Studies in First Corinthians
by Bob Burridge ©2017
Lesson 23: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 (ESV)
An Escape Route
When hurricanes sweep through our state there are evacuations. Here in Pinellas County where I live it’s not easy to get nearly a million people out of harm’s way. It’s particularly hard when there are only a few roads that lead out of the county. We’re on a large peninsula with limited ways out. Mainly, you either have to go north on US-19, or cross one of the three bridges to Tampa, or go south over the Skyway Bridge. They get jammed up on normal commuter days. Those on the beach barrier islands have even more limited ways out over a few narrow causeways and bridges.
To get from your house to those evacuation routes takes planning. You have to know the alternatives, so that if one way is blocked you can go another way. It’s important to know the roads in advance, and have your supplies ready. When dangers come isn’t the time to get maps, and start planning, shopping, and deciding what to pack.
Similarly we need to know the way out of temptation before it comes along. When you’re considering to do something you suspect is wrong, you need to have a plan already in place. Under those conditions you’re in no frame of mind to start looking for a way out.
We face temptations every day. The urge to neglect being busy with the good things that please God, and the desire to do wrong things come from our corrupt nature. The power to overcome these temptations comes from God, and he gives us the map and plan for the way out.
In chapter 10 of his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul warns against giving in to temptations.
1. For I want you to know, 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.
Paul wasn’t writing to pagans. He was warning God’s covenant people. Just as Ancient Israel fell into horrible sins, the Corinthians were being taken in by temptations too. God preserved this warning in his word because today we need to hear it too. Even God’s covenant people can fall into grievous sins when tempted.
Paul illustrates with this example from the history of Israel after the Exodus. The people that followed Moses are spiritual examples for all of us, Jew and Gentile alike. We all need to learn from what they went through.
It might seem strange that he uses the word baptism when talking about the Jews. The word translated baptized is the Greek word “baptitzo” (βαπτιζω). It’s the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew words for ceremonial washings in the Old Testament. These symbolic purifications were done using water or the blood of sacrifices. They were either sprinkled on something, or something was dipped into the water or blood.
“Baptitzo” (βαπτιζω) was also used for the sacrament that marks out members of the New Testament church. It never meant that all who are baptized are truly born again. When new believers are baptized, or when we baptize our covenant children, we’re not saying they’re born again. We’re marking them out as belonging outwardly to the Kingdom of God’s covenant people. Israel was identified as God’s covenant people specially when they crossed the Sea, and were protected by the cloud that marked God’s presence with them in the desert. All those who left Egypt were marked out as the covenant nation. They were not all regenerated. They were baptized into Moses who was the mediator of God’s covenant at that time. Today we are baptized into Jesus Christ, the covenant mediator who was represented by Moses.
All who were identified with Moses in God’s covenant had the same spiritual nourishment. The food and drink mentioned here are spiritual, not physical nourishments. The promised Messiah himself was their true source of deliverance, strength, and comfort. He was represented in the rock that gave them water when they were thirsty in the wilderness. There was no physical rock that followed them when they traveled. But the presence of Christ as their true spiritual food was always with them there.
Paul is drawing an instructive parallel here. All the people outwardly marked out as Israel enjoyed God’s protection and care as a covenant nation. But not all of them lived in a way that pleased God. There were many harsh judgments for their rebellion after the Exodus. Many were put to death, others suffered disease and the bites of poisonous snakes. Today, God’s covenant people, those in the church, are not all redeemed either.
There are always two groups within the earthly form of the church of God. Some were then, and are now, God’s people in only an outward way. They might say they believe, and even take on the sign of the covenant, but their hearts may not be transformed by grace. Today some are baptized and claim to be Christians while denying parts of the Bible. Belonging to the church today or in the days of Israel, doesn’t change your soul.
Of course some are actually regenerated and are God’s children spiritually. But even among them, there’s spiritual immaturity to deal with.
Those who are born again are called to show evidence of an inward change of heart. Claiming to be God’s child is inconsistent with a life that fails to honor him. Persistent sin either shows that the person isn’t born again, or it shows an inexcusable spiritual immaturity that ought to be overcome.
6. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
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.”
8. We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.
9. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,
10. nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.
What took place in the time of Moses happened as an example for the whole church. The Corinthian believers, and we who read this today, have lessons to learn from the history recorded in Scripture.
Paul mentions five particular moral dangers we need to avoid:
First, it says they desired evil things.
