This sermon is number 24 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 24
"A History Lesson In Holiness"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2003 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 10:1-13
First Corinthians chapter 10 - it's hard to believe that we've reached chapter 10, maybe you say it's not hard to believe at all, we've taken that long over it! But this is our 24th study that we have been in in this epistle, and we're right in the middle of a section that has been dealing with meat that has been sacrificed to idols, and will hopefully remind you of some of the things that we've learnt over the past number of weeks if you've forgotten them.
We're going to take our reading up at verse 1: "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. 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. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt", or test, "Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it". We end our reading at verse 13.
I believe that what Paul has given to us here in the first 13 verses of chapter 10 of his epistle is a history lesson in holiness, and we're going to take time to look down this history lesson very carefully this evening. I don't know whether some of you can cast your mind back far enough to remember what school was like, but you either loved or loathed history. I think most people, if they were honest, loathed history - they wondered what the relevance was of those dog-eared pages of the past. Why learn all these dates? 1066, and whatever other dates you learnt - who cares about all this old stuff? What has it that got do with today? What relevancy is there to my life in these things that are learned in history? It was George Santayana, a famous Harvard philosophy professor, who said these words: 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it'. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it - and he's right! If there is any good reason why we should learn history and look into our past, one reason is this: that we should not make the mistakes that our forefathers made.
Whether that be in a political sense or military sense, but especially as we come into this chapter we will see it with regards to a spiritual sense. We need to look at the great cloud of witnesses that have gone not just before us on to glory, but those who have been behind us in the Old Testament Scriptures that we will see tonight, for an example not just of how to do things but of how not to do things. I wonder today does a lack of the study of history in a general sense in our society account for the fact that we're repeating many of the mistakes that generations in our past made. Perhaps if we paid more attention to history and to how things were done or not done, we would have more success as a nation and indeed as a planet.
Here in this chapter we have an Old Testament history of the Israelites, and particularly their failures with regards to obeying the will and the word of God. Now let me just pause for a moment because I believe this will be helpful in your understanding of the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, and especially as we come to later chapters with regards to spiritual gifts and so on. Paul says in verse 1: 'Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea'. Of course you will know that Corinth, we found out in our first week of study, geographically was found in Greece, in the Greek Empire. So these people, many of them would be Gentiles, and you would be forgiven for thinking that the church at Corinth would be made up mostly of Gentiles, but I want to put forward to you tonight the suggestion - and I believe it can be borne out, and we'll see it in later studies in this book - that there was a large contingent of Jewish people in the church at Corinth. Now of course, when Paul says: 'all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea', he was including himself in the 'our', for he was a Jew of the Jews, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, and you know his credentials well in the New Testament. But there were many others in the church at Corinth who had a Jewish background, and we can see that clearly in this chapter, because only they could really understand the import of the historical Old Testament data that he's giving to these new Christians.
I'll not stride into that area too much tonight, but we do need to ask the question: what is the purpose of giving such a history lesson to these new believers in Corinth? This, if you like, is the foundation stone to all that we're going to hear and find out tonight from this portion, and it's really verse 11. 'Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come'. Verse 6 as well bears this out: 'Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted'. These historical occurrences have happened as ensamples - the word could possibly be translated as 'types', as representations to us of spiritual truths, and the Holy Spirit has caused them to be written down that we in the 21st century and also these Corinthian believers would be able to see the mistakes that they made and avoid them ourselves.
Verse 11 says specifically: 'they are written down to warn us, we who' - talking about the Corinthians, but more especially us today - 'we upon whom the ends of the world are come', or better translated 'those who live at the time when this age is drawing to a close'. That word 'world' there could be better translated 'age', and surely we know today as Christians that we live in the closing of this age, this age of grace. We really feel that from prophetic Scriptures and so on, that we're coming to the consummation, the climax of all time - and if ever there was a time when we are living as a people upon whom the ends of the age is coming, it is our time! If ever there was a time that these pictures, and indeed Old Testament history was relevant, it is relevant today. We will see tonight, that the very temptations that the Israelites fell in are the temptations that many believers are facing day by day in this 21st century age.
