RPM, Volume 13, Number 46, November 13 to November 19, 2011

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

A Sermon

By Scott Lindsay

We are continuing this morning with our on-going look at Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, focusing in particular on Chapter 10, verses 1-13. This chapter is part of a larger sub-section in this letter which extends from chapter 8, verse 1 and goes through to chapter 11, verse 1. In this section, Paul is dealing with a number of different aspects of some questions that the Corinthians have put to him, and which seemed to have centered on the common theme of eating food offered to idols either in someone's home or inside a pagan temple. Now, admittedly, this is a circumstance for which we do not have any exact parallels and so it seems rather obscure and remote from you and I.

And yet, while the specific circumstance is somewhat foreign to us - we do not live in a city full of temples to Apollos or Aphrodite, etc.-- nevertheless, the issues raised by this circumstance are not very far away from us at all; issues such as rights and responsibility, freedom and sacrifice, self-indulgence and self-control and idolatry. All of these matters have come to the surface in our study of these verses and are eternal issues for God's people in every age. And so, with that as a very brief introduction, let me pray, then we'll read the passage and then we will see what these verses meant and what they still mean. Let's pray,

Great Father in Heaven, as Paul indicates in these very words before us this morning, both the HISTORY of what has happened to your people, and then the RECORDING of that history are both products of your sovereign hand, and are for the on-going benefit of your people in every age - which included Paul and the Corinthians when this letter was first written, and which includes us today. We thank you for your wisdom in providing these things, for speaking to us so clearly in and through your Word. Lord please draw us in during this time so that we come to know you better, so that we come to know our own hearts better, so that we come to know your world better - and our place within it. Encourage your people now by your Spirit's work within our hearts. We ask this for Jesus' sake, Amen.

(Read 1 Cor 10:1-13)

With these words, Paul strengthens and extends the warning that he began issuing in Chapter 9, verses 24-27, which we saw last week. The substance of that warning was simply that unless a person showed by the manner of his/her life that he was steadfastly running the "Christian race" - with self-control and discipline - then such a person was in danger of being disqualified. In other words, how one finishes the race is more significant than how one started it and reveals, in the end, whether or not that person was ever genuinely IN it, or was simply a pretender.

The reason Paul has issued such a warning was because the behavior of some of the Corinthians - especially on this matter of eating food offered to idols - was disturbing, on a number of fronts.

It was disturbing because some of them, in insisting on their rights, were doing so at the expense of their weaker brothers and sisters in Christ, as we saw in 8:1-13. Such behavior was sinful and un-loving and ought to have pricked their consciences - but it didn't. Further, it was disturbing because, as we began to see last week, and as we will see further this week, their attendance in pagan temples was, in fact, a form of idolatry - the likes of which had greatly angered God on numerous occasions in the history of Israel. And yet the Corinthians were seemingly oblivious to all this.

Finally, it was disturbing because - as we will see next week - their attendance at these idol temples actually brought them in contact with demonic activity! And so, for all these reasons, Paul found their behavior on this issue disturbing. More to the point, the longer they persisted in these things and showed no signs of concern about them, the more Paul felt the urgency of warning them that their continuing down this path would find them, in the end, disqualified in the eyes of God - no matter what past experiences they might be able to claim, and no matter what comfort or protection they might have felt that they had because of their participation in the sacraments.

So, it is in that vein that Paul continues with his words of warning to the Corinthians. Whereas in 9:24-27 he used himself as an example of someone who - just like them - needed to take care that he did not disqualify himself in the "Christian race"; he now turns to another source to drive home his point - the example of God's people in Israel in the days of Moses. To be sure, while the majority of Paul's Greek audience were not ethnic descendants of the Hebrew people, they were nevertheless, the spiritual descendants of them. As a result, the Israelites were very much "their people" and so what happened to them was perfectly relevant to the Corinthians, many years later.

