The end of the ages has come upon us! God is for us in Christ Jesus. He has delivered us from bondage and slavery to the cosmic powers of the present darkness. He has given himself in our place – so that we might be righteous before God and inheritors of the kingdom of his Son. These blessings are the fulfillment of what Israel enjoyed when they were freed from Egypt and made to be God’s treasured possession. And yet these great blessings can be so easily taken for granted. Or rather we take God for granted. We forget so quickly what He has done and lean on our own understanding. And we begin to desire the evil that He saved us from, and not the good to which He saved us.
Let us then learn from the Israelites of old and cast ourselves up on his sovereign grace.
Learn from the Israelites and take heed!
- Take Heed
The key word in verse 1-4 is the word “all”. Listen…. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
Five times the word “all” comes up. Paul makes the point abundantly clear that all of them enjoyed the rich and abundant spiritual blessings that come through being in covenant with God. They all enjoyed being baptized in Moses who was the mediator of the old covenant – through whom they had communion with God. They all had the same spiritual food and spiritual drink. They even all drank from the same spiritual rock and the rock was Christ.
The same as what? The same as the Corinthian church. You enjoy the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You all received the abundant water of life which is Christ as it flows from his Word. The people of Israel were blessed. They were fed, they were given water to drink, they even drank from Christ. But what happened to this “all”? Just like the church in Corinth. Just like the church in Bellville.
The next verse Paul tells us with a strong adversative, But!! All of them had it all! The same way you think you have it all, BUT – “with most of them God was not pleased – for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” Paul’s point hits hard: the Corinthian Christians were probably taking all sorts of liberties (like feasting in pagan temples, causing brothers to stumble, taking sexual liberty), thinking that they were “safe” because of past blessings and spiritual experiences (especially baptism and communion). So Paul warns them to beware, because just as Israel was blessed and had spiritual experiences, they still perished – and so some of the Corinthian Christians might also!
It seems as if the Corinthians thought that things such as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, would secure their salvation.
In fact, he allowed Israel to go through these things as a type, for example, of what the church would go through. As he says in verse 6, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” Literally it says, “that we may not desire evil, as they desired.” It begins with the desires of the heart. What we long for. What we want. Is God enough or not?
What do you want? What do you desire? That is the first question.
These stories in the Old Testament function as a warning for us on whom the end of the ages has come (verse 11b). It is interesting that he speaks of desires. If we desire God above all then the preaching and the sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s supper will not function as things that guarantee our salvation, but things we long for to grow in dependency on Christ. In other words, Paul is saying this: If you embrace evil desires (verse 6), your Baptism and your participation in the Lord’s Supper will not save you any more than the Israelites were saved by their participation in the miracle cloud and sea, or by their participation in the miracle food and drink.
Paul gives a few examples of where things went wrong for the Israelites. Idolatry, sexual immorality, testing Christ, and grumbling. I dare say they are as relevant for the 21st century church in cape Town. These continue to plague the covenant community through the ages. Let’s take heed then and read, meditate, and think about the covenant dealings of God with his people in the past that we might learn and grow from them.
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.” What are we pursuing, what are we seeking? Interesting that the Bible would use this quote. They were impatient for Moses while waiting for him to come down the mountain, and they decided to play the time away, most likely in sexual revelry. Impatience of the Israelites in this story is one thing. They did not wait upon the Lord. But the point is also how they distracted themselves. They rose up to play. Is this not the way of the world as we await the return of Jesus? Rise up to play. Distract ourselves with fun.
This most likely has a sexual connotation, but I also believe it is broader. Applying to entertainment. Entertainment is an easy and empty god. Have you given up waiting for God to move — to reveal Himself in his Word, to help you make an important decision, to bring the healing or reconciliation you’ve been asking for — and decided to distract yourself with something fun instead?
Is your live filled with living for the next vacation, saving up for the next house, boat, car? Entertainment is one of the greatest idols of this age. I get it. People get tired of waiting for the Lord. Because it is hard. It takes discipline. Focus. The other great idol related to this is sex.
“We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” (Numbers 25:9). Sexual immorality was not less rampant then as it is now. Entertainment and sexuality were the distractions of the age in Corinth. Drawing Christians away from those things that really mattered. O dear church, hear the warning – and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. That’s just a little less than the entire student body at Stellenbosch. All dead because of sexual immorality. Moses said that all that death happened for your sake — a spear through a stomach, a plague wiping out thousands — so that you and I would feel the awful offense of sexual sin and flee from it. Do you feel the weight of the awfulness of sin? Today is the day to repent!
The problem of getting up to play, sexual immorality, and putting Christ to the test, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents.” Moses tells the story, “From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses…” (Numbers 21:4–5).
How would you do on that long, hard road from Egypt to Canaan? Does your life feel like that some days (or months, or years)? Walking through a desert? The Bible often places the church in that context on the way to the promised land. God had saved Israel from cruel and violent slavery. And He promised to bring them into their own land of safety and prosperity. But they could not wait.
How did God respond to their impatience? He sent poisonous snakes into the camp, and many died (Numbers 21:6). They repented (Numbers 21:7). Having been rescued by God from never-ending judgment and destruction, are we willing to wait another week, another year, or another ten years for Him to answer our prayers?
“Or grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer.” Dear church, I think complaining and discontentedness is rampant in our culture. No one is ever content. People want more. They want better. They desire not God but self. Their complaining hearts show them to be self-focused and more concerned with their own desires than God’s glory – the same issues causing trouble with the Corinthian Christians, who will not yield their right to eat meat sacrificed to idols for the sake of another brother.
