Yesterday was a pretty phenomenal day here at Reynoldsville: First UMC. Our Bishop, Thomas J. Bickerton, and our District Superintendent, Sharon Schwab, were both on hand along with myself and the pastors who preceded me. Our 10:45 service was filled with music (handbells, choir, organ, piano solo) and it was sort of like old home day! We dedicated the new elevator (now 100% debt-free!) and then Bishop Bickerton gave an inspirational, Biblically grounded, challenge based on the lectionary readings from John 12 and Philippians 3. We closed with Holy Communion. THEN our newest small group, the “Sunday School Moms,” served a wonderful roast beef dinner for us all. WHAT A GREAT DAY!
But before all of that happened, our superintendent both preached and served communion to our 8:15 worship service. One of the key points she brought out was from 1 Corinthians 10:1-13: the idea of testing.
I’m not trying to give a crib sheet of notes about her sermon so that you or I can then go preach it word for word. Rather, I simply want to highlight one point she made (in two parts) and how that relates to me (and maybe more than just me).
The version of Scripture she read from used the word “test” or “tested” (etc.) several times throughout the passage. The version I happen to have in front of me right now is the New King James Version (NKJV) and the word in question is “tempt” or “tempted.”
Her point was two-fold. First, this passage uses two different terms in the Greek for the idea of test/tested/testing.
One word, found in verse 13 for instance, pretty much means exactly what you’d think of when you think of a test, a trial, or a temptation (peirazo, Strongs: 3985). Because of some enticement, there is now a choice to do good or to not do good. Sharon used the example of a teacher who helps you to know what you should study in an attempt to help make sure you can not only pass the upcoming academic test, but in hopes that you might actually do well!
The other word is translated in verse 9 as “overtempted” (Green, Jay. The Interlinear Bible, Sovereign Grace Publishers, Lafayette, Indiana: 1986). The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (abridged) (Bromiley, Geoffrey, ed. Eerdmans:1985, p. 822) describes this version of testing as more of a “putting God to the test” (ekpeirazo, Strongs: 1598).
This second kind of testing, she said, is more like the tests which that one teacher who always had the hardest questions, with almost trivial kinds of questions, liked to give. You were pretty much set up to fail from the very beginning.
The first kind of testing is the way God deals with us. If he has set up a ‘life lesson’ for us, then, according to 1 Corinthians 10:13, He has already made sure that we CAN pass the test. He has even put an escape hatch into every temptation and test that He allows to come our way. We can ALWAYS pass His tests!
The second kind of testing is more like the way the children of Israel dealt with God. Constant murmuring (“we’re free, but I’d trade that for Egypt’s onions in a heartbeat”) continually set up different standards all the time. There was always one more thing God ought to do in order for them to wholeheartedly follow Him.
That second kind of testing is SO wrong, according to this passage.
Sharon’s second point was to apply this to our own lives. What kind of tests do WE put up to test our kids, our bosses, our employees, our students, our teachers… Are we the kind of person that is Christ-like enough that we do not murmur and make unreasonable expectations of God or the people around us? Are our encounters with others the kind of experiences that help to build up another so that they are more able to face the future because of the uplifting encounter they just had with us?
Ultimately, it is testing time. We WILL have tests. We WILL be in a position to make encounters with us a test for others that they cannot pass or else that they find to be life-building.
Where do we come in between those two standards?