The Way of Escape
1 Corinthians 1:1-17 (ESV) For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that 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, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 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. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 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, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
The Epistle for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (1 Corinthians 10:6-13) highlights major pitfalls on the Christian journey through life that can disqualify us, destroy us in the wilderness before we reach the Promised Land. St. Paul lists four of them as examples.
The first pitfall is idolatry: that is, placing anyone or anything before the Lord—for example, the Israelites put partying, playing, and leisure ahead of God; they valued the pleasures of this life above disciplined service to the Lord.
The second pitfall is sexual immorality; notice how thousands of Israelites died for their sexual sins. This is reinforced in the New Testament, which says, “God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). That is a grave threat against all sexual sin.
The third pitfall is putting Christ to the test, which is, according to Exodus 17:7, being faithless and asking, “Is the LORD among us or not?”, that is, doubting His gracious care over your life.
And the fourth pitfall is grumbling, being discontent with the life that God has given you. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16).
Examine your life, and repent of all the ensnaring sins that keep dragging you down. But as you think about these sins, remember that St. Paul isn’t saying that these are unforgivable sins—if you have committed them or are caught up in them right now, it is not too late to repent.
Yet Paul is warning that these are deadly sins because they can destroy faith in Christ. But take heart! St. Paul goes on to say, “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, that you may be able to endure it.”
In spite of the popularity of the expression, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” His Word never actually says that! What He does promise, however, is much better: The “way of escape” from temptation is in your Lord and Savior. He is your only hope in this life and for the next.
When you are tempted to self-righteousness and sins of the flesh, pray to the Lord for His help to overcome the temptation, as Dr. Luther says in the Large Catechism, “Take hold of the Lord’s Prayer, and speak to God from the heart like this: ‘Dear Father, You have asked me to pray. Don’t let me fall because of temptations.’ Then you will see that the temptations must stop and finally confess themselves conquered” (Large Catechism III, Sixth Petition).
But when you have given in to any temptation and have sinned against your gracious Lord, turn in repentance to the Gospel, turn to your Baptism into Christ, turn to Confession and Absolution, turn to the Sacrament of the Altar where Christ gives you His true body and true blood under the bread and wine, given and shed for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
In one of the catechisms produced at the time of the Reformation in the 1500s, this question is posed: “How is our faith strengthened in adversity and comforted in temptation? Answer: by the Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Lord’s altar is a place we can flee in times of affliction and temptation. Our Lord is there for us with forgiveness, healing, and comfort. The real presence of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in our mouths is the greatest weapon we can wield against the real presence of Satan in this world to tempt us.
Come to think of it, why do you suppose St. Paul promises that God will give a way of escape in the face of temptation and then immediately proceeds to talk about the Lord’s Supper? Don’t neglect this life-giving gift!
Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, through Your Son You have promised us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Govern our hearts by Your Holy Spirit that in our daily need, and especially in all time of temptation, we may seek Your help and, by a true and lively faith in Your Word, obtain all that You have promised; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.