We started the study of "meat sacrificed to idols" back in chapter 8. We established that we have Christian liberty. And meat sacrificed to idols was just nothing more than meat, no better, no worse than any other meat. God didn't think less of you for not eating, nor would He think more of you for not eating. Remember, your standing with God isn't based on your goodness or performance, but on the shed blood of Christ.
Our liberty allows us to do many things without concern, but if those things cause a problem to others, interfere with their ability to see God or hear the gospel, or stumble them, then that very liberty could be sin. Paul turns this conversation away from a question about how something affects 'me' and asks the believer to focus on others. Because God has gone to such lengths so that we could experience His saving grace, we ought to also Go to great lengths to point others to that same saving grace. That sounds like a burden to many. Maybe we should look at it as our great joy to be able to share such a thing. So, we can draw two principals from chapter 8.
1.An idol is nothing.
2.Love is more imporant than knowledge.
Paul uses these principals to launch into another conversation in chapter 9; one that continues to move the focus away from 'me' and instead, toward those around me. Like the runner who was temperate to run the race to win the price, we too should be temperate in our race. A race was for a earthly crown, the race we are running is for eternal things and heavenly crowns. This temperance was Paul speaking of training the inner man to rule the flesh. Paul trained to run the race of his life as marked out by the Lord. That included living the temperate life; willing to give up whatever made sense in his pursuit of the crown. He was willingly walking in sacrifice, so as not to be disqualified from the prize.
Paul wanted the strong Christian to understand this so that they would have a ministry to the weak Christian. He wanted those who were strong to understand the balance of knowledge and love so they could help the weak folks along and help them to grow in their faith. So as we you read chapter ten, Paul is addressing the stronger Christians. He gives some warnings to these 'strong' Christians so they understand they are not so strong as to be immune from trouble.
1 Corinthians 10:1-4
Paul wanted to make sure they knew their forefathers had made mistakes similar to what they were making. Their forefathers had taken advantage of their liberties and freedoms and in doing so they had fallen. They were disqualified. Remember Paul ended last chapter saying we sometimes have to give up some stuff when we run our race so we don't become disqualified. These forefathers had become disqualified by their actions.
This Church in Corinth is a gentile church but there were Jews there also. Paul isn't just speaking to the Jews. The forefathers were the forefathers of Israel but also forefathers of the faith. This is a lesson to all believers not just Jews. The lesson is to learn from their mistakes. What was the mistake?
All the Jews were under the cloud when they came out of Egypt; this is the Exodus. The cloud was the Shekinah; this is the cloud of the presence of God. This cloud was their protection by day. It was the glory of the Lord protecting them from the heat and harsh sun of the day. Then at night, the Shekinah was a pillar of fire lighting their way and guarding them.
This cloud led them to the sea and they were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. This baptism into Moses was identification and commitment to him as their representative. The sea opened up and they passed through and then the sea closed on the Egyptians. The same way that brought life, liberty and freedom to Israel brought death and judgment to Egyptians. Great bodies of water were frightening, uncontrollable and unknown entities to folks in that day. They were deep and foreboding and represented death. The 'passing throught he waters' was passing through death and surviving. For those that passed through, this was no small thing. When they passed through the waters at Moses direction, they were under the leadership of Moses. There was no turning back. It was a new life now, the old had passed away. The new was before them and Moses was leading them there.
God showed his love for these people by providing them spiritual food and drink. They all ate and drank in the same manner. Verse 3 said, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. It's interesting that some Rabbis used to teach the Israelites had an actual Rock they carried with them throughout the wilderness travels. That's not what Paul is teaching. The spiritual Rock is Jesus Christ; He is God the son before he was born in a manger. He was there with the Israelites. He was their spiritual food and drink. He's the same spiritual food and drink the Corinthians had, the same we have.
So we can see that the Israelites all were offered this great offer. All were given this opportunity to new life and new freedom. Every one of them had the same gifts given by God. All were baptized under the leadership of God's representative. Yet……
1 Corinthians 10:5
The nation of Israel came out of Egypt under the direction of God. The trip to the Promised Land could be measured in days or a few weeks at most. However, the Israelites exercised their freedom and their liberty. The Lord brought them out and offered them freedom and they used their freedom to rebel against Him. The Israelites failed to believe God's promise regarding the Promised Land. They were instructed to go take the land, it was theirs. But they didn't believe. Instead they decided to send in spies. They decided they weren't sure God knew what he was doing, so they decided to check it out first.
The twelve spies went into the land and when they came back ten of them had the same story. There were giants in the land and they were great armies and although the land was good the news was bad. The Israelites would be crushed if they tried to go in there. Only Joshua and Caleb gave a good report. They reported exactly what God had said. It was a good land flowing with milk and honey. God had given it to them, they were ready to go and take it.
