“Mind…the gap. Mind…the gap. Mind…the gap.” If you’ve ever used the London Underground subway system, then you might know that phrase. For those who don’t know, “mind the gap” is played on an audio loop over a loudspeaker each time a subway train pulls up to a station platform. Aside from being an awesome “Britishism,” what’s the point of “mind the gap” being repeated until riders hear it in their sleep? Because the London Underground has some curved tunnels and platforms, sometimes when a train reaches a stop, there are large gaps up to a foot wide between the door of the train and the platform. So, “mind the gap” is meant to warn passengers—like “watch your step” on stairs or escalators, or big yellow “wet floor” signs. Certainly, most people can easily step over a gap, or climb the next step, or take shorter strides to not slip on a wet floor. So why do we need warnings?
Because people are easily distracted! The man glued to his cell phone as he gets off the subway isn’t paying attention to his steps. Distractions could lead him to trip and fall, get his foot stuck, or worse! So there are warnings, to draw people’s attention to dangers they’re not focusing on.
In 1 Cor. 10, Paul is doing just that for a fledgling Christian church in the city of Corinth. Paul uses the Israelites as they wander in the wilderness after being freed from slavery in Egypt, as a history lesson, to sound a cautionary warning; Corinthians… Mount Olive…Watch Your Step! Don’t get so distracted by yourself and the world, that you lose focus on your spiritual footing!
First, Paul points out how richly God had blessed the Israelites! Not just behind the scenes stuff, but impressive, visible actions of grace! Look at a few of the things Paul mentions! “Our forefathers were all under the cloud and they all passed through the sea.” God himself led the Israelites as they left Egypt. We’re told in Exodus, “the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way.” The Israelites didn’t have to read a road map. God himself led them! Every day as they followed the giant pillar of cloud, they were reminded that God was with them and protecting them. He even led them on dry ground, driving back the waters of the Red Sea, so that ALL of the hundreds of thousands of Israelites passed through in complete safety.
All the Israelites were also “baptized into Moses,” meaning God connected them with a strong spiritual leader in Moses. Moses, one of the great heroes of the faith, the man whom God had called to set his people free, the man who spoke with God for them. Pastor Zank does a great job spiritually leading our District, but imagine having Moses as your spiritual leader!
The Israelites also “ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” God provided daily bread from heaven— manna—just outside their tent flaps. He made miracle water pour out of solid rock in the middle of the desert for them. But above all, Christ accompanied them in the wilderness, as he accompanies his Church today, to constantly provide for their spiritual needs.
The Israelites never had to wonder if God was with them. They had these miraculous, visible reminders that God was with them always! The Israelites had every reason to fully trust in God’s guidance, protection, and providence.
And yet, they tripped over their own feet! Just after God led them through the Red Sea, they worshiped a golden calf! Although God gave them trustworthy spiritual leadership, they challenged God, and his appointed leaders. Just after God miraculously provided for their bodily needs, they grumbled about the detestable food.
And we see the results. We see how serious God is about unrepentant sin! Paul graphically describes those 40 years of wandering, “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.”
Really, all of their sins were idolatry. In spite of the true God’s blessings, they still worshiped idols of gold and flesh. They worshiped their lust by committing sexual immorality. They worshiped their own self-importance by challenging God, and grumbling against him. The Israelites stumbled and fell because they were so self- focused, they lost sight of God’s ever-present grace.
Why is this history lesson important for us? Paul explains, “These things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did…these things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.
This is Paul’s “mind the gap” “watch your step” warning for us. Look backwards at the Israelites’ sins, and then look down to check your own spiritual footing! Don’t get spiritually lazy! “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
Like the Israelites, God’s given us a constant stream of visual reminders of his love. You can look back at your baptism. Maybe you were raised in a Christian household, with parents who pointed you to Jesus. Maybe you attended Christian schools like Mount Olive and FVL—where your teachers taught you God’s love. Maybe God has blessed you with a believing spouse who encourages and builds you up in the Word. You’ve got a church, and a church family who desire to build and strengthen your faith, to help you keep your feet firmly grounded in Christ. All of these things are constant reminders of God’s grace!
