June 23, 2010 David Balzer

1 Corinthians 10:1-22: The peril of presuming that privilege precludes punishment

I know a Christian man. , intelligent. Who should know better. And he told me once that he used to go and watch, among other things, – movies. By himself. For educational purposes only.

You see, he was a teacher. With an academic background. And a registered psychologist.

And he argued that it helped him to see what traps young people could fall into. So he could communicate better with them. And help them steer clear of these sorts of problems.

Now, I don’t need to get my leg munched by a shark to be able to warn people that they’re dangerous, and to stay away. Or to be in a severe car to know that drink-driving is stupid.

He thought that as a Christian, he was free to do whatever he liked! He PRESUMED that his self-control was enough to keep him out of trouble. He PRESUMED that there was nothing wrong with his behaviour. And that God’s grace was big enough to cover anything.

I didn’t know WHAT to say when I heard him say this! I was SPEECHLESS! What could I say that would SNAP HIM OUT of such a flippant attitude? Such a blatantly dangerous path?

And Paul’s got a similar problem. How to get the message through to the group of Corinthians who thought they were so , they could join in the feasts in the Pagan temples. Who presumed that because they ALSO ate the Lord’s Supper. (The table of Christian fellowship). They were covered.

But it was FOOLISH presumption. Because God WON’T overlook it. He WILL punish such behaviour. Because it’s just idolatry.

Not freedom. IDOLATRY. Not enlightenment. IDOLATRY. Nothing more. Nothing less.

And Paul points out the peril of thinking this way. THE PERIL OF PRESUMING THAT PRIVILEGE PRECLUDES PUNISHMENT.

And he does it by giving a HISTORY LESSON. About Israel. How she had SO MANY PRIVILEGES. And yet, in the end, MOST Jews missed out. And he wants them to learn the lesson from history.

1. Israel’s privileges (1-4)

And he starts off by reminding them of Israel’s PRIVILEGES. All the great things God had GIVEN them. And DONE FOR them. He focusses on the Exodus. When God saved them from Egypt. Verse 1

(1 Cor 10:1-4 NIV)  For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. {2} They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. {3} They all ate the same spiritual food {4} and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

All sorts of privileges. But there’s some funny language there, isn’t there? Baptised into Moses. Ate spiritual food. Drank spiritual drink. Drank from the rock who was Christ. What’s going on here?

Remember that Paul’s aim is to teach us a lesson from history. And to do that, we need to RECOGNISE OURSELVES in history. To see how we’re the SAME as them.

Paul’s point? Israel had PRIVILEGES. They received a SORT of baptism. Like YOU AND I were baptised.

But instead of being baptised into Christ, like we were. They were baptised into MOSES. In a sense, as they walked through the Red Sea, they COMMITTED THEMSELVES to following Moses.

As they turned their back on Egypt, and turned their face towards the Promised Land, they were making a fresh start. In a sense, they were born again. The old was gone, the new was here. And it’s all God’s doing. And that’s exactly what goes on in baptism.

Paul not trying to make a big theological point about baptism. It’s only to draw the parallel. Israel received a privilege from God. Just like you.

But not just baptism. What about the FOOD AND DRINK God provided? Manna and water. Spiritual or SUPER food and drink. Super ly-provided.

I think Paul’s point is it’s a bit like the spiritual food and drink of the LORD’S SUPPER. Physical things. But with a spiritual background. Or a spiritual origin. God’s gracious provision. A privilege.

And it’s privilege that comes through Christ. Just like it does to the Corinthians. That’s why he brings in Christ in v4. To continue the parallel. Israel drank from the blessings that Christ provides. God’s grace towards Israel is because of Christ’s . Even though all of this happened BEFORE Christ.

God counted Christ’s as the acceptable punishment for ALL sin. Through ALL TIME. Not just after.

Paul’s argument? If you think you’re privileged, or protected, because of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Think again. Because Israel had just the same sort of privileges! And look what happened to them!

2. Israel’s presumption and punishment (5-10)

That’s his second point. Israel was punished. They presumed on God’s goodness. All that privilege. Surely God’s not going to destroy us! But Paul reminds us. Verse 5.

(1 Cor 10:5 NIV)  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

“Learn the lesson from history” says Paul. Verse 6

(1 Cor 10:6-7 NIV)  Now these things occurred as EXAMPLES to keep US from setting OUR hearts on evil things 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 got up to indulge in pagan revelry.”

Idolatry is the key sin. It’s the focus of Paul’s attention. And he launches into a gruesome description of Israel’s failures. The sort of things that happen when you commit idolatry. When you SUBSTITUTE God for ANYTHING ELSE. Verse 8.

(1 Cor 10:8-10 NIV)  We should not commit UAL IMMORALITY, as some of them did–and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. {9} We should not TEST THE LORD, as some of them did–and were killed by snakes. {10} And DO NOT GRUMBLE, as some of them did–and were killed by the destroying angel.

It’s not pretty reading here. But it’s REALLY hideous if you go back and read the full accounts in Numbers, or in Exodus. God had done so much for them, but nothing was good enough for Israel. And so they gave him the boot. That’s idolatry!

