Vol. 10 — No. 33 August 17, 1969


Spiritual Self-confidence

1 Corinthians 10:6-13

How these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of Serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fell. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

In Christ Jesus, who was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin, Fellow Redeemed:

“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall!” In the spiritual setting in which this passage lies these words are a warning against self-confidence.

In many areas of life self-confidence is necessary. A beginning driver must have a certain amount of self-confidence before he feels comfortable behind the wheel of an automobile and can control and handle that vehicle in all kinds of traffic and under all kinds of road conditions. An athlete must have confidence in himself before he can perform well. No matter what the job or assignment may be a certain amount of self-confidence is necessary. A person without such self-confidence suffers from an inferiority complex which hinders his performance, strains his social life, and tends to warp his personality. In nonspiritual areas of life the danger to which our text points is not self-confidence, but over-confidence. Over-confidence is miscalculation of one’s abilities on the plus side. When the young driver becomes overconfident, he is about ripe for an accident. When an athletic team becomes over-confident, its ripe for an up-set. In any area of life over-confidence can well be the prelude to a fall, to failure, to defeat, to embarrassment, to humiliation.

But in the spiritual realm self-confidence is over-confidence. So it is because spiritual life does not originate in man and does not receive its strength and vitality from human abilities and resources. Spiritual life is a gift of God. The man of God walks by faith which must be daily nourished by grace. The man of God finds his strength in the forgiving love of his heavenly Father and in the atoning grace of his Savior and in the sanctifying power of the Spirit of God. The moment a child of God feels impelled to cast off from his God and to go it alone spiritually—that moment he becomes over-confident because his confidence rests upon himself. Then the words of warning need to be sounded: “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

Our text deals With this spiritual disease that never ceases to threaten all of us. There is no way to be permanently immunized against it. We need to know the disease—its dangers and also prophylactic remedies to guard against it. To become aware of just these things let us make use of this text to study—

Spiritual Self-confidence

Let us observe, first of all, that spiritual self-confidence—

I. Conditions for a fall

“Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall!” St. Paul had just drawn to the attention of the Corinthians four tragic instances in which God’s people of the Old Testament had fallen. He said: “How all these things happened unto them for ensample, or as a warning: and they are written for our admonition.” These people too had thought that they were beyond temptation, but they learned otherwise, and their experience has been recorded for our admonition, so that we learn to realize that spiritual pride, or spiritual self-confidence always conditions for a fall.

The Corinthians thought they could join in the pagan sacrifices and festivals without being tainted or corrupted. They thought they could enjoy the social part of the pagan festivals without making themselves guilty of idolatry. Paul reminds them of what happened to the Children of Israel shortly after the Lord God had made His covenant with them at Sinai. They had all shouted their agreement to the words of the law: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Ex. 20:4-5. Then a short time later when Moses was up in the mount, they put the pressure on Aaron to make for them the golden calf. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” How relevant, how modern, now necessary is not that warning today! Christians by the thousands and hundreds of thousands think they are so firm in the faith that they can join organizations which sponsors idolatry without being contaminated themselves. They imagine that they can enjoy the social part of it without becoming involved, tainted, and so guilty of idolatry. Paul warned the Corinthians against this very thing. He used the example of their fore-fathers at Sinai.

Idolatry and adultery went hand in hand in those days. The Corinthians were in danger of falling victim to a form of idolatry which casts the mantle of religious approval over sex sins. Their fathers had fallen For the same thing. Paul refers to the tragedy at Baalpeor and he warns: “Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.” They had thought they were spiritually strong. But then they fell victim to an Old Testament form of ecumenism, and some 23,000 had been slain by the Lord. The same warning is necessary today. Sexual sins have always played a big part in man’s history, but we are again at that point when religion—religious leaders and church bodies—are beginning to give their approval to pre-marital and extra-marital sexual relations, even abnormal relations. Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall! The same Lord, who slew 23,000 of His people for these sins in days past, rules and reigns today. And He judges according to the same standards.