So why do we need a warning? Why do we have to check our spiritual footing? Because, like the Israelites, we often get distracted. Have we begun to take the cascade of blessings from God for granted? Have we convinced ourselves that our feet are so firmly cemented that we’re fall-proof? Has your spiritual life become background noise? If so, then Satan’s distracted you from the dangers around you. If you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
If you cut yourself off from the Word because you’ve heard it before; if you cut yourself off from worship because you went last month; if you don’t send your kids to Sunday School because they’ve hear about Jesus in school; if you don’t attend Bible class because you don’t see the value, then you’re like a man who says he doesn’t need dinner, because he ate last week. You’re like this guy: Feeling confident that you’re standing firm…but not realizing that you’re cutting yourself off from the only thing that keeps us standing firm…God and his Word!
Maybe you’ve never worshiped a golden calf, but we’ve all worshiped our own selfish desires. Maybe you’ve never been seduced by pagan religious prostitutes, but maybe you’ve fantasized about someone who’s not your spouse. Maybe you’ve never joined a mob to challenge God’s will and your spiritual leaders, but maybe you’ve spread rumors about a pastor or teacher that God has called to teach you and your children. Maybe you’ve never grumbled about manna from heaven or water from rocks, but maybe you’ve grumbled against God about your paycheck, your family, your body, or your brain. Christian, check your spiritual footing!
In spite of God’s faithfulness to us, we’ve been anything but faithful to God. And so, as we hear Paul’s warning, the truth is evident. We haven’t been standing firm. We’ve fallen for Satan’s lies, fallen into his traps, time and time again. During our Lenten walk to the cross, we need to drop to our knees and repent, because we’ve been unfaithful to God.
What’s our motivation to repent, to leave behind our spiritual laziness and strive to regain our footing in God’s Word? Out of terror that a vengeful God will send venomous snakes through the pews, or open the ground to swallow us whole?
No, we repent because as Paul says, “God is faithful.” Yes, you have been unfaithful to God. I have been unfaithful to God. But God hasn’t stopped being faithful to us. We repent and turn from our sins because, although God is serious about sin, he also seriously loves you.
Take a second to marvel at this thought. As God was carrying out his judgment against the unrepentant Israelites, he had you in mind. He inspired Moses and Paul to record these warnings so you, sitting in the pews at Mount Olive in February 2016 could receive the warning reminder that you needed to hear. That is faithfulness!
Paul describes God’s faithfulness to us, “God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
What does that mean? What it doesn’t mean is that you don’t have to worry about temptations because you’re strong enough to beat them. As we know, the Devil fights dirty against Christians, going after our greatest weaknesses because he will do anything to make you fall away from God. If we depend on ourselves to beat Satan’s temptations, we’re guaranteed to fall, because you aren’t strong enough!
But Christ is! When temptations come, instead of focusing on yourself, focus on your faithful God. He will help you endure temptation! We can’t stand firm by ourselves. Don’t make your stand on quicksand…you need to find rock. The same rock that accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness… “and that rock was Christ.”
Let’s close with some practical applications of how Christ can help us stand firm in the face of temptation. God shows his faithfulness to us by giving us his Word. Like Jesus tempted by Satan in the wilderness, we can us God’s Word to combat Satan’s lies, and remind ourselves of the truth. So our first tip, be in the Word. When Satan tempts you, run to God in prayer. Ask him to give you the strength to fight against temptation. He promises to hear and answer you! Our second tip, pray to God. When you find yourself surrounded by temptation, follow Paul’s advice and “flee from idolatry!” If you’re tempted by someone to commit sexual immorality, get as far away from them as possible! God gave you legs for a reason. Our third tip, flee from temptation! God also gives us the wisdom of foresight to perceive when you’ll be in a situation that tempts your weaknesses. Avoid those situations, like not meeting your friends at the bar, if you struggle with drunkenness. Our fourth tip, avoid situations that you know will tempt you.
But most importantly, stand firm in the forgiveness that is yours through Christ. God shows his greatest faithfulness to us in this: that he sent Jesus to be perfectly faithful in our place. So, when we do fall, we can repent and turn from our sin, confident that forgiveness is assured through Christ, our rock! Our fifth and most important tip, stand of Christ’s forgiveness!
Brothers and sisters, watch your step. Repent and turn to the Lord. And remember this…you can’t fight alone! In Christ, you stand firm! So stay connected to him, because God is faithful. Amen.