Now, in order to get any mileage out of what happened to God's people in Moses' day, Paul has to make some connections. He has to draw some parallels between their situation and that of the Corinthians. The more parallels he can draw, the more similarities he can point out - the stronger his point will be. And the reason why Paul even bothers to take this sort of approach in the first place is grounded in his understanding of the person and character of God.

In short, Paul understood that because God never changes then we can expect some consistency in how He responds to certain things - even if the circumstances are separated by a great deal of time. God is always holy, He is always just, He is always good - and because of that there will be some recognizable pattern in His responses to situations of similar natures. Even more to the point, Paul not only believed that God responded to things in these ways because of His consistent character but also because of his sovereign purposes.

In other words, God has so ordained the events of history that persons and events that occurred in a previous time often serve - and intentionally so - as foreshadowings, or what theologians call types of things that will happen at some later date. So, for example, Moses is, in some ways, an early, shadowy sort of picture of what the true Messiah would be like when he came. The same could be said about David or Joseph or others in the OT period. This is the understanding of the OT that Paul gives evidence of here. He sees it as the recording of God's actions in the past that, among other things, help God's people to know what sort of things they can expect from God in the future.

So, with all these things in mind, Paul sets out in the first four verses of 1 Corinthians 10 to highlight a certain set of circumstances from the history of Israel, and to do so in a way which shows that they are really quite analogous to the Corinthians' own circumstances.

The situation that Paul has in mind is that of the Exodus, and the events that followed on from it. He speaks here of the time when God's people were led by Him through the wilderness, and out of bondage to Pharaoh. God led them at that time by means of a supernatural pillar of cloud - which they followed by day - and by a pillar of fire - which they followed by night and so made rapid, 24-hour progress in their escape from Egypt. These twin pillars led them up to the edge of the Red Sea where, after Pharaoh's army had them bottled up there, God performed a great miracle, parting the waters and drying up the land in order that they could actually go down into the sea, to its very floor, and then pass through the walls of water on either side, and then come up and out again, safely, on the far bank.

In reminding the Corinthians of this story, and in drawing a parallel to it, Paul uses the language of baptism to talk about what the people of Israel went through. Following and identifying with their leader, Moses, and going down through the waters were a kind of "baptism" and were, as such, analogous to the Corinthians' own situation. Because they too were identified with and following God's chosen leader - Christ, they too underwent a ritual which involved water and further which pointed to the supernatural work of God on their behalf.

So, again, Paul is drawing a parallel between the experience of the Israelites and the experience of the Corinthians. As we have seen in previous studies, the Corinthians were people who placed great stock in things like baptism and the Lord's Supper - which they should have. That was all fine and good as far as it went. But they were also people who went beyond these things, regarding them in ways that they were not intended to be regarded - as something that would somehow, almost "magically" protect them from evil and the influence of evil things. In other words, attached to whatever legitimate understandings they may have had of the supper were some illegitimate, almost superstitious understandings about it.

Now Paul is aware of all this, of course, and has this in mind when he draws parallels between the Israelites and the Corinthians. We'll get to the point of these parallels in a moment, but let's look firstly at a couple more that are contained here.

After saying that the experience of the Israelites at the Red Sea was a "type"of baptism, Paul adds that the Israelites "ate the same spiritual food and....drank the same spiritual drink" as the Corinthians. Now we know that the "spiritual food and drink" that Paul is talking about with regard to the Corinthians is the Lord's Supper - the bread and the wine - which we'll say more about next week. But what sort of "spiritual" food and "spiritual" drink is Paul referring to in Moses' day - and what did he mean by that?

Well, most commentators agree, especially given the fact that he is clearly talking about the events surrounding the Exodus, that what Paul is referring to here is the manna - or bread- like substance that God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness, as well as the water that God provided for them, quite supernaturally, when through Moses he caused it to spring from a rock. Both of these things were God's gifts and provision to the Israelites, in spite of their sin and grumbling, and were an indicator of their special relationship with Him.

