It Isn’t Over … Yet   Leave a comment

The apostle Paul covered a lot of topics in his first letter to the Corinthians. Some subjects are so big, it’s not a good idea to try to address them in one blog post. And, so we continue from where we left off last week.

Image result for image of it's not over until it's overPaul was discussing  how the Christian life is a lot like a race or other sporting event. It required self-discipline, focus and endurance. In a race, it doesn’t matter where you start. Sometimes the future winners start out far back in the  field. Nobody remembers that when  you cross the finish line. Victory is won at the finish line, not in the starting blocks. Furthermore, the Christian life is not a 100-meter dash; it is a marathon that requires endurance and a lifetime commitment to keep running with the intent of finishing strong. Because we are not competing against other Christians, but only on how well we follow God’s guidance for our individual lives, if we have fallen far behind in our Christian race, there is still time to finish well.

Just because you’re saved does not mean you will finish well

Just prior to our subject passage, Paul shared that he strove to keep himself in check because he didn’t want to end up being disqualified from the prize of God’s approval. He followed with a major history lesson, imploring the Corinthians and us to learn from the past. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, 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 were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were cut down in the wilderness. 1 Corinthians 10:1-5

All of God’s people experience great spiritual privileges. The Corinthians had been blessed with the same spiritual blessings as Old Testament Israel. All Christians are blessed with those same blessings. The Israelites that left Egypt were saved and protected as they wandered in the wilderness. They observed Passover, which is an act of faith, then came out of Egypt … a picture of salvation. Paul correlated the Passover Lamb of Exodus 12 with the cross of Christ. The Israelites experienced salvation as a nation – ALL were under the cloud; ALL passed through the sea; ALL were baptized into Moses; ALL ate the same spiritual food; ALL drank the same spiritual drink.

Related imageChristians are heirs to many of the spiritual privileges the Old Testament Israelites experienced.

  • As Israel “was under the cloud”, we experience God’s protection and guidance.
  • As Israel “passed through the sea”, we have “passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
  • As Israel was “baptized into Moses”, Christians have been “baptized into Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
  • As Israel ate of the Passover, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice for us (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).
  • As Israel was “followed” by Christ, Christ follows us (Hebrews 13:5).

Can you honestly say that you are awed by the fact that God saved you? Do you ever pause to wonder that out of all the people in the history of the world, God chose to save you?

Having noted the privileges enjoyed by God’s people, Paul drew a sharp contrast. God was displeased with most of the Israelites. The word “nevertheless” emphatically brings out the contrast between how many were blessed (“all”) versus how many with whom God was not pleased (“most of them”). This declaration is an obvious understatement as over two million Israelites came out of Egypt, yet only two adults (Joshua and Caleb) were allowed to enter the Promised Land. The rest died before Israel was allowed to enter. Tragically disqualified by death, their carcasses literally scattered across the wilderness, Notice that they did not go back to Egypt and get “unredeemed.”  The blood of the Lamb, which had taken them out of Egypt, was irreversible. They did not lose what they had, but they lost the reward God wanted to give them.

Just focus on one individual — Moses. Obviously, Moses was saved, yet on account of unbelief (Numbers 20:12; Jude 5), he did not finish well. If this can happen to Moses, it can happen to you and me. We must humble ourselves and take God’s warning very seriously. 

Many of God’s people experience great spiritual failure.

These things happened as examples for usso that we will not crave evil things as they did. So do not be idolatersas some of them were. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” And let us not be immoralas some of them were, and 23,000 died in a single dayAnd let us not put Christ to the testas some of them didand were destroyed by snakes. And do not complainas some of them didand were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instructionon whom the ends of the ages have come. So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall. No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:6-13

Note the liberal use of “us” Paul brought himself, the Corinthians and all Christians into the story through use of this pronoun..

Related imageThere’s a warning given to “us” collectively as Paul summarized five disqualification stories from the 40 years of wilderness wandering. It is important for us to understand these Old Testament accounts, because all Christians are as accountable as Israel was. “Now these things happened as examples for us so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.” (verse 6) “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (verse 11) Everything between these bracketing comments are lessons drawn from history. Paul wanted us to see ourselves here because there’s a danger that we too might fall into sin like Israel and be disqualified from our reward.