It has great relevance to our day and generation, but before we go any further let me just make a couple of applications and glean a few lessons right away from the very fact that Paul plucks out of the Old Testament these illustrations and uses them as types to New Testament believers. The first lesson to glean is this: that as a believer a knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures is necessary. It's not optional, it is necessary! It's not just a knowledge of the book of Psalms - you know the old saying, that if you look at someone's Bible you usually find that the New Testament is all dog-eared and thumb-ended, and the book of Psalms is as well - people tend to jump from the New Testament to the Psalms, the New Testament to the Psalms. If we're honest with ourselves, if you've ever tried to read through systematically the word of God, some of the most difficult portions and books and passages that we have found have been in the Old Testament Scriptures - particularly the first five books of the Bible that Paul himself is homing in on in this very passage. But we're seeing right away that Paul uses the Old Testament, and you must remember as well that all the early church had until they had the finished canon of the New Testament was the Old Testament Scriptures. It is needed, and by inference, because it is needed - an ignorance of the Old Testament, Paul is insinuating, if you're ignorant of these things, unaware of these things, it will be to your spiritual detriment, it will be fatal to your spiritual life.
That's the first lesson, you need a knowledge of the Old Testament. Really an offshoot of that is that you need to read your Bible. Now that might seem obvious to people in the Iron Hall, I don't know whether it is or not, but you'd think it was obvious to these Corinthians, wouldn't you? Many of whom were Jews. But it seems that they had become ignorant or unaware of many of these Old Testament stories that they had been brought up with. I just wonder, as we go through them tonight with a fine-toothed comb, and you hear some of the stories, maybe they don't prick your memory and ring a bell, and could that be because you don't know that either? You are unaware and ignorant of them primarily because you skipped over them, or you haven't read them! We need to systematically read our Bibles.
The third application, and this is very important especially for some of our young people in the age in which we live, is found in verse 11 where it says: 'Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples', but you could nearly stop just after that word 'happened' - 'Now all these things happened'. They happened! The Old Testament Scriptures are not simple Sunday School stories that are only fairytales to hang spiritual applications on. No matter what theologians tell us from our university halls, these things, Paul says under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they all happened! They can be taken literally.
I said the word 'ensample' is 'tupos' (sp?), which can be translated legitimately 'type'. Harry Ironside, in his chapter on this particular verse in his commentary, entitled it: 'Old Testament Types of New Testament Truths'. That's what this passage is, Old Testament types of New Testament truths, a history lesson in holiness from the Old Testament for a New Testament people. Let us not forget, as we apply these truths to ourselves tonight, that the primary application was given to these Corinthians. I've already said that we find chapter 10 in the midst of this debate over meat that was offered to idols. You remember that those with an intellectual and theological knowledge in the church of Corinth knew that meat that was offered to idols meant nothing, because the idols meant nothing - they're false gods and there's only one true and living God. Then they went on to reason that meat and drink cannot commend us to God, therefore it can't mean anything detrimental to your spirituality to eat of meat sacrificed to idols. But you remember the danger that Paul was pointing out to them, that with this correct scriptural theological knowledge they were in danger of causing a stumbling block for the weaker brother. But not only causing a stumbling block for the weaker brother, they were in danger of this knowledge puffing themselves up to such an extent that they burst - their arrogance would lead to them falling, and them stumbling.
In chapters 8 and 9 he's been telling them that liberty is not licence: yes, you're free in Christ, you're perfectly entitled to eat meat that is sacrificed to idols, but you've got to remember that liberty is not licence, and you've got to take into consideration your weaker brother. Then we found later on in those chapters that there is something that has to regulate our liberty in Christ, and that is love - love for our weaker brother, what it will do to him, but primarily love for the Lord Jesus Christ. We're going to see tonight an illustration, all these illustrations, of how arrogance leads to sin. He uses these Old Testament types to show them the danger if they do not exercise discipline over their liberty in the Lord Jesus Christ. To those who think they need to learn nothing more, what a verse, verse 12: 'Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man' - beware, if you think you stand firm, if you think you're strong - he's quoting from Proverbs 16:18: 'Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall'. Paul is saying that one of the surest ways to fall into sin as a Christian is to become overconfident, or even better put, self-confident.