The Christian religion expects that Christians are in this world but are not a part of it. We are warned not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed. There are organizations and associations that we cannot join without compromising and denying our faith. There are activities that we must avoid. So it has always been. So it was in Corinth. But the Christians in that congregation had a hankering for their old heathen associations and enjoyments. They became dissatisfied with the narrow road that leads to life. They were inclined to murmur and complain. We have the same thing today. People want to be Christians, claim to want to follow the Bible, but then keep on complaining that the church or the preacher or the church body is too strict, too narrow-minded, too old fashioned, and so on and on. Paul reminded the Corinthians, as he reminds us today, that the Children of Israel also so tempted the Lord their God in the wilderness. They too murmured because of the way that the Lord led them. And on one occasion the Lord sent fiery serpents as their just punishment. On other occasions the people murmured and complained against the leaders that the Lord God had sent them, and the hand of judgment fell upon them.

These things were written for our learning. They are not just ancient history—stories that we read about and learn in Sunday School classes and then promptly dismiss from our minds. No, they are warnings. We too can imagine that we are so strong that we can mix with anyone, join anything, participate in any kind of amusement, and still maintain our confession and faithfulness to our God. Hell will be filled with onetime Christians who imagined they ware so strong, but who then fell. We too may be inclined to think the way of the Lord is too narrow, the restrictions too tight and too heavy, too wearisome. People seek a more permissive type of religion, a religion that will either condone the satisfying of their lusts or encourage their self-righteousness. We too tend to murmur and complain. For this reason these warnings have been recorded. We need them, and we ought to take them seriously. And we ought to take them even more seriously if we think we don’t need them: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall!”

It’s as natural as breathing for us to fall into the trap of imagining that these ancient warnings just don’t apply to us. This is spiritual self-deception—a tool of Satan, but a disease fatal to the soul. Thank God that spiritual self-confidence—

II. Is counter-acted by our faithful God.

Paul had lifted his finger in warning against falling. Then he lifted his pen to write a word of comfort: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.” Satan uses time-tested methods and techniques. The flesh of man remains ever the same. There is no evolutionary process that makes people gradually morally better. That’s one side of it, but the other side is that we don’t have to be afraid of any super-human, irrestible temptation. We need to beware of the common and natural, the everyday type of temptation. In the midst of these we have the assurance that “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

Two points of comfort are brought out by Paul. First that God limits the temptation. We see that so graphically in the case of Job where Satan first had to receive permission to tempt Job and then was restricted to the bounds that the Lord God set for him. So today also. The power of Satan had been broken by the Stronger One, by our Lord Jesus Christ. He met Satan in the wilderness and withstood his fiercest attacks. He met him when Satan tried to undo Jesus by using his good friend, Peter. He defeated him again in the garden of Gethsemane. He vanquished him the third day when He arose victoriously after having shown Himself as conqueror in hell itself. Satan’s power is broken. He cannot tempt us above that which we are able to bear!

And when he does tempt, the Lord makes a way of escape for His own. That doesn’t mean that Christians can avoid being tempted. We can’t escape temptation as long as we are in this world. And it doesn’t mean that a Christian will never fall victim of Satan’s devices. Peter was tempted and ended up denying his Lord three times. Then later he fell again at Antioch when he pretended that the Old Testament dietary laws were still in force and necessary for salvation. He fell, and he fell for the same reasons Christians still fall—when they fail to watch and pray, when they fail to ward off the temptations with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. But even after he had fallen the Lord showed him a way of escape. In the first instance the Lord Himself looked upon Peter and prayed for him. In the second instance brother Paul was there to rebuke Peter publicly and bring him to a realization of his fall. The Lord still looks at us in his Word. He still prays for us, intercedes for us at the throne of grace. He still sends a brother or a sister to rebuke us, to point out our sin, to lead us back to Him once again. He makes a way of escape for us—if we do not harden our hearts against it and so damn ourselves.

Today again He would help us against temptations. In His word He has issued a solemn warning against spiritual pride, self-confidence, which so easily leads to a fall. Through me, his prophet for you this day, He has told you that temptations towards idolatry, towards sexual sins, towards murmuring and complaining about the narrow way of life are as common and as dangerous today, as they were in the days of the New Testament Church and in Old Testament times. And now in our communion service the Lord would come in a special way to each communicant. He would give you His own body and blood, the same body and blood that He gave and shed for you on the cross. Why would He do this? To give you the assurance of divine forgiveness, to give you strength unto newness of life, to give us a part and a share of His victory over the Tempter. So let us eat and drink at His table and be refreshed for the continuing battle against the Tempter. Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached August 3, 1969
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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