In today’s final sermon in the “Overcome” series, Greg discusses the last critically important key to overcoming temptation: Community.
Today we dig into of the most often quoted but also most misunderstood passages about temptation.
1 Corinthians 10:13: “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
Most people read this to mean that God will protect us personally from our worst temptations, and will help us to overcome it. We think the promise is made to us individually, that the word “you” means “me.” The scope of our interpretation is important because with the individual reading, when we do fall to a temptation, we think God has not fulfilled his promise to us.
But this is not how this passage is meant to be understood, and the mis-reading reveals stronghold in our culture that we need to come to terms with.
To illustrate what this stronghold is, Greg showed us a seemingly innocuous picture of an aquarium. Most of us upon seeing this picture would say it is a picture of fish in an aquarium. Many people can identify the number of fish going one direction vs the other direction, how many there are, and even what species they are. We Americans are conditioned to notice things that stand out and contrast.
The interesting thing is that in a study, Japanese people upon seeing this same image, first noticed the green background. They saw the 3 seaweed plants and the lighter plant to the right, and the frog and the snail. Interestingly they could not say much about the fish. They could not detail how many there were or which direction most were swimming in. Non-westerners’ attention was drawn to the “big picture” and the larger context.
How we notice tells us about the culture we are in and what it values. We Americans value individuality — we value (and thus notice) things that are distinctive and stand out. By contrast, Japanese people tend to value community — so they see how things are related together. Not how things are distinctive but how they all relate to the whole.
The call to living in community with others is central to the New Testament. To think otherwise is like thinking that a severed body part still operates when cut off from rest of body. It’s absurd. Throughout the New Testament the assumption is that you are part of a community. We belong in relationship with others.
As people living in an individualistic culture, we are conditioned to value things like our time, our possessions, our destiny and our personality. Many people’s sense of identity (and even worth) is firmly anchored in these things that are distinctive and unique about them. The problem is that this focus on the individual is opposed to one of the core values of kingdom, which is community.
Part of our individualistic bias is from our language. Modern English does not even have a plural second person pronoun — “You” means both a singular person and a plural group of people. We can’t really tell except from context (and sometimes not even then). To get around this awkward limitation, that’s why you will see some sub-groups come up with alternatives: Italians say “yous” to mean plural “you,” and southerners say “y’all” when referring to “you all”. We need a word like this!
But Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians in Greek and luckily Greek *does* have a different word for singular vs plural “you”, and so when you read the original Greek, you can see that in this passage he uses a plural pronoun throughout this passage.
This makes all the difference in the world. Because what it means is that God will not let you be tested beyond strength of the *community* — when an individual is tested, the whole community is being tested. God never intended believers to resist temptation on their own! Like a rope with many strands, the strength is in the community. This passage presupposes that the listener is part of a community. When you read it again with this new understanding, doesn’t it read different?
Thinking back to last time gave in to a temptation, ask yourself this: Would you have still fallen to your temptation if you had your community around you in that moment? People to encourage you to br strong, or the knowledge that people were praying for you? Chances are you were resisting it alone. The enemy was banking on this. This is what he does, he isolates. It’s why sin flourishes in an environment of secrecy and hiddenness.
You were made in image of triune relational God and you NEED community. Don’t forget you are in the midst of a very real spiritual war, and the last place you want to be is alone in battlefield. You want your platoon around you! This reminder of the spiritual battlefield we live within also reveals why individualism is a stronghold of the enemy in our culture. It isolates all of us, causing us to feel we need to “go it alone” or be “self made” when that is not how we were made.
Paul’s idea of community, expressed in the phrase “one another,” is not referring to our weekend gatherings at WH. These are a good thing but they do not offer the safe intimate context where we can confess and help each other resist temptation. It assumes smaller gatherings of 20-30 people in a house. The group size for getting help in overcoming temptation is even smaller, like a small group or family, or a significant other/spouse.
Woodland Hills has tried to help facilitate meeting other believers to help you form these bonded groups. Some of these include:
- Growth groups
- Cultivate classes
- Life on Purpose
- Discover kingdom
- Discover kingdom community
- Sojourners (our house church community)
We need to pray for each other. And we need this prayer from others. Community is key to fighting in this spiritual war with the enemy. So whatever you choose from above or if you are already in a group, just make sure you are fighting your temptations with the help of your group. We were not meant to fight the enemy alone!
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