I have used and taught 1 Cor. 10:13 as almost a mantra for those facing temptations. From gluttony to pornography to gossip, this verse has helped many people “stand up under” their particular temptation. But this is one more example of the way we use the scriptures for our own personal battles instead of truly reading it for what it says. We take verses out of context and while they are still effective, this is not why they were written.
This verse about temptation is not a general rule for standing against any temptation but is rather targeted toward specific ones. Four, in fact. You see Paul has just offered us a way to stand against the temptation to turn away from God, but not in this verse. Rather, he tells us to learn from our past.
Though the Israelites saw God’s salvation from slavery in Egypt, and passed through the miraculously parted Red Sea, still they turned away. And they did so in 4 specific ways that we must avoid: idolatry, sexual immorality, testing God, and grumbling. By citing these four examples, he puts them on par with one another and tells us to learn from the negative example of our spiritual ancestors. As they followed these wicked practices and paid for them with their lives, so we must avoid them. Don’t learn a verse that might keep you focused enough to get out of your temptation; study the history of our people so you avoid getting yourself into that temptation to begin with.
But beyond that, this is a lesson for us in parsing our sinfulness and ranking our sins. We hear sermons, bible studies, and confessions all the time about idolatry (“I put _______ before God in my life…”) and about sexual sins (“I was a slave to porn, or had an affair, or…”) but when was the last time you heard someone confess to the outrageous sin of grumbling? How many of us even consider this a sin anymore? Aren’t church people even known for being grumblers? Let’s not rank our sins and only condemn some when Paul places them all side by side, equal in their offense to God and in their punishment.