One: 1 Corinthians 10.1-23
May 26, 2013 Series: One | First Letter to the Corinthians
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Corinthians 10:1–10:23
Intro: Running a Steeplechase
In chapter 10, Paul closes out his instructions about Christian Liberty. The situation in question centers on whether or not Corinthian Christians should participate in pagan feasts. Specifically, whether or not they should eat food sacrificed idols. Those who are described as “strong” in Christ believe it to be harmless, while those who are “weak” believe it be sinful. Paul avoids giving a direct answer and, instead, gives them principles to guide such decision making. Using his own life as an example, he encourages them to be guided by a dual commitment to deny one’s rights and to become all things if it means believers will be built up or non-believers will be won for Christ. He is calling them, all Christians, to define their daily lives and decision making by a love for people and a love for the gospel.
Though this kind of life is rewarding, it is hard, like a race. And it is not just a normal race; it is like a steeplechase with hurdles and obstacles. Paul ends chapter 9 declaring his own intention to discipline himself in order to avoid disqualification by abusing his freedom. The apostle recognizes that even the best of men can make a “shipwreck of their faith” (1Tim 1.19). Up to this point, the apostle has not told the “strong” what to do, allowing them instead to decide what is “right”. But in his final remarks about this issue, he warns them to not to be too overconfident in their decision making. Paul wants the Corinthians to make decisions that please God. And decisions that please God are decisions that lead us to worship Him. They are free in their faith, they are blessed with wisdom, they are strong, but they are not invincible to temptation. Our enemy will use the blessings of God to lead us away from Him.
V. 1-6 Israel’s Blessing and Israel’s Failure
To make his point, the apostle turns to the tragic history of God’s chosen people in order to warn them. For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were ALL under the cloud, and ALL passed through the sea, 2 and ALL were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and ALL ate the same spiritual food, 4 and ALL drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with MOST of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
History for all, and Instruction for us
Paul provides a powerful lesson from Israel’s history (the church). He warns the Corinthians to not forget what happened to others who were overconfident in God’s blessing and guidance. He begins by describing the great blessing and privilege that Israel experienced as God’s chosen people in the Exodus. Having crushed the greatest empire in the world with 10 plagues, God freed his people from slavery and led them out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership. They were ALL under the cloud, led by the presence of God: – Ex. 13.21; ALL passed through the Red Sea, experienced the miracle of God – Ex. 14.19-31; ALL baptized under Moses leadership, followed the man of God – Ex. 15; ALL at the same spiritual food (manna), provided by the hand of God– Ex. 16.11-15; ALL drank the same spiritual drink (rock), sustained by the Son of God- -Ex. 17.1-7.
Israel experienced closeness with God unlike any other people. God led them, fought for them, protected them, provided for them, and dwelled with them. God’s presence in their midst was undeniable because there were tangible proofs of his relationship with them. Paul connects Israel’s experience with the Corinthians’ experience.. Through faith, they are indwelt with the God’s’ presence. Their freedom from slavery is as powerful as the parting of the Red Sea. They are baptized in the name of Jesus. And, every time they gather, they commune with God through bread and drink of the cup of Jesus. But the fact that the Corinthians’ experience God’s grace does not mean whatever they want to do will please God.
Blessing for All, Failure for Most
The most sobering part of this text is Paul’s use of the words ALL and MOST. ALL Israel experienced ALL the blessings, ALL the miracles, ALL the grace, but MOST failed to please God. . This is somewhat of an understatement; the only ones of the Exodus generation to survive the wilderness were Joshua and Caleb. Only two men pleased God. Most of God’s redeemed people were killed by God. Most of God’s redeemed people forgot what God had done. Most of God’s redeemed people became ungrateful. Most of God’s redeemed people became comfortably overconfident. Most of Gods’ redeemed people became idolatrous and refused to follow Him. Most of God’s redeemed people assumed too much, risked too little, and disobeyed too often. In Corinth, the church has experienced the same kind of blessing together, but, Paul knows warns of the danger that MOST of the church will prove unfaithful because they are spiritually overconfident—like arrogant runners who believe they’ll win without trying. The overconfident fail because they reject God’s Word; refuse to pray; ignore counsel of the church, underestimate their enemy; disrespect their call, and fail to test the spirits helping them make decisions because –“they got it.”
V. 7-10 Israel’s Temptation and Our Warning
Israel had it all—and that made them overconfident. Israel’s failure should sober us all to the weakness of our flesh. God leads his people into wilderness to expose them to temptation to strengthen their faith. The enemy intends to use the same temptation to lead them to idolatry. Paul does not want us to be unaware of our own wilderness. According to Romans 12, every action we take is an act of worship, either true or false. Israel’s temptations help ensure our own decisions please God by leading us to worship Him:
The temptation to be religious: 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 Paul does is remind his readers of the experience with the golden calf from Exodus 32. As Moses was atop Mount Sinai receiving the Law of God, Israel built false idols to worship. Led by Aaron, the pastor who was supposed to protect them from false worship, all of Israel contributed to building a gold calf, complete with altar and burnt offerings and worship feast. Their feast degenerated into “play” which was a virtual orgy, all of which Israel believed was worshipful. But as spiritual, popular, or successful as they thought their idea was, it made God angry because it was unlawful—broke first two commandments. There is a real temptation to worship in a way that feels “spiritual” but is not Biblical. Feel-good spirituality leads to idolatry.
