1 Corinthians 10:1-10
July 15, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 19:45 in the audio file.
Or, Dangerous Lusts of the Blessed
There is a common human craving not only to satisfy ourselves, but to self-satisfy using religious reasons. Men are not only idolators, they are often idolators using God’s name. We want our worldly cake and communion with the Lord, or, we want the cake for communion.
The Corinthians Christian had a lot of problems. Based on Paul’s first letter to them, they had more self-esteem than humility, more self-interest than discipline, more self-serving than sacrifice. What’s more, they justified their petty divisions according to their favorite preachers, they justified their sexual immorality according to their “spirituality,” and in some cases they justified their association with idols based on their belief in the one, true, sovereign God (see 1 Corinthians 8:1-6).
Since the beginning of chapter 8 Paul has been challenging them to apply not just their knowledge of God but also the love of God in their actions and interactions with fellow believers, especially the weak ones. Paul himself lived as an illustration on how to treat others as more important than one’s own self-gratification (1 Corinthians 9:1-23). This is the way of the cross, and this is the Christian race. Run to win. Be self-controlled and disciplined lest you lose the prize and get kicked out of the race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Many of the Corinthians apparently acted as if their shoes could never come untied. They thought they were above stumbling, let alone losing. They knew they had God’s blessings, which is true, but they didn’t realize that having God’s blessings is a goad to run, not a guarantee of having won.
Paul continues his point from chapter 8 into chapter 10, and will return explicitly to the subject of food offered to idols throughout the chapter. He demonstrates from history that we must keep running. As God’s people, we cannot allow ourselves to quit self-control, and we cannot allow ourselves to crave self-indulgence, especially in God’s name.
Verses 1-13 belong together, but there is a lot to work through, so we’ll take it in two sermons. For today we’ll consider the Divine Blessings (verses 1-5) and the Dangerous Cravings (verses 6-10).
It is a new chapter, but the argument for running continues: For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers. Paul urged them to run with self-control and said that he himself was concerned about the possibility of being “disqualified” (9:27). Disqualification from, and so losing, the race is a real risk. The Corinthians seemed to think themselves above such a temptation, so Paul reminds them about the stories of some previous runners who didn’t finish well.
In order to make the comparisons most relevant, Paul chooses from runners who were clearly blessed. He doesn’t select losers, he selects God’s select. He remembers five blessings of God’s sovereign grace and shows how all of the Israelites knew them.
First, all the Israelites were protected: our fathers were all under the cloud. All of these blessings came to them during the Exodus from Egypt and during their time wandering in the wilderness. Paul calls these fathers because Gentiles are saved into the same root as the Jews (see Romans 11). Not everything is the same between Israel and the church, and yet both “belong to a single history of God’s activity and self-disclosure” (Thiselton). God’s people were all under the cloud meaning that all of them were lead by and covered by God’s care.
Second, all the Israelites were delivered: and all passed through the sea. Not one of them was left behind in Egypt, not one of them was drowned in the Red Sea. Each and every one of them not only got to the other side. They all went through the miracle.
Third, all of the Israelites were unified: and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. This doesn’t mean that they got wet, in Moses’s name or with any kind of water. Both Moses and the sea indicate that they were separated from the peoples, figuratively by the law and physically by land. They were identified and unified as one people.
Fourth and fifth, all of the Israelites were provided for: and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. The food was mostly manna (see Exodus 16), though it could include the quail (Numbers 11), and the food is called spiritual not because it was immaterial but because it was supernatural. God provided it directly rather than through normal, mediated means.
As for the drink, that was also spiritual, specially given, and the rest of verse 4 explains, For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. The Old Testament describes a rock that Moses struck, once at the beginning of their wandering (Exodus 17:6) and again at the end (Numbers 20:8-11). Traditional Jewish interpretation took the rock as rolling around and following the people. But that isn’t a necessary conclusion. The point is that God provided for His people for 40 years, food and drink, and it was from Christ.
All of the Israelites started out from Egypt, but the majority of the Israelites didn’t finish. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
This is quite an understatement, since only two men in an entire generation were not destroyed, the two spies who believed that Israel could take the Promised Land: Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 14:29-30). The rest were overthrown or “laid low,” a reference to Moses’ prayer in Numbers 14:16, meaning that their bodies were strewn around the land. They died, and it was God who caused it.
The Corinthians may have thought that they had received great blessings, and they had, just as the Israelites had. The Corinthians may have though that they couldn’t lose all those blessings, but most of the Israelites did.
In the next section Paul gives a general category and then four specific exhortations based on four comparisons with the Israelites.
Why bring in the Old Testament people of God? Because their history is a model for how people behave in a race. Now these things took place as examples for us. It’s not actually that the events themselves didn’t matter, but that as they happened in the past they “became types of us” or “types for our advantage.” The word translated examples is a plural form of the Greek word tupos, from which our English word “type” comes. It means “a kind, class, or thing that suggests a model or pattern,” even an “archetype” (BDAG). There is a category of interpretation that sees a lot of these “types” in the Old Testament that find fulfillment in the New Testament, i.e., David is a type of Christ; in David we see certain characteristics that prefigure Christ and that Christ Himself demonstrated in all dimensions.