And once you kick God off the throne, it’s open slather. There’s no king. So there’s no rules. There’s no rules, so there’s no boundaries. . Idolatry, ual immorality, testing God, grumbling.

God is put to the test. And what’s his solution? Idolatry leads to punishment.

Verse 5. Their bodies were scattered over the desert.

Verse 8. Twenty three thousand from plague.

Verse 9. Killed by snakes.

Verse 10, Killed by the destroying angel.

3. Learning from history (11-22)

Paul doesn’t pull any punches in his description. He lays it all on the table. Because he wants the Corinthians to LEARN THE LESSON FROM HISTORY. The peril of presuming that privilege precludes punishment. And so he says it again. Verse 11.

(1 Cor 10:11 NIV)  These things happened to THEM as examples and were written down as warnings FOR US, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.

The fulfillment. The completion. The culmination. All of God’s plans are directed to this point. Living in the time after Jesus. This is the central, critical period of history. And that’s where WE are!

It all happened as a warning to US. And what’s the warning? Verse 12. Don’t presume.

(1 Cor 10:12 NIV)  So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

Notice how Paul zooms in. From the Israelites/ to “us”. That is ALL Christians. And then from “us” to “you”. The individual Christian. “These were warnings to US. So if YOU think you’re standing firm, be careful YOU don’t fall.”

You individual Christian. You can’t hide behind the rest of the group. You can’t get lost in the crowd. You can’t trust the privileges of the group. Look at yourself. Be careful YOU don’t fall.

Because ALL Israel enjoyed the privileges. They were ALL under the cloud. All baptized. All ate. All drank.

But, in the end, it wasn’t a package deal. It wasn’t one in, all in. Because individuals sinned. And individuals were punished.

So Paul’s word goes to INDIVIDUALS. And that’s a word to YOU. To you, Jeff. To you, Rob. To you, Shelley. To you, Dave. If you think you’re standing firm. If you think you’ve got that particular sin just about beaten. If you think you’ve finally grown up, and jealousy, or anger, or impatience, or , doesn’t trouble you any longer. Be careful you don’t fall.

Don’t trust in your OWN strength. Or maturity. Or bible knowledge. Or upbringing. Or possessions. Or theological pedigree. Or group memberships. Or denomination. Or positions of responsibility.

Don’t take what you HAVE, or where you ARE, for granted. Don’t PRESUME that your privileges will save you.

That’s the history lesson.

Instead, Paul says. Look to God. He’s the key to not falling. Throw yourself on him. He is faithful. Verse 13. And when TEMPTATIONS TO SIN come. Or TRIALS AND HARD-TIMES knock you off your feet, (the word for “temptation” can be either temptations OR trials)

Don’t just throw in the towel. Because what’s happening to you is nothing new. Everyone’s gone through something similar.

But God is faithful, he doesn’t change. You can trust him. Whatever happens, it won’t be more than you can bear. There’ll always be a way out. A way to resist the temptation. A way to make it through the tough times. An escape hatch.

And whether it be temptations OR trials. The WAY OUT often seems to be THE CHURCH. It’s people in this church who can help you if you’re being tempted to slip away from Jesus. Who can pray with you, and keep you accountable. Who can warn you about the danger of what you’re doing. Sin is serious stuff. Look at what happened to Israel.

And it’s people in this church who can help you if you’re going through some sort of ORDEAL. It might be sickness, or a marriage breakup, or unemployment. We can be the escape hatch that lets you make it through in one piece.

I was talking to Andrea Lazarus during the week. She was telling me about a conversation she’d had with her doctor. A doctor who wasn’t a Christian, but knew her history of abuse. Chronic illness. Child welfare problems. A doctor who’d supervised fortnightly tests for DOCS so Andrea could keep her kids.

And the doctor said, “Andrea, why are you a Christian?”

And Andrea said, “If it wasn’t for God, and for my church, I’d be . Six foot under.”

This church has been that escape hatch for Andrea. God provided us for Andrea/ so she could stand up under her trials. Practical, loving, real, prayerful support. Let’s make sure we keep doing that.

So Paul’s first warning is a general one. Not really specific. Don’t presume that you can remain. Whatever your temptation, or trial. Be careful you don’t fall. Look to God for the way out. Stand firm.

But his second warning is more specific. And it really zooms in on the situation at Corinth. Verses 14-22. He gets back to the topic of food sacrificed to idols. He’s already talked about it back in Ch 8.

But rather than being about buying meat, or eating it at a friends house. This time he’s talking about actually PARTICIPATING in the pagan sacrifices.

And Paul warns them that it’s not on. Anyway you look at it, it’s nothing more than idolatry. Verse 14.

(1 Cor 10:14 NIV)  Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.

And then he proves it. He gives them an argument to follow. And it’s based on what happens at the Lord’s Supper. Verse 15.

