Lessons From History
1 Corinthians 10:1-22
Key Verse 11
“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”
Paul gave examples from his own life on how he lives his Christian life. He lived a life that pleased God in every way. And he used his Christian freedom to serve God’s purpose and not to better himself and gain any benefit from them. And he used his freedom in becoming everything to everyone just so as to win them over to Christ. And he did. He humbled himself when he preached to the Corinthians, and became as one of them, and so he won them over to Christ. Now he had passed this legacy on to the Corinthians and they had a responsibility to take what God had given them and put it into practice. But they were not doing that. Some used their newly found Christian freedom to commit sexual immorality, while others used their freedom to engage their appetites, not caring how it affected others. Paul told them no, you should not do that. You should live your life for God and for others, and not for yourself— as Christ did— as I do.
After giving examples from his own life, Paul now turned his attention to giving examples from history. He used the story of the Israelites in order to reveal something…. what? He says in verse 1 “I don’t want you to be ignorant….” — meaning that you should remember what happened to our forefathers whom God had rescued from their slavery in Egypt.
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” (1-3)
This was a reference to God’s miraculous redemption of Israel when the whole nation was a slave nation to the Egyptians. The story is never forgotten, ever. It has been told and retold by prophet after prophet. Today we read Bible and we are told the same story again and again. Even in the letter of Paul, with all the wisdom he had to share with them about their problems and how to solve their problems, Paul single mindedly reminded them of the exodus story. The exodus story told and retold again and again. Why? Because what God did for them when they were a slave nation was beyond miraculous. It was mercy. It was God’s mercy that rescued them from a hopeless life forged in pain and sorrow. Egypt was the crucible in which they were ground and set on a course to misery itself. But God intervened and rescued them from that horrid slavery in Egypt. And the story is told and retold again and again, because if it were not for the mercy of God and his one sided grace to them, they would have never ever left that miserable life. Now Paul is telling the story to the Corinthian Christians. Why? Because of God’s mercy to them was the same as that of the Israelites and more. What God rescued them from was no less. They had been slaves of sin, forged in Satan’s crucible and his relentless onslaught of oppression on them. They were born in slavery to sin as the Israelites were born in slavery to the Egyptians.
Their lives in sin were misery itself even though most people do not know this truth at all. People live and die as slaves to sin and never know it. But the Corinthians knew it. They knew it because God in his mercy sent Paul to give them the Gospel message which alone could rescue them from their slavery to sin. He told them about how they were born and raised under the power of sin. He told them that in sin they would not only suffer in this life, but they were to face God’s judgment one day and be sent to die again— the second death. He told them about the mercy of God who sent Jesus to deliver them. He told them that while God delivered the Israelites from physical slavery to Egypt, God delivered the Corinthians from spiritual slavery to sin through Jesus’ sacrifice. And they believed it. They accepted the love of God for them and committed their lives to Christ Jesus. They were now free. They were now God’s own chosen people.
But here is the thing. Paul tells them in verses 1-4: “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”
They were all delivered from slavery to Egypt one and all. Moses was chosen by God to facilitate their deliverance. God alone had the power to deliver them. But Moses was God’s instrument to do so. And they all walked out of their lives of slavery together under Moses’ leadership. They were all guided by the cloud that God provided for them as a beacon and a guide for their journey out of Egypt into the freedom of God. and they all together passed through the red sea. It was God who had done this for them. and they were all together delivered one and all. They were all baptized into Moses, meaning that they were all united under Moses’ leadership and God’s protective power and God’s deliverance plan. And they all ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink. One and all they had been given the same grace, the same privileges, the same leader who fathered them and led them as infants out of a life of misery into a life of freedom in God. And what God did for them was not much different from what God had done for the Corinthians and for all Christians for that matter. The food they ate and the drink they drank were from the same source. Paul reveals a great mystery here, that these once salves ate and drank what we Christian eat and drink when we are delivered from sin— that is, “for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that Rock was Christ.” remarkably they shared in the same spiritual food and drink that sustained them and still sustains us Christians as well. They were given the greatest privileges any human being could ever be given— to share— to participate in the blood and body of Christ.