Because of the unbelief the Israelites wandered the wilderness for 40 years. Caleb and Joshua were the only two adults that came out of Egypt that entered into the land. Regardless of the great advantage given to all the people, God wasn't pleased with most of them. In fact, God wasn't pleased with hardly any of them. God's displeasure left many of their bodies scattered in the wilderness. Even though they were all under this cloud of protection from the beginning and they were under the care of God and they were given their food and drink. They still made bad decisions. They exercised their freedom to rebel against the direction God had given them. They used their freedom to turn away from the one who gave it to them.
They were all under God's protection and guidance and yet they messed up. That protection and guidance is there and available but it doesn't keep us from messing up unless we follow it. The mere presence and privilege of God's guidance isn't a guarantee of success. They had left bondage but never arrived at the Promised Land. How many of us are wandering around the wilderness because we've failed to be in serious pursuit of the God who brought us out of bondage.
There are many ways we could frame up the lesson Paul wants the Corinthians (and us) to learn from the mistake of our spiritual fathers. Let's state it this way:
- A good start doesn't necessarily guarantee a good finish.
In this lesson, we can see the encouragement of a diligent and focused attention toward our relationship with Christ. He's given us the promises and every advantage, but this in and of itself don't guarantee success.
1 Corinthians 10:6-9
You can see where Paul is going with this. He's been through a whole list of things these Corinthian saints were doing wrong and we're just on chapter 10. He's not done with them yet. If these saints thought since they were saved by grace they could somehow do no wrong, Paul's going to show them they are drastically wrong.
All of these things are recorded, Paul said, so the saints can learn from them. These things were examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things. We can't just wave it off. "Awe, that can't happen to me."
None of those people got up in the morning and said, "Let's go do evil things." No, they did what came natural to them. They relied on themselves and relied on the things of their sinful nature. The New American Standard bible says they 'Craved evil' and the King James bible says they 'lusted after it'. This is what set them on the wrong path and what drove them to do evil things.
We know the Israelites fell into idol worship. They were barely out of Egypt when Moses went up the mountain. In no time at all they had made for themselves a golden calf. They called for a great feast and at the end of the feast a time of play. The 'play' is a euphemism for a drunken sexual orgy.
Exodus says that three thousand died when the Levites put some of these idolaters to the sword. Paul said 'we should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died." When Moses came off the mountain he told those people who followed the lord to separate themselves from the idolaters. They did and then the Levites killed the 3000 people. After Moses returned to the mountain and spoke to the Lord, the Lord killed the other idolaters. Apparently there were another 20,000 among them, for a total tally of 23000 for that incident.
Then in Numbers 21 the Israelites were worried about themselves and grumbling against the Lord. "Have your brought us out here to die? We're thirsty, we're hungry, we miss Egypt." God sent fiery serpents among them and anyone bitten by the serpents died. When the people repented they went to Moses and the Lord provided relief. He commanded a brass serpent be made and put on a pole. Anyone bitten by a serpent could look to the brass serpent on the pole and live. Why did God do that? Why didn't he just cure them and make the snakes go away? Because these things are an example: and this is a picture of Jesus Christ.
Snakes or serpents in the bible represent sin. Brass is a symbol of judgment. The serpent on the pole was sin judged. Those bitten by the serpent, those whose life was threatened by sin could look at the serpent on the pole. It was a picture of sin judged.
This is what John was referring to in John chapter 3:
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus took sin to the cross. All who look to him; all who trust in that work on the cross will have eternal life. When we realize we are dying from sin, we looked to the cross and trust that our sin was judged there and that judgment won't fall on us.
The same nature that drove the Israelite Fathers to sin in the wilderness existed in the Corinthians. They were lusting after the things that they had the freedom to do. This meat offered to idols was such a good deal and they lusted after it. They wanted the meat bad enough that they ignored the fact that it could stumble someone else. They failed in love toward their brother that was bothered by it.
And meat offered to idols was just one example of this. We could look at the other things going on in the church and see that Paul could have used them to make the same point. Think of the sexual immorality of chapter five. They were using their liberty in the Lord to sin and ignore sin. They had failed in their love for the Lord and their love for each other because they loved their sin!!
1 Corinthians 10:10
The Israelite examples of old were saved out of bondage; they started well but finished poorly. They fell short of going into their promise. To use our liberty to rebel and grumble against God is to test the Lord. Testing the Lord brought death; death by grumbling! Death by rebellion!
We shouldn't test God's tolerance for sin. We shouldn't grumble as they did. Look, if it happened to the Israelites, and it could happen in Corinth, then it can happen to us. This warning is for you! The destroying angel is the angel that killed all the firstborn in Egypt. and 70,000 men were killed because of David's census in 2 Samuel 24; and 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were killed as they besieged Jerusalem.
