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1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Almost every time I speak to people about entire sanctification or Christian Perfection, someone responds with near revulsion. “You think we can live without sinning?” I say, “yeah, of course.” “But all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “I agree, all have sinned, but that does not mean that all will sin. Plus, if God can raise people from the dead, then whats to stop God from raising us up out of sinful nature so that we can live in the Spirit?” Depending on how people respond I have a few other arguments. Often I try to steer them towards Jesus. The Cappadocians taught “That which is unassumed is unhealed.” This means that in order for us to be healed, Jesus needed to be like us in every way. Hebrews says that Jesus was like us in every way except was without sin. The one area where he is different is that he didn’t sin.

This strikes people as evidence that Jesus is exactly not like us. They use the fact that Jesus didn’t sin to argue the opposite point the author of Hebrews was trying to make. IN chapter the author sought to reassure his audience that our high priest can intercede on our behalf. I will then point them towards Tertullian who argues that if Jesus is a super human, then he is not the God-Man, but rather some third thing, a tertium quid.

While reformed traditions do not always go there, orthodox Christology validates the claims of Entire Sanctification. Furthermore, it gives an explanation as to what Paul can write 1 Cor. 10:13: “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”

What an incredible promise. God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear! And why, because God is faithful! In 1 Thessalonians, Paul roots his claims of Entire Sanctification in God’s faithfulness. Sanctification is not our work. It is God’s work.

This promise is something which we must cling to, but we must also read it as it appears in the middle of Paul’s continued exhortation against idolatry.

Paul begins this chapter by reminding the Corinthians of the Exodus, when the people were in the wilderness.[1] Paul, as he often does, takes the Hebrew Scriptures as a metaphor. He finds in the exodus story a description of where the church is presently.

In the beginning of the chapter, he interprets the Red Sea as baptism, something which he believed all Christians experienced. Then he speaks of the Israelites drinking spiritual drink and eating spiritual food.

The Corinthians are like the Israelites in that they have been baptized and through the Eucharist, the Corthinians eat Spiritual food and Spiritual drink. This comparison is not intended to flatter the Corithians, for many Jews turned away from God. In this section Paul is warning them against setting their hearts on evil things. The Israelites experienced the miracles of God, and yet the frequently turned their back on God. They turned to idols and they were sexually immoral. For this many of them died.

The Corinthians have allowed for sexual immorality to persist in their community (Chapter 5) and they have been eating food sacrificed to idols. The sharing in that meal, while not in and of itself being evil, it does create conflicting koinonia for the church. Paul’s warning in verse 13 is reassuring, but it comes among many warnings. Paul wants the corinthian church to be holy, but they keep putting themselves in problematic situations.

Richard Hays explains this saying, :

God provides a “way out” for those who are “overtaken” by trials that all flesh is hit to. But those who put themselves in jeopardy by participating in idolatry are in a very different position and should not to presume to have any guarantees of safety or salvation… Thus, the word of reassurance in a verse 13- which looks like a general maxim affirming the faithfulness of God- is used here as a part of Paul’s larger prohibition of idolatry.[2]

Clearly we must re-contextualize this passage for our people. We must remind them that we are not to intentionally flirt with idols. This should cause each of us to inspect that which we idolize. Israel’s desire was often for power. What are the other idols that plague our communities? Have politics become an idol? Have people grown so greedy that they villianize the poor as lazy or entitled? Are people gluttons or have they become so health food conscious that they skip out on enjoying the delicious world God has created?  Is leisure the modus operandi or are people workaholics? Are people antinomian or legalistic? Are they seeking salvation in romance or family? Are they enslaved by “Freedom” defined by limitless choice?

Human beings are excellent at turning away from God. We can and often do attempt to make God in our own image. Israel turned from God, they thought that because they had crossed through the Red Sea, because they ate manna, and drank from the rock, that they could use God’s favor as a carte blanche. Paul wants the Corinthians to learn from Israel’s failure. Paul believes that through Christ, they actually can be liberated. The question remains for us, will we flee from idols, or will we haughtily flirt with them thinking that we can handle them? Remember: “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”  [1] This is an interesting move as most the Corinthian community were Gentiles. As those who have become co-heirs with Christ, they have also inherited the history of Israel.  [2] Richard Hays, First corinthians: interpretation: a commentary for teaching and preaching, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville,  2011) 166. (kindle)