The Bible’s Bad Examples

Golden Calf

1 Corinthians 10:11-13 “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

So often the examples the Bible provides to help us are not positive, but negative. Few of the families we read about give us good examples to follow. They behave more like characters in a soap opera. But when we see the results of their bad behavior, we have a good idea about the kind of behavior to avoid.

God’s interaction with the nation of Israel often worked the same way. “These things happened to them as examples,” Paul says. The examples he cites describe tens of thousands of them falling into sin and paying with their lives.

Still, the examples can help us. First, they serve as a warning: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Don’t be like the overconfident child who says to his father, “Don’t worry about me, dad, I can take care of myself.” Given the right set of circumstances, there is no sin that is beyond the capability of my own sinful flesh. The potential is always there for me to fall. I must always turn away from myself to find my strength.

The second help comes in the form of a reminder. “No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man.” God does not allow even a single person to be attacked by superhuman, unique temptations that surpass what other people have to bear. Don’t despair. Don’t give up. Don’t assume that we are doomed to fail, so there’s no use in trying. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of temptation, but we shouldn’t overestimate its power, either.

Now come a handful of God’s promises that are a bright light of hope among all these warnings. “God is faithful.” Here is where our focus belongs. We cannot be trusted. God can. How can we know this? Look at those same gracious gifts we are tempted to overlook. Hasn’t he been devoted to us from the very beginning of time? He made the world a perfect paradise in which we might live. He created our first parents in perfect innocence, and when they fell into sin and made a mess of his creation, he picked up the pieces himself. He came to them when they tried to hide from him. He still finds those who aren’t looking for him. He brought them to repentance. He promised a Savior.

He built and expanded on that promise through thousands of years of history. Generation after generation turned away from him, but he never wavered on his promise. Keeping it cost him everything. If that meant letting creatures he had made, and for whom he provided every day, look down upon him and mistreat him, still he would keep it. It did. If that meant suffering the hell these creatures deserved, and dying like a dangerous criminal, still he would keep it. It did. God is faithful, and he has never wavered on the promise to save us, or any other promise he has given as well.

In light of such unwavering faithfulness, Paul’s next promise might not seem so shocking, but it is no less good news: “he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” How could he? After literally dying to have us, after giving his life to own us, how could he sit on his hands while wave after wave of temptation washes over us and eventually drowns us in a sea of sin and despair? Our Savior still keeps Satan on a short chain. He still decides that temptation may go this far, but no farther.

And even though temptations still come, he promises, “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Notice that the way out he promises doesn’t make the temptation disappear. Usually that may be what we want, but God has a different way of dealing with us. The temptation isn’t good, but it has served to expose our human weakness. Now God’s way out is to give us the divine ability to stand up under it. And how can that be found? By focusing on the love of a Savior, whose love changes our hearts and sets us free from the power of sin to control us.

When you are feasting on filet mignon, ground beef loses some of its appeal. When you are watching a golden sunset transform into a brilliant symphony of light, the cheesy sitcoms playing on the TV inside the house aren’t much of a distraction. And when our hearts are being captivated by the tender expressions of Jesus’ love, then the petty promises of this world’s perverse pleasures haven’t disappeared, they just can’t compete with our true love.

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