Warnings for believers
What use is the Old Testament?
Paul’s letter about Christ centeredness has progressed to discuss Christian freedom and the possibility of being disqualified from the faith. Even though Paul is aware that he is no longer under the law of Moses, he remains under the law of Christ which is love. He is no man’s’ slave but he will ensure that his own body and intentions will be subject to him for the sake of the kingdom. It is God who saves and we now have an obligation to live for the kingdom and not for ourselves.
Paul talked briefly about the danger of being disqualified and now, in Chapter 10, Paul uses the Old Testament to highlight how we can fall into the same traps as the Israelites did. We are free in Christ but we have an obligation to love God and his kingdom values.
Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”b 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ,d as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
What did you see?
- Comparing OT Israel with NT Christians (1-5)
- Examples of stumbling like Israel (6-10)
- The Old Testament as warnings to us (11-13)
Comparing OT Israel with NT Christians (1-5)
“…ignorant of the fact…” Perhaps an early stage of foolishness and ungodliness is ignorance. Paul has said previously that love builds up while knowledge puffs up, but here he puts back in balance the need to know things. It’s knowledge applied in love that we need. Not love out of ignorance or a life living in ignorance.
“…our ancestors…” The word for ‘ancestors’ as the NIV puts it is actually ‘fathers’ in the Greek. I have no idea why the NIV would go with ancestors. One could be tempted to say at this point that Paul is showing us that his readers must be Jews. But he teaches in Romans 9 that the true Israel are those who have put their trust in Jesus. Most of us reading this blog will not be Jewish and yet we are able to think of Abraham and Moses as our ancestors. They are our forefathers of the faith.
“…our [fathers] were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.” We are taken back to the book of Exodus. As Moses lead Israel out of Egypt, they were all lead by a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (Ex 13:21-22; 14:19-24; 40:34-38). The LORD travelled with Israel in the cloud and met with Moses on the Mountain and in the Tabernacle in a cloud. This was the presence of the LORD in visual form. And as they left Israel, famously they walked through the Red Sea which had been parted for them by the power of God (Ex 14:15-31). The were lead personally by God and were delivered by the power of God from their captors.
“They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Any study on baptism needs to branch out beyond the book of Acts and listen to how it is described in the whole of scripture. Notice firstly that this is called a baptism into Moses. This helps us think of baptism as an allegiance event. As the people followed Moses through the sea, they are aligning their future with his. They are all the one community. They are Moses’ community. John the baptist was not baptising people as Christians but as Jews. He called people to come back to the LORD and be part of the true community again. Only after the resurrection do we get anybody being baptised into Christ. The baptism that Paul is talking about is not only about the sea but is about the cloud also. They moved from slavery to freedom by these two means. Following the LORD into their deliverance. Please note that, although both clouds and seas are made up of water, no Israelite was sprinkled or drenched for this baptism. A water ritual can be used to represent a baptism but a baptism is not by definition a water ritual. I do admit that, in a poetic way, the people went down into the sea and came up saved, but this should not be pushed to the point of misunderstanding the meaning of baptism. The people, young and old, were baptised as they put their trust in God through Moses.
“…spiritual food…spiritual drink…spiritual rock…that rock was Christ.” Paul is highlighting an example of how the stories of the Old Testament point forward to Christ. The historic story of Israel is more than an ancient account of how God was good to them. The story of Israel is the story of Christian faith. As they ate food and drank water supplied to them miraculously in the desert, nourishing their bodies, they became an illustration to us on our own dependance on God. Fifteen hundred years after Moses, Jesus would stand before a crowd and say, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35). He says this in the context of declaring that all those who put their trust in him will be accepted and have eternal life. The Jews in Moses’ day physically ate and drank miraculous food which fed their physical bodies. But Paul says, their story is an illustration of the Christian story.
“…God was not pleased with most of them…” The book of Numbers illustrates how an entire generation failed to enter the promised land because of their disobedience and lack of faith.
As we leave this paragraph, notice how Paul uses the Old Testament as a teaching platform for Christ and the church. The whole bible is an unfolding story that points forward and backward to Christ. The technical term for this is Biblical Theology. This is not to be confused with Theology that is biblical – since all good theology must be biblical. No, this is a term which describes the historical revelation of the world’s salvation through Christ. Every Christian must devote some time to understanding Biblical Theology otherwise they will not approach the bible in the way that the bible is presented. Every Growth Group leader ought to have a grip on this. It can be studied easily through the God’s Big Picture book and the course that we run from time to time at this church. It can be accessed and studied via the Introduction to the Bible subject of the PTC course run by Moore Theological College External Studies. And the writer of this blog would be more than happy to walk people through this important – essential – tool for opening up the scriptures.
