Early on in my faith-walk, I was introduced to 1 Corinthians 10:13. It is a verse often referred to and used in Biblical Counseling. Many times, it has brought me great solace and encouragement when I was tempted. It has also allowed me to see how easily we push against God’s gentle prodding through the Spirit when we are locked onto the sinful idols, we believe will give us what we are looking for.
Beyond those two things, I was able to see an attendant sin to the obvious sin. We easily see sins of giving in to fear or giving in to an addiction. We see lies, theft, or an affair. But something else still lurks in the shadows. I learned from my own struggles with sin that God wants more than for me to see and repent of the sin that I committed in the pursuit of my idol. He wants me, and all of us, to shine a light on the sinful bystander: the sin of grieving the Holy Spirit.
In this post we want to explore how the aspect of “God providing a way of escape” as described in 1 Corinthians 10:13 can be observed in situations of temptation and sin.
AN INNOCENT START
After an afternoon snooze a man gets up from his sofa and heads outside. The roof terrace of his house is the perfect place to look out over the neighborhood. As the sun heads toward the horizon the light has a special kind of glow. The man scans the other houses and appreciates what he sees. He is a king, you know. He can do what he pleases. He enjoys this place. As his eyes sweep the neighborhood, his gaze freezes on a particular house. It too has a roof terrace. But it isn’t the terrace that stops his eyes from proceeding – it’s a woman. She is beautiful, that much he can tell. She doesn’t even seem to be aware someone is watching. The man cannot believe his eyes – he is enamored. And so, the story proceeds…
As you may have guessed, it’s a paraphrase rendering of the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. Here we have a great example of how we get ourselves into trouble. We see how as temptation creates a vortex that entices the flesh, the whole person gets sucked in, seemingly unable to escape the downward spiral. Yet, we not only see temptation and flesh-responses, we see gaps, openings in which the Spirit could work (I call them “escape routes”). In order to see these paths clearly though, we have to slow down, think about our own experience with temptation and sin and allow God’s Spirit to bring conviction as we look at one story in Scripture to learn how we may change our engagement of temptation to sin.
BLINDED BY SIN; DRIVEN BY DESIRE
Sin is a slippery eel. If you don’t know how to grab the eel, its jerky wriggles will cause it to escape your grip. By the way, remember that Scripture would exhort us not just to “capture sin” (1 Corinthians 10:5) but to “put it to death”(Colossians 3:5; Romans 8,13). For context, we should remember also, that in James 1, we read how easily and quickly temptation morphs into outright sin and sin into death. Yet one more step, we see in James 4 the locus of desire (inside of us; our heart) and the fact that these desires drive us even into grave sin.
When we think about David and Bathsheba then, we can see the relationship between temptation and the insidiousness of sin—we could say, it becomes obvious how David was both “blinded by sin” and “driven by desire”; and it didn’t end well.
How can we make a connection between this story, 1 Corinthians 10:13, God’s faithfulness to provide escape routes, and our own lives?
GOD’S SPIRIT AND THE WAY OF ESCAPE
Let us turn again to the story of David in 2 Samuel 11. At the outset though, we need to be clear about our Bible reading. There is a lot of information about David and his ultimate decisions in this story and very little about his thoughts, intentions, inclinations, or motivations. This is important because we will have to supply some of that “data” ourselves. This is where it gets a bit tricky. Neither in this text nor ever should we read into (eisegesis) Scripture but rather are called to read out of it (exegesis). The problem is that we do not always have all the information in the biblical text; where it does not provide all that we would like to see, we must proceed with great caution, humility, and much prayer!
AWAKENING THE FLESH
We remember that the story starts with contextual notes (v.1) about what is going on in David’s life. It is springtime and the country is at war against the Ammonites. David’s army is besieging the city of Ramah. But David, the commander in chief, remained at home. One afternoon, David goes walking on the roof of his house and sees a woman bathing—she is very beautiful (v.2).
Right here is our first stop. Most of you likely know the situation as we likely have been pre-exposed to this story, so we know how it all ends. But let us suspend what we know and consider the situation and look at what has been revealed so far. David sees a beautiful woman bathing. For most men, it does not need to be said what this could possibly evoke inside of us. It’s not just thoughts that are awakened. It’s the flesh. Like a steam train exiting the station, forward movement is gained as both the body (a pounding heart, a more focused gaze, etc.) and the mind (who is she? Is anyone watching? Does she know I’m here?, etc.) are being engaged. With every stroke of the engine the physical responses intensify, and the thoughts of the mind grow more specific. With each passing second, temptation runs toward sin; the pull becomes stronger and stronger. Suddenly the heart has locked onto what we really want. We have an idol in sight – we don’t call it that; that would bring conviction. We “simply” engage what has been presented. We rationalize up to the very moment where we step out of temptation into sin.
Now, here is where we want to tread very carefully! The Bible does not tell us what David is thinking. It does not say how he interprets the situation. There is not a word about his ultimate heart motivation. Yet, as I said earlier, our own experience with temptation and sin would give us important clues as to what might be happening. While not presuming to know David’s inner workings, we can make fairly accurate connections and form clear conclusions based on what the text does reveal.
EXIT RAMP 1
The modern-day Western world is so flooded with pornographic images that the broad strokes of dealing with sexual temptation are all too familiar to us—turn away from the temptation; flee. Scripture would exhort us to exactly that path (1 Corinthians 6:18). It’s God’s exit ramp number 1 for David. Now, we know that David didn’t know the book of first Corinthians. Yet, we can be sure that David knew a whole lot about God’s ways (see Psalm 19:7-14). The crucial question is, what is David doing with the temptation? Is he turning from it, fleeing the grips of sin? Whether we know what’s happening inside of David’s mind and heart, Scripture reveals what is happening.
