As Paul approaches the end of his directions to the Corinthians about their participation in pagan worship meals, it becomes increasingly clear that their actions were sinful not only because they caused other “weaker” believers to fall into idolatry but also because the participation itself was idolatry. After all, the Apostle could not use the idolatrous wilderness generation of Israel as an example of what the Corinthians should not do unless there was a correspondence between eating meals in pagan temples and worshiping false gods (1 Cor. 10:1–11).
You will remember that one of the main problems with the Corinthians’ eating in pagan temples was that they thought it was a display of their own spiritual strength. Because they knew other gods do not exist as gods and because the act of eating was indifferent in itself, they believed that they could not possibly be guilty of idolatry if they ate alongside pagan worshipers in pagan temples (ch. 8). But as Paul notes in today’s passage, such confidence in their own spiritual strength was misplaced. When Paul says that those who think they stand should take heed lest they fall, he is basically saying: “Don’t think that you are so strong that you will not be guilty of idolatry if you do not stop eating in pagan temples. The Israelites thought they would be fine when they associated themselves with paganism, but they fell into apostasy.”
We see, then, that although God glorifies everyone whom He justifies (Rom. 8:29–30), we have a part to play in persevering in saving faith. We must not think ourselves so strong that we cannot fall into grievous or impenitent sin, but we must take heed of ourselves lest we fall. Christ will be faithful to complete the good work of salvation in everyone whom He regenerates (Phil. 1:6), but He does this by working in and through us so that we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, continuing to trust Jesus and repenting of our sin until the day we die (2:12–13). There is no contradiction between God’s guaranteeing the salvation of all those who have true faith and the need of the truly converted to keep watch on their hearts. Charles Hodge comments, “Those whom God has promised to save, he has promised to render watchful.”
We need not fear that the Lord will not enable us. As Paul concludes in 1 Corinthians 10:13, God will always give His people a way out of succumbing to temptation.
We dare not think we are strong enough not to fall into sin. At the same time, we dare not despair that we have no way out of sin when we are tempted. If we rely on Christ, we will persevere. John Calvin writes that Paul exhorts us “to look to the Lord, because a temptation, however slight it may be, will straightway overcome us, and all will be over with us, if we rely upon our own strength.”