They wanted what God didn’t allow. They were jealous of the evil ways they left back in Egypt. They complained about the food and the leaders God gave them. They even wished they were back as slaves in pagan Egypt. Some in the church today can’t let go of things God says are wrong. They keep one foot in the world, and try to keep the other one in Christ’s Kingdom — but a foot in 2 worlds leaves them off-balance, and it offends God.
Then it says they were idolaters.
While Moses was receiving God’s law in the mountain, they made a golden calf. It was made to be a physical representation of the calves God told them to sacrifice. They even identified it with Jehovah who led them out of Egypt. It wasn’t that they consciously wanted another God. It was because a spiritual and unseen God wasn’t enough for them. They wanted something like the Pagans had, a god they could touch and see. In Corinth some in the church justified taking part in pagan festivals they were used to in their culture.
Today there are those who make representations of God and of the 2nd Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. While Jesus had a physical body, it’s now glorified, and God never preserved his image for us to look to. Some bow to humans they glorify above the One who made them.
God is spirit and must be worshiped in spirit and in truth as Jesus said in John 4:24. To make physical representations of him violates the 2nd Commandment and is still wrong.
Third, they acted immorally.
The word for “sexual immorality” here translates the Greek word “porneia” (πορνεια). That’s the ancient root word from which we get our word pornographic. It refers to committing sexual sins.
In Numbers 25:1-9, 31:16 the Israelites took part in Canaanite fertility rites and the immorality of a pagan culture.
When one took a Midianite woman into his tent he was executed. The other immoral followers died of a plague. The census figures in Numbers 25:9 say that about 24,000 died. Here in verse 8 Paul says that 23,000 fell in one day.
The Bible regularly uses numbers like that as rounded off figures. As Calvin points out, Moses and Paul used different types of mathematical rounding. Paul probably used truncation where you drop off the numbers over 23,000. Moses probably rounded up to the next even 1000 getting 24,000.
The point is that a lot of them died because of their sexual sins. God takes this much more seriously than those in our present culture.
Fourth,They put Christ to the test.
Christ is the Greek word that means the same as the Hebrew word Messiah. Both mean the Anointed One. He was the Good Shepherd of God’s people even before He took on a human nature in Bethlehem. He was there as their spiritual food in the wilderness. Their rebellion was against him. They dared to put God to the test rather than to trust him.
Paul was referring to the situation in Numbers 21 when the people rebelled against God’s instructions. They were told to go around Edom, not through that country. Arrogantly and foolishly they thought they could go through since they just defeated the army of King Arad. They argued, blasphemed God, rejected Moses, and complained about God’s provisions.
As a judgment, God sent poisonous snakes to bite them and many died. God told Moses to raise up a brass snake on a pole. If the people looked to the symbol God provided they showed their trust in God and didn’t die from the bites. The raised up snake represented Christ’s deliverance of his people on the cross. The rebellious who didn’t believe God’s promise died.
Today we need to trust him to deliver us from the deadly poisons of our sin and its guilt. Those who won’t take God seriously trivialize the Gospel, and die in their sins. His ways need to be our ways, even though the world around us arrogantly wants to do things its own way.
And it says they grumbled.
Repeatedly Israel complained against God in the wilderness. They were dissatisfied with his provisions, blessings, and promises. So God let the destroyer strike them down. Many were struck down in the wilderness, and many would die before they entered the Promised Land.
There’s no greater foolishness than to grumble against God. It reveals a heart that doesn’t trust him for what he is. He knows what’s best, has the power to provide it at the right time, and He loves his people very dearly.
Paul didn’t mean this to be a complete list of all the kinds of sins that might tempt us. But it summarizes the kinds of things we need to avoid. We should live by trusting in God’s word and power, and not complain or rebel against what he says is good and moral.
11. 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.
12. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
As Paul said back in verse 6, these things are recorded in the Bible so we would be warned and learn from them.
The Israelites lived in the earlier stages of the revealing of God’s power and glory. Since the time of Paul we’ve been living in the last of God’s redemptive ages. This church age will continue until the return of Christ and the final judgment.
Some today make a terrible and costly mistake. They see the God of the Old Testament as a wrathful avenger and contrast that with the God of the New Testament they see as a forgiving God of love. But God has not changed. It was God’s love that delivered Israel from Egypt, and blessed Abraham, Moses, David, and Daniel. It was God’s love that sent the Prophets, and judged the wicked influences in Israel. It’s the God of the New Testament who promises a final day of judgment on all not redeemed in Christ.