(1 Cor 10:15-17 NIV)  I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. {16} Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a PARTICIPATION in the of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a PARTICIPATION in the body of Christ? {17} Because there is one loaf, WE, WHO ARE MANY, ARE ONE BODY, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Paul’s making two points. When we eat the Lord’s Supper, we participate in the body and of Jesus. What he’s probably getting at is that we participate in what Jesus’ ACHIEVES. Our eating and drinking is a sign that we accept the life that God offers us through Jesus. In that sense, we participate in his body and .

The second point Paul makes is that our eating the one loaf/ is a sign that we’re all part of the one body. We’re joined to EACH OTHER because we’re all joined to CHRIST.

Participate with CHRIST. Participate with EACH OTHER. It’s where we get the word “communion” from. Communion is just an old way of saying “participation”. Same word as “fellowship”.

And so Paul’s point is/ when you eat and drink the Lord’s Supper/ you’re not just doing something physical. There’s something spiritual. Something significant going on.

And it’s the same with the sacrifices for Israel. Verse 18. When the people ate part of the sacrifice, they participated together in the worship. The eating was a SPIRITUAL ACT. It was worship.

Now he goes for the throat.

It’s exactly the same when SOME OF YOU eat the meat during the pagan sacrifices. You’re participating in WORSHIP. And that’s idolatry.

Verse 19. Yeah, it’s true there’s only one God. But it’s not GODS that are behind the idols. But DEMONS. Satan’s henchmen. Steering people away from the TRUE God. And that makes eating in the temple a SPIRITUAL thing. Verse 19.

(1 Cor 10:19-20 NIV)  Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? {20} No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.

PARTICIPANTS with demons. It’s the same word as before. When you eat the Lord’s Supper you participate in Christ. When you eat at the table of demons you participate in demons. Fellowship with them.

And Paul says you can’t do both. Verse 21

(1 Cor 10:21 NIV)  You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.

Because you’re joined to GOD’s people, you can’t be joined to demons as well. It’s not physically, or logically, or spiritually possible.

It’s like being a double-agent in a war. Pretending to help ONE SIDE, but secretly helping the OTHER side. You might LOOK like you’re part of both sides. But you can really only be on ONE SIDE.

You’re either on God’s side. In which case you can eat with non-Christians. And witness to them. But don’t get caught up in their worship.

Or your NOT on God’s side. And you worship with pagans. And you only LOOK like you’re fellowshipping with Christians. But it’s only an act.

You can’t do both. It’s thinking you’re stronger than God. Verse 22. It’s presuming YOU set the rules rather than him. It’s presuming that your privileges will prevent punishment.

And God won’t stand for it. Because he’s a jealous God. He hasn’t changed from the Old Testament. He’s still the same.


So how does this affect us in Australia today? In some ways, it doesn’t. Idols aren’t a big part of our life. But imagine if you were a Christian in Africa, or New Guinea, or parts of Asia. Or even an Aboriginal Christian. Where idols, and the local religion, were still a huge part of the whole lifestyle. Where all your feasts were still tied up in religion.

Paul’s message is steer clear of it. It’s not freedom. It’s idolatry. It’s participating with demons.

Astrology is HUGELY popular. There seems to be a power there. An accuracy at prediction. It’s fascinating. It draws people in. It draws them away from the TRUE God. Just the sort of thing DEMONS would love to do.

Or crystals. Some people swear by their healing properties. Just the sort of thing demons would love to do to turn people away. To distract them from the REAL God who gives TRUE healing.

Or spirit guides. Or astral travel.

Or Aboriginal Spirituality. Helen was telling us about an Aboriginal studies tour she was on. Looking at rock carvings, and sacred sites. They were asked to touch a special sacred rock, and to feel the power that was there. Many of the other people – non-Aboriginal – said they felt a range of different emotions. Some shook. Some felt warm. Some described it as a sort of power. Helen said she felt sick. And revolted.

Perhaps the lesson for us/ is not to MINIMISE THE DEMONIC. Don’t presume everything’s harmless. Not to jump on the politically-correct anthropological bandwagon. And whitewash Aboriginal spirituality as morally neutral. Don’t deny the spiritual side.

The same with astrology. Or crystals.

There’s a mistake to make as Western Christians. We see so little of the miraculous, or the spiritual. That we almost assume the world isn’t a spiritual place anymore. Or even if it is, it’s only about God’s Spirit. And anything else is superstitious mumbo-jumbo.

That’s the mistake of these Corinthian Christians.

But at the same time we mustn’t elevate it above its place. Some Christians seem to be more pre-occupied with demon-hunting than they are with God. Scared that the battle is finely-balanced. The final outcome is still undecided. That good might lose.

We need to remember that we’re not battling REAL gods. Because there’s only ONE God. Satan’s demonic forces are defeated. Christ defeated them on the cross. And so their days are numbered. And their on the losing side.

Colossians 2:15 says that God DISARMED THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES. He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Don’t OVER-emphasise them. But don’t IGNORE them. Don’t ignore the spiritual dimension to some of the things of life. Don’t presume.

And that’s really the specific application of Paul’s big point. If you think you’re standing firm. Be careful you don’t fall.

Learn the lesson of history. Don’t presume that all your privilege will protect you from punishment.

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