To the Word

Reflections on the call to live by the Word of God

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

So That We Would Not Crave Evil

1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Preached Sunday morning, October 15, 2006
Lexington Church of Christ, Milton Stanley

Over the past thirty-five years ago I've noticed an interesting phenomenon about marriage. As the number of divorces has exploded in this country, the extravagance of weddings has grown in similar proportion. Weddings have become grander and grander productions while marriages have become bigger and bigger wrecks. That trend goes to show it's not the wedding but the work that determines the quality of a marriage. Marriages, in fact, are very much like the race described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 9:24-27. It's not how well you start that wins the race; it's how well you run. That's the lesson Paul was trying to teach the Corinthians in the first century, and it's a lesson we need to understand today. And taking our time working through 1 Corinthians on Lord's Day mornings is a good reminder that some races require endurance.

We are still in a long section (1 Cor. 8-10) on denying ourselves for the sake of our fellow Christians. In chapt. 8 Paul warned the Corinthians against eathing meat that had been sacrificed to idols. In chapt. 9 Paul explained how he himself chose to give up his own privileges--finances and a family--for the sake of his fellow Christians. Chapt. 10 is a conclusion of that section. Unlike the original writings of the New Testament, modern editions of the Bible contain chapters and verses. Those chapters headings can make this section of the epistle appear to be several different sets of teaching, but they are all one. For managability, we're looking at chapts. 8-10 in four different sermons, but there is only one main idea running through all three chapters. But our modern practice of dividing the Bible into chapters and verses can be misleading. Modern man has taken a knife to the Word, too often slicing verses here and there and using them totally out of context. Christians today need to learn, like the prophet Ezekiel, to swallow not bits and peaces of the Word, but the whole thing. So let's see how Paul's words in 1 Cor. 10:1-13 fit into the big picture of 1 Corinthians.

Paul begins here to summarize his argument. Writing to Christians in the first century A.D., the Apostle brings to mind the wandering of the people of Israel some 1400 years earlier. The Israelites had been delivered from slavery in Egypt and were on their way to the promised land. But during their wanderings in the wilderness, Israel committed sin and paid the price. Their misadventures were a lesson to the first-century church, and they’re still a lesson for the church today.

These first five verses contain some points that are hard to understand. What, for example, does the Apostle mean in v. 2 when he talks about the Israelites being “baptized into Moses”? And what about v. 4, where we hear of a rock following the Israelites through the desert, and it turns out the rock is Christ? Well, to understand what Paul it helps to lay aside our modern literalist glasses for a moment. Paul is simply reminding us of the blessings God gave to the Israelites in the desert. When the Egyptian army pursued the Israelites in the desert, God miraculously parted the sea to allow the Israelites (but not the Egyptians) to pass. That's the baptism Paul is talking about here. And while the Israelites traveled through the desert, God miraculousy provided food and water to his people. The Apostle is pointing out that the living water that nourished the Israelites was in reality Christ, who was already ministering to his people some 1200 to 1400 years before his incarnation.

The Israelites started well, but they didn't run well at all. In telling of the ancient Israelites, Paul is reminding the Corinthians of the blessings they have received in Christ Jesus, "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb 13:8) [1]. Even when Paul talks about ancient history, before the birth of Christ, the Savior is always at the center of his teaching. Jesus Christ is always the center of the story, whether the topic is history, doctrine, or practice. Christ is the source of life and nourishment for the Christian---not idols, not wisdom, not pleasure. Idols and all they represent are nothing, but Jesus Christ is the solid rock of our salvation and our nourishment in the faith. He is the source of living water for our souls. And he is savior by virtue of the blood that flowed from his body sacrificed for our sake on the cross. Thus any talk of discipleship is also a call to sacrifice among Christians.

In verses 6-12 Paul tells the Corinthians that the misadventures of the Israelites happened "so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved" [2]. Israel learned the hard way that simply starting well is not enough. On the way from Egypt to the Promised Land they grumbled against the Lord's servant, they worshipped idols, practiced immorality, and they did not trust in the Lord's protecion. As a result the Lord caused the people to wander in the wilderness forty years, and only two men out of the hundreds of thousands who left Egpyt were allowed to enter the Promised Land. The story of an entire generation of Israelites rejected by the Lord is especially sad because they knew the blessings God had given them. They had been delivered from their oppressors. They had been nourished with food and water from God. They were off to such a good start. Yet they reveled in idolatry and immorality. They chose fellowship with idols over fellowship with God. That's a key point of salvation--fellowship. Salvation is not simply our individual souls going to heaven and hell after we die; it's also a relationship with God here and now as God's covenant people. That relationship is meant to be a living one--either "intact and growing or dead" [3].