Further, both of these things were "spiritual" gifts - in the sense that they were given to them, by God himself, and quite supernaturally, and thus had a significance that went beyond the ordinary and natural providences of God toward them in other ways. So Paul draws a parallel between these very special provisions of food and drink in Moses day, to the special provision of food and drink that was the Lord's Supper.

Then, to strengthen the parallels even further, Paul says that with regard to the water that was provided to the Israelites by a rock - this "Rock", says Paul, was Christ - meaning not that Christ is literally composed of granite but instead showing his quite firm understanding of the presence and working of Christ in the Old Testament - even before his incarnation. Paul says quite plainly here that the miraculous provision of life-sustaining water for the people of God in Moses' day was in fact, the work of Christ - the same Christ who would much later on declare that all those that came to him would never thirst again.

Paul indicates here that the ancient people of Israel were direct beneficiaries of Christ's ministry and provision in the form of life-sustaining water which, apparently, was provided to them not on one occasion but, in fact, on many occasions, as they went from place to place in the desert. The OT, in fact, only records two different instances of this provision (Ex 17:1-7; Numbers 20:2-13), but clearly it happened much more than that.

So Paul draws another parallel between the Israelites and the Corinthians. The Israelites underwent a kind of baptism through the Red Sea - in obedience to their God-ordained leader, just as had the Corinthians undergone a baptism in identifying with Christ. The Israelites received from the hand of God food and drink that bore a special, and even supernatural significance and the Corinthians had received from Christ, through Paul, the food and drink of the Lord's Supper which was similarly spiritual and unique. The Israelites were direct beneficiaries of Christ's ministry on their behalf, as were the Corinthians.

So Paul wants the Corinthians to see that they had a lot in common with the people of God in Moses' day. And he wants them to see these things in order that he can then make the point that he does in verse 5 that, in spite of the fact that the Israelites were clearly set apart as God's special nation, and had received many, many spiritual and even supernatural benefits from God Himself.... "...Nevertheless" he says, "...with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness."

If you're at all familiar with the history of Israel, then you will know that an entire generation of them were lost and punished, and never made it into the promised land - their bodies literally strewn across the wilderness for forty years as one by one, they all eventually dropped dead. This is Paul's point, you see. If the people of Israel were not spared from God's wrath and punishment because of their disobedience - and almost all of them were destroyed - then what does this say for the Corinthians and their misguided belief that they were somehow "safe" or "immune" from the consequences of their own stubborn disobedience? Paul very clearly and bluntly draws for the Corinthians the conclusion that he wants them to draw from all of this in verse 6:

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.

Paul could hardly be more plain than that, could he? And yet, he doesn't stop there. He goes even further, in the next 5 verses, to give specific examples of how the Corinthians' situation was not only analogous to the Israelites in terms of their experiences and what they had received from God — but there were ALSO parallels between the things the Israelites got up to, and the things that the Corinthians were getting up to in Paul's day.

So, for example, Paul says in verse 7, "....Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.' The OT passage that Paul is quoting from here is found in Exodus 32 - the story of the golden calf. If you're not familiar with the OT, the account recorded there is of a time when God's people, not long after leaving Egypt had gathered at Mount Sinai and were waiting for Moses to come down from his meeting with God and - as they waited - they got up to some very bad things and enlisted Aaron to make an image of God for them to worship, which Aaron does, fashioning it in the form of a CALF.

Exodus 32 talks about this incident. And it is interesting that of all the things that Paul might have quoted from Ex 32, the one thing he chooses to quote is verse 6, "And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play". Now why quote this? Because of the parallels with the Corinthian situation. The people of Israel were engaging in blatant idolatry, eating and drinking in the presence of a golden calf - an idol - and doing other things as well. God's anger and judgment against them on that occasion were great. And what were the Corinthians doing? They were insisting on their "right" and freedom to eat and drink food, in an idol temple.

