Well God has blessed us in so many ways. What a wonderful day we have shared and what joy in the singing and hearing the testimony of music that Joni brought to us, joy in the baptisms and what God is doing in the lives of so many people He is bringing to Himself. And it is true that when you come to the Lord's table it ought to be a time of celebration for it is here that we celebrate the blessedness of our salvation. But also at the same time when we come to the Lord's table it become for us a reminder of how constantly we have to deal with the sin in our lives.
The early church gathered at the Lord's table every day. Many churches across the world enjoy the Lord's table every week. We here come to the Lord's table at least once a month and sometimes more often than that. But we never come without recognizing again our sin. It's a time of cleansing. As Paul said, it's a time of self-examination. And it's a reminder of how we constantly have to deal with temptation because it is temptation that results in sin. The Lord's table is not just a time to look back at our sin and repent of it, it's a time also to look forward in the anticipation of our future sin and temptation and resolve to deal with it. We have faced temptation in the past, we will face it in the future. We have fallen to it in the past, it should be in our hearts to resolve to know victory over it in the future.
I don't know about you but whenever I come to the Lord's table there's a certain amount of grief in my life. I wish I could come one time and say, "Lord, it's been a month and I really don't have anything to confess." But such is never the case. And it is also rather wearisome, isn't it, to come to the Lord's table as often as we do and be reminded that every time we come it's basically the same list of stuff. Sometimes our progress is so imperceptible. It's a time for us to look back and to see the sin and to acknowledge it and ask for forgiveness, confessing it. But it is also a time for us to make resolves. It's a time for us to say the next time I'm here I want to come back with a shorter list, I want to come back with some victory and some triumph over some of those besetting or entangling sins. So it's a time for us to review our covenant of obedience and to make resolves to live godly.
At that point you might pose the question...well is it possible? I mean, temptation seems to be constant. It seems to be overwhelming. Is it in fact possible for us to be triumphant? Doesn't it seem that Satan is certain a supernatural being and is he not more powerful than we are? Doesn't he have sophisticated weaponry and methodology that transcends our ability to comprehend? And don't his demons certainly amass themselves to the destruction, as it were, of the purposes of God and the people of God? Aren't we sometimes confronted with temptations which frankly are so subtle we don't even see them? And isn't Satan wily enough and isn't the system of his operation in the world and through the flesh subtle and wily and deceitful enough so that we are in it before we even know it came? Furthermore, isn't the heart of man so deceitful and desperately wicked that even at its best it cannot put up a proper guard? And don't we even kid ourselves that things we assume to be righteous are in fact sinful?
How can we possibly be encouraged then in this matter of dealing with sin when it seems to be to us so deceptive and so superpowerful and so orchestrated by the enemy of our souls? And we see so vulnerable because of our flesh and because of the deceptiveness of our own hearts. Is it possible for us to be triumphant?
And take it a step further. What about people like me and people who are in ministry? We have been seeing the steady stream of fallen pastors and fallen leaders and the question continually is posed even to me...aren't they under some level of assault for which they are really incapable? I mean, don't they often say, "Well I really was overwhelmed by the demon of this...or the demon of that?" Isn't it true that the whole of the forces of hell are amassed against those who are in positions of prominence in spiritual leadership and aren't they really just victims of overwhelming temptation that they do not have the resources to deal with?
I think we can answer the question, in fact we can answer all those questions out of one verse. Open your Bible to 1 Corinthians chapter 10...1 Corinthians chapter 10 and verse 13, a familiar text and one that should come as a tremendous encouragement to all of us as we contemplate our future and the longing and desire for triumphant holy living. Verse 13 of 1 Corinthians 10 says, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man and God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also that you may be able to endure it."
That comes to me as a very encouraging verse. Doesn't it to you? The promise of that verse is thrilling. No temptation is overpowering. Satan is not so powerful, demons are not so effective, Satanic operations are not so subtle, the flesh is not so weak, the human heart is not so deceived that we are necessarily a victim of temptation. In this verses...in this verse there are some principles that rise to the top. If we can understand them we can understand the path of our triumph.
