Beware, The Voice of Old Testament History
(I Cor. 10:1-6)
Paul re-broadcasts the voice of Old Testament history for our benefit, that is for our warning, admonition and instruction. They who are sincere will take it to heart, others will disregard it. By the trail of dead men’s bones you can trace the path of the disobedient through the desert. How real are those dead bodies scattered across the desert. Paul makes those dead bodies speak. They tell the story of the Israelites, in the peculiar and favored position of living under the Word and the Sacraments and meanwhile lusting after world-conformity. Calvin says: “on their abusing their privileges they did not escape the judgment of God. Be afraid, for the same thing is impending over you.” The Corinthians were surrounded by idolatry and idolatrous practices. Paul uses Israel’s history to warn and instruct the brethren.
Paul speaks in all these verses of the FATHERS. And they were the fathers whose dead bodies were scattered along the burning sands (vs. 5). He speaks of them as fathers in a wide, national sense as heads of the covenant generation. (Cf. Acts 22:1 and often). The Jews to whom Paul writes in Corinth are children of these fathers, and in a sense we are too. If that happened to the fathers, don’t boast as if it could not happen to the children. It will if they walk as their fathers walked. God remains unchangeable.
Paul emphasizes the word ALL. Nationally they all had in common that they had contact with the things of Christ, for they ate of the Manna and they drank of water from the rock. What nation was there like Israel who had God living so close to them? All were under the cloud (Ex. 13:21, Nu. 9:15, Deut. 1:33, etc.) that is, they were all under the sheltering position of the presence of God. All passed through the Red Sea and thus they were led out of Egypt and were headed toward Canaan. All were baptized unto (into) Moses and by that passing through the Sea and by dwelling under the cloud they were nationally attached to the Mediator of the Old Testament. Moses led them. Moses prayed for them. Moses pointed them to the Christ. What a peculiar and responsible position they held. They all ate angel’s food which the Lord sent them six days per week. They all drank from the rock. Christ Himself was the Rock and the demonstration of Christ’s presence followed them through all the desert wanderings.
Hence Israel as a nation had the peculiar privilege of being in constant contact with the things of Christ. Something of which we are reminded in Heb. 6:4-6, Jude 5 as well as Romans 3:1-2. Never a day went by or they had to confess: Christ is all around us.
And how did they conduct themselves amid such covenantal demonstrations?
Vs. 5 tells us. “With the greater part of them God was not well pleased” (cf the Dutch translation). And God showed His anger by scattering their dead bodies along the desert path. Do not say now that God’s Word or Promise has failed, for Romans 9 will convince you that behind these scenes we have election and reprobation, and the election has obtained it. It is beside the point to argue that all had grace and all partook of Christ, for “the sacraments are connected with the thing signified, nevertheless both are not received by (all) men”, (find it in the Belgic Conf.) In fact the wicked receives the sacrament to his own condemnation but he doth not receive the truth of the sacrament, he receives the sacrament but not the Christ signified thereby.
The point Paul establishes in this passage is to show Israel’s conduct amid the demonstrations surrounding them. How did they behave themselves? They lived in unbelief. They were idolatrous. They lived in the Christ-contact but in the meantime they lusted after things contrary to Christ. They professed to be God’s people, presumed that they could live complacently. They loved not God but they loved sin. And in them sin comes to its most horrible manifestation.
These things happened to them as types for us; examples of what unbelief is, what it does, and how God punishes it. Beware then ye Corinthians that ye lust not after evil things as Israel did. Your streets are lined with idols and heathen practices. Be admonished. And so the Word is carried to us also. For the Kingdom of heaven is .shut to those who under the name of Christians maintain practices or doctrines inconsistent therewith and will not, after having been admonished, renounce their errors.
Questions for Discussion
- All passed through the Sea. Ex.l4:12 (States that many would rather have remained in Egypt. Did they go thru the Sea against their own will? perhaps? or what?
- Sin is sin, but what difference would you say there is between the sin of those who live in contact with Christ’s things and those who do not?
- What do you think about the reasoning: we are children of God, warnings, exhortations and threatenings are out of place? (Cf. Canons V: 14).
- We should evidently keep lively contact with the Old Testament. How best to do that?
For Our Admonition
(I Cor. 10:7-14)
In this passage we find four examples of the conduct of a people come through the Sea, baptized into Moses, eating of the manna. Idolatry, fornication, murmuring. . .all manifestations of unbelief. There is a remnant according to the election, but even the word remnant indicates the process of sin, judgment and righteousness.
Paul says he cites these historical events because they happened to them as examples for us. What happened to that Israel will happen to unbelievers in our day. May we have faith to see the examples.
Written for our admonition.
The event recorded in vs. 7 comes from Ex. 32:6 where the people, once led out of Egypt, kept the lust of sin in their hearts and engaged in a pagan feast of idolatry around the golden calf. The eating and drinking and dancing went hand in hand with burnt offerings and peace offerings to their gods, imagine Israel doing that. What is called Israel today can do the same.