Paul's point to the Saints of Corinth was that they were just as capable of these sins as those of Israel. These sins were the result of being self centered instead of Christ centered. In fact, the news from Corinth was that things weren't going all that well. They were struggling with quite a few things of the world and their ability to demand their right to eat this meat offered to idols was just one on a list of many.
All these things came on the heels of the living God showing Himself strong and mighty. After all God had done, still the people weren't happy so they chose their way.
The lesson from the example seems to be that a good beginning with God doesn't necessarily guarantee a good ending. There were several thousand that started on the right path but their ending wasn't what they wanted it to be. Paul says to those in Corinth and us, it can happen to you.
1 Corinthians 10:11
We are to look at these things as examples and learn from them. We will be held to a higher responsibility because we have knowledge of how God dealt with Israel when they made these mistakes. We have examples to look at to learn how God feels about things. Sometimes we look at these things and say, "Whew, I'm glad God doesn't deal with us like he dealt with the Jews when they grumbled!" Who says we won't be dealt with in that way?
That's Paul's warning, Jesus was right there dealing with the Israelites. He was their Spiritual food and drink. Sometimes we get this thought that God was mean in the Old Testament and Jesus was this more reasonable and understanding God in the New Testament. We think since we have Jesus we can grumble.
Jesus is God, He always was, He was Jesus then, He was Jesus in Corinth and He's still Jesus today. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. So, who says we aren't being dealt with right now over similar things? I bet we are dealt with much more than we imagine, in ways we don't realize. We just chalk things up to bad luck, coincidence, accident and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I bet they did it back in Moses' time also. Some probably called it bad luck standing near that fault line and the earth opening up and swallowing thousands of men. Or they said it was just coincidence that the snakes bit those people. It must have been the power of positive thinking when they got healed looking at the serpent on the pole lifted up. The explanations sound goofy when we look back and know it was God. What explanations do we use?
1 Corinthians 10:12-13
The store clerk watched a little boy in the candy aisle. The boy looked at the candy; then he looked up and down the aisle and then back at the candy. He'd start to pick something up but never did. Finally, the clerk rounded the corner and said to the boy, "It looks you're trying to take some candy." The boy said, "no, sir, you are wrong, I'm trying awfully hard not to take it."
The boy recognized the presence of the temptation and he was resisting it. Temptation itself is not a sin. Yet, Satan many times condemns us for the temptation. This is condemnation we shouldn't accept. Temptation happens to all of us in various ways.
The people of Corinth thought they were standing firm. They thought they couldn't be tempted. They may have thought they were way too spiritual to fall to temptation. Even the little boy recognized temptation and knew it had to be resisted. If you think you are beyond it and you're not looking for it, you won't recognize it when it is sinking its claws in you.
The Corinthians would be tempted so they needed to be ready; to be on guard and watch for it. Yet, when it came, they would have no temptation except what is common to man. Their temptation was just like everyone else's. It would not somehow be worse than others.
This kept them from saying, "Yea we sinned but only because our temptation was way beyond what normal people are tempted with." No, we are all tempted in a common fashion. With all these common temptations God is faithful. He won't allow temptation beyond what we can bear and He always gives us a way out. The picture of this word for 'a way out' is a narrow pass through the mountains. The way out may not necessarily be the easy way, but the way He will provide will allow you to stand up to it. You may not be able to withstand the mountain but you can make your way through the narrow pass. He will give us strength to endure or show us the way out. The trick is to know you are susceptible to these temptations and be looking for that way out. That's where the Corinthians were failing.
1 Corinthians 10:14-16
Remember the specific matter at hand was this meat offered to idols. Some of the Corinthians were eating this meat. Remember they had the knowledge that these idols were nothing. There is only one God and these idols had no power over them. So, they thought they were standing firm, unable to be tempted.
Paul said they shouldn't be so sure. In fact, Paul seems to be telling them they can be sure they will be tempted. Some of the Corinthian Christians were going right to these pagan temples and eating this meat offered to idols. Paul said they shouldn't invite temptation; they should flee from this idolatry not flirt with it. Paul challenges these men who believed them selves to be wise. As Christians in fellowship, the cup they drink from and the bread they break together were done in fellowship under the banner of Jesus Christ. They were many, one body together showing their fellowship by taking the bread and cup together.
In their wisdom, Paul asked them if they didn't see that by sitting down and eating and drinking at a table of pagan temple with those who worshiped demons they too were joining in fellowship with them. It would be like saying our fellowship dinner is very meaningful to us, as we gather and fellowship and eat together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Then going down the road and sitting down in a satanic temple with those who fellowship together in that manner and saying it has no meaning. Would this not, could this not, appear as rebellion? Allowing this liberty invites tempation that can lead you from the Lord; so why mess around with it. This same principle applies to a thousand different things in our life.