Verse three holds the answer: “And David sent and inquired about the woman.” You judge for yourself whether this is a turning from or to the temptation. Remember, however, that this is not about David! This is about situations of temptation in which God provides escape routes for us. Considering David’s situation and then considering our own past dealings with temptation and sin, what would we say about God provision of escape routes to David? Do we not see the oft-provided escape ramp of “space and time” at a very minimum? Notwithstanding the myriad of ways in which God could have (and probably did) speak into David’s life?
Turning a deaf ear to God’s Spirit will result in turning a blind eye to the way of escape from sin.
Again, while we do not know in what ways God engaged David in these moments or what David’s inner reflections were, Scripture describes clearly that David moved toward sin, not away from it.
EXIT RAMP 2
After receiving word about who Bathsheba was, David finds himself in another “gap” – time and space to consider how to live either for God or for self. The exit ramp is there. Keep right and get off. But what does David do with it? Does he heed God’s voice? Do we heed it in our times of temptation? Once more we confess, we are not told what David thinks. But what does he do about the fact that she is married? Should this not give him pause? While we know neither if David knew Uriah or if he really knew that Uriah was away at war (though it is reasonable to assume he knew it), we know David was not turning from the temptation. Was his flesh engulfed in longings for sexual relations? The Bible does not say. But we know that because nothing happens instantaneously, not even for kings, time passes. There is room for David to think about his intentions and what has been awakened in him. Just because the Bible doesn’t tell us what happened inside of David, doesn’t mean we cannot guess about the kinds of things that went on inside. Moreover, his actions betray Scripture’s silence on the matter. He himself reveals the direction his heart and thoughts have taken.
Verse four clearly states, “David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him…” Ignoring for a moment the last part of verse four here, we can again ask ourselves, what is the purpose of David asking for Bathsheba’s presence? Does he just want to talk? What other intentions may he have? How is his body feeling? What preoccupies his mind?
What have we done in our moments of temptation? Did we step towards or away from temptation and sin? What thoughts did we ruminate on? What signals did our body send us? Did we ignore those things, running from them or did we pour gasoline on the fire by reveling in the physical eruptions of the body and by dreaming about all the things that could be? We know where we have rejected God’s gentle prodding through his Spirit to get closer to what our desires demanded. David did not operate in a vacuum away from God’s engagement of his people to steer them away from sin and toward his loving presence. David could have chosen to send her away again. He could have simply talked to her and then sent her back home, having had a nice neighborly conversation. Yet illicit sex was his choice. He sinned. He caused her to sin. He got her pregnant and then had to deal with the fallout of that. Clearly David did not take whatever exit ramps God had provided.
Our deceitful rationalizations get us into trouble; we convince ourselves we can control the uncontrollable just to find ourselves upside down in the ditch.
MISSING THE EXITS
On road trips across the US, we have experienced the dangers of missing exits. On one particular trip, I almost ran out of gas. I had ignored previous exit signs believing I would be fine and that another exit with a gas station was not too far along. Yet, I ended up erratically swerving across the lanes, to get the last exit before we would have run out of gas. Something told me, take the exit or stop on the side of the road and walk. As we returned to the highway later, I saw a sign that said 35 miles to the next gas station. We would have been stuck on this highway for sure – and I would been very angry.
Life with temptation and sin can be a somewhat similar drama.
Missing exit ramps towards confession and repentance creates long roads of suffering requiring much forgiveness and lengthy reconciliation.
Oh, that we would learn to see the signs, listen to God’s voice, and take the exits away from sin. When we do, we will see God’s faithful love expressed in his readiness to forgive and restore. While there is likely still sin to be forgiven and repented of, the impact of the sin committed and the pathway back to uninhibited relationship to God and others will look very different.
On the roof, in her presence, together in bed, hearing of pregnancy, tricking the husband, intoxicating the husband, and killing the husband. David took many steps toward sin. It seems he would have had several openings to pull off the highway, taking the off ramp. Yet, David did not turn; at least not until he was compelled by his own anger toward a fictional man. The prophet Nathan, sent by God confronted David with his own sin. David could not escape any longer. He was forced to the side of the road if you will. He realized that his sin was not inconsequential or hidden. He knew at that moment that grave consequences would come – and come they did.
FROM THE PAGE TO THE HEART
There are a multitude of things we could potentially learn from David’s story and the things examined here together. Two things seem most pertinent though. First, there are our own hearts. Whether you are a counselor, an advocate, or a counselee; whether you are a pastor, a churchgoer, or a someone just learning about the Christian faith, the first step is always to ask, “What is my manner of life going to be in light of these ideas?” More specifically, “Where do I hear God speak regularly to me and I’m ignoring him, drowning out his voice? Where am I further grieving the Spirit by doing what God says I should not do? How many steps toward or even into sin will I take before I turn back to the one who gives me life and promises forgiveness, healing, and restoration?”
Second, we should think about how passages like 1 Corinthians 10:13 and 2 Samuel 11 used in tandem can become a framework for God’s Spirit to bring conviction in our counseling? We don’t have to clobber people with random verses, hoping that the word will not return void after we unleashed the avalanche of Scripture. When we humbly, prayerfully, and intentionally lead people to God’s Word the conviction of the Spirit will do what God has promised. We open God’s Word, dive deep into the story, and as we begin to understand the context and meaning, we apply the words on the page to our hearts. When we then ask heart-probing questions, it is very difficult for the soul to escape the weight of God’s glory and holiness. We will see how we really are. Even if people then choose to run from the conviction and further grieve the Spirit, we can at least say we were faithful and loving in caring for the souls God entrusted to us. Then we prayerfully commit the person to the Lord who in his time and ways will continue to perfect those who are his.