Corinth at that time had its streets lined with gods and theatres for pagan feasts. Our world has the subtler form of idolatry. Israel corrupted itself. Eating, drinking, playing and singing (Ex. 32:18) can be elements entering into the service of God if the heart is right, but where lust is these things degenerate into idolatrous revelry. Witness our modern world and its revelry. In the case of Israel judgment followed.
The second example is taken from Num. 25:1. At Balaam’s advice Moab invites Israel to come and play with them. Israel goes. Revelry and fornication follow, of which Num. 25 presents one shameless scene and we know the rest. Judgment followed quickly for twenty-three thousand were slain. Num. 25:9 says twenty-four thousand were slain. Both figures are correct. Such variations only prove how accurate the Scripture is. How easily Israel was led to world-conformity. Example.
The third, recorded in vs. 9, comes from Nu. 21:4-6. The people are discouraged at the detour on the already too-long journey to a Canaan they did not care about. Some readings state that they tempted Christ, some say they tempted the Lord. Both are true of course. Christ is the Bread of Life. When in Nu. 21:5 they speak of the manna as worthless bread they grievously blaspheme the Christ. They tried the Lord land found that He was faithful. The serpents came at them from bush and hedge and sand dune, serpents that otherwise harmlessly crawled at their feet now slashed them with their fangs. So once more, says Paul, judgment followed.
In vs. 10 the reference is, I think, to the rebellion of Korah and his company in Nu. 16, the murmuring in 16:12-14 and the judgment in vs. 49. The destroyer is the earth-opening, the fire and the plague. Instruments of God’s righteous judgment.
These things happened to them as types to you, Corinthians. Written for our admonition who live in the end times. There is mercy in these admonitions. Thousands died, that we might be admonished. We profit by their loss. There is finality in these admonitions, and beware, lest you despise them.
We err if we think that we are free of the sins which brought the rebels of old time to ruin. We are not better. Christ has come and He has taken upon Himself the judgments of the sins of His children. Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. This is not to undermine our Christian assurance, but to rid us of complacency. Israel after the flesh lived puffed up and conceited, it lived recklessly, boasting that they were the people and that they were beyond danger. If you stand on such conceit. . .the fall will come.
And don’t say that God is at fault, as if He tempts (tries) His people so that the fall is inevitable. No, no, it is not His fault but yours. Lust leads to sin and sin leads to death. With God is grace abundant to endure every trial. If you lust (after evil things you incur judgment. God keeps His people, for His election never falls (cf. Canons V: 1-8) and His saving grace never ends. Don’t tempt Him then, but instead FLEE from idolatry and flee to Christ Who has overcome all that we might enjoy His victory by faith. Wherefore, dearly beloved, instead of seeking and exposing yourself to idolatry, flee from it.
Questions for Discussion
- Young people often spend more time meditating on how they may engage in idolatry, than how they may flee from it. Is that statement true in your life?
- What prevented ALL Israel from being destroyed by sin?
- God punishes the idolaters, our lesson tells us. What punishment is there on idolatry today? Or does it wait until the final day of reckoning?
- Upon us the “ends of the world are come” (vs. 11). Literally it says that the “ends of the ages are arrived upon us”. What does that mean for the days in which we live? Cf. also Rev. 22:10-12.
- Suggestions for an after-recess paper next week: Modern Idolatry—I. Confronting our Covenant Youth, II. Discerned by our Covenant Youth, III. Our Covenant Youth Fleeing from it.
Fellowshipping With God and With Devils?
(I Cor. 10:15-22)
This is what Israel after the flesh had been doing. Chap. 10:1-14 illustrates that very clearly. Professing to be sacramentally joined to God, eating the Manna and drinking from the Rock, etc. they nevertheless also joined themselves to pagan nations and attended their feasts.
You have seen how this, provoked the Lord to anger and how in His jealousy He destroyed them; showing you how holy and different He is.
Will you, Corinthians, repeat the sin of profaning the covenant? You stand in danger of it because you profess to have communion with Christ… you partake of the Communion. And a little way down the street from where you profess to have fellowship with God stands an idol temple. You go there to partake in that heathen feast? Can you fellowship with God and with devils?
Nay, brethren, says Paul, let me patiently and firmly instruct you.
I speak as to people who have been instructed in the Apostolic doctrines and as people who can give intelligent answers. I ask you: The wine which Christ blessed and ordained into a sacrament, is it not the fellowship of Christ’s blood? And the bread, is it not fellowship with Christ’s body? Answer that. Your answer is: YES. You are enlightened enough to know that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrament signifying union between believers mutually and between believers and Christ. As out of many kernels of wheat one bread is baked, so out of many believers who eat that bread Christ makes a unity, a communion.
You know that. That is the way it was in Israel’s days too. They which ate of the sacrifices were partakers of a communion. And if they touched an unclean thing and ate of the offering, they were cut off. (Lev. 7:21) You know that, for I speak to such as have been catechized in Apostolic doctrine.
Professing therefore to have fellowship with Christ, would you attempt to have fellowship with devils, also?
