God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 10:12-13
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, March 13, 2023
When we left off, Paul had warned the Corinthians with many cases from Israel’s history when the people fell into sin even in the best of times: when God was with them physically in the pillar of cloud and fire, when Moses was personally leading them, when Aaron was their high priest, when they were daily fed with manna, and they had water supplied by the hand of God whenever they needed it. Yet they still fell, again and again.
12 So the one who stands should be careful that he doesn’t fall! 13 A testing has not overtaken you yet except what is common to man. But God is faithful. He will not let you be tested beyond your ability. But when he tests you, along with the test he will give you an outcome that you will be able to bear.
The Corinthians had no reason at all to think that they should be free from temptation or sin. Sin is the condition we are all born into; we can’t escape from sin by means of our own decisions or personal righteousness. This is because our own decisions are always corrupted by the inclination to sin we inherit from Adam and Eve (Genesis 8:21). We naturally lean toward what is evil. So, Paul warns: If you don’t think sin has any wages, if you think there are no consequences for the sinful ungodly choices you make, if you think you’re standing up on your own, be careful! Watch out that you don’t fall!
But this may lead someone to say that what Israel went through was unique, that what “we Corinthians” are going through doesn’t happen to anybody else! No, Paul answers. There is no testing you are going through that isn’t “human” (anthropinos), or what is common to everyone. This is what happens to sinful people. The word “human/common to man” is a term Paul also used with the Romans to describe ordinary human language (Romans 6:19), and with the Athenians for ordinary human servants’ hands (Acts 17:25). A lot of other people, ordinary humans, have undergone similar tests, and they came through those tests.
So what is the difference between being tested by God and being punished by God? Don’t they feel the same? Discipline and testing have to be distinguished from punishment, because punishment always refers to unforgiven sins. Discipline and testing don’t have any connection to sin, but they are imposed on believers by God. This discipline is God’s Fatherly grace toward us, “God is dealing with you as sons” (Hebrews 12:7). If he does not discipline you, “then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:8), but he disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12:10). So when we have sorrows, they are not a reason for being frightened of God’s wrath, but of joy and celebration. “If our work is attacked,” Luther said, “then let us be of good cheer and firmly trust that it is well-pleasing to God, that is, believe that it is of God himself, for what is of God must be crucified in the world.” Remember that Jesus said: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
Notice carefully what Paul is saying in verse 13. When God tests us, there will be an outcome, a final result, that we can bear. So if I am tested in some way, by loss or difficulty, sickness, stress, or setback, I can cheer up, and go and share my discovery with my sons and my friends. God is with me! God is guiding me! The ancient believer wrote truly when he said: “Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them,” and again, “Mighty men will be mightily tested.”
Compare your own troubles with Joseph in the last part of Genesis. He was given dreams from God that were scorned and dismissed by his family. He was thrown into a pit. He was sold into slavery. He was wrongfully accused by his master’s wife. He was thrown into prison and shackled there and his neck put in irons (Psalm 105:18). He interpreted dreams of men there with high standing, but they did not remember him. His former master did not intercede for him. His master’s wife did not repent and proclaim his innocence. He had to wait in prison until the Pharaoh himself, “the ruler of peoples” set him free. All of this took place to give God glory, to show just how God is concerned about all of us, and how he works through all things to provide for his people and to bring the Gospel to the world. Joseph himself said to his brothers, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:7-8). So when troubles strike us, when loved ones die, when plans do not turn out, when disaster seems to strike like a snake or a torpedo to sink a ship, we should not accuse God of hating us, but praise God for loving us. He honors us by working through us and not through others. I can wonder, “What marvels will God bring about through what has happened?” But I should not point my finger and demand: “What’s going on, God? Do you even know what you’re doing?” Of course he does. And who am I to question him? Let me rather sit in prison like Joseph and keep being the believer that I am. Let me sit with my feet in the stocks like Paul and Silas, “praying and singing hymns to God” because the other prisoners will be listening (Acts 16:25). I have sins to confess, the Gospel to hear, the promises of God to share, and the commandments to obey. Let me sing and meditate on these things, and serve.
Your holy heart has one obsession,
One blessed thing it burns to do—
To cleanse the sinner from transgression;
So I, a sinner, come to you.
Lord, may your body and your blood
Be for my soul the highest good.
(I Come O Savior, To Your Table)
Pastor Timothy Smith