The temptation to be irreligious: 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. Paul recounts the story of Numbers 25. In essence, Israel begins to “whore with the daughters of Moab.” They were invited, by the Moabites, to enjoy their pagan feasts which, inevitably, led to bowing down to their pagan gods. They did not go into the world to point pagans to God; they indulged in the world and became pagan. They loved the world more than God. And, as a result of their sexually driven idolatry, God sent a plague that killed over 23,000 people + priests. Israel deliberately indulged. They lived as if they could do whatever they wanted without nature or divine consequence. There is a real temptation to love the world. We cannot love the world and love Jesus. Indulgent living leads to idolatry.
The temptation to be ungrateful: 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, Paul recounts the story from Numbers 21. As Israel journey’s in the wilderness, they grow impatient. They speak out against their leadership, and their God, asking whether they have been brought out simply to die. They complain not only about what they don’t have, but what they have—calling the food that God has provided “worthless”. In response, God sends “fiery serpents” which bite and kill many people. Moses prays and is instructed to place a bronze serpent up on a pole for people to look at and be healed. Paul says not to test Jesus as the Israelites did. Two things characterized the Israelite’s test of Jesus 1) they did not trust God would provide; 2) they were not thankful for what God has already provided. There is a real temptation to deny what God can do when we forget what God has done. Ingratitude toward God leads to hope for another god, which is idolatry.
The temptation to be fearful: 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. The final temptation Paul warns us about comes from Numbers 14. After 12 spies were went into the promised land, 10 spies returned with a bad report and 2 with a good one. After hearing Joshua and Caleb declare that “God has given us the land”, the people grumble against the leadership, going so far as to try and choose a new leader to take them back to Egypt. They are fearful they will lose everything because the battle appears impossible. Because God has clearly said GO, I have given you the land, the Israelites are rebelling. There is a real temptation to believe we know better than God does, to believe his commands are impossible to fulfill. Disobedience leads to idolatry. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…
V. 11-22 God’s Faithfulness and Our Response
But God does equip us to run the steeple race and endure these temptations. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 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.
Do not be underwhelmed OR overwhelmed by temptation—be aware
Temptation is a guarantee—we must not be underwhelmed by it. We will be tempted to become spiritual but not worship Jesus. We will be tempted to indulge in the world more than we enjoy Jesus. We will be tempted to doubt God’s provision, to test and not trust Jesus. We will be tempted to fear and not follow Jesus where He has told us to go. The moment you believe that you are beyond falling, you will fall. The spirit is willing to run but the flesh is really weak and out of shape. But that does not mean we don’t have hope. PAUL also says that we should also not be overwhelmed by temptation. The hope is that God is faithful. Paul gives us two comforts: 1) temptation comes to everyone—it is common—even if people won’t admit it. Even Jesus experienced temptation. 2) And For those who are in Christ, God will not allow you to be tempted beyond your capacity to remain faithful. God may allow or even lead us into a wilderness to be tempted, but he will go with you there and provide you a way of escape. This is grace. Your unfaithfulness is not his fault, but your faithfulness is.
V. 14--23 Jesus and Demons
The seemingly harmless daily decisions we have to make, aren’t always so harmless. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 9 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? 23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
The Table of the Lord & Demons
Paul tells them to flee, to not go to the temple, for it will lead to idolatry He appeals to their wisdom and asks them to judge his reasoning for a decision that is obvious. He compares what is happening at the temple feasts to what happens at the Lord’s Table. At communion, there we are doing more than just taking bread and sipping wine. Through taking the cup at communion we are actively participating in the blood of Christ—in some way experiencing his redemption every Sunday again. Additionally, as we partake of the bread, we are identifying as the body of Christ. The communion experience is an act of family worship—it is THE SIGN of fellowship and THE ACT of worship. We have a new life in a savior and we have a shared life with a family. This is not what we do, but what we are.
The demons also have their own table and their own fellowships . In other words, something more than a feast is happening at these temples. Even if this is just food, and even if these idols are not real, this is not an entirely meaningless activity. There is no such thing as another god, but there are demons worshipped as gods. These people are actively participating in demon worship together. Christians cannot participate in false worship. The point of issue is not with the food, but the purpose of the feast. We don’t engage in feasts to idols, so how do I know if I am worshipping idols? In life, we will have the opportunity to engage in many activities with many different communities. There are activities in the world like kids in sports, hobbies, social clubs, and non-profits. All too often, these “good” things can actually become a savior we worship—a source of identity, security, and hope we sacrifice for. And many of these communities with their activities will provide those things that God designed the church to provide. We are going to have to ask some hard questions about the decisions we make and the communities we participate in—are these drawing us closer to God and God’s people? It might seem harmless, but if the world already worships these things, they can easily become a temptation for you.
Because if the decision to do something draws us away from God’s Savior or replaces Him OR if your fellowship with another community draws you away from God’s people or replaces it, then you run the risk of provoking the Lord as Israel did. There is on condemnation for those who are in Christ. In other words, we can make a bad decision that dishonors God. But a bad decision that leads to sin is not the same as a deliberate one to sin. Such overconfidence is a sign of unbelief.
v. 23 Conclusion: All things should edify
23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Demons exploit everything. The enemy will use whatever he can to tempt us to sin. He will use our freedom. He will use our success. He will use our strengths. He will use our good desires. He will exploit everything good thing, and make it bad, if it will cause us to worship anything else but Jesus. Will the decision help you worship Jesus? Will the decision help you enjoy Jesus more? Will the decision help to trust Jesus more? Will this decision draw you into Jesus body more? Will the decision help you follow Jesus more?