Examples of stumbling like Israel (6-10)
“…as examples to keep us from…” The books of Narnia by CS Lewis and ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyan are examples of entertaining narratives which point to a deeper spiritual lesson for Christians. The Old Testament, while historical and real for the nation of Israel and surrounding countries, carries deep spiritual lessons for Christians who are saved by grace. As Israel needed to put their trust in God and not allow the dangers around them, nor the temptation to leave God in pursuit of happiness elsewhere, we are to learn from their story about faith in the God who saves, who protects, who promises and who delivers. The failings of the people of Israel are warnings to us too.
“…from setting our hearts on evil things…” This describes finding our treasure in anything other than God. You cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:19-24).
“Do not be idolaters…” No other god but the LORD right? And yet this command/basic expectation goes beyond idols and statues. Paul is going to make a big deal about this from Verse 14! The Corinthians, and we, need to be reminded not to be idolaters. Anything that takes us outside of true doctrine is idolatry – it captures our hearts and leads us to sin. Paul uses an odd verse in the Old Testament as his proof. Exodus 32:6b is quoted: “afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” Verses 5-6a state clearly the actions of idolatry – the making of a false god and the offering of sacrifices. But Paul points to the real evidence of giving ones’ heart to anything that is not truthfully God. An idol is nothing, but denying your heart to God and desiring fulfillment elsewhere ruins the soul.
“…should not commit sexual immorality…” Paul has already dealt with this issue back in Chapters 5 and 6, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” (1 Cor 6:18). We are not simply flesh and bones, biological animals that can take pleasure as we feel the desire. We are God’s people who walk in the light, with love and self-control as a goal. Our goal can be described with more words than that but sexual immorality is a clear indication that the flesh is winning. In Numbers 25:1-9 we read of the event that Paul refers to where 23,000 Israelite men died in one day! As you reread that event, you can imagine using this as a self-discipline guide to quench one’s immoral desire. Nothing breaks the mood more than someone entering the room with a spear to pierce you and your lover through the heart! When Paul says, flee from sexual immorality, you can see how this account in Numbers illustrates the seriousness of sin.
“We should not test Christ, as some of them did…” Notice how Paul continues to draw a quick line between their faith in Yahweh and our faith in Christ. Paul sees such a strong tie here that it is Christ they were testing! The example Paul gives for this is found in Numbers 21:4-9. Notice too that the remedy for their sin was to look to a pole that Moses was instructed by God to make – much like we look to the cross for forgiveness (see John 3:14-15). We’ve moved from idolatry, to sexual immorality, to putting the LORD to the test.
A note on ‘the LORD’ and on Christ being tested by Israel. Some will ask something like, is the LORD in all capitals a reference to Jesus Christ our Lord? An excellent question with a layered answer. Jesus Christ is eternally begotten of the Father and he is the name that is above all names. When we refer to Jesus as our Lord, we are declaring that he is the boss and ruler of all things. King of kings and Lord of lords. When the Old Testament writes LORD in all capitals, it is a signal to God being called Yahweh. The Trinity is veiled in the Old Testament (not absent!) and God does not operate or behave in separation from Himself. Our God is Three in One. When they disobey and grumble against Yahweh, it is the Lord and the Father and the Spirit whom they put to the test.
“And do not grumble…” Discontentment is verbalised when we grumble. Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:6-7 describes godliness as a means to contentment for we do not come into the world with anything and we do not leave it with anything. But faith in God, true faith, will increase our contentment in all circumstances. What do we need if we have Christ? The New Testament is filled with illustrations and guidance on how to come to Christ and find life. Blessings and suffering are put into the same category with God since both lead to godliness when viewed through faith in Christ. Paul takes us to Number 16 and 17 where the Israelites grumbling was a major disappointment to God. The destroying angel came in the form of a plague on the people. It is perhaps the same destroyer as killed the firstborns in Egypt during passover (Ex 12:23). See also 1 Chron 21:15. An angel of destruction is allowed by God to complete this deed of death. The bible has much to say to us about angels but not enough for us to know everything and it is wise for us to not become obsessed with such inquiry (Col 2:18; Hebrews 1-2; 1 Tim 1:3-4).
Let’s learn how the Old Testament, even being an historical account, instructs us much like any narrative instructs us beyond the storyline. If God’s anger is fanned by devoting ourselves to other loves, through sexual immorality and through discontentment, then let’s be warned by that. Although our sins are dealt with at the cross, he is the same LORD who deserves our lives.
