In 1 Corinthians 10:11–13, Paul writes:
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 what 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 also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
M. Scott Peck begins The Road Less Traveled with three simple words: “Life is difficult.” Life’s difficulty results from bad things that happen to us and bad thoughts that happen in us. The Greek word peirasmos encompasses both aspects. Depending on context, the word means either “trial” or “temptation.”
In 1 Corinthians 10:11–13, Paul uses the word peirasmos to describe the Corinthian situation.
In the ancient world, people sacrificed animals to the gods. They gave some of the meat to the priests, and they consumed some of the meat in a religious feast at the temple. The priests sold leftover meat in the public market, which was then consumed in private homes.
Paul permits eating idol-food privately on a case-by-case basis (10:23–11:1). But he prohibits eating idol-food at a pagan religious feast, reasoning that it is a form of idolatry (10:14–22). This prohibition puts the Corinthian Christians on the horns of a dilemma: If they eat, they commit a sin. If they don’t eat, they commit a crime, for in the ancient world, idolatry is woven into the fabric of politics and markets. They are tempted to be bad Christians or tried by being bad Corinthians.
For Paul, being a Christian takes priority over being a Corinthian, so he offers the Corinthians five lines of thinking to help them make the right choice.
First, the scriptural line: “These things” refers to the four examples of idolatry Paul cited in 10:6–9. They are “examples” of sinful behavior and “warnings” of divine judgment.
Second, the eschatological line: Paul describes Christians as those “on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” Paul uses the Greek word telos, which means “purpose,” “goal,” or “end.” For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of his Holy Spirit fulfills history by inaugurating its telos, which is the new age of justice and peace. He calls on Christians to live with integrity in light of this new age, rather than to compromise with the idolatry and unrighteousness of the old age.
Third, the confessional line: Paul calls on the Corinthians to eschew self-deception and embrace confession. We are tempted to “fall” when we think we are “standing firm” on our own, rather than leaning on God’s grace.
Fourth, the psychological line: Peirasmos is “common to man.” When tempted/trial, we think we are alone, but we are not. Others have faced down temptation and trial. We can too.
Fifth, the theological line: How you view God shapes how you live your life. Paul writes, “God is faithful… when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
Life is difficult. God is faithful. Our choice is to face the first in light of the second.