There is a single source for all four of the sins Paul addressed – craving evil things (10:6b). This references an event that took place about a year after the Exodus (Numbers 11). Israel had been given the law, built the tabernacle, and begun to travel when they began to crave these evil things called … fresh vegetables. Yeah, they were fed up with manna, and they wanted to go back to Egypt where there were cucumbers, garlic, and onions. That gets a laugh from most modern audiences, but take a pause and consider it in modern terms. How often are we guilty of “craving” a new car, a larger home, a new partner, a new wardrobe? In light of eternity, these cravings are on par with cucumbers, garlic, and onions. No, really! Consider it! In eternity, what difference will it make what kind of car I drove or how large my home was? What difference will it make how successful I was at my job? Who will ask me what material possessions I provided for my children? Will I even care about those things? Of course, I won’t. I’ll be in paradise and those things won’t matter. Yet, Paul wanted us to know that craving evil things can keep us from finishing well.

Paul focused on four sins and we should pay attention to these because they are so like us..

1) Idolatry: “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.” The idolatry Paul referred to took place during the giving of the law at Mount Sinai (Exodus 32). While Moses spent 40 days on the mountain, the people became fearful and restless. They started to distrust that God even existed, and they asked Aaron to create an alternative god for them. Clay-footed Aaron gave in and created the golden calf. The result was an orgy with eating and drinking. Similarly, the Corinthians were guilty of idolatry through their temple feasts (10:14-22).

For you and me, idolatry is putting anything or anyone in God’s rightful place in our lives. Anything can become an idol, even our Christian experience. Fearful of intimacy with the living God of the universe, some of us try to stay very busy in Christian activity, so we don’t have to deal with Him. Yeah, success in ministry can be an idol. Love relationships in the body of Christ can become an idol. A concern for a healthy self-image can become idolatrous, because we don’t believe that God Himself can be enough. When we demand that our Christian experience and activity give us meaning and purpose, it has become an idol. And, by the way, I struggle with this too.

(2) Immorality: “Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and 23,000 fell in one day.” The Israelites engaged in sexual immorality throughout their wilderness wandering. Further on in the desert, the Israelites participated in one of the Moabites’ religious feasts (Numbers 25:1-9) that involved sexual immorality. One of the Corinthian church members was having an affair with his step-mother (5:1-2), and others had to be commanded to flee sexual immorality (6:18).

The Corinthian church wasn’t the only New Testament church to struggle with sexual immorality and we’re not exempt either … not in thought and action. So here are some ways to guard yourself against sexual morality:

  • Stay honest with your spouse. Even though it may be difficult, tell your spouse when you are struggling with sexual temptation.
  • Monitor your marriage. Beware of child-centered marriages. Invest, first and foremost, in your spouse.
  • Recognize that work can be a danger zone. Baltimore psychologist, Shirley Glass, has studied adultery and has determined that 25% of women and 44% of men have affairs. Of those men and women that do have affairs, the majority of them have their affairs with a coworker.
  • Beware of the lure of the Internet. Use various safeguards to keep yourself from succumbing to on-line sexual sin.
  • Commit to an accountability relationship. Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, has studied 237 instances of Christian leaders who have experienced moral failure. He found one common factor: not one of the 237 had accountability relationships with other men.
  • Spend time in God’s word. All of us have seven days each week and everyone has 96 15-minute periods of time every day. Surely we can find a little time to read God’s word every day.

Sexual immorality can keep us from finishing well. We have seen this again and again in the Christian world.  Persevere in your marriage vows. If you are single, stay pure and wait on God to provide you with a spouse. The consequences can be severe when you take matters into your own hands. However, if you wait on God, He will reward you with a greater sense of intimacy with Him.

3) Testing God: “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.” In Numbers 21, the Israelites tested God by taxing His patience. They continued to complain, even though He faithfully provided for them (21:4-9). His provision of manna and water was inadequate from their point of view, and they despised it (21:5). As a result, God destroyed them with serpents! God does not look kindly on a lack of faith.

The Corinthians had given evidence of being dissatisfied with God’s provision. They were disgruntled with God’s servants (1 Corinthians 1:12). They repulsed God with their sinful arrogance (4:18; 8:1). They indicated dissatisfaction with the Lord’s Supper by participating in pagan feasts (10:14-22). They were divided over class distinctions (11:17-34). We modern Christians can test God in similar ways and risk the chastening hand of God. Paul wanted us to know that idolatry can keep us from finishing well.

4) Grumbling: “Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” The Israelites grumbled throughout their wilderness experience (Exodus 15 through Numbers 17). This sinful behavior began one month after the Exodus. God’s people grumbled incessantly for a period of two years, and then God decreed that all those 20 years old or older would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land. They would be made to wander in the desert until the last rebel was dead (Number 14:26-35).

