Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (24)

Rate this item
(0 votes)
Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (24)

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Broadcast: August 2, 1998; Message Number 1483

Christian Liberty (4)

On their pilgrimage to heaven God's people face many dangers. One of the worst ones is the danger of presumption or overconfidence. This was a real problem in the Corinthian church. Some of the members of that congregation thought they were strong enough to deal with the issue of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Since idols do not exist, they said, meat offered to them is not affected, so it can be eaten without any risk of defilement. For them it was a matter of Christian liberty. Paul did agree with them that idols do not exist, but he urged these self-proclaimed strong Christians that they should respect the scruples of their fellow believers whose conscience did not allow them to partake of food that in their minds was identified with idol worship.

Although strong Christians have the right to exercise their freedom, there are times when they should waive this right for the sake of weaker believers. They should follow his own example and be willing to become all things to all men that by all means they might save some. Paul's concern in these chapters is to caution believers that whatever we do, including how we use our freedom in Christ, does affect others.

Now, in chapter 10, he explains that the manner in which we use this freedom also affects our own lives, even to the point of putting our salvation in jeopardy. When a Christian thinks he can handle any situation, he is overconfident and in danger of falling. As Paul sums it up in verse 12: "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."

To show them how dangerous their situation is Paul gives some examples from the history of Israel. Using incidents from their forty-year wilderness journey, the apostle draws analogies between what happened to God's ancient covenant people and what may happen to New Testament believers if they commit the same sins as they did. The Jews also had great privileges, but they abused them and paid dearly for their sins.

Brothers, let me remind you, he says in verse 1, that "all our fathers were under the cloud and all passed through the sea." The reference is to the Exodus when the Israelites left Egypt and passed through the Red Sea, God opening a path for them through the waters so they could walk on dry ground. They were all under the cloud, that is, under divine guidance. As we read in Exodus 13:21, "The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light to go by day and night." "They were all baptized unto Moses, in the cloud and in the sea," Paul continues. In this way they were identified with Moses as their divinely appointed leader. The cloud and the sea did for them what baptism does for us, namely they became Moses' disciples, just as we become Christ's. They recognized him as their divinely appointed mediator and submitted to his authority as we submit to the authority of Christ.

"And they did all eat the same spiritual meat." Not only did the Israelites have their equivalent to our baptism; they also had something akin to our Lord's Supper. The reference here is to the manna which God miraculously provided all through the wilderness journey. "And they all drank the same spiritual drink," Paul continues, "for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ."

The point Paul is making here is that all the Israelites shared the same blessings: freedom from oppression, baptism, manna and other tokens of God's care. Nevertheless, he adds, in spite of these blessings, "with many of these people God was not well pleased." The original says, "with most of them" or "the majority of them." In fact, of all the Israelites who left Egypt only two, Joshua and Caleb, were allowed to enter Canaan. The rest were overthrown in the wilderness. The corpses of those with whom God was not pleased were spread all over the desert. Why? Because of their disobedience.

"Now these things were our examples," or types, Paul says. What happened to the Israelites served as illustrations of what will happen to us if we behave like them. If we lust after forbidden things God will punish us as He did them. According to Numbers 11, Israel lusted after the flesh pots of Egypt and they said, who shall give us flesh to eat? God gave them their desire, but while the meat was still between their teeth, he smote them with a great plague and the place was called the graves of lust for there they buried the people that lusted (vs.34).

"Neither be ye idolaters as were some of them, as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play." The Israelites were no sooner out of Egypt or they fell into idolatry. Exodus 32 tells us that after Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the law, the people became impatient when he stayed up there so long. So they persuaded Aaron to make a golden calf, thinking that in this way they could worship the true God through this Egyptian idol.

Idol worship always leads to sin, especially sexual sin. That's what Paul means when he says next: "the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play." Play here means sexual play. Pagan festivals always involved immorality. The result of this kind of playing was that some three thousand of the participants were put to death.

Some of the Corinthian Christians also thought they could participate in pagan ceremonies without becoming contaminated. They did not realize that even though idols have no objective existence, they do represent demonic powers. As Paul warns later in this chapter, "you cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons." Those who think they can do both, bring dishonour on God and judgment on themselves.