Wasn't this a problem for the Corinthians? Self-confidence. You remember how many times we found this little phrase as we've gone through each chapter: 'puffed up, puffed up', they were blown up in their pride and all their knowledge. Wasn't that the reason in chapter 4, if you turn back to it, for Paul's sarcastic remarks with regards to them? He says in verse 8: 'Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us', without us apostles, 'and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ' - you're so puffed up! You can hear the sarcastic tone in Paul's voice as he castigates.
Now what we will find out tonight is, in these illustrations, that Paul is telling us that these believers in Corinth who are saved by the grace of God - we've no doubt about that, we saw that in the opening lessons of this book in chapter 1 where they are sanctified in God in Christ, set apart by grace, they're saved just like you and me. But we're going to see tonight that they're also baptised, they were well-taught believers - you could even say in their knowledge, theological eptitude, that they were mature. Paul says on one occasion that they came behind in no gift, they weren't lacking in spiritual gift and prowess - but their problem was that they were overconfident! Paul was warning them that their over-self-confidence was going to lead to a massive fall.
Let me explain it like this, in context: these believers who new theologically that there was nothing wrong with eating this meat offered to idols, even sitting down in the temple eating them, felt that they were so strong in their knowledge that they were strong enough to freely associate with pagans in every realm and purpose of life - whether it even be the ceremonies of paganism, or the social activities that they were engaged in. They felt that because they were so strong in their theological knowledge that they wouldn't be morally or spiritually affected. Paul is saying to them tonight, listen: 'You are self-deceived! You may have all the theological knowledge correct, but you're ignoring how first of all you're harming the weaker Christian' - but now he's coming in to look personally at themselves, that they're endangering themselves, their own spiritual lives, for a cataclysmic fall.
One author put it: 'They could not live long on the far edge of freedom without falling into temptation and then into sin'. What we're going to find out tonight, and I want to nail it right at the very beginning, is that the loving Christian - and I don't just mean the Christian who loves other Christians, but primarily the Christian who loves his Lord - doesn't try and stretch Christian liberty to an extreme, to see how close to evil and sin he can get without being harmed or without offending God! That is not the attitude of a spiritual man or woman! Paul says that if that is your attitude, that's the way you operate, seeing how far you can go before it's too far, you're on the precipice of disaster and you're in danger of falling headlong spiritually! Now don't misunderstand me, he's not talking about falling from salvation, because we know that that is impossible if you are truly saved, but he's talking here about falling from holiness - and in the last couple of verses of chapter 9 we saw that he's also talking about falling from usefulness - being disqualified, being set on the shelf for God as useless! What a danger this is.
We're going to see this evening that the Lord doesn't take lightly these matters of believers sinning in His sight. I think if the modern church needs a dose of anything, it's a dose of the realism that is found in this portion of Scripture, and the honesty of not only the apostle with himself, but the honesty he longed to see in every believer with regards to the danger that we are all in of falling into sin. If many of us feared sin more, I think we would fall into sin a lot less.
So let's look at it this evening from our outline. The first thing that Paul brings to them in his argument is the privileges of liberty that the children of Israel had in the Old Testament in verses 1 to 4: 'Moreover, brethren', or as some translations say, 'For brethren, I would not have you to be ignorant', that just refers back to the disqualification he talks about in verse 27. Because there is a danger of being disqualified from serving the Lord, becoming a castaway, moreover I don't want you to be ignorant of mistakes that your forefathers made in the wilderness. Paul begins to outline the privileges that these men and women of God had in the Old Testament in order to encourage them on to godliness, for the privileges that they had should have done this, but we find that it was the opposite that happened in the wilderness - because no matter how many privileges they had, they went round and round for 40 years in a circle of sinfulness because they wouldn't be obedient to God, they wouldn't allow God's goodness to lead them towards repentance.