So the mistakes of the Israelites under the Old Covenant are examples for the Christians who come after them in the New. Do you notice the examples given here of the mistakes the Israelites made? In v. 7 Paul mentions they were idolaters, and thus brings to mind his words on that subject in 1 Cor. 8. Next, he mentions their immorality (v. 7), thus looking back to his warnings to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 5. The Israelites also grumbled (v. 10) in ways similar to how the Corinthians were grumbling against Paul (1 Cor. 1 & 2). Grumbling, immorality and idolatry are temptations for God's people in everay age. Today those temptations wear different clothes, but they are still very much among us. We may call our idols by different names--health, money, career, country--but they are idols all the same. We can still practice immorality the old fashioned way, or choose from a variety of new methods via the Internet. We have ample opportunity to be armchair quarterbacks and grumble against the Lord's servants. But let him who stands take heed lest he fall.

The Israelites were off to such a good start. They enjoyed a baptism of deliverance and feasts provided by the Lord himself. The parallels between those experiences and Christian baptism and the Lord's Supper should be as obvious today as they doubtless were for the Corinthians. Starting well doesn't get the job done [4]. God doesn't lavish his blessings on us so we can rest--at least not on this earth--but so we can run. With the privileges of God's blessings come the responsibility of being God's people [5].

Are we listening? This church is great at starting (we've been doing it for years), yet for decades we've been doing a pathetic job of running. We know how to become Christians--how to get people in the water and feed them the Lord's Supper--but we don't know how to be Christians, how to run.

What can we do to change that? How can we run the race as God intends for us to run? By not craving evil as the Israelites did. Righteousness is not only a matter of what we do but of what we crave. What we crave, after all, is what we sooner or later reach for. So if we want to change our lives we have to change our cravings. And how do we do that? By taking in the truth of God's Word. The process works like this: what we believe makes us secure determines what we value. What we value determines what we make our goals and strive for. And what we strive for determines what we do. If we believe that the things of the flesh--money, pleasure, power--make us secure, that that is what we will crave. In that case we have to change our beliefs. And the way to change our beliefs is through submitting to the Word of God.

Changing our beliefs and desires through the Word of God is a key to the escape from temptation mentioned in 1 Cor. 10:13. This is one of the most strangely ambivalent passages in the New Testament: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." The good news of that passage is that, even when we're tempted, we don't have to sin but have a way out. The hard news is that God although God gives us a way out, he leaves it up to us to take it. We still have a part to play, and there's no getting around the hard work of actually resisting the allure of temptation.

Christians are not saved by good works, but we certainly are saved to good works. We are saved by grace through Jesus Christ. Paul made this clear in the early chapters of this epistle when he reminded the Corinthians that "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). Christ and Christ alone saves us. His death paid the bill that we owe God for our sins. Jesus' blood washes our sins. In baptism we join Jesus Christ in both his death and resurrection. We are saved by grace, yet we are saved not to stay the same but to grow in service. Righteous living is evidence of our salvation. As the Apostle John reminded Christians,
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 Jn 2:28-3:3)
If we call ourselves Christians and our lives aren't demonstrating righteous and faithful living, then what are our lives really saying?

Well, if our lives are not characterized by righteousness, what do we do? Quite simply, we need new cravings. Remember how it goes? Beliefs affect values, values affect desires, and desires affect actions. The only cure for unrighteous living is the transforming power of the Word and the Spirit. We are nurted by the Word in Scripture, in prayer, and fellowship, and in feast. And our lives will change if we meditate on this truth: We were bought with a price (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23).

So once again, as Paul addresses practical problems in the Corinthian church, Jesus Christ is behind, under, over, and at the center of the message. Idols are nothing, but Christ is the solid rock who nourishes and refreshes his people with living water (Jn 4:10-12). He's also our Lord crucified to save us and to lead us to lives of service and sacrifice.

Do we think we're something? If we are, it is only because of what Christ has given us. On our own we are as week as the Israelites. We have life only through the nourishing grace of Jesus Christ. But I must warn you; life in Christ is death: death to the idolatry of the familiar; death to the idolatry greed and financial security, death to the pleasures of comfortable slavery, death ot having things and status and cool. It's following God through the desert, with nothing more than the food and drink he gives us new each day.

What more could we want? As someone has said, if we have Christ and everything in the world, we don't have any more than if we have Christ and nothing else. And if we do have Christ, our lives will show it.


1. Unless otherwise noted, all biblical quotations here are from the English Standard Version.
2. NASB.
3. William Loader. “First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages from the Lectionary—Lent 3: 14 March. 1 Corinthians 10:1-13.” Online notes at
4. Katherine Grieb. “Limited-Time Offer.” The Christian Century, March 9, 2004, p. 30. Available online at
5. J. Hampton Keathley III. “The Peril of Abusing Spiritual Privileges (1 Corinthians 10:1-13." Online study at

(c) Copyright 2006, A. Milton Stanley


Blogger Micky said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You

4:50 AM  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing your story, Micky. May God continue to lead you in the light and into all truth. Peace.

10:32 AM  

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