Wednesday, March 16, 2011

EXPOSITION OF 1 CORINTHIANS : Flee from Idolatry !

TEXT : 1 Corinthians  10: 1- 14
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 [1].”  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

[1] Gr . paizo – to play as a child

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