And here’s what Paul shares with these Corinthians about the whole matter. He says in verse 5: “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” The problem is that regardless of the fact that they had all shared in the deliverance, that they were all freed from slavery to Egypt, that they all shared in the same blessing, that they all shared in the same spiritual food and drink which God had given to sustain them, the problem is that God was not pleased with most of them. They had been delivered from slavery to Egypt, but they did not all please God. They had all been nurtured by the rock which accompanied them which was Christ. they were given mercy. But that did not give them excuse to do as they pleased while they journeyed to the Promised Land, nor did it immunize them against the wrath of God when they displeased him. Paul mentions that they bodies were scattered all over that desert. We can learn many lessons from Paul’s words here, but suffice it to say that God’s grace and mercy which delivers us from slavery to sin and death, also gives us an obligation to no longer do as we please but to do what is pleasing in the sight of God. to please God should be our concern in the life of freedom that God has so graciously given us. another lesson would be that God’s great mercy on us through the redemption he has given us through his son should inspire the awe and fear of God in our hearts.
In verse 5, Paul said to them: “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” Then he tells them “Here is why O’ Corinthians I am telling you these things.”
First, in verse 6 he tells them: “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” Then in verse 11 he tells them: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”
To summarize this, Paul tells them that what happened to these people who had been delivered from slavery by the hand of God, happened as an example for us. First, to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. And Second, also as a warning to us— and we’re not talking about us as in all the human race, but us— on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. in other words, us Christians.
Let us talk first about the first reason Paul gives for repeating the story of what happened to the Israelites who were on their pilgrimage to the Promised Land. Again, in verse 6 he says: “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” What an inconceivable thing this is. What’s inconceivable is that after being delivered from a miserable life of slavery, rather than setting their hearts on God and on pleasing God, they set their hearts on evil things. Paul once told the same thing to the Colossians in 3:1-2. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Its what God wants of every Christian— to set our hearts on heavenly things and not on earthly things. The apostle John tells us why not to set our hearts on earthly things because as he says in 1 John 2:15-17. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”
Truly the world we live in is full of evil things— things that enslave a man and makes him subject to Satan and to Satan’s rule. People think they are smart because they are wise in the world. They know many things! And they act upon that knowledge in many ways. But they don’t know anything if they do not know that the world is a trap to keep them enslaved to sin by its glitter and desires.
But as much as we can talk about the evil things in the world, let us look at the examples of the things that God himself considered evil thing and which incurred his wrath upon the Israelites. We can find them in verses 7-10. “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.’ We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did–and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did— and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did— and were killed by the destroying angel.”
[The incident referred to in 10:7 took place when the Israelites made a gold calf and worshiped it in the wilderness (Exodus 32). The incident in 10:8 is recorded in Numbers 25:1-9 when the Israelites worshiped Baal of Peor and engaged in sexual immorality with Moabite women. The reference in 10:9 is to the Israelites’ complaint about their food (Numbers 21:5, 6). They put the Lord to the test by seeing how far they could go. In 10:10, Paul refers to when the people complained against Moses and Aaron, and the plague that resulted (Numbers 14:2, 36; 16:41-50). The angel of death is also referred to in Exodus 12:23.Life Application Study Bible. (NIV Study Bible Notes)]
Paul talks about the evil of idolatry. He talks about the evil of sexual immorality. He talks about the evil of testing the Lord. And he talks about the evil of grumbling.
The first evil— the evil of idolatry— happened when the Israelites made for themselves a golden calf and worshipped it. That was like a knife into the heart of God who had just rescued them from a miserable life of slavery. After seeing the awesome hand of God working to free them from an impossible task master, and giving them freedom from the misery of a slave life, what would make a people abandon God and worship other things? What would make a man or woman abandon the living God for other things? Ask yourself. What’s in your heart. What has taken the place of God in your heart? There may be a hundred and one reasons why a man or woman would put God aside for the worship of other things. But at the heart of the matter, when I ask myself that question, I realize that I must love God with my whole heart, otherwise, the love of other things will enter in. And I also realize that I cannot love God with my whole heart unless by his grace he turns my heart away form worthless things to his words, and I find communion with him— not once or twice a month, but day after day. When I look at my own heart I can see how easy it is for my love for God to grow cold, and let other things warm up my heart. There are some Christians whose golden calf idol is their very work they are doing for God, so that their hearts for the work is warm, much warmer than their love for God. Only Jesus can cure this kind of cold heart. No human effort can warm up a heart that has grown cold to God. We need his mercy from day to day. Idolatry isn’t only the problem of the Israelites who were quick to make a golden calf to worship. Idolatry is every human being’s problem. We love things more than we love God. That is the problem. Unless Jesus cures our hearts from idolatry, We keep looking for a golden calf to embrace, a son, a daughter, a job, a mission, a get away. We need to kneel before the Lord and say Lord take away the golden calf from my heart and help me remain in you as you remain in me.
