TITLE: Flee from Idolatry !
DATE : 13/03/2011
We are still in the middle of a thought process which Paul had begun in Chapter 8 . In essence the thoughts center around Christian purity . The Corinthian Christians , still strongly influenced by their culture were always tempted to live on the edge . Since they must have been all young in the faith , their minds were not yet thoroughly renewed (Rom 12:1,2) . I believe that it was Dr Francis Schaeffer who commented concerning contemporary Christianity that “ many may claim to have Christian hearts but are still possessed by non Christian minds” . The effect of this was that the gospel ( which so controlled Paul’s own heart , soul and mind) was not yet showing many its desired effects in the Corinthian church . That is why this church was still in such a mess , and that is why there were divisions , and lack of respect for authority and sexual immorality and lawsuits among believers etc.
The one thing that Christians must be most serious about is their salvation, and in particular the outworking of their salvation !
As we come now to the 1oth Chapter we are going to get a sense of this seriousness . Before I show you this from the scriptures , I want to make sure that you are still connected with what has happened in Chapters 8 &9.
Paul had urged the Corinthian church members to love their fellow believers by not being a stumbling block to the consciences of weaker brothers and sisters, and where necessary to restrain their freedoms for their sakes . Paul had illustrated that spirit in his own life (Ch.9) even though this had meant considerable sacrifice on his part.
We then came to this ‘transitional statement’ in Ch 9 :24 -27 , where Paul urges the Corinthians to have a self controlled , disciplined approach to their lives in Christ , and once again , he is no ivory tower theologian , for he says in 9:27 : “ But I discipline my body and keep it under control , lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
So , here is a distinct warning to those who do think that they are Christians , when they don’t act like Christians , they may well discover (when it is too late) that the Lord Jesus took much more notice of their disobedience than he did of their supposed profession of faith. This all points to the warning which the Lord Jesus alluded to in Matthew 7:21-23 “ Not everyone who says to me ‘ Lord , Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven , but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
It is this warning that he now proceeds to elaborate. There is a definite connection between Chapter 9 and 10 through the conjunction and connection in 10:1 “ for I want you to know , brothers… ” , and remember now that this word “disqualified” is the key thought which leads us into Chapter 10 !
You know that you are disqualified (Gr. ‘ adokimos’ – lit. ‘not standing the test’) from winning the prize when you don’t finish the race . You are disqualified from winning the boxing match when your opponent knocks you out .
Paul will now illustrate this disqualification with the help of a number of sad incidents in Israelite history .
By way of introduction please note in vv 1-4 that the apostle Paul links the gentile believers in Corinth to the Jewish forefathers . That is an amazing connection that no ordinary Jewish theologian would have ever made. But Paul knows that all of mankind is made by the same God, and that all God’s spiritual offspring has a common genealogy . In his other letters he asserts that Abraham is the father of all those who have faith . So he is able to link the OT directly into their present experience and he is able to speak about “our fathers….”
Back to the connecting thought about ‘ disqualification…’
V. 5 says : “ Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” Many of the Israelites who were redeemed by God out of Egypt , and who were led , fed and kept by God and Christ (see v.4) in the desert were overthrown (Gr. ‘katastrophe’) - they were disqualified from finishing the journey / the race) because of their lack of self control and ill discipline in spiritual matters.
Then in v. 6 he directly applies this incident to the Corinthians as he says : “ Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did….” He refers to the evil that the Israelites were engaged in, in history . The evil was idolatry . Idolatry is the engaging in false worship - the substitution of the one true God for false gods or false images . Paul is referring here to Exodus 32, where in Moses absence , the people ‘forced’ Aaron to make a golden calf , whereupon it is said that “the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play .” They were engaging in sexual immorality which is indicated in v.8 : “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” (Ex 32:28)
In v. 9 he gives another illustration of how many people were disqualified from completing the journey . Paul says, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents…” . This reference is to Numbers 21, where the people became impatient on the way, and the people spoke against God and against Moses , saying” Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness ?” , and when God sent ‘ fiery serpents among the people so that many people died. ( Num 21:6) . Notice that Paul links Christ directly to the God of the OT whom the Israelites tested so very often , and bluntly asserts , ” We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did…”
In v. 10 Paul makes another general reference to the uncontrolled , undisciplined mindset of the Israelites when he adds this : “… nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer….”. There are a number of cases in the Pentateuch were the people grumble and God slays them – often a destroying angel is the agent in such an event ( e.g. 1 Chron 21:14,15) . One such example in Numbers 16 where the sons of Korah ( of the priestly clan of Levi) “rose up before Moses with a number of the people of Israel , 250 chiefs of the congregation … they assembled themselves together against Moses and Aaron ” ( Num 16:2) . 14700 died in this plague .