Five times within these four verses you have the word 'all, all', expressing the oneness they experienced, they all experienced the same thing. There wasn't any particular spiritual giants among them who experienced these privileges of spirituality, they all experienced them but yet most of them, we will see, failed. Let's look at the privileges under three headings, the first is this: they all experienced emancipation from Egypt. Paul says that you shouldn't be ignorant: 'how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea' - Exodus 13 tells us that the children of Israel, as they were led out of Egypt, were guided by day by a pillar of cloud and by night by a pillar of fire. Those two pillars guided them on their way through the wilderness, it led them everywhere and they didn't have to wonder for one moment where to go and how to get there. If you were going to summarise that particular spiritual privilege, we could say that they had supernatural guidance all their lives. Imagine that for a moment, supernatural guidance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - all they had to do was look up and see a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night, and they knew God was there. Just look out of their tent, and if it moved a few feet to the left they moved a few feet to the left, or to the right. They pitched their tents when it stopped, when it started to move they pulled up the pegs and journeyed. One man put it well when he said that all they needed was an open eye for God to guide them, there was no guessing game, following God's guidance was as simple as opening their eyes and looking to God - supernatural guidance!
We have guidance today, but not this kind of guidance! Imagine the privilege of 24 hours a day having a kind of hotline to heaven like these Israelites! Spiritual guidance, supernatural guidance! Then also it says that they all passed through the sea, we could define that as supernatural deliverance. Turn with me to Exodus 14 till we just remind ourselves of these portions of Scripture, and maybe you don't know them at all, and this will be a good way of making you aware of them. Exodus 14 verse 21: 'And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left'.
Four hundred years in slavery in Egypt, with all the maltreatment that they received in bondage, and then God sends ten plagues, He leads them out of Egypt, He leads them through the Red Sea, opens up the waves, causes them to walk through, and their feet don't even get wet! A supernatural deliverance was theirs, and we could say tonight that every physical law would say that they should have drowned, yet because God was a reality in their experience, and He intervened for them right on time, they were delivered in a supernatural way. And even to this day in Jewish homes they celebrate this month the Passover season, it's still the touchstone of Jewish faith today because it was such a supernatural deliverance. Think of this! A nation like this chosen of God, not because they were great or strong or beautiful, but because God chose them! A nation that He brought out of bondage in Egypt, a nation that He delivered through the sea, a nation that He guided for 40 years of backsliding through the wilderness, with all these privileges of emancipation from the slavery and sin of Egypt - yet here they are, disqualified by God! It's a sobering thought, isn't it? What Paul is saying to us and to the Corinthians is: 'Beware that this doesn't happen to you'!
One of their privileges was emancipation from Egypt, and then secondly immersion into Moses. Some people get confused at verse 2: 'And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea'. Some people even try to explain it that that cloud pillar that guided them by day used to sprinkle them with wee drops of rain, and was just like baptism - what a lot of nonsense! Nothing of the sort, all you've to do is look at the definition of baptism in the Greek it is 'baptidso' which doesn't just mean 'immerse', but it has the idea of identification with him - we see that particularly in Romans chapter 6 where we're identified in believer's baptism by immersion, identifying with Christ's death, burial and resurrection, and that's what it means here. They were identified with God and with Moses as they went through the Red Sea. In fact, in Paul's day if you went to get a garment of clothing dyed, you would take it to the merchant and the word was used 'baptise it, dip it' - and by dipping it in the different coloured dye it would change its identity. They were coming out of Egypt and they were becoming a nation unto Moses and unto God, and they were baptised in that sense through the Red Sea - the Israelites were spiritually dipped into a union with God and with Moses, and particularly Moses' leadership over them.
