God Helps the ‘Fallers’ and the Fallen
Text: 1 Corinthians 10:12,13
Theme: “Be careful that you don’t fall”
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
“Be careful that you do not fall.” That’s what it says in our second lesson today. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.”
We have all had our experiences with falling. We fall when we’re young children. We fall on the ice. We trip over our slippers that we left on the floor in the bedroom. Falling is just a part of life.
But some people fall more than others. In a Wall Street Journal article last year, writer Jan Morris tells readers that she falls more than the normal person. “The sad truth,” she says, “is that I have been falling over for years. I have tripped, slid, toppled and collided with things such as lampposts on several continents.”
Ms. Morris believes that the reason she falls so often is that she has a wandering mind. “My falls come as I am absorbed in a book or contemplating a distant skyline,” she says. “I carry with me the scars of a wandering mind.
Perhaps that was a problem for the Corinthian Christians too. Living in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, the Christians there had many things to distract them from God’s Word. Perhaps they were absorbed in all the opportunities to have fun, see something new, or consider an opinion from a learned thinker.
The “falling” we are talking about in our text, of course, is the falling into sin. By the tenth chapter of First Corinthians, we know that the people there had plenty of experience falling into sin. Perhaps they thought they couldn’t help it– that it was just a product of being distracted by the world they lived in. Maybe they used that old excuse: “the devil made me do it.”
Paul will not let the people shift the blame away from themselves. He says, “God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” This is a statement of good news and encouragement. But it also tells us that if we’ve sinned, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
This promise from the Bible– “God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear”– is often re-stated in a different way. Oftentimes we hear it expressed as: “God will not give you more than you can handle.” But that’s not what the verse says. There is a big difference.
Sometimes life gives us more than we can handle… at least on our own. There are times when we experience great emotional pain because of a sad or tragic loss. There are times when our physical pain is great, or when we are gripped with fear, or when our very survival is challenged. In these times we need help. We are not expected to go it alone. We need help from God, and we need help from others.
But as for being tempted to sin, we are ultimately responsible for our own actions. We are not to disobey our Lord , even when we think that is our only choice. God’s Word is clear– disobeying is not our only choice. “God will provide a way out so that you can stand up under temptation.” Sometimes we will need to be patient, and definitely we will need to struggle, but we know we can always trust in God to keep His promise.
As we struggle against the temptation to fall, let us keep in mind two very helpful bits of advice. First, as we seek to overcome sin, it’s important that we develop a better “walk” with God.
Poor Ms. Morris, who’s falls and scars we talked about earlier, was convinced that her falling happened because her mind was wandering. Maybe that’s correct. However, there may be another reason she falls so often. It could be that her method of walking is partly to blame.
In a recent study done in Japan, researchers studied the walks of two groups of people– those who had fallen more than twice in the past year and those who had not fallen at all in the past year. Using video tapes and infrared technology they tracked, measured and charted the gaits of these people as they walked along specified walkways. The researchers concluded that the mechanics of a person’s walk– things such as the clearance of the swing of the foot and the lateral sway of the trunk of the body– predisposed some people to fall more easily than others.
As Christians, we need to develop a better spiritual walk. The Bible compliments certain people by telling us they “walked with God.” That means they faithfully acknowledged God’s presence. They prayed to Him, they listened to Him, and they followed His commands.
As we seek to avoid falling into sin, let us commit to a closer walk with God. Let us pray to Him in the difficult times, but also at all times– praying in a regular, disciplined manner in order to develop a true relationship. Let us worship God with our hearts, and also worship Him with our minds as we meditate on His teachings.
When God is a part of our life every day, we are less prone to be surprised by temptation. After all, falls are by definition unplanned and unexpected events. Oftentimes it’s the little things that cause us to stumble and lead to a fall.
William Temple, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940′s, tells about a time he heard a preacher speak on the text, “though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” The preacher talked about dramatic sins that drew blood , but Temple was moved instead to think about his many gray sins. “Most of them were not the dramatic acts of rebellion and violent self-affirmation,” he said, “but the colorless, tired sins of omission, inertia and timidity.”
Likewise, Pastor W.B.J. Martin, taking a line from the second chapter of Song of Solomon, wrote a book called “Little Foxes that Spoil the Vine.” The “little foxes” he talks about are behaviors that don’t seem so bad in themselves, but lead to bigger sins. He includes chapters on things such as careless listening, stopping halfway, discourtesy, flippancy, ingratitude and by-standing.
My friends, a major fall can have devastating consequences. There’s plenty of Christians in jail who thought they were standing strong and would not fall. There’s many, many Christians who’s lives are a mess because they had a casual attitude about the little sins, and then fell quickly into bigger ones.
Yes, it’s important to develop a better walk with God. All of us can improve.
There’s a second bit of advice that will also help us. This advice isn’t about avoiding a fall. But it’s advice that might be even more valuable.
Back to the story of Ms. Morris again. In her article she says that there are some places where it’s better to fall than others. When she fell one winter day on a main street in Edmonton, Alberta, no one paid any attention to her. Perhaps slipping on the ice is too common there. But when she fell over into a gutter near the horse carriages at Central Park in Manhattan, she immediately received help from the horse cab drivers.
Ginny Grush of Farmington Hills, Michigan, did her one better. A few days after Ms. Morris’ article appeared, Ms. Grush wrote a response in which she relayed a story about falling in church. One day she visited a crowded church in Bolivia, where she was serving as a Peace Corp volunteer. At one point in the service she became overcome by the heat, incense and candle smoke. She fainted and fell. When she came to, she realized that she was being passed along over the heads of the worshipers to the door where she could get some fresh air. Once outside, congregants cared for her and made sure she was okay.
My friends, if we’re going to fall– and life has shown us that we will all fall at some time– then let’s do it in a good place.
The best place to fall, is to fall in church. We don’t encourage falling, of course. But we are understanding. At least we should be.
When we fall, it’s good to be surrounded by people who care. It’s good to be surrounded by people who can help. It’s good to be surrounded by people who know the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
Too often when people fall into sin, they look for help elsewhere. They either feel that the church won’t accept them, or they feel too ashamed to go to the church for support. These people often end up getting the wrong kind of help– they get told their sin wasn’t really sin, or they are befriended by those who keep falling into sin themselves.
I know of a church where a prominent member fell into a sin that was exposed by the newspapers. He was a man of high standing in the community, at least until people heard of his sin. He was taken to court and eventually pled guilty in a plea agreement. While he served no jail time, he lost his job and his pension. He did not, however, stop coming to church. He shared with his fellow members what had happened to him. That congregation rallied around him with moral support and encouragement. They helped him to stand once again.
We are all susceptible to spiritual falls of one sort or another. But let’s keep our connection with our congregation active and strong. It’s the place we need to be. In the embrace of the church we will receive honest help, true love, and genuine forgiveness.
The Church can offer love and support because its members have been forgiven themselves. The Church is a support group for frequent-fallers. We’re trying to do better. We’re working on our walk. But above all we’re grateful to God for His mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took a fall for us. He was beaten down to His knees again and again by the blows of human sin. He was nailed to a cross where He died. But His death paid the penalty for our sins. And then He rose again, proving that death was defeated.
My friends, as we seek to grow in our appreciation for what God has done for us through Christ, let us commit to also growing in the mercy and love we show to others. Let us together walk with God– hearing His Word and obeying it– that we might become instruments of His redeeming love. In the name of Jesus. Amen.