Following that, Paul continues this pattern of "we must not....as some of them did" by saying, in verse 8, "We must not indulge in sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty- three thousand fell in a single day." Scholars agree that the likely reference here is to an incident found in Numbers 25 where the people of God engaged in sexual immorality with the people of Moab. What is interesting about this reference is that the account in Numbers makes it clear that the context in which the immorality took place was in and around the Temple of Baal - a pagan temple - and not only that, but the Numbers account specifically mentions that the Israelite people had been attending the feasts and sacrifices of these gods and bowed down to them.

So, the sexual immorality that the Israelites got entangled in - and for which they suffered and were punished - came about as a result of their involvement with the feasts and sacrifices of a pagan temple - the very same situation which the Corinthians were unwilling to let go of and which they insisted was harmless since "an idol is nothing".

In short, Paul's words here may indicate that this was, in fact, an additional underlying problem with their attendance at the temples - the possibility of there being some sort of sexual promiscuity going on - either through temple prostitutes or through some other means.

To these examples Paul adds two others in verses 9 and 10 - one of them referring to an incident that took place in Numbers 21 and another one probably to incidents in either Numbers 14 or Numbers 16 - but both of them involving God's people complaining about things, not being content with what God had given them. Further, both of them involved complaints and grumbling against both God and His appointed leader, Moses - with disastrous results.

Thinking about the Corinthian situation, it is not too difficult to see what sort of parallels Paul may have had in mind with these. As we have seen in previous studies, some of the Corinthians were somewhat "put out" with their founding apostle, disagreeing with him on a number of issues, and grumbling and complaining about it in the process. In particular, they may have resented the fact that they were being asked to give up certain things that were near and dear to them and to be content with what God had provided for them already in other ways. All of these sorts of things are likely the kind of parallels that Paul had in mind for verses 9 and 10.

The overall point, then, is fairly clear. In verses 1-4, Paul showed how the Corinthians weren't any more special or blessed than their ancestors - the Israelites, who were not spared the anger of God when they strayed. If God did not hesitate to judge the Israelites, why would he hesitate with the Corinthians? Verses 6-10 make a similar sort of point. The actions and attitudes of the present day Corinthians are really no different than the sinful actions and attitudes of their predecessors. If the result of those things for the Israelites was judgment - why should the Corinthians think that they would somehow escape these things?

So Paul states again, in verse 11, what is the purpose of these things being recorded in Scripture and gets to the conclusion toward which he has been moving all along in vs12:

>Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall....

Clearly, it is not only Paul that should be concerned about being found disqualified at the end of the Christian race, but the Corinthians as well are to have the same sort of sober view of themselves.

Then, somewhat abruptly, to these extended words of warning and caution Paul adds a concluding comment in verse 13 which, at first may seem a little out of place. Up until this point he has been focused on alerting the Corinthians to the potential danger that they are in if they continue with the actions and path they have chosen. Now, all of the sudden come words of comfort for those who are being tempted which, in context, would be referring explicitly to the constant opportunity and temptation to be lured into idolatry - But why this sudden shift in tone or mood?

The answer is that Paul shifts his mood and address because the recipients of his letter are not all in the same place. Paul is aware that his words have been fairly strong and even frightening, especially for those who were not so hard of heart that they might actually stop and ponder the significance of his words. And Paul would know that while there are clearly some in Corinth who doubted him and who were opposing his teaching on certain things, not everyone was that way. Not everyone's heart was hard. To be sure, there would no doubt be some in Corinth who would be found, in the end, to have been among the "disqualified" - and their life and manner of "running the race" would bear eventual testimony to that.

But there would also be many others who would be shown to be faithful in the end. There were certainly those who still had regard for their founding Apostle and for whom Paul's words would be received as the brotherly rebuke and warning they were intended to be. And so Paul writes:

No Temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
With these words, Paul assures, and even re-assures the Corinthians that their situation is not inevitable, nor hopeless. He makes it quite clear that the temptations that they are facing and will face are not unusual, but common. They are not extraordinary but are the sorts of temptations which would be found in every Christian's experience, in every place.