They were living for themselves. They didn’t want to give up the meat sacrificed to idols but were willing to destroy their brothers and sisters so that they could have their rights. In an age of rights, we are rarely talking about sacrificing those rights. In fact talking like that can make you look weak.
In a world filled with complainers, people that are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10) will shine brightly and garner attention for the glory of their Provider and Keeper in heaven.
These were written for us! Are we reading these stories and meditating not just on how they proclaim the grace of Christ in not destroying the whole nation, but the justice and righteousness of our King? Let us not think we are safe just because we are members of this church, receive the preaching, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. He saves us to holiness. The gospel gives us different desires. So that we no longer desire evil but holiness. But do we also take the warning seriously when it says, “But with most of them god was not pleased.”
Take heed lest you stand (12-13)
These are an example to us on whom the end of the ages has come! The future has broken into the present! But dear church, listen carefully, it is not those who struggle, or who understand their own weakness that Paul is worried about. It is the self-assured, confident, self-reliant. Those that think it’s enough to be a part of something rather than being someone. Being part of a church rather than being a living member. You see, you never ever stop living from total and absolute grace. This means you never become less dependent. You only realize your dependency more as you grow in the Christian life. And with your realization of this you will grow in thankfulness and humility.
“Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Temptation works like rocks in a harbor; when the tide is low, everybody sees the danger and avoids it. But Satan’s strategy in temptation is to raise the tide, and to cover over the dangers of temptation. Then he likes to crash you upon the covered rocks. If you think that you are safe, stop it. On this side of heaven, you are not safe. Your enemies hate you with an absolute hatred, and will do anything to dim the light of the glory of Jesus Christ which shines through you.
You want to know how to discern if you are one of those who thinks they are standing, rather than living in humble dependence, look at your prayer life. A shallow prayer life generally means that there is no understanding of how unsafe you are without the strength of the Lord. Your prayer life betrays your true dependance on God. Another way to discern if you are one of those who think you are standing rather than falling is by looking at your attitude. Do you see others sins quicker than your own? Are you a grateful and thankful person? Because a grateful and thankful person knows without the Giver of all that is good there is nothing. The people of Israel grumbled. Why? Because they were entitled. It was about them. Dear church, know that God is there for you – go to Him in humility and dependence.
First Paul talks to the arrogant, those who think they stand. Now he goes on to address the fearful. For both need to live in greater dependance and not make it about themselves. Here the question is not confidence in standing, but afraid of falling. Temptation is a routine part of life. Our desire to sin can sometimes feel so much more powerful than our desire to do what is right before God. What if we cannot resist? What if, as some suggest, God puts us in a position where resistance is impossible: a scenario where we have no real choice, other than to sin? Or, at least, no hope of resisting the temptation?
In response to that kind of fear, the Bible offers reassurance: overcoming any given temptation is entirely possible. That is true for every Christian.
First, Paul points out that none of us are uniquely tempted by sin, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”
In a sense that our desire to sin, whatever unique form it takes for us, is common and ordinary. It has been experienced by countless others down through the generations. We are no more or less subject to temptation than those who came before us or walk alongside us. The experience of human temptation is part of what makes Christ's relationship to us one of trust and hope (Heb. 4:14–16). You see, when we think our temptation is unique and you are fighting alone, you will not reach out for help. You will feel alone. But we all struggle. We all sin. We are all tempted. Don’t make it about how hard it is for you. Make it about confession, prayer, and community.
Second, he says, “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.” Notice 2 things, he is not talking about trials in general – like suffering or death – but of temptation. So, to say God will not give you more than you can handle, is simply not true. But He won’t give you more then He can handle!
And that leads us to the second thing to notice, it is God who decides the strength of the temptation and He is the One that provides the way out. This is a huge comfort for the children of God – behind those temptations that seem so strong, so inevitable, stands a Sovereign that makes sure that temptation is not beyond your ability and on top of that also provides a way out. This means you don’t need to find your way out. Your way out will be the wrong way out and will lead to you either giving into that temptation or becoming self-righteous. But when you fall on your knees and pray then you will realize that even temptation is in the hand of God to make you grow in humility and dependance upon him.
War takes perseverance, and that is why Paul says, “So that you may be able to endure it.” You do not defeat sin in a day. It will keep coming, you must keep your eyes on God. This is not about trying harder, but growing in deeper dependance on grace – on Gods power and promise – and running to Him away from Sin!
“Therefore, my beloved, flee all idolatry.” Our hope is in Christ alone. We can’t think we stand. It’s not about us, but about Him. Not our strength, but his strength. Not self-love, but love for Him and others. Not about this present evil age, but about living for the kingdom of God. The first question always is will this glorify God.
“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” (1 Cor. 10:14). He says it at the beginning of the paragraph (1 Cor. 10:7) and at the end (1 Cor. 10:14). We learned from Israel in Exodus and Numbers that idolatry can be entertaining. That it can allure and entice you. That it can make you impatient and unhappy. And that it can kill you. Flee from it and run to God.
God is faithful. He stands ready to walk with you and keep you through every circumstance and inconvenience. He doesn’t just stand nearby watching to see what you will do, but promises to provide a way out of temptation and into the joy of being made like Him. He creates the way of escape and waits to reward us with more of himself. He is enough.