First of all, we must understand the means of temptation...we must understand the means of temptation. Notice the verse, "No temptation has overtaken you..." Very simply stated, temptation wants to overtake you, it wants to dominate you. To put it another way, it wants to take control of you. Now we can understand this process by just looking at the word "temptation." It doesn't tell us much in English, in Greek it tells us a lot. In Greek it's the word peirasmos. It can be translated "test." It can be translated "temptation." I guess the interesting note about that word is that tests and temptations are two sides of the same thing. I want you to follow that. Tests and temptations are two sides of the same thing. Life is full of tests...every test, every trial potentiates a temptation.
A friend of mine told me one time he had taken a new job with a very important company he was very excited about. He had only been on the job for a little while. Everyone had left the office one night and on his desk someone had left a huge sum of money. He immediately took the money, put it in his brief case and thought, "I'm going to have to return this." Wrapped it up and the next morning brought it back and when he came to work he immediately walked into the boss's office and put the money down on the desk and said, "Somehow someone left this money on my desk and I don't know who it was or who will be missing it, but I wanted to turn it in as fast as I could so that no one would be distressed by its absence." His boss looked him in the face and said, "I put the money there, it was a test. You passed."
Life offers us those kinds of tests. If my friend had gone home and opened the briefcase and counted the money and thought about..."Hmmm, nobody will know," and began to battle in his heart, "Boy, I could use that money, I could buy this and I could buy that and I could go here and I could go there and I could think of ten ways to explain if anybody wondered about the money," then it would have become a temptation. Once the external becomes the solicitation of the heart, it's turned into a temptation.
Temptation is an inward solicitation resulting from an outward test. Life is full of those kinds of tests. Tests can be financial stress, financial setback. You're in the midst of the test of financial setback and you say, "I'm just going to trust God for this, I'm going to believe the Lord for this, we're going to cut things back, we're going to live frugally, we're going to budget, we're going to be faithful to our obligations. We're going to live on less and we're going to believe the Lord to provide." You pass the test. If you say, "How can I steal out of the till, how can I cheat on my Income Tax, how can I not pay what I owe to someone?" you've moved it into a temptation because the external problem has become an inward solicitation to evil.
It could be personal disappointment. You had expectations of someone, they didn't perform. You either accept that with a trusting heart, love them in spite of it, or you begin in your heart to feel animosity and bitterness and now you're dealing with a temptation. It could be unkindness, it could be mistreatment, it could be injustice. It could be the test of illness. It could be the test of injury. It could be the test of unexpected disaster. It could be the test of death in the circle of your love. It could be the test of thwarted plans. It could be the test of failure to accomplish something that you had dreamed for a long time. It could be the test of facing a problem with no acceptable solution. It could be the test of a person or an experience that gives you an opportunity to do evil. These are the tests that make up life. And when they go inside then they begin to solicit evil and they become temptations.
Look at James chapter 1 for a very lucid explanation of this internal processing. In James chapter 1 verse 13 James talks about the fact that God is not involved in tempting anyone. "Let no one say when he is tempted I'm being tempted by God for God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself doesn't tempt anyone." Now that's very important. God does not bring about an inward solicitation to do evil in anyone's life. But go back to verse 2, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various tests, trials," same word, "because the testing of your faith produces endurance and let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." God sends tests but not temptations. God will bring the outward extremity to produce patience and endurance and spiritual maturity. First Peter 5 says that after you have suffered for a while the Lord will make you perfect. So God allows the tests of life to make us strong but God never brings them to inward solicitation to do evil.
You say, "How does that happen?" Verse 14, "God doesn't tempt," verse 14, "but each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by...what?...his own lust. Then when lust has conceived it gives birth to sin, and when sin is accomplished it brings forth death. Don't you be deceived, my beloved brethren, every good thing bestowed in every perfect gift is from above." That's all God ever sends. God will bring the test for spiritual maturity and perfection. It is your own lust that begins to produce the solicitation to do evil.
Our victory then I think starts with understanding the means by which temptation comes. It comes through the trials, tests, disappointments of life. So we simply remind you that when things aren't going the way you want them in life and you're facing a test, that is the means by which temptation comes to you. So you learn to watch how you respond to tests.
