By Sam E. Stone
Paul guided the Corinthians to live as a community of believers. In chapter 8 he answered their questions about eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol. In chapter 9 he responded to an inquiry about his apostleship. Paul then warned about the possibility of becoming a “castaway” (9:27, King James Version). Here in chapter 10 he reminded his readers how Israel’s history showed the need for faithful obedience.
Lessons from History
1 Corinthians 10:6-13
When the children of Israel left Egypt, God went before them and over them (Exodus 14:13-31). All of the people participated in God’s deliverance. Just as Christians are baptized when they submit themselves to Christ (Galatians 3:27; Matthew 28:19), so the Israelites gave themselves completely to the leading of Moses as they crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 14:31).
Early in their wilderness travels, however, Paul reminded his readers, Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them (1 Corinthians 10:5). Quite an understatement! There were 603,550 men (Numbers 1:45, 46) included in the all who were “baptized into Moses” (1 Corinthians 10:2), but only two (Joshua and Caleb) actually entered the promised land. These things occurred as examples, Paul declared (v. 6). The Old Testament is actual history, yet it also serves to warn us to resist the temptation to do wrong.
In verses 7-10 Paul listed four types of evil:
• Do not be idolaters, as some of them were. The Israelites worshipped a golden calf (Exodus 32:1-6).
• We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did. This problem existed in Corinth too (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 7:2). Paul reminded them of the account in Numbers 25.
• We should not test Christ. Here he referred to the scene in Numbers 21:4-6 (compare John 3:14, 15). People test God today by seeing how far they can go.
• Do not grumble. Murmuring and complaining were typical responses of the children of Israel (Numbers 14:2, 36; 16:41). Unfortunately, this bad habit did not end in Corinth!
We should learn from their experiences. These are indeed the last days (Acts 2:17; Hebrews 1:2). Christians must stay in the race until they cross the finish line. Apostasy is not only a possibility but, in the case of the Israelites, it was a reality (Proverbs 16:18). No one can claim he or she faces irresistible temptations, however. God . . . will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. This wonderful assurance helps us hang on.
Application of the Lessons
1 Corinthians 10:14-22
Paul spoke plainly: Flee from idolatry. J. W. McGarvey pointed out, “As idolatry had proved to be the mother of sins in Israel, so had it also in Corinth. It was . . . not to be dallied with. If we go to the verge of what is allowable, we make it easy for Satan to draw us over the line into what is sinful.”
Paul described the cup of thanksgiving as a participation in the blood of Christ. He used the Lord’s Supper to declare the danger of flirting with idolatry. Later Paul explained that both participation and identification take place when communion is observed (11:17-34). Tom Friskney noted, “Paul’s point is that after the loaf is broken it is still ‘one bread.’ There is a spiritual oneness with the worshipers.” The Lord’s Supper both springs from unity and creates unity.
The apostle reminded his readers that just as Israel observed Passover, so Christians share a meal of deep significance. Through it they were united with the God of Israel. This makes it even more serious when one who claims to be united with Christ participates in pagan sacrifices that are offered to demons, not to God. One writer observed, “You cannot share yourself with both the Lord and demons.” God shares worship with no one.
Clearly Scripture makes it certain that one cannot sit at the Lord’s table and then sit before meat in an idol’s temple. Friskney concluded, “He could not be both a guest of Christ and a guest of Satan. Identification takes place, and God will brook no rival.”
A weak Christian might reason that he could outwardly partake of both feasts. It is a moral impossibility, however, to do so inwardly and spiritually. Any such attempt arouses God’s jealousy—his passion that comes from wounded love (Exodus 20:5; Isaiah 54:5; Ephesians 5:23-32).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.