The other evil Paul mentioned was their sexual immorality. That was when their enemies used women to entice them, and thousands of them fell to these women’s traps. They were delivered from slavery. They were on their way to the promised land. God was leading the way. Every day, God’s presence was with them; every day Moses spoke the words of God to them to encourage them to remain faithful to God. when they were living in slavery in Egypt, their lives were as immoral as the Egyptians. But when God freed them, God called them to be a holy people, a people who would reflect the heart and mind of God in all things. They were to shine the love and mercy of God to the whole world. So what would make them fall to sexual immorality? Their enemies. Their enemies could not defeat them physically. So they enticed them sexually. They sent their women among them to do with them all that their hearts desired. That ancient society was not much different from ours. Sex was not big deal. As long as two people consented to it, they were free to do as they wished. But its not God’s way. To God sexual immorality is a huge sin mainly because the body belongs to God, and God wants the body to be used for holy purposes. They should resist those temptations. They should be careful to see when the temptation is near them and run away from it. But they didn’t. What they did not want to do, they ended up doing. What they didn’t want to give in to, they gave into. And God was so sorry that they had defiled themselves with these women. Its not only men who fall for sexual temptation, women do as much as well. It is one thing for those who have no God to fall. But the Christian should be different. He or she should view sexual immorality as a viper ready to sink its fangs in. but how can we? Christians are as easily tempted as others. But we have what others do not have. We have a Christ who has promised us his Holy Spirit, and promised to help us in our temptations. This is great news for the Christian— that what we cannot do, Christ does in us and for us. This is a promise from God. And all his promises come true.
Therefore, temptations must be resisted. But— with the help of God who loves us and has sacrificed his Son on our behalf to free us from the power of sin and the lure of temptation. Listen to what tells the Corinthians in verse 13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” This is the promise we are talking about— that God is faithful— that he will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear— that when the temptation for idolatry or sexual immorality comes upon us, that he will provide a way so that we can stand up under it. So if this is true and it is, why does the Christian still fall to temptations that lead to sin? For the non-Christian the answer is obvious. Non Christians are enslaved by their desires. So when the temptation comes, there is no power to resist, for the slave must do as the master commands— he has no choice. But the Christian is different. He is free. He has a choice. He does not have to obey the desires that well up within him. He is promised assistance. He is given the grace to resist. But its not always easy to choose the right thing— not always easy to obey the will of God and flee temptation. For the most part, the Christian chooses the temptation above choosing to seek God’s help. We must not do that. We must choose to pray— choose to read the word of God— choose to recite it in our hearts— we must choose to believe that “God is faithful— that he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear”— “that he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
This— we must believe with all our hearts. Faith is believing the word of God. Faith is believing that God loves us and wants to free us from all the things that have enslaved us in the past, which at times still linger in our hearts and make us want to go back to them. The Corinthians had forgotten the Gospel which had saved them. Paul needed to remind them. But he needed to warn them against idolatry and sexual immorality.