The Old Testament as warnings to us (11-13)
“These things happened…and were written down as warnings for us…” It should be clear to any reader of the bible that it was not written down in order to preserve a culture’s history and traditions. Rather, the sins of individuals and nations are recorded as warnings for us. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that ALL scripture is God breathed and is USEFUL for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness. This means that every page of scripture can do any one of those four things.
“…on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” In Biblical Theology we can place the history of the whole world into a few basic stages or ages.
- Creation to The Fall (Gen 1-3)
- The Fall to Abraham (Gen 3-11)
- The Promises to Abraham to Moses (Gen 12-Exodus 19)
- The Covenant with Moses at Sinai to David (Exodus 19-2 Samuel)
- The Covenant with David to the Exile (2 Samuel 7 – 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles)
- The Exile and return to Jesus (Ezra – the Gospels)
- The Resurrection of Jesus to Christ’s return (Acts – Revelation)
This 7th age is the culmination of the ages. The coming of Christ and his work of redemption is the culmination of all the ages before this. We live in the Now-but-Not-Yet age. The Kingdom of God has been revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ and all who put their trust in him are declared the people of God and yet we await his final return to conclude even this age. Ephesians 1:9-10; Mark 1:15; Galatians 4:4.
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Have you heard about the Preservation of the Saints? If you have then you may declare that God does not lose any that he has called. If you are a Christian then you cannot fall. Well, the method that God uses to prevent us from falling is called warnings from scripture! God has waken us up in Christ and we are called not to slumber and fall back to sleep! Of course, Paul may be talking also about falling into sin and so we must be awake and sober minded with regard to the traps of this world. Either way, the Christian walk is an eyes-wide-open walk.
“No temptation…what is common to mankind.” I love this sentence. It humbles me. I know that any experience that I may face, either a triumph of mine or a failing or an experience of suffering, I know that I am only one in a few billion people who have shared this experience in some way. Yes, we are all individuals and unique, but we are all humans with the same drives and thought patterns and so on. Why else do we have personality types and so on in Psychology. Because we aren’t that different you and I. Nobody can turn to God and say, well nobody has felt temptation like I have. I’m only human and you can’t blame me cause if you’ve been through what I’ve been through then you’d understand why I am like I am or behaved like I behaved. Well, a temper tantrum is a temper tantrum. Sexual sin is sexual sin. Humans have been doing it for generations. Every sin you can imagine, you can be the Israelites have a story about how they fell into it!
“And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” We are all sinners. But God is quite aware of what we go through a) he created us b) he has watched us all our human lives and c) he became one of us and was tempted like us. God is also Sovereign and able to protect us. The question is, will we exercise our wisdom, discipline, self-control and watchfulness to flee from immorality and put to death the misdeeds of the body. In short, it is not God’s fault that we sin. Adam and Eve had it in them to say no. But sin is strong and we are easily beaten. We must never blame God for our sin.
“But when you are tempted…” We will be tempted.
“…he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” This is a clear message from scripture. Treat it like a challenge or a dare”: God dares you to be pure and to say no to sin. Let me quote 1 John 1:8-9 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
What did we learn?
All of Scripture has been given to us for our learning on how to be righteous. The culmination of this lesson is that we need a Saviour and He has been provided. We do not ignore the Old Testament because in them we find many examples and illustrations of how to stay pure and walk humbly with our God. He has found us and delivered us. Let’s listen to him through all of his word and take up the challenge to say no to sin.
Topic A: Do you know how the bible fits together? A course on Biblical Theology is an essential for every Christian. This can be done formally, informally and even one-to-one. If you are unsure of what this is all about, please ask your leader, or one of the ministry staff or search for (as a good example and summary) a podcast by Nancy Guthrie interviewing John Woodhouse on the book of 2 Samuel. Here is a link to it…
Topic B: Idolatry, sexual immorality and grumbling. What a variety of categories. Take some time to explore how these three areas affect our lives and how we are tempted in them. For larger groups, you may want to divide down to more intimate groups for this discussion.
Topic C: Knowing the faithfulness of God. He is faithful in calling us and saving us and growing us in our maturity in Christ. We are challenged in this passage to be faithful ourselves but let’s not lose sight of the faithfulness of God toward us. He is faithful and just and will forgive us of our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We are to be aware of our sins and also aware of his forgiveness. We can keep moving forward in holiness when we know that our failings do not equal our eternal damnation.