There's a second thing you must understand that comes out of this verse. If we are going to experience the triumph that the verse promises, even against the formidable foe of Satan and his kingdom and the weakness of our human flesh, we must understand not only the means of temptation but the nature of temptation...the nature of it. In verse 13, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man." In a word, temptation as to its nature is human...it is human. It is not supernatural, it is not so powerful, it is not so unique that we have no way to resist it. You hear somebody who is in spiritual leadership and has defaulted significantly and scandalized the church, portray himself as some kind of poor week victim to the onslaughts of the supernatural domain. Not so. Temptation is common to man. What that phrase really has to say that it is human, it is not so demonic that we become helpless victims.
It's the same for all of us. The temptations that come to me, the temptations that come to you, the temptations that come to someone in prominence in spiritual service or someone in obscurity in the congregation of believers are all the same. It's the same for all of us. We may have our peculiar besetting sins. We may have our susceptibilities to certain temptations as over against certain other ones, but we are all getting hit with what is common to all of us. It's just normal for our fallen humanness to have to deal with these things. This is another way of saying that the strength of temptation is limited by God. It is limited by God. It it just what is common to man.
Jesus experienced this because in Hebrews it tells us that He was in all points tempted like as we are. And it says He was made like unto His brethren. In His enduring temptation He suffered the temptations that are common to man. That's why He is such a faithful and merciful high priest to whom we can go and know we find one who understands. Galatians reminds us that when your brother is overtaken in a fault, restore him in love considering yourself less you also be...what?...tempted. What he's gone through could have easily happened to you because temptation is common to all of us. It's just part of human life. When you fall to sin, and James 5:16 says, and you fall into weakness, spiritual weakness, go to the spiritually strong and call for the elders of the church and confess your sin and let them pray for you and you'll be strengthened and restored.
So the means by which temptation comes to us generally is through the trials and tests of life. And the nature of temptation is not that it is some kind of supernatural power that is beyond us, it is simply coming on a common level, it is human, it is what everybody else experiences. When I see a prominent pastor fall into sin, all that tells me is he did not apply the spiritual virtues, the spiritual weapons that God gave him that every other Christian has to apply in just living normal Christian lives and being tempted in the common way that everybody else is tempted.
There's a third element that this verse yields for us and that is that we must understand the extent of temptation. And this really follows closely to the last point. We must understand the extent of temptation. He says, "God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able." God knows you as an individual. And He has planned your life to be secure in Christ eternally. Therefore He will never allow you to go into any kind of temptation which is more than you at any given point in your spiritual life could handle. You see that so magnificently in John 18. The soldiers come into the garden to take Christ prisoner and the disciples are there. And Jesus says to the soldiers, "Who do you seek? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. And He said, I am He. And they fell down." The second time He said "I am He" and they fell down...just under the power of the force of who He was. Why did He do that? The Scripture says He did that in order that the disciples it might be made clear that they had no right to take the disciples. Who do you seek? Jesus of Nazareth. Who do you seek? Jesus of Nazareth. I'm He. I am He.
In other words, He was putting in their own mouth the very clear statement that they had no right to take anybody but Him. Why? The text says because it was promised that He would lose none of His own who were given to Him by the Father. The implication being that had any of the disciples been taken captive they would have been too weak to sustain that temptation and would have defaulted from the faith so Jesus made sure they never had such a temptation. That's a tremendous truth. The Lord never allows us at the point of our spiritual development to go through any temptation that is beyond our ability to deal with. So if temptation seems stronger for the one who is in the position of spiritual leadership, it still is in measure to his spiritual capability. We need to understand that. He puts limits on the extent of temptation. There's a ceiling, there's a cap, there's a lid on what He will allow in the life of one of His own. God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able.
There's a next point, a fourth one. You must understand the way out...you must understand the way out of temptation. He says with the temptation God will always provide the way of escape. He will always provide the way of escape. There's always a path to victory. There's always a ekbasisis the Greek word, literally an exit. There's always an escape hatch. There's always a parachute. There's always a way out.