As in v. 6 , Paul makes the point again in v.11. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” The word “example“ which Paul uses in v. 6 is the Greek word “tupoi” - English "types" , from which we get the word “typology." It is important that we understand this . In the interpretation of the Bible we recognize “types” which find their fulfillment in later ages . Types are consistent patterns . God is the same always and everywhere and since He controls human history and acts in similar ways at various times in that history, He often provides persons, or events, or things that foreshadow later developments in salvation history. So when we think about the Passover , the Exodus , the Tabernacle we see them as "types" or examples foreshadowing the person and work of Christ. In the same way , says Paul , we must think about these many and various judgments upon Israel as something that speaks to our times . So he says “They were written down for our instruction , on whom the end of the ages has come.” Since God controls not only history , but also the present and the future, we must think of the current disasters in the world ( see the current cyclones and floods in Australia, earthquakes and Tsunamis in Christchurch, New Zealand and in Japan ) as the hand of God . This may shock some , but it is the truth , and what needs to be said in addition, is that none of us must think that we are any better than those that have perished in these disasters . Jesus warns us against such high-minded thoughts in Luke 13 : 1-5 and warns us “ Unless you repent , you will all likewise perish.”
Warning and encouragement ! ( vv12-13)
12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 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 point is this : No degree of progress we may have already made on our spiritual journey , no amount of privileges we may have enjoyed in Christ and the fellowship of His church must cause us to rest on our laurels , and take it easy on our Christian journey . Paul warns us against spiritual carelessness , and he warns us that no one is immune against such temptations . In the context of Paul’s writing this means that the one who thinks himself free to attend pagan feasts in the temples because he is, after all a Christian and a participant in the Lord's Supper, must be very careful that he does not fall into idolatry !
Paul is going to warn us in the next section that this practice of participating in pagan feasts is indeed idolatrous and must be abandoned.
But before he warns them , he pauses in v. 13 to encourage them. If they truly desire to be faithful to the Lord in their conduct, God will enable them to be faithful.
We will pause here and pick up the rest of this thought in vv 15-22 next time .
But please note what Paul says by way of a very strong exhortation in v.14 : “ Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
Flee ! The only method of avoiding sin is fleeing from sin. The only safety is keeping at a distance . This means that we must avoid entering into relationships or occasions that are questionable; in fact we must stay away from them completely.
These Corinthian believers were playing with fire . They tried to be in touch with the world . They still enjoyed the party life in the presence of their non Christian friends . They were conducting themselves in a manner that was inconsistent with a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
They were sliding into the same way of thinking, as many Christians do nowadays. Christians think that if they have done their duty in Christian worship, if they have been to church , if they have been baptized and regularly participate in the Lord’s supper that somehow because of that they should be protected against the temptations of the world .
The history of the church is replete with the examples of people ( even pastors) who have sailed close to the edge , and were sucked over the edge – only to realize later that they were unsaved . The Bible gives us ample warning against such a state of mind, such an indifference to salvation, such carelessness about what salvation requires.
If you should find yourself doing the same things that Israel or the Corinthians did in those days: playing with idolatry, practicing sexual immorality, grumbling against the Lord's messengers, and testing the Lord in various other ways , then reconsider whether you are really saved , for I say this to you on the authority of Scripture that if you do these things you will be disqualified . God is not mocked . You will reap what you sow. It is the easiest thing to think that you are safe with God when you are not.
The number of people who have committed that mistake is very, very large in the history of mankind. Be careful that you do not presume on God's grace without being serious about embracing the spiritual disciplines and self control required of a Christian disciple . If you care to be saved you should care for your salvation above all other things.
May the Lord give you courage to examine yourself in the light of His Word , and I pray that you will be encouraged as you find plenty of evidence that you are in Christ ( 2 Cor 13:5) ! Amen