1 Corinthians 10:18-22
The sacrifice offered on the pagan altar was nothing. However, it was offered to demons, not God. We have no business messing around with demons. Paul doesn't want them, or us to be in unity with demons. If you raise a cup and ask God to bless it and it's meaningful to you as the cup of the Lord then, likewise those that raise a cup to a demon make it meaningful also. We can't drink from both cups. Doing so may provoke the Lord to jealousy. That's what got so many Israelites in trouble through the examples that Paul listed.
Some of those in Corinth thought they were strong enough to do such these things. They thought they could flirt with idolatry and not fall to temptation. And, no doubt, we've all thought we were strong enough to resist temptation and at times found we weren't as strong as we thought. You may be strong, but, Paul asks, are we stronger than He?
1 Corinthians 10:23-24
I wonder how many people only remember the "Everything is permissible!" part of this verse. I bet it's like the only verse some guy memorizes……1 Corinthians 10:23a…….. Everything is permissible. Yea, maybe everything is permissible, but why? Where's your heart? Who get's the glory?
The idea isn't that 'Everything is permissible' but thought is seeking out that which is good for others. You can't seek your own good; seek the good of others. That means a temperate life; a life of sacrifice; giving up some things we might enjoy; even though it is permissible because it may not be beneficial or constructive.
If we have things in our life for our sole pleasure or use that are not beneficial, constructive and end up being destructive to others we're tempting God. If there are things like that in our lives we need to address them. We need to deal with them before God does.
1 Corinthians 10:25-30
Again, this seems like Paul has made his point and circled back to where he was in chapter 8. Eat what you want in the market, no big deal. If your invited to a meal, eat, enjoy. The earth is the Lord's…………. the chicken was the Lord's when it was alive and it's the Lord's in the market. However, if someone says to you that the meat was offered to idols it is clear they think it is wrong for you to eat. At that point you should avoid eating for the other's conscience. You can't bring your freedom under judgment because of another's conscience. If nothing is said ……… thank God for it and eat.
1 Corinthians 10:31-33
Here is the summary for the last 3 chapters. If Paul could have just said this first and made them understand he could have saved himself a few pages of parchment. Paul said 'whatever you do' so this isn't just about meat. Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. You can't do something for the glory of God and cause someone to stumble at the same time. The Corinthians had done this and justified their actions with their claims to Christian liberty.
To be done for the glory of God it has to be done so that it harms no one. We should be trying to please everyone in every way; seeking the good of others, not my own good, or my own pleasure. When you think about this and try to apply these lessons to our lives and our culture, I wonder how we deal with this in a world that finds offense in anything that remotely resembles or mentions Jesus. Corinth was a pagan culture with lots of gods but it was more of an 'anything goes' atmosphere. Everyone wasn't running around ready to find offense at the drop of a hat.
We've seen this in our time over and over. Someone prayed in the name of Jesus………a cross was spotted ……… or a T shirt with bible verse was worn to school………or God forbid, the worst of all offenses, the Ten Commandments were on display in a courtroom. We can't have those kinds of standards in our court, someone might feel bad about themselves, says the world.
So how do we put these lessons to work in our lives? Let's read these verses again.
31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. To cause someone to stumble is to put a bump in the road. It causes them to stop or veer from their course. The course we are concerned with is the path that leads to God. The key to the passage is the last verse. Paul said, I'm not doing this for me but for those that might be saved. If the world cries foul and claims we are offensive because we pray to Jesus Christ, we become a stumbling block to them, yes, but not on the road to Christ. We become a bump in the road on the way to hell. That's okay, that's good. We can become a road block then.
To those who are being saved. To the broken hearted, those seeking God from many levels, from many places, they are on the road to salvation. We must never be a stumbling block to them. So all that we do is tested against salvation and bringing the world to Jesus Christ. Are our actions bringing people to salvation or are they keeping them away? The world is always watching. We have to be a good testimony and witness to those that are looking into our lives and looking in the front windows of our church. They are looking for the truth and for answers. They are looking for the God of mercy to wash the sin from their lives even though they don't realize that's what they need.
If I picture my life, the road I'm on I see those along the road showing me the way. They were like road markers showing me the clear path. Showing me where I was and keeping me on that right path; family, friends, mentors, pastors and even a few strangers. I can also look back now and clearly see some of the people who stumbled me. It didn't realize it at the time, nor did they. But they were bumps in the road, trying to knock me off course.
So to those people whose life you affect; your family, church family, co-workers, neighbors, friends, and strangers that wander by. Are we staying out of the road? Are we instead showing them the way? Are we a clear marker in someone else's life, showing them the clear path to Jesus Christ? To Salvation? To forgiveness and to eternal life? Let all that we do be done as a testimony to the saving grace of Jesus Christ so others might find salvation. In that way our lives will bring glory to God.
©2016 Doug Ford