What is it? Well He tell us. He says, "God will with the temptation provide the way of escape also that you may be able to endure it." Now listen to this one. The way out is through...the way out is through. Listen carefully. The way out of the temptation is to endure it as a trial and never let it become a solicitation to sin...which effects a sinful response. The way out is to take it as a test and a trial and not internalize it so that it begins to solicit sin. So you've been wronged, so you've been falsely accused, so you've been maligned and treated unkindly and unjustly, accept it, accept it with joy and you will endure it and that is the way of escape. So someone had promised you something and they didn't fulfill it and you had tied some of your greatest expectations to that promise, accept it, understand it, acknowledge it as a trial that is intended to strengthen your faith and the way out is through it, sustaining it as a test, never letting it be turned into a temptation, that you may be able to bear it, or endure it is hupophero, it literally means to get under it and carry it. Usually we're looking for a quick and easy route. The only way out is through it. You remain under it but you endure it as a test with the view that God is using this to bring about my maturity.
You say, "But how do you do that?" Well you know what the keys are, and I only mention them...meditating on the Word, Psalm 119...what does it say in verse 11? "Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin." When the test comes, you turn to the Word of God. You don't listen to your own lusts, you don't listen to the solicitations that your own heart will conjure up. When the test comes you turn to the Word of God, you listen to that. Secondly, you pray. You pray I think what Jesus taught us to pray in the prayer we call that we call the Lord's Prayer, better called the Disciples Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us..." You turn to God and you cry out to Him to keep this test from becoming a temptation. A third thing that you would do would be to take the shield of faith...that means to trust God no matter how the fiery darts may be coming at you, understand that God has a purpose and trust God for that purpose. Another important element, maybe a fourth one, is to focus on Christ. He endured every temptation to the maximum and so you can turn to Him and you can say to Him, "My faithful high priest, You know what I'm going through, strengthen me for this."
Simple really, we know these things. When the test comes turn to the Word. When the test comes turn to the Lord in prayer. When the test comes retain your faith in God's purposes through the test. When the test comes look to Christ the faithful high priest who will nurture you through this test.
No, there is no test that is more than we can bear. When we fall and the test becomes a temptation and the temptation becomes a sin, it is not that we are victims, it is that we made bad choices. We chose not to turn to the Word of God but rather to listen to our own hearts and our own lust enticed us. We chose not to cry out to God and ask Him to lead us away from this and deliver us from evil, but rather we pursued the evil because we wanted the hankerings of our flesh to be fulfilled. We failed to trust that God had a divine purpose in the test and that we could enjoy the test not for its own sake but for what it yields and we wanted it immediately removed. We turned away from God perhaps even angry at Him. And if we failed it's because we took our attention away from Christ, the faithful high priest who can nurture us through it and we focused on something else.
It should be true of us that the next time we come back to the Lord's table the list should be shorter. Know this, nothing is going to happen to you between now and the next time that is so powerful you can't possibly deal with it. You can. One thing that happened at your salvation sums it up, it is this...sin no longer has dominion over you.
Father, now as we come to this time and as we look at our own lives and our own obedience of failure to obey, we thank You for what we have seen in the past of righteousness produced by Your Spirit. We thank You for the good things that You accomplished in us. We thank You for the tests that never became temptations, even for the temptations that never became sin. We thank You for the victory and the triumph You gave us. We thank You that You never allowed us to be tempted beyond what we were able to deal with. You never brought anything into lives that would have been a destructive test that would have destroyed us, but You only gave us what we could bear.
But, Father, even as we thank You for those things we have to confess that there were times when even with those things which we should have been able to deal with we failed and we allowed the tests to become a temptation and the temptation to become a sin and maybe the sin even to become a pattern and we're back again pleading for Your forgiveness. Lord, we ask You to cleanse us, wash away our sin. You have promised that if we confess You're faithful and still righteous to keep on cleansing us, to forgive us, to wash us and make us clean we plead for that even now...give us that washing of our dirty feet that washes that full bath that we had at salvation. Make us clean so that as we remember the death of Christ and as we celebrate His body and His blood given for us we can do so in a way that is worthy and not unworthy and thus bring on ourselves blessing and not judgment. Father, may every person here who takes the cup and the bread be one rightly related to You through Jesus Christ and one who has honestly and genuinely confessed and repented of sin and asked to be fully cleansed. We ask that You would lead us into that attitude of prayerful repentance as we trust in Your forgiveness.