In this case it doesn’t work to say that Israel is a type of the church because the church does not fulfill the shadow. Paul intends the very opposite here: Israel did this, so don’t do that, certainly not “Do this to the full.” It’s not that Israel hopped around the track on one foot and we are exhorted to run with two feet. They were running in the wrong direction.
The purpose of remembering the examples is that we might not desire evil as they did. As if Paul said, “I’m going to tell you these stories so that you will not be lusters of evil just as those also lusted.” The word desire is epithumia, a word describing a strong want, usually of something wrong, as here, but sometimes a good craving. When the Israelites craved meat (Numbers 11:4), it wasn’t merely “the monotony of the diet” but “yearning for the pleasures of Egypt” (ESVSB). God gave it to them and then a lot of them died, and the place as called “Graves of Craving” (Numbers 11:33-34) (Garland) or “graves of lust” (Calvin). We learn the dangers of craving from these temptation types.
There are four different lusts that Paul highlights, all of which typify the temptation types.
First: idolatry. Do not be idolators as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” This describes the golden calf debacle. This is also the only one of the four cravings that quotes an Old Testament verse, Exodus 32:6.
Do you remember the scene? Moses had been gone for a while on the mountain receiving the 10 Commandments from God. The people persuaded Aaron to make them a cow out of gold. They wanted this idol, not in order to name another god, but to have a physical manifestation of Yahweh. To them, their idolatry wasn’t pagan, it was pious. They preferred their own ideas and comforts to what was true.
Note that eating and drinking and “playing” was part of this idolatry, and this is where Paul started back in chapter 8 regarding food offered to idols. Feasting was and is regularly connected to worship. Paul emphasizes the food part and the “playing” part, perhaps a euphemism for sexual immorality, rather than bowing the knee to the idol, because the Corinthians weren’t having direct problems with idolatry but rather indirect problems. Exodus 32:19 adds that they were “dancing,” a word that means to dance in a ring, an emotional and sensual and cultic ritual, perhaps like the orgy of the Solidarity Circle in Brave New World.
This is one of the most notorious examples of apostasy and idolatry in the OT. Even after their deliverance from Egypt, and in the name of the LORD who delivered them, they turned away from the LORD.
Second, impurity. We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. This appears to reference the Israelites pursuit of Moabite women in Numbers 25, and this also was connected with idolatry. After they chose the forbidden women, they offered sacrifices to the false gods of the women and ate food related to the sacrifices. Idolatry can lead to immorality, and immorality can lead to idolatry. Lack of self-control can’t be controlled.
This was not just self-gratification, this was entitlement. The men believed that God owed them women, so they took them. The result was that over twenty-thousand were killed in judgment. Moses lists 24k and Paul 23K, perhaps both rounding just in opposite directions.
Sexual immorality was a problem among the Corinthians and Paul wrote about a variety of ways they got it wrong in 5:1-13 and 6:12-20. In their context of Aphrodite and Bacchus, they needed the warnings. Such idol cults
invited a “freedom” to dispense with moral restraint and to tolerate everything except any transcontextual truth claim which might interfere with an individual’s “right” to instant self-gratification. (Thiselton)
The culture promoted any indulgence as long as it wasn’t a restriction on indulgence.
Third: testing. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents. This craving relates to the grumbling, but is the particular temptation of impatience. In Numbers 21 the “people spoke out against God and against Moses” because they had to go around the land of Edom rather than through it. They were tired of walking. They thought, presumably, that it shouldn’t be so hard. God had delivered them out of Egypt, so why wasn’t God delivering them out of further difficulties?
They said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” (Numbers 21:5). Of course God had provided food and water, they just didn’t like how hard it was. It was a religious complaint, so the “LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died” (verse 6). When the people realized what they had done, they confessed, and God told Moses to make a bronze serpent that allowed those who looked on it to live.
The fourth craving: grumbling. Nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by they Destroyer. This is one of my favorite Greek words: gogguzo, an onomatopoetic word, one that sounds like what it means, meaning “grumble.” They made complaining, mumbling, and murmuring sounds when things happened that they didn’t like. This is the opposite of thankfulness, and it only comes about by false expectations and self-pity.
“Presumption is the premature self-willed anticipation of what we hope from God; despair is the premature arbitrary anticipation of non-fulfillment.” J. Moltmann
God sent the angel of death, the Destroyer, not just over the Egyptians but among the Israelites who grumbled.
This is what happens when religious people get self-aware and then justify their disobedience as somehow for God or in light of what they think they know about God. These are the types of temptations that were common among the Corinthians. The sins of Israel were the sins of the church in Corinth. Staying qualified in the race takes discipline. Running to win is not so easy.
Verses 11-13 finish the section, which we’ll look at next Lord’s Day, and urge the believers to humility and caution rather than complacency.
Beloved, read the Bible (Old Testament included) and pay attention. It is amazing that you have your very own copy. You can virtually read, or have someone read for you at the press of a button, any time you want. Note God’s blessings on His people, and also note God’s discipline on those who don’t obey, especially those types who crave their own gratification rather than the good of their neighbor.
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:2–4, ESV)