epistle to the church in Corinth. There were so many things that he had to straighten out with the Corinthians because they had veered off God's path. But Paul doesn't say, "Don't ask me how I know." He says, "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction" (v11).
The punishments of Israel. The heartache of the prophets. The hardships of the Apostles. If these were written down so that we might learn, what are we to learn? "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape" (v13). Temptation comes. No one is immune from the power of temptation. The season of Lent is a commemoration of that fact. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Jesus rebuked each of the devil's temptations with the Scriptures. The Scriptures were written to be studied and used in the face of temptation to rebuke the temptation and to strengthen faith.
We learn more from our mistakes than our successes. We learn how to balance on a bike without training wheels by having fallen off the bike a few times. We learn from each fall where we need to keep our weight so that we're balanced and upright on the bike. You fall off on one side so you shift over to the other side the next time. You fall off again and you shift a little bit the other direction. The more we fall, the more we understand where we should sit on the bike. The more mistakes we make, the more we learn about how to properly do what is necessary.
That's the most wonderful thing about Christianity. It doesn't hide the frailties and the mistakes of the great people of the faith. In fact, Scripture is loaded with God's people's mistakes. God's people fall off to one side and shift a bit until they fall off the other side. St. Paul lists a few mistakes Israel made in its history. Aaron made the Golden Calf at the base of Mount Sinai. At the top of the mountain, Moses was receiving God's Law. At the bottom of the mountain, the people wanted a tamer god. A god they could feel and touch. A god that didn't take their leader off for forty days and leave them not knowing where he was. They wanted a god like the Egyptians. One that was right there in their midst, but wasn't so scary. Three thousand died because of their idolatry.
Towards the end of their wandering, the people willfully yoked themselves to Baal of Peor with the Midianite women who were there. Sexual orgies and everything that went along with the fertility god's worship. A plague swept through Israel's camp. Twenty-four thousand died that day because of their idolatry and their chasing after the pleasures of the flesh.
Before Mount Sinai, they grumbled and complained that they lacked water. God gave them water from a rock. The Israelites refused to see God's provision for them. They just saw more wilderness and less water. They were dying of thirst. They saw nothing but their own personal, momentary needs. Nothing was more important than themselves.
The Holy Spirit caused all these to be written down as examples for our learning. Not that He planned all of these things. But He provides an everlasting example of what happens when you sin against God. God uses His people's sins and sinfulness to work for good. Not that it was always the best thing that ever happened to the sinner, but there was always hope for the repentant. God teaches us through His people's failures and sins to show how Jesus forgives our mistakes. Paul begins our reading reminding us about the Israelites' chosenness. "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" (vv1-2). All were given the same spiritual food and drink. All but two died in the wilderness. All but two fell along the way and were buried in the wilderness. But they were all chosen by God to be saved through the delivereance He gave through Moses.
"All were baptized into Moses." This is the only time this phrase is used in the Bible. Paul points to the parting of the Red Sea as the salvific moment for the Jews. He equates it with Baptism as to how God's people are saved. It all points to Jesus and His death for our death. His life for our life. God delivers His people and forgives the mistakes they make. Paul gives his understanding of God's grace very succinctly: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape" (v13).
Jesus became man and was tempted just as we are. He never yield to temptation. He knew His father's will. He knew the Scriptures. He knew how they were supposed to be used. Jesus shows the ability of the man who has been redeemed to withstand temptation. That is how Paul can say that we're not tempted beyond our ability. The ability to withstand is there, but it is only realized through the sufferings of our own mistakes. Then the Holy Spirit brings to mind those Scriptures that we have studied and committed to memory. He shows us the ability to withstand and endure the temptations that come at us.
The Holy Spirit provides a way of escape from every temptation. No other god can do that. Only the Holy Spirit helps when temptation comes to us. He gives us the examples of those who have fallen and yielded to temptation before us so that He might also show us the mercy that God gives to His people when they repent. God gave the people water from the rock. God had Moses make a bronze serpent to relieve the fiery trials caused by the fiery serpents' venom. Through each of the trials, God made a way for the people to escape. He had mercy on them.
So He has mercy on you. Through every temptation, through every trial, He provides a way of escape for you. The one who has studied and used the Scriptures properly can find it. The Israelites were baptized into Moses by faith in the signs and wonders God performed through Him in Egypt. You were baptized into Jesus Christ, the one who came after Moses. By faith you receive the great benefits He purchased for you on the Cross. The Cross where He poured out His Blood to forgive you of your sins. This faith grows through studying the Scriptures. That way you see the great benefits He gives to you every day. Amen.