Paul’s deliberate link with testing God (10:9) demonstrates that grumbling is particularly associated with putting God to the test (Exodus 17:2-3). Specifically, it seems that the episode Paul reflected upon was the Israelites’ grumbling about food. On these occasions, God’s anger was particularly kindled against them (Numbers 11:1; 14:2-4). In Numbers 11:1-3, God sent fire that consumed some of the people on the edge of the camp. As the primary cook in my family, I can appreciate the sentiment.

In Numbers 16, Israel also grumbled against both Moses and Aaron. This resulted in Korah leading a rebellion where nearly 15,000 died. How would you feel if today’s newspaper reported that the military had executed 15,000 people? Suppose the victims were not criminals, foreign agitators, or political radicals, but ordinary citizens who were protesting the way their country was being run. We like to think it can’t happen here, but in Numbers 16 we read that God responded like that to ancient Israel. He took the lives of 15,000 of His chosen people because they were complaining about the way He was caring for them.

This section is marked by the theme of ingratitude for all the blessings that God had given the Israelites. He’d given them His presence, provision, availability and power, but God’s people wanted more. Can you relate? Have you ever thought about the fact that when you grumble and complain, either against God directly or against those to whom He has delegated leadership over you (parents, teachers, pastors, bosses), you are really questioning God’s wisdom, grace, goodness, and righteousness?

I find no evidence for personal guardian angels in Scripture, but I believe various angels are protecting us from spiritual and physical harm. Yet, there comes a time in the lives of certain rebellious believers when God “lifts the shield” and we face a death sentence. Instead of dispatching angels to watch over us, He assigns the destroying angel to take us home to heaven early!

Stand on Firm Ground

Image result for image of no temptation has overcome youThe last two verses of this section (10:12-13) give a wonderful summary that balances warning with hope, encouragement and grace. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” Those who have great beginnings may still fall and ruin the latter days of their lives. The child of God who thinks he has arrived is being set up by the devil to be knocked down. Those on the mountain top are the most vulnerable to attack. The higher you are, the farther the fall. Elijah was on the mountain when he defied the prophets of Baal. The next day he ran across Israel as fast as he could, away from the painted face of Jezebel. He went from one magnificent, climatic victory to dismal defeat. As he sat under a juniper tree, defeated and discouraged. God came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He went from bravery to shrinking cowardice. Are all the breaks going for you? Beware, because defeat could happen to you.

Fortunately, we can choose to avoid disqualification and finish well. Paul closed this passage with these powerful words: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” The Greek word translated “temptation” (peirasmos) can also be translated “testing.” Practically speaking, this term could be translated “temptation and testing.” Every temptation is a test; every test is a temptation.

Temptation is:

Common to every person. There is no temptation that is unique. A literal translation of the Greek would be, “No temptation has seized you that is not human” (anthropinos, i.e., manlike). No one can hide behind the argument that his sin is unique and so he can be excused. It is impossible to be in business and not be tempted to sacrifice people for profit. Government workers can be regularly tempted to forfeit integrity for promotions. A mother of preschoolers will be tempted by this culture’s priorities to think of herself as a victim of her family’s needs. All of these are sins that come as a result of temptation.

 God controls the context of our temptation. We’ve all seen load-limit signs on highways, bridges, and elevators. Knowing that too much strain can cause severe damage or complete collapse, engineers determine the exact amount of stress that various materials can safely endure. Posted warnings tell us not to exceed the maximum load. Human beings also have their load limits, which vary from person to person. Some people can bear the pressure of trial and temptation better than others; yet everyone has a breaking point and can take only so much. In this verse, Paul promised that God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tested or tempted beyond what you are able. Yet, we must draw on God to deliver us. Mother Theresa once said, “I know God won’t give me more than I can handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”

God personally and providentially provides a specific way of escape. The use of the definite article (“the”) with both “temptation” and “way of escape” points to a particular way of escape that is available in each temptation. Paul did not mean there is only one way of escape that is available regardless of the temptation. His point is: Look for the escape route! There is a way out! Overcoming temptation is not a matter of simply sitting down on a sofa with a box of chocolates and telling God to make the way of escape from whatever sin is tempting us. We are responsible to do our part. Paul use of the words “bear,” “stand up,” and “flee” tell us this. Paul wants us to be victorious. He wants us to persevere through our tests and temptations. He is there for us!

Paul told us that we must learn from our fathers—from Israel. We don’t have to repeat their mistakes. We can be obedient to God and finish well. Remember, it doesn’t matter how you begin, it only matters how you end. It’s not over until it’s over

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