Look at verse 9. There’s another evil— the evil of testing God or putting God to the test. There is nothing simple about this such that we can explain it in a few sentences. The Israelites tested the limit of God’s patience and love— just as a child tests the limits of what he or she can do before the parent intervenes. The story here goes that they complained about their food. It seems as if it is something small, but to the eyes of God who had done everything imaginable to free them and to provide for them, this complaining about the food was the limit of what God tolerated. Not that God’s patience wears out. But their ingratitude stabbed at God’s heart. Like a child who is never thankful— who has nothing good to say to his parents who labor hard to provide everything he needs. It hurt God that they complained about the food. Rather than being filled with thankfulness, they complained. There is nothing worse than the selfishness and ingratitude that lurks in the human heart. we must resist it. We must fight it night and day. We must choose to thank God for his love and grace. We must decide to open out mouth and train this mouth of ours to say thank you Lord. And thank you dear brother and sister and coworker and friend, for all that you do. A complaining heart is a diseased heart— corrupted to the core which needs severe healing. In verse 10 Paul again mentioned the same evil, as if he needed to mention it twice and three times and even more.
He tells them: “Do not grumble.” Do not grumble especially against the Lord. For the Lord who gave his son gave the best of heaven to provide freedom and blessing and abundant mercy to grumblers who for the most part have a habit to grumble. Grumbling against God that one does not have enough— that God has not given us enough in this life— that God has given others more than he has given us— and the list of what people complain about God is endless. To grumble or to complain is to despise God and his gifts. Each of us has gifts beyond what we can see when we let our selfish hearts grumble and complain. We must not let them. we must not grumble against each other either. This is at the root of evil— to hold voiced or unvoiced complaints against God and each other. “Lord I am guilty that in my heart I have often grumbled against you and against these precious coworkers you have given me. I am guilty and sorry that I did not see with my heart the treasure I have in them. I am guilty that with my grumbling heart, I have resisted and denied the unity with them that you so desire more than anything else form your children. I am sorry Lord.” But regardless of how sorry a Christian is for what he or she discover about themselves in the word of God, unless “sorry” advances into “repentance” nothing happens in that heart. Even now we must look to the Lord who gives the humble of heart repentance, and healing and blessing— the Lord who alone can heal and cure a grumbling heart. Look to him today as you examine your hearts as Paul desired for the Corinthians to do.
Look at verse 6 again. “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” The Bible teaching is for our edification, for our education, for our blessing. Without Bible study, we cannot know what God wants or does not want from us. Some Christians spend a lifetime never knowing what God’s will for them is, because they do not study the Bible. And when they read the Bible, they read as a novel rather than reading it as the source of life and strength and sustenance. Some Christians study the Bible for a few years, then begin to believe that they no longer need Bible study, because they already know enough. We do not know enough. We are creatures who easily forget what God does and has done, and who are prone to grumbling and criticisms rather than gratitude and hunger for the word of God. Paul tells the Corinthians in verse 12 “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” He wanted them to be humble— humble enough to realize that unless we stand on the Lord— stand on his words— stand in the faith— stand in the knowledge that without the grace and mercy of God, we are in trouble! Those who choose pride over humility, who choose to remain in self righteousness than in the grace of the Lord, who choose to do their own thing and go their own way rather than choose to do what pleases the Lord and go according to his way— those who think they are standing, Paul says to them “be careful that you don’t fall.” Simple enough words for us to understand. He follows those words with the glorious promise we talked about a while ago.
Read verse 13. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Truly it is a promise of glory to the Christian who knows that without Christ and his grace, without the work of the Holy Spirit, without kneeling down in prayer, without a daily study of scripture, it is almost impossible not to fall into temptation. Only God has the power to work in us to stand up and be delivered from all that the things this world offers us to make us stumble and fall.
In verses 14-22, Paul’s words are as clear. We Christians have a loving Christ who has shed his blood for our sins and have offered his own body on the cross for our redemption. We cannot embrace him and at the same time embrace other things. Paul tells us that we should not arouse the Lord’s jealousy. And why is he so jealous if his love for each of us is fierce beyond measure. When God delivered us from the power of sin and death in Christ, he wanted us for himself — alone— that our hearts may not be shared with any other. He gave us examples from history to help us understand that we must devote our selves to him and to no other.
Read verse 6 & 11. “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” … “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” Devote yourselves in humility to the word of God and to prayer. And in humility of heart submit to the instructions of the Holy Spirit working in you to sanctify and edify you as the precious children of God who have nothing to do with seeking setting your hearts on the evil things in this world. Learn and heed the lessons you from history— lessons that are priceless— lessons that are more precious than anything this world can offer you. Amen.