You see that in Exodus if you turn back to Exodus 14 for a moment quickly, that at the beginning of this journey they respected Moses' leadership over them. They were baptised into it, verse 31 of chapter 14: 'And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses'. So we could summarise it all like this: they had supernatural guidance, the cloud, the fire; they had supernatural deliverance through the Red Sea; and they had also supernatural leadership, this meek man of God, Moses, immersed unto him.
Then thirdly they had nutrition from the rock - verse 3: 'And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ'. The spiritual food is a reference to the manna, that angel's food, that bread from God that came down from heaven, that God supplied faithfully for them for 40 years, six days a week, every day except the Sabbath. They never went hungry, read about it in Exodus 16 and Psalm 78. That is the spiritual food, now it doesn't mean that it wasn't literal food, but it means when it says 'spiritual food' that there was more significance in it than just feeding the stomach, there was spiritual nutrition in this food for the children of God. It says here that they drank of this Rock that followed them. The ancient Jews had a legend that was known to the Jews in Paul's day, and probably known by him and believed by many, that an actual rock followed Israel throughout the wilderness journey providing water on tap wherever they went. That's not what this means, originally it was an original rock that gave them water, but it doesn't mean it followed them everywhere - because what Paul is really saying is answering this: for they drank, yes there was a rock that followed them, but they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
'Petrodes' (sp?) is the word that is used in the Greek for a large stone or boulder, and it's the word that was used of the rock that Moses struck to get the water. That's not the word that's used here, the word used here is 'Petra', which is the word of a great massive cliff, a massive rock, a precipice - this is not Moses' rock, the boulder that brought forth the water - but what Paul is saying, and it's remarkable when we consider the Old Testament context, that the Rock that give them spiritual sustenance and nourishment in the Old Testament was the Lord Jesus Christ, it was their Messiah! Isn't that wonderful? They had supernatural guidance, supernatural deliverance, supernatural leadership, and supernatural food and drink from none other than the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ - His presence was with them. Even before He took upon Himself human flesh, He had His hands on the affairs of His people, and He provided them with all the water that they needed - isn't that beautiful? If you ever need any proof that He is God, the Bible is full of it, but here's one: the Rock right throughout the Old Testament is spoken of Jehovah, but Paul says that Rock was Christ! 'I and my Father are one', He said, and we better believe it because it's right throughout the whole Scriptures.
Isn't it wonderful? I don't know whether there's anybody here tonight and you're not saved, or maybe there's someone here and you're a believer and you're sort of backslidden, and you're trying still to find sustenance and nourishment in the things of this world. I don't know what your circumstances are, but if this passage tells you anything it tells you this: there was only one way that these children of Israel through the wilderness could be delivered from their corruption, and that was through the Rock that followed them and finding satisfaction in the Saviour alone! What do we sing?
'None but Christ can satisfy,
None other name for me!
There's love and life and lasting joy,
Lord Jesus, found in Thee'.
Oh if the dear Jewish people could see this today! Well, you would think, wouldn't you, with supernatural guidance, supernatural deliverance, supernatural leadership, supernatural food and drink, being emancipated from Egypt, immersed into Moses, and nourished from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, that they would be a very thankful and devoted people, and that they would follow in obedience any command that the Lord would give to them - what a surprise when we read verse 5! 'But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness'. That 'many of them' should be translated 'most of them'! And even when it's translated 'most of them', it's the greatest understatement in the world, because if you think about it and calculate it out of the hundreds of thousands in that first generation that came out of Egypt and went forty years through the wilderness, two survived! Two! Joshua and Caleb got into the Promised Land, only two out of such a company, and even Moses and Aaron, if you read your Old Testament, they became disqualified - Moses because he struck the rock at Miribah instead of speaking to it to get the waters from it. Paul says that many of them, most of them, all but two of them, God was not pleased with. And he says, this is the terrible statement: 'for they were overthrown in the wilderness'. That's misleading, it sounds as if the wilderness got the better of them, but what it really means is that they were laid low in the wilderness, literally their bodies were strewn across the ground of the whole desert! They were disqualified, and only two of them over the age of 20 when they left the land of Egypt were left alive and went into the Promised Land.
