Tried and Triumphant
1 Corinthians 10:1-22
This week’s lessons teach us that anyone can fall into sin, but nobody has to.
Today we will continue to study the four admonitions Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 10:6-10. The idolatry is probably a reference to the thirty-second chapter of Exodus, which tells of when Moses was up in the mountain receiving the Law. The Law began, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Ex. 20:3-4). And yet, at the very time Moses was up on the mountain receiving the law, the people were down in the valley making the golden calf, falling down, and worshiping it. The Apostle Paul told them to remember that even though they were numbered visibly among the people of God, they committed idolatry and were judged for it.
Next, Paul talks about sexual immorality. This is something he talked about earlier in the letter. It is something, no doubt, that also comes out of that story of the worship of the golden calf because the worship of false gods always leads to a false or debased morality. As the people worshiped the golden calf, their worshiping eventually turned into what we would call an orgy. He says they practiced all kinds of sexual immorality and they were judged for that, too.
Paul then talks about testing the Lord. He says we should not test the Lord as some of them did and were killed by snakes. There is only one place in the Old Testament that would fit this illustration. It occurs in the book of Numbers. The people were complaining. They were saying to Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (Num. 21:5). God pronounced a judgment on them because of their complaining. They had been led out of Egypt into one of the most inhospitable environments on earth and God had done absolutely everything to protect and guide them. He had given them that great cloud which spread out over the camp to give them shade from the heat of the sun in the daytime. He gave them a pillar of fire at night, which guided them, illuminated the camp, and provided warmth. He provided water from a rock. He sent down manna from the sky for them to eat. And in spite of God’s great provision they complained because God was not providing for them in quite the way they wanted. We may think they were bad until we remember that we do the same thing. God provides for us in many wonderful ways, and we say, “Oh, God, why have you done that? Why have you brought me into this mess where I’m not happy?” That, according the Apostle Paul’s interpretation, is what it means to test God.
A related admonition is described in the next verse. It says, “Do not grumble.” When people do not like something, they grumble. Paul pointed out that some of the Israelites were judged for this very thing. It was not enough for them to be in the company of the people of God. It was not enough for them to have had what was their equivalent of baptism, identification with Moses through the Exodus. It was not enough for them to participate in what Paul alludes to here as spiritual food and spiritual drink. What was necessary is that they stand against temptation. And yet, many of them did not stand; they fell.
Paul concludes this section with a warning. Anyone – and that includes you and me – can fall. Anyone who thinks, “Well, I’m strong in the Lord, and therefore, this temptation will never touch me,” is a fool and is standing contrary to Scripture. Wisdom in this matter begins with recognizing that, in ourselves, you and I can do absolutely nothing at all. Furthermore, if the temptations had come to us – those that cause us to say about someone else, “Well, they’ve made a great mess of their lives” – it is quite possible that you and I would have fallen far sooner and farther than they did. An important part of wisdom comes in recognizing this great truth.
To what four events in Israel’s history does Paul allude?
Read the following passages on God’s goodness to the Israelites: Exodus 13:20-22; 16:1-35; Deuteronomy 29:2-6. Next, read the following passages from Israel’s history: Exodus 32; Numbers 21:4-9. Have you despised God’s goodness in your life?