But Paul is not finished yet. He goes on to say," Neither let us commit fornication as some of them committed and fell in one day three and twenty thousand." Here the reference is to Numbers 25. While on their way to Canaan, the Israelites accepted an invitation from the Moabites to join them in worshipping their gods. This ecumenical service ended in a mass orgy which resulted in the deaths of twenty-three thousand Israelites.

Paul's warning becomes especially relevant at this point. The temple in Corinth was dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite and boasted a thousand ritual prostitutes. The Corinthians may think they can handle the corruption around them without being corrupted, but this is both unrealistic and foolish. Immorality is something we must flee from, not flirt with. When Christians fall into sin, the reason is usually overconfidence.

Another major sin of which the Corinthians were in danger was that of trying or tempting God. "Neither let us tempt Christ as some of them also tempted and were destroyed by serpents." Here the reference is to Numbers 21 where we have the account of the people complaining about the manna; it didn't taste good and they wanted more variety and more spicy food. God got angry and sent poisonous snakes among them which killed a lot of the Israelites.

In verse 11 Paul sums up the lessons the Corinthians and we should learn from Israel's failures. "All these things happened unto them for examples and they are written for our admonition," Paul says. They were recorded in order that we might avoid the sins that brought God's wrath upon them. We, upon whom the ends of the world are come are we who live in the last days between Christ's first and second coming. Paul could see that his Corinthian readers were headed for a fall. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall," he cautions in verse 12. When we feel most secure in ourselves and think our spiritual life is in good shape, we should be most on our guard against the wiles of the devil.

By this time the Corinthians may be wondering, how can we avoid what happened to Israel? How can we stay pure in this wicked environment? Paul has his answer ready. "There has no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man," he adds in verse 13. The word "temptation" can mean either a trial or test or a solicitation to sin. Whether it is one or the other depends on our response to it. If we resist a temptation in God's strength it is a test for us that proves the genuineness of our faith. If we give in to it we have listened to Satan who always tempts us to sin. When a Christian is tempted, both God and Satan are involved in the process, but for entirely different reasons.

God's tests are never solicitations to evil. "Let no one say when he is tempted," James says, "I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself does not tempt anyone." A temptation becomes an inducement to sin only when a person is carried away and enticed by his own lust. "Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin" (James 1:13-15).

God often brings us into situations which are designed to test us. We usually do not recognize them as tests from God at the time, but our response to them shows who we are. Temptation itself is not a sin, but giving in to it is. As one Puritan divine quaintly put it, "temptation is Satan looking through the keyhole into our lives. Sin is unlocking the door and letting him in."

Paul says, "there has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man." Don't think, he means, that what you are going through is so exceptional or unique. Ever since the fall human beings have been exposed to temptations. Paul says this to caution the Corinthians that what they have faced so far is relatively easy compared to what they might have to face in the future. But even in that case there is always hope for those who trust Christ. "God is faithful," Paul reminds them, "who will not suffer or allow you to be tempted beyond your ability." No temptation is stronger than our spiritual resources. God is faithful. He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength. That is God's response to our prayer, "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil."

"God will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear [or endure] it." How do we escape temptation? Not by being exempted from temptation, but by receiving sufficient strength to pass through it unscathed. God sees us through by enabling us to endure it. Such enduring includes watchfulness and prayer. "Watch and pray," Jesus said to His disciples in Gethsemane, "lest you enter into temptation."

Most importantly, we should focus on the Lord Jesus Christ who was tempted in all things in order that He might be able to understand us and help us come through our temptations. In Pilgrim's Progress Christian and Hopeful fall asleep in a field belonging to Giant Despair. The giant finds them and locks them up in Doubting Castle. He first beats them mercilessly and then suggests they commit suicide. After the giant leaves, the two companions discuss what they should do. Finally, Christian remembers the key in his pocket. I have a key in my bosom called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle. Sure enough, it opened all the doors in the castle, including the gate. Then they went on and came to the King's highway again. And so they travelled on trusting the promises of Him who cannot lie, full of hope for the future.

That same hope can be ours if we renounce all hope in ourselves and look to Christ Who is our hope.

Additional Info

  • Audio: 1205154913
  • Speaker: Rev. C. Pronk
Read 4355 times