Imagine the graphic scene that Paul is painting here for these Corinthian believers: bodies scattered about the whole desert floor like broken potsherds, vessels not meet for the Master's use, vessels that Paul would speak of later as vessels of dishonour. One author put it like this: 'What a spectacle is that which is called up by the apostle before the eyes of the self-satisfied Corinthians, all those bodies filled with miraculous food and drink strewn across the soil of the desert'. With all their privileges, what a shock! You might say: 'Well, why does he have to be so shocking, and use so shocking an illustration?'. I think he'd maybe be pulled up for being undispensational today if it wasn't in the New Testament - how can you apply such harsh judgment from God to the church of Jesus Christ? Here's why, verse 11, because it's an example, it's a type - the word 'tupos' that could be translated 'type', could also be translated in this sense 'to strike with a blow for the purpose of leaving an impression'. It was used of the stamp that was put on the emperor's coin, a strike that made a mark. In fact, in John's gospel it's used of the very nailprints of the blessed Lord Jesus Christ Himself - what an impression it makes! That's what Paul wants this illustration to do to these believers, to make a lasting impression, to leave a blow with them that they will never forget!
It does that alright, doesn't it? He wants it to be an admonition, verse 11, the word could be translated 'instruction' - 'nuthasia' (sp?), or to put or set into the thinking a change of one's behaviour. If you like, it's like shock treatment to make them change their ways and their thoughts and their lives, because they're under the chastisement of God if they do not! So really what Paul is saying to us, and we need to all take note here tonight, that there are dangers in Christian maturity as well as Christian immaturity. Overconfidence was their undoing, self-confidence. If you just would consider this for a moment in the context, that surely I think - I'll ask it as a question at least - could this possibly mean that other Christians who maybe don't know as much as you know, who maybe don't have as much light, if I could put it that way, as you have with regards to the Scriptures and what to do and what not to do, even though your knowledge may be correct; could it be that these other believers are holier than you, and are rewarded for more than you because the little light that they have, they're obedient to it? I think you will find that that's borne out in this passage. We're not excusing error, we're talking about people in ignorance, people who haven't been given the revelation, perhaps, that you have. But it is possible, I believe that this can explain the reason why many men in history have been blessed of God, and they have been blatantly ignorantly in error. God's ways are not always our ways, but we must move on.
Those are the privileges of liberty, secondly he leads them on in this argument and speaks to them of the pitfalls of liberty. These believers are exposed to supernatural benefits that we have outlined already, yet they lacked the correct proper response. Imagine it, as we read Numbers and Exodus, they became dissatisfied and ungrateful towards God, and they kept longing to get back to Egypt. Numbers 11:4-6, they yearned after the leek and the garlic. They cursed Moses that he had led them out and left them to die in the wilderness, and they even came to the stage of saying to Moses: 'We're sick of this food from heaven!'. Isn't that amazing? I think it must be one of the most horrible sights in the universe to see a child of heaven reject heavenly food, and crave the filth of the earth instead.
Let's go through these pitfalls quickly. The first was idolatry: 'these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things', it could be translated 'craven after evil things'. I wonder is there somebody here tonight, and you're a believer, and you're craving after evil things - Proverbs puts it: 'Don't be envious of evildoers!'. The way that they envy them first was their idolatry: 'Neither be ye idolaters', verse 7, 'as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play'. They're hardly out of Egypt, if you read the book of Exodus, and they start while Moses is up the Mount meeting with God, to build a golden calf, and they begin to worship it. Now don't think and misunderstand, as many do, that they were worshipping a false god, they were not! They were worshipping a calf in the name of Jehovah! They were worshipping the calf, Aaron said, as the One who brought them out of Egypt, and he built an altar to that calf, and he even declared that there would be feasts unto the LORD - capital L-O-R-D in the Old Testament which is the name of Jehovah!
