When I was a youth leader at a small church in New Jersey, we went to Hershey, PA for a retreat. While there, we were allowed to use a barn to have an evening of fun. The barn was huge and had a basketball hoop inside. All of the students really wanted to play HORSE together and begged the leaders to play too. It was a mixed group of teens, but mainly middle schoolers, so I knew I wouldn’t get embarrassed, even if I stink at hoops…which I do. I decided to jump in and I literally began to dominate over these munchkins. I was gaining confidence with every money shot I made. I was feeling so good and confident in my game. Then, on second to last shot I made it in and began to celebrate my impending victory. I ran to the back of the line with jubilation. Yet I didn’t make it to the back of the line, because in my utter overconfidence, I forgot to look where I was going and tripped over a raised piece of wood in the barn that was meant to stop the tires of wagons. I actually ended up tearing my ligaments in the foot and needing an air cast for some time.
My overconfidence blinded me from seeing the blocked path before me. I think as Christians we tend to get so comfortable in our faith that we allow ourselves to be blinded to things directly in front of us. Said another way: Our arrogance can cause us to stumble over simple sins. I was so confident and arrogant about my skills that I allowed my self to stumble and fall over a small piece of wood. I put my trust in myself and it backfired
The enemy of our souls desires for us to put our guard down, to assume we know all there is to know and to expect ourselves to continuously overcome our struggles simply because we know what’s right. He desires for us to entrust our faith in ourselves. Yet, our overconfidence and misplaced trust tends to be the recipe for disaster.
- The Past Can Portray our Present (vs. 1-6)
Paul purposefully took the Corinthians back to the Israelites narrative. He started this conversation by purposefully insulting their knowledge and wisdom by stating: “I want you to know” or “I don’t want you to be ignorant”… He was challenging them to sit up and listen to his narrative by slyly insinuating they didn’t know something he knew. He then took them on a journey into the lives of the Israelites reminding the Corinthians of the Israelites privileged past. How God did miraculous and amazing things for them. He reminded them of God’s faithfulness to them and the presence of Christ with them. They all had the same experience with the Lord and they were supremely privileged to be set free from Egypt by the very hand of God.
Yet, Paul reminded them many of the Israelites still fell short and didn’t make it out of the wilderness. A whole generation was lost due to their unfaithfulness, misplaced trust and their unwillingness to surrender. They had these amazing things happen before their very eyes and yet still missed God in the midst of the miracles. They stopped deeply desiring God and fell in love with idols. Here Paul is insinuating the same has happened to the Corinthian church. The Israelites past was beginning to be prologue to the life of the church. God was in their midst, doing incredible things, people were being healed, yet he warned them their idolatry is just as detrimental to them as it was to the Israelites. He even stated that these events are warnings to them (and us) that we won’t fulfill the same destiny as them. Paul may have even used this narrative because the Corinthians church may have stated arrogantly that they’d never be like the Israelites. They most likely had this air of being above the Israelites. I fear we too may have this attitude and we fail to check ourselves.
I remember as a kid whenever I would do something bad and royally tick off my father, he would grit his teeth and yell at me through those clenched teeth. I felt like such a terrible kid when this happened. I felt as if I had thrown him over the edge and he could barely stand me and he needed to grit his teeth to control his anger with me and my stupidity. I remember thinking to myself as I got older: “I’m never going to do that to my kids. I’m never going to make them feel as if I am controlling myself that way.” “I’ll be gentle and kind always” I told myself. Yet, I find myself doing this to my kids more than I care to admit, especially my oldest- MJ. My past sometimes portrays my present.
I have to do more than simply tell myself: “Oh I won’t ever do that”. I have to take steps I haven’t before in order to change learned behaviors. I need to invite the Spirit into my attitude with my kids, not just assume I can do it myself. The Corinthian church arrogantly thought they could do it on their own. They had begun to arrogantly place their trust in themselves and their own abilities. This leads me to the next point in Paul’s statements to the church and that is that.
2. Arrogance Accentuates weakness (vs. 7-12)
Due to the moving of the Spirit and the incredible work God had done amongst them (as he did with Israel) the Corinthian church allowed their guard to come down due to their over confidence. They said the right things, did the right things but still let their guard down thinking: “We’re good”. They stopped putting in effort to connect to God and instead chose false gods to connect to. They stopped seeking His face. It’s similar to if I felt as though Hilary and I were all good and caught up on our communication and simply stopped talking to her or seeking to be with her for a long time…we would drift apart due to our lack of connection. The Corinthian church was drifting apart from the Lord and pursuing idols. They were pursuing sexual immorality, testing the Lord with their outright sin and grumbling. Soards, one of my favorite commentators on the book of Corinthians said: “Paul considered all of these activities as the result of idolatrous concerns that make something other than God the central focus of living”. Paul then reminded them of what happened to the Israelites- they perished. This is the peril of idolatry. We lose connection to God and part of us perishes. When something replaces Christ at the center, things spiral downward.
As we look at this on a personal level, have we grown complacent and arrogant in our relationship with Him? Have we come to the place where we feel we are all good with God and so no longer pursue His face? This arrogance will eventually accentuate our weakness. We will turn to the old patterns of sin we once used to comfort ourselves instead of turning to Him who is the ultimate comfort. The Israelites sought comfort in their old idols, as did the Corinthians. We are no different than them, the Enemy will pursue us and tempt us as soon as we think we are fine and don’t need to pursue or seek the Lord. This s why Paul states: “…let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” Trust me, I’ve seen it in my own life. Temptations will come and we will feel weak and we will want to give into our old ways. Yet we need to:
3. Remember and Rest in Him and His Faithfulness (vs. 13)
We see in verse 13 that Paul declares that the real crisis (temptation) that is besetting the community is manageable and conquerable. In fact, Paul declares the theological basis of such management: God is faithful! (Soards). We do not have to give into our temptation because God offers a way out. The real issue is trust and surrender. Do we trust he will be faithful and offer a way out? Will we surrender to the open door he provides? If we are not seeking his face, and bowing our heads to other idols, we will not. Paul assures them and us that There is no avoiding this temptation, but in this overlapping of times God’s saving provision is mixed with the temptation. Paul is confident in God’s sustaining grace. Paul, in this letter is constantly trying to remind the Corinthians that it is God Himself and not God’s gifts that matter. We must be a people who seek Him for His face and not his hands. We seek Him for Himself. I’ve read this poem before, but let me read it one more time to close, as this will be the answer to beating our temptation, denying our idols and ridding ourselves of our arrogance.
by A. B. Simpson
Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word.
Once His gifts I wanted, Now the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone.
Once ’twas painful trying, Now ’tis perfect trust;
Once a half salvation, Now the uttermost.
Once ’twas ceaseless holding, Now He holds me fast;
Once ’twas constant drifting, Now my anchor’s cast.
Once ’twas busy planning, Now ’tis trustful prayer;
Once ’twas anxious caring, Now He has the care.
Once ’twas what I wanted, Now what Jesus says;
Once ’twas constant asking, Now ’tis ceaseless praise.
Once it was my working, His it hence shall be;
Once I tried to use Him, Now He uses me.
Once the power I wanted, Now the Mighty One;
Once for self I labored, Now for Him alone.
Once I hoped in Jesus, Now I know He’s mine;
Once my lamps were dying, Now they brightly shine.
Once for death I waited, Now His coming hail;
And my hopes are anchored, Safe within the vail.
May we put our trust in Him and not ourselves.