Paul has reference to the pagan feasts which were held in Corinth. The heathens had their “mysteries” and celebrations to their gods. All the Corinthians used to attend these feasts. But the power of grace through the Gospel had come and some had been converted. Yet there was a tendency among some to back-slide. They professed to be joined to Christ but they also attended the heathen feasts. Against this sin of backsliding the Apostle warns both them and us today.
You cannot, says Paul in vs. 21, you cannot do both. An idol is nothing (vs. 19) The gods they serve at the feasts do not even exist. But behind their feasting there is the devil. He is REAL. He DOES exist. And when you attend these feasts you join with pagans to sacrifice to devils.
You cannot do that. Not only that; you MAY not. You cannot do that without denying God and incurring the wrath of this Jealous God. Provoking the Lord, is that what you want to do? He is jealous and would you tempt Him to show His holy jealousy? Israel did and they found that He was stronger than they and they were destroyed.
So Paul instructs them and us to live holily, as those who are joined to the Lord and therefore must be separated from all that the Lord hates. God is the God of the antithesis. Faith and sanctification cannot be separated. As we are united to Christ by a living, obedient faith, so shall we be a peculiar people on the streets of Corinth and everywhere. They in Corinth had their pagan feasts, we have refined paganism all about us.
Questions for Discussion
- Notice how essential is the knowledge of the Apostolic Doctrine. Our God view determines our view of all things. His jealousy, for instance.
- Someone says: I will escape the rigors of the antithesis by not making confession of faith, hence not a communicant at His Table, hence free to attend pagan feasts? How would you answer such an one?
- Do heathens knowingly “sacrifice to devils?” Vs. 20. Ignorantly then?
- II Cor. 7:1 speaks of “perfecting holiness” —what does that mean in our lives as young people?
For Edification of Another
(I Cor. 10:23-11:1)
Much of Scripture comes to us as the inspired answer to real problems in the church. Our passage is such an answer to the question of whether it was right or wrong to eat meat once offered to the idol but now sold at the butcher shop. Such petty things, you would say. But a principle is involved. And principles are eternal, as the Truth, unchangeable.
In the Corinthian congregation one says: we have Christian liberty and we may eat all meats. Paul had enunciated this principle of Christian liberty in 6:12 and 8:10 (cf. especially Outline 30). Another says: no, if we eat meat offered to an idol we establish contact again with idolatry. So this one says it is not lawful.
Says Paul: eating of all kinds of meats is lawful (permissible). We have that liberty. But our liberty is not a selfish thing (vs. 24), it comes up out of brotherly love and must be used for the edification of the brother. If your weaker brother is offended at the ease with which you eat all kinds of meat, don’t press the point of liberty, but rather reach for edification.
If it is a matter of your own conscience, feel free to stop at the butcher shop and order meat. And don’t be disturbed as to whether it is tainted or untainted meat. Psalm 24 says that the earth is the Lord’s and all its meat, and the Lord gives me that meat. Every creature of God is good and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer (I Tim. 4:4). So meat-eating is lawful and a non-existent idol can do nothing to the meat to taint it.
That is your freedom. Whether that meat is set before you in the butcher shop (vs. 25) or whether you happen to be invited to the home of an unbeliever and it is served at his table (vs. 27). Ask no questions, that is, don’t inquire about what kind of meat it is. Your knowledge of the Apostolic Doctrine (should be strong enough to free your conscience from the need of asking questions.
You are so right. You have liberty. It’s a luxury to enjoy the freedom which we have in Christ.
But wait, says Paul. There is such a thing as giving up your luxury for another’s edification. Some in the church probably are not as far advanced as you are. They might be offended when they see you so “carelessly” buying and eating meats. Give them time to catch up with you. Your liberty has limitations. You may be technically correct, but brotherly love is something too. In vs. 24, Paul reminds them that none should selfishly seek his own advantage. If at the private table certain meat is pointed out as being tainted, for the sake of him that made the remark, refrain from eating meat. Your own conscience does not accuse you, and neither will you let your liberty be judged by another’s conscience. Conscience is not your guide. God’s Word is. If you eat and drink in recognition of God, who can find fault with you?
But the law of brotherly love requires that we give no offence in such indifferent things as these. I will eat no meat, says Paul, I will forego living in the luxury of my Christian freedom if by so doing I can seek the profit of many, that they may be saved. The edification and salvation of others is more to me than freely eating meat. And you, be followers of me as I also am an imitator of Christ. He came, not to serve Himself nor to please Himself. He gave up all things for our sakes. Can we give up some?
Questions for Discussion
- Touch everyday life with the principle enunciated above and what do you have? Someone always being offended by something someone else does. Someone says: I’m not going to give up my lawful freedom, let the other fellow learn to quit being offended and learn my freedom too. What would you say about it?
- Why the three groups in vs, 32. Or is it one group or two?
- In vs. 27 does Paul sanction social intercourse with unbelievers?
- Why is the salvation of others (vs. 33) so important to Paul? Do we give evidence of it being important to us? How?