Paul here quotes what Moses said of them: 'They sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play'. They had, as Paul would say, an orgy of paganism under the Mount of God when God was speaking and feeding His people, and they did it in the name of God! Let me just make a digression and application here, because many Roman Catholic folk are deluded by their teachers and their false priests. We say to them: 'Why is it that you bow down to idols and worship them?'. They say: 'Well, we don't worship false gods, we worship the true and the living God, these images help us worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit' - apart from the fact that they worship the Virgin Mary too. But that is in direct contradiction when we see what Paul says here and what happened in Moses' day, because these were worshipping the true and the living God, but they were using an image to do it, and God told them in His second commandment that they should not make a graven image even if they were worshipping the true and the living God.
John said at the very end of his little epistle: 'My little children keep yourselves from idols'. I urge you, if you're a person converted out of Roman Catholicism or any other system that worships idols, get out of that system as soon as you can, because it will contaminate you! Do not support it, do not encourage it! I know that many stay within the system because they're sincerely want to win those around them for Christ, but they do not realise that by default they dishonour God in doing that; and they even could confirm others, the weaker souls, in doing the sins that they previously did, or even endanger their eternal souls to damnation in a false way of salvation. We will see later on 'what fellowship hath God with Belial', the temples of paganism with the temple of God.
That was their idolatry, but friends you don't have to bow down to a piece of wood to commit idolatry, there is spiritual idolatry that seizes the adoration that is due alone to God. It can be your wife or husband or your child, or your friend, or your reputation, or your job, or success, or love, or self-image - it is anything that takes God's place on the throne of your heart! It's as bad as making a golden calf!
Their second pitfall was sexual immorality, it speaks of an account in Numbers 25. We haven't got time to go into the difference in the account in Numbers 25 that says that there were 24,000 who fell, and here in Corinthians it says that there were 23,000 that fell in one day - people say, 'Well there you have it, the Bible contradicts itself'. But if you look at it carefully you will see that Paul says 23,000 fell in one day, but Numbers does not say that, and Numbers includes within it, I believe, the subsequent deaths after that - those that fell in the plauge. Apart from that, can you see the relevance to sexual immorality here with idolatry in the city of Corinth. You remember I told you right at the beginning of our studies of the temple of Aphrodite there on the Acrocorinth, that great hill, and the thousand ritualistic pagan prostitutes that were there serving their false gods. As we go through pagan ancient religions we see that idolatry is almost always inseparably linked with sexual immorality.
Some of these Corinthians were going back to their old ways. Well, I want to say tonight, I know we may not indulge in those things, but Paul says to us that anything that is inconsistent with purity is to be done away with. These self-confident, over-confident Corinthians flirted with their sinful environment, and there are so many young people and older people and middle-aged people today through the media and all sorts of ways, through entertainment and leisure, flirt with the world. They might say: 'I haven't partaken of the sin', but they flirt with the sin! But in chapter 6 and verse 18 Paul told them not to flirt with it but to flee from fornication!
'When you flee from temptation', one man said, 'make sure you don't leave a forwarding address behind you'. That is where many fall down. They're overconfident, they think: 'I can handle this situation, I can handle this relationship I'm in, it'll not go too far' - and then when the temptations get stronger, they can't handle it, and before they know it it's too late and they've fallen into the pitfall of the devil! Let's be honest for a moment, even in the Christian environment in which we live today, where many Christians think it's alright to go to the clubs and the pubs and all the rest, you cannot tell me - you cannot convince me - that you can go to those places, and gaze upon what you see, and have pure thoughts every moment! You're a liar! It's impossible, that's why he tells us to flee from it!
The third pitfall, testing God, questioning God's faithfulness. Verse 9: 'Let us not tempt Christ', there's the Trinity again if you want it - if Christ wasn't God how could they be testing Christ in the wilderness? Psalm 78 says that they tempted God in the wilderness. What did they say to God and to Moses? 'Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?', and do you know what God's response to His children was? It wasn't pleasant, Numbers says in verse 6 of chapter 21 that He sent the serpents, Paul agrees with him in verse 9: 'as some of them also tempted God, and were destroyed of serpents'. The children were hearing about it yesterday, Psalm 78 says it was because they limited the Holy One of Israel, and they said: 'Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?'.