Paul shows here that the warnings still apply. God doesn’t now condone what he once condemned.
It’s dangerous to arrogantly ignore the seriousness of these warnings. If you think you’re doing OK in the eyes of God — take heed, look carefully at these warnings, so that you don’t fall into sin or make naive excuses.
Sin should be taken seriously, now just as it was in the days of Moses.
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.
We could also translate the word temptations as tests by trial. That’s the meaning of the Greek word Paul used here, “peirasmos” (πειρασμός). They are tests because they leave us with a choice either to do right or to do wrong.
In a sense everything that comes along is a test. We can respond either by honoring God, or by putting our own desires above his.
If tests give you an opportunity to do something wrong, the only right answer is “No.” When you have a chance to do things that honor God, the right answer is “Yes.” These tests either reveal our obedience evidencing God’s work in us, or they expose the lack of it. You either neglect what God calls you to do, or you obey him. That’s the test.
Thankfully the temptations we face are limited. The words “common to man” are originally three words: “if not human”. There are no unique temptations that are not human. They all come from our common fallen nature. The circumstances might differ, but the urges are the same as others have to deal with.
As fallen humans we’re weak. If we don’t take heed and humbly admit our weaknesses, we will surely fall. But it doesn’t end there …
God is faithful. He provides a way to escape for each temptation that comes. There are 4 means by which we prepare for that escape, to be ready when the temptation comes.
1. His written word is filled with helpful directions that point us to that path of escape. We learn what’s right and true by studying Scripture regularly, and diligently. It defines temptation. There we’re reminded about God’s promises, and his power to deliver us from sin.
2. We need to pray throughout every day. It’s not just a religious formality. It’s one of the means God ordained by which He dispenses his comfort and help into our lives. Prayer isn’t just asking. It’s worshiping, and holding the hand that holds us.
3. We also need to faithfully worship. We should partake of the Lord’s Supper with expectant confidence. Our Lord established all the elements of worship with the promise to strength us when we rightly engage in it.
4. And we need to be encouraged by other believers who share our values, and hope in Christ. As a church family we sometimes have to humbly and lovingly admonish one another when we get off track. The Elders as God’s appointed Shepherds may sometimes have to help us see the seriousness of our sins.
We’re engaged in a battle for our minds and affections. Verses like Philippians 4:8 give practical help. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
That verse tells us that what fills our thoughts — shapes our lives and desires.
If you think about and expose yourself to things contrary to God’s ways, you will see less and less of how sin offends God. You will take on those dangerous ways and values.
On the other hand, when you regularly think about things that honor God, your values will develop in a God-pleasing way. It will enable you to self-control and spiritual growth. When you daily pray, fill your thoughts with Scripture, and encourage other believers, When you gather as a congregation weekly to worship in ways that please God, you will find strength and focus when you face temptations,
Above all, we need to make sure we’re not trying to overcome with a dead heart. Without that spiritual rebirth we’re severed from our Creator. The necessary prerequisite is a transformed soul that trusts in the completed provision made by Jesus Christ. Many still fail to understand the purpose of His death. Jesus didn’t come to be just a kind teacher or an innocent martyr. He came to bring judgment on some who had changed God’s teachings into lies. He came to correct their understanding and announce the expansion of his Kingdom to the Gentiles. But most significantly he came to die in place of his people. Not for good people, but for depraved sinners he determined to redeem by unearned grace. By trusting him for our eternal hope and in nothing else, we become part of the ancient promise, and we’re enabled with spiritual life.
As believers we need to be ready when temptations come. Just as we should plan and prepare before hurricanes are about to strike, don’t wait until you’re taken in by urges, lies, and dangerous offers. Make your salvation sure, and make plans to overcome temptation God’s way.
We need to be very familiar with God’s word. It points out the way of escape. It should be more familiar to us than our own neighborhood, than ways to get out when hurricanes come. We need to be regular in prayer so that our conversation with God doesn’t seem like talk with a stranger. We need to be regular in worship so that when trouble comes along we don’t feel like a hypocrite getting active in church only when we need help. We need to have a good network of spiritually mature friends to be there for us when we need them most. Our church will be there to shepherd us when we wander out of the green pastures.
We need to get that escape plan ready. Have all we need to overcome ready and active in our lives. We need to have godly thought habits well established, and good values already implanted in our hearts. Know exactly what to do, where to go, or who to call on the next time temptation comes. God is faithful. He enables his trusting children to be able to bear up through it all.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)