1 Corinthians 10:1-13: “A Way Out”

Sunday morning worship, July 28, 2019

 

When was the last time you tried to count all the remotes and cables wired to your televisions, computers, and other electronic devices? When hooking ours up, I carefully followed directions, labeled each cord, and kept drawings so I could keep track of everything. Still one device, a Roku, refused to cooperate with my system. So for over a year, I never used it. Finally, one day, I did what every respecting somewhat older adult should do.  I asked my son to show how to make it work. It took him less than five minutes. Turns out, I had things wired right, but I needed to learn the right combination of remotes to use. With the Roku now working, I started watching a few super hero movies and episodes.  I watched Spiderman, Thor, and one I’d never seen, Arrow. No matter how great the super power, in each of these plot lines, the super hero would have some great internal struggle and would fight and lose some important battle when fighting alone, but would keep fighting and eventually accept help from others, and overcome, still at some great personal cost.  It got me thinking about a question we used to ask our campers when I was a dean: If you could have just one super power what would you choose? The most popular ones were flying and some variation of strength.

 

Besides all the comic book heroes I loved to read about growing up, I also loved the super heroes in my Bible story book. I dreamed of being a super hero one day. My favorite comic book hero was Spiderman but my favorite Bible hero was one most people don’t even know about. His name is Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. 2 Samuel 23 tells of the accomplishments of Eleazar who was one of King David’s three mighty warriors. David and his men “taunted the Philistines” as they gathered for a battle, but then when the rest of the Israelites retreated, “Eleazar stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day.  The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead.” In this story, Eleazar began as a part of a team, but when the team retreated, he stood alone.  That blood-stained arm frozen to his sword conjured up vivid images in my brain that remain to this day. A second story tells of his great love for King David and how he and David’s other two “mighty men” “broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David” simply because “David longed” for that specific water while held up in a stronghold.  That combination of tremendous strength and courage coupled with an equal portion of love made Eleazar my hero.

 

While reading my Bible and my comic books, I also purchased a Bible Promise book and began memorizing many of the promises contained in the Bible.  One of them became one of the most important of my life-verses and is this morning’s text.  1 Corinthians 10:12-13 says, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. 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 endure it.” The NIV footnotes say “tempted” and “temptation” can and maybe should be translated “testing” and “tested.” When I was younger, holding onto this promise was much easier.  My life focused was focused on myself and what was happening to me. My life often changed quickly and answers seemed to come more quickly. But as life took me into the ministry and into marriage and into parenthood, it seemed life became more complicated and answers came more slowly. This promise became harder and harder to hold onto. It required a different kind of faith. So God opened more and more of Scripture to me and I began to see more and more of its interconnectedness. The pieces of Scripture and its commands and promises began to interlock once again and I realized these two verses and their context are the super powers of the Christian faith if we understand them properly.

 

People like Eleazar and my comic book heroes actually fought enemies with swords, super strength, super speed, flying, spider webs, and all other sorts of super powers. But my life and lives of most of those in my churches had little to nothing to do with actual physical fighting. Our enemies weren’t always wearing black hats and holding physical weapons in their hands. I went back and read about Eleazar once again and found the phrase “stood his ground.” I connected that phrase through a concordance (now replaced by a search engine) with Ephesians 6:10-17. The Ephesians 6 passage contains what we lovingly refer to as the “armor of God.” I remembered coloring pictures of all this armor in Sunday school. We colored the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. No Sunday school teacher ever really focused on “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  I don’t know how many actually believed in fighting demons and evil spirits, but we weren’t taught that kind of stuff back then. My teachers were quick to point out that we had no armor on our backs, but I don’t remember them focusing on what became the most important part of this passage to me in my later years: the phrases “so you can take your stand” and “you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm them.”

 

I came to realize that even though we have a shield in one hand and a sword in the other, we are not told to “fight.” Though we have an enemy, our focus is not on fighting that enemy with that sword, it is on our standing firm in the midst of our struggles. Suddenly this Biblical promise became the Biblical super power that is available to all of us once again. The promise begins, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” For this super power to work, we have to stand our ground.  We don’t have to draw the sword and attack some enemy like Eleazar did or like the comic book heroes do.  We simply take a stand. Paul summarizes this truth later in 1 Corinthians (16:13) when he says, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” And James 5:8-9 makes it even clearer: “Be alert and of sober mind; your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” Standing firm in the faith is our super power. We use it not to fight the devil, but to resist him by standing firm in the faith. And notice it is “in the faith” not standing firm in our own faith.  It’s not about how much faith we have, it’s about trusting in this promise.  It’s about believing that no matter what we have to go through, even if it costs us our lives like those listed in Hebrews 11:35f: “Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” “Only together,” hold onto that phrase.

 

Abraham waited 25 years for Isaac. The ‘father of the faithful’ held firm onto the promise of God even though he made mistakes trying to help God’s promise come true along the way. The problem with adulthood is that building the team takes time and sometimes the “way out” of our temptations and trials requires others to stand firm beside us. The bottom line to our super hero power will always be standing firm the faith.  It is in believing the promises of God no matter what is happening around us. It is in resisting the onslaughts of the enemy, not in fighting ourselves. That great Old Testament promise puts it this way: “Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40: 27-31). 2 Peter 3:8-9 puts it this way: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Each and every one of us have the greatest super power in the world: the ability to stand firm in the faith Jesus Christ purchased for us in His shed blood and to wait and see the deliverance of the Lord. The great deliverance may or may not happen in our lifetimes, but our “way out” will materialize in our lifetimes.  Sometimes it will happen quickly.  Sometimes our struggle will seem unbearable. But we have a ready-made team of fellow believers to join with us in standing firm. It’s time to quit making excuses. It’s time to quit living in the past and sitting on our bottoms waiting for Jesus to return and make things right for us. It’s time to quit getting lost in the pleasures of this world. It’s time to pay the price our faith demands. It’s time to stand up and be counted. It’s time to stand firm on the promises of God.  It’s time to live our faith unequivocally, without compromise or complaint. It’s time to walk into the pages of Hebrews 11. It’s time to be Eleazar and stand firm and love the lost and the found without boundaries or self-serving demands. It’s time to live the faith.