Let me clear up a bit of misunderstanding, this testing God isn't trusting God's promises and claiming them, that's not what he's talking about here. We encourage that, and the word of God does. Neither is it holy argumentation with God from the standpoint of faith, asking Him to do what He has said He will do - but what we're talking about here with these Israelites was daring God to move, daring Him to move, with an attitude within you of doubt and craving for something else which is sinful. How is this done today? It's done in exactly the same way - isn't it wonderful, the relevance of the word of God? Just as the Corinthians were doing, pushing their liberty to the limits, seeing how much of the flesh they could indulge in and the world they could enjoy without categorically and intrinsically sinning. That's what Christian say today: 'This is the age of grace. We're governed by grace, not law. We're free and God is a forgiving God, we can't lose our salvation no matter what we do, so why not get everything out of our life that we can' - as the Israelites found out, that's not pleasing to God! The Corinthians found out around the Lord's table, when they were getting drunk, chapter 11 verse 30, we'll see it in later weeks - they found out in the age of grace that it is not pleasing to God, and many were weak and sickly among them and many slept - dead!
Fourthly they were grumbling. You've heard the song: 'Grumble on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday' - they murmured: 'some of them also murmured', verse 10, 'and were destroyed of the destroyer'. This is powerful stuff, these are the children of God, the destroyer is the angel that killed the firstborn in Egypt. God sent a plague in this occurrence and killed 14,700 people. This is the same angel not only that slew the firstborn in Egypt, but later killed 70,000 men because of David's census in 2 Samuel chapter 24. In response to the prayer of Isaiah and Hezekiah this angel destroyed an entire Assyrian army that was besieging Jerusalem in 2 Chronicles 32, but God turns him on His own people! Why? Because they were grumbling, and their grumbling was a sign that they were dissatisfied with God's sovereignty in their lives. They were challenging God's wisdom.
I'm going to have to finish tonight, but let me finish on this note: do we ever do this? Challenge God's wisdom and grumble, question His sovereignty, test God, doubt God - are we involved in some way, whether mentally or physically, in sexual immorality or idolatry? A pastor on one occasion give a series of sermons entitled 'The Sins of the Saints', and one of these grumblers, apparently under conviction, a woman disapprovingly said to him at the door: 'After all, sin in the life of a Christian is different from sin in the life of an unsaved person'. 'Yes it is', the pastor said, 'it's worse'.
To sin against law is one thing, but surely to sin against grace is another? I wonder as we close our meeting tonight, is there a dry desert patch on your heart? Is there a piece of your soul that is lying parched, that hasn't been nourished by Christ for years or months or even days? Or perhaps there are prickly attitudes that have sprouted against others, or even against the Lord Himself? Perhaps there are the thorns of lust, idolatry, or the gravel and grit of grumbling, and it has calloused your feet towards God and your sensitivity to Him in your soul? I would urge you tonight, and this is applied to believers: God's chastisement is severe! But don't let His chastisement keep you away, let it drive you to Jesus for He is the oasis where you can find the water of forgiveness and rest. If you come to Him and let the goodness of God lead you to repentance, He is the one who says: 'I will give you the water of life freely, and you will never thirst again; come unto me all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest' - and He'll do it!
I warn you, as Paul warns us tonight, whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. God willing, not next week but the following week, we'll begin with the practicalities of liberty as we continue in this passage.
Oh, our Father, what can we say but that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places. Lord, we read in Thy word, if Thou didst spare not Thine only Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? But Lord, we know all too well that they are there for the taking, but yet the cost is what stops us. Father, we pray that we, before it is too late, will enter the promised land of the blessing of God, individually and as an assembly, that we will never limit the Holy One of Israel, that we will never fail to learn from the mistakes of our forefathers spiritually, but Lord that we will discipline ourselves to win the prize - whatever the cost - and to live to God before it be too late. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twenty-fourth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "A History Lesson In Holiness" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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