But Paul says more than that. Not only is their situation not hopeless or inevitable, it is also not taking place in some obscure corner of God's universe that is somehow not underneath the watchful eye of a loving Creator. "God is faithful" Paul says confidently, "and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape...." The promise of divine faithfulness and provision implies the necessity of divine awareness and presence.

So, their situation is neither unique nor unavoidable nor obscure. As Gordon Fee says, "...though they may fall, they need not do so....the temptation before them, is not irresistible or insurmountable.

Well, following Paul's model, God's people today can look at these things and echo Paul's words in verse 11 as we look at 1 Corinthians, "....these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction...." Which means that, if we are going to be faithful to the text, then we need to take heed of the warnings and encouragements to be found here.

On the one hand, we need to hear again Paul's warnings about stubbornly resisting God and ignoring the pull of our consciences. We need to have great trust in God and a simultaneously great distrust of our own hearts and the perilous reality toward which is so easily leads us. We need to hear how numbering ourselves among the people of God does not render us immune from the consequences of our disobedience. God did not hesitate to visit his own people with wrath and discipline in the past. He will not hesitate with us. All of this we took a hard look at last week.

In addition to these warnings, we need to hear Paul's warnings against idolatry. To be sure, we do not have a situation where we are surrounded by huge temples and are being invited by every second neighbor or business associate to attend a feast at one of these things. And yet, we are no less prone to idolatry than they, and have no fewer opportunities than they. It's just that our temptations and idolatries come in different packages. What does an idol look like in our own day? Lloyd-Jones puts it this way:

An idol is anything in our lives that occupies the place that should be occupied by God alone. Anything that....is central in my life, anything that seems to me...essential...An idol is anything by which I live, and on which I depend [and, I might add, anything I feel that I cannot live without]....An idol is anything that holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves and rouses and attracts much of my time and attention, [passions of both joy and anger], my energy, and my money....
Many of the Corinthians felt this way about their practice of attending idol temples, and weren't about to give it up - no matter what Paul said. Many of us have taken the same sort of stance toward other things. And the warning for us is the same as for them. "...Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."

But if the warning is the same, then the comfort is the same. And that comfort, seen not only in the context of this passage, but in the context of the letter to the Corinthians as a whole - that comfort is at least two-fold.

The first comfort is that of verse 13. Whatever the temptation might be, whatever the idol might look like in your life, it is not, we are assured by Paul, something that is insurmountable or inevitable. We certainly may give into the temptation that is before - and certainly we do - but we are not bound to. We are not helpless before it. There is a way out, there is a provision. God has promised that.

And yet, the painful reality, that you and I know all too well, is that we do give in, don't we? The bait is dangled, and we reach for it. The train comes along, the doors open up, and we step on board. It seems so easy sometimes. And then afterwards we feel the remorse, and the guilt and the shame and the frustration. And we wonder if we are ever going to get any better. And there, at the point of our greatest despair, is also the place where we can find our greatest hope.

Look back at verse 13 again. You read those words about God's faithfulness to not let you be tempted beyond your ability. And you read about God providing a way of escape. And you say, "Yeah, God is faithful. But I'm not. Yes, God provides a way of escape. But I so often do not take it."

But then you remember Christ. Christ - the only person who ever lived and walked on this earth, and about whom it could be said, and was said - "He was tempted in every way as we are - yet without sin". In other words, there is One who every single time He was tempted, every time the way of escape was opened up before him, he took it. And he took it not only for himself, but he took it for every one of his people, for every person that he would eventually spill his own blood for. He took it because He knew you wouldn't. He took it because He knew you couldn't and that, if it were left up to you, there would be no hope.

This same Christ looks at you, with all your frustration, and the awfulness of your sin, and the still greater awfulness of your self-righteousness, and is determined to love you through it all, to see you endure, to win and woo your adulterous heart that keeps running to these other things with a love that astounds you and leaves you stunned and speechless and transforms your vain attempts at winning his love into the breathless pursuit of the One whose love for you cannot be extinguished.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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