10:1-5 – Some of the Corinthian Christians, so secure in their knowledge that an idol is nothing, were even bold enough to sit down at the same table with those who were feasting in worship to an idol. And some weak in knowledge who still feared idols were sometimes tempted to eat food as pagan sacrifice because they saw other “strong” Christians eating food from such feasts. Christians in both categories were in danger of involvement with idolatry and the demonism behind it. Paul now turns to the exodus and wilderness experience of God’s Old Testament people as a warning and example to the Corinthian Christians.
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. When God divided the Red Sea to allow Israel to escape the Egyptians, Exodus 14, the people were surrounded by the walls of water and the cloud above. Thus they were “baptized” into Moses and his leadership just as we are “baptized into Christ” and his lordship – Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3,4.
Another experience of theirs paralleled ours: They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. As they ate manna, the bread from heaven – Exodus l6ff – and drank water from the rock – Exodus l7; Numbers 20 – they experienced a type of communion, just as we commune in the bread and cup in the Lord’s Supper. Paul may merely be saying that the rock symbolizes Christ, or he may be saying that the preincarnate Christ actually traveled along with the Israelites. Some people believe that the “angel of Yahweh (Jehovah)” who went along with Israel was the preincarnate Christ. This is speculation with no clear evidence one way or the other. If it was Christ, he is only called an angel in the sense of one sent by the Father, for Christ is not a created being as angels are.
Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Because of their sin and unbelief, the Israelites had to wander in the desert 40 years until all except the youngest generation died. In spite of Israel’s “baptism” and “communion,” they turned away from God and were destroyed. Paul’s point is that the same thing can happen to us who have baptism and communion today. We can have a scriptural name on the church building, scriptural forms of worship, a correct baptism and orthodox doctrine, but these things will not save us if we hide impurity in our lives, mistreat those in our families, hate others, test God or otherwise deny our faith by the way we live.
10:6-10 – Now these things occurred as examples, to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. We are just as temptable as they were. Paul mentions some forms of temptation met by Israel which were very common in Corinth. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and got up to indulge in pagan revelry” (around a golden calf-idol while Moses was up on the mountain with God) – Exodus 32. We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did– and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died (when the men of Israel committed immorality with pagan women who worshiped the idol at Baal-Peor) – Numbers 25. Idol-worship often involved sexual immorality.
We should not test the Lord, as some of them did–and were killed by snakes (they grumbled at Moses’ leadership and the conditions of their march, and were punished by fiery, venomous snakes) – Numbers 21. And do not grumble, as some of them did–and were killed by the destroying angel (after the death of Korah and his followers) – Numbers 16:41; 17:5. Paul attributes the plague of Numbers 16 to the destroying angel mentioned in Exodus 12:23. God does not change, and he will still deal with evil.
10:11-13 – These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. Christians are living in the last dispensation of time, enjoying the firstfruits of the blessings and glory for which God has been preparing in all previous ages and dispensations. How tragic to throw away such blessings and such a future by giving way to the same temptations that destroyed many of the Israelites! We don’t have to be living in Corinth to be in danger. We are surrounded with many forms of sin that are just as enticing if we become careless. The conditioning and enticement to sin even comes right into our homes through the media.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall. Overconfidence and pride go before destruction. Satan knows our weak spots and vulnerable moments. Most people don’t deliberately plan to fall; they just neglect feeding and maintaining their spiritual lives and grow so careless and weak that Satan only has to give them a little push to finish them off. But God has given us means such as Bible study, prayer and fellowship by which we can remain strong and resist temptation. He will never make us do right, but he will help and protect us when we really want to stay faithful.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. People have not changed. Though the outward forms may change, the same things that tempted the Israelites tempted the Corinthians and tempt us. And God is faithful (strange that the scriptures should have to tell us that so often); he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. Remember how God put boundaries around Job so that Satan could go so far but no farther? – Job 1,2. Through his atonement Christ has conquered all the spiritual forces of evil, all the evil spirit powers – Ephesians 4:8; Colossians 2:13-15. Neither Satan nor his agent can try us beyond what God allows for some holy purpose such as our spiritual growth – James 1:3. It is a great comfort to know that if we want with all our hearts to do right, we cannot be “carried away” by temptation. Notice that temptation is not sin; even Christ was tempted. We sin when we give in to temptation.
But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. There is always a way to avoid the evil and keep doing right if we want it enough, if we are willing to pay the price. One cannot remain obedient to God without turning away from some things, giving up some things. The downfall of many of us is in the fact that we want to serve God and still keep the things that lead us to sin. But we cannot serve God and play with sin at the same time. We have to make a choice. We remain free agents and God will not make us choose what is right. He will not make us take the escape route, but he has provided it. We cannot blame God or circumstances for our sin; the choice is our own – James 1:13-15.
10:14-17 – Although it is all right for a Christian with an enlightened conscience to eat food that once was offered to an idol, Paul wants the Corinthians to know that actually worshiping an idol or participating in idolatrous feasts is quite a different matter. Therefore, my dear friends (they were loved by Paul), flee from idolatry, the worship of idols. Paul used a similar expression when he said, “Flee from sexual immorality” – 6:18. There are some kinds of sin that are especially dangerous because they have such appeal to our sinful natures, and can reach out and grab us so easily if we stay near them. To flee, to absolutely avoid it and give it plenty of room, is the only way to deal with such sin, because it will entangle you, enslave you and destroy you.
I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Some things should be clear to anyone with sense. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation [NASB: sharing; KJV: communion] in the blood of Christ? When we take part in the Lord’s Supper by receiving the cup, we are in communion or fellowship with Christ and with all those cleansed by his blood. Paul does not mean that our communion cup contains the literal blood of Christ as some believe. When Jesus took the cup and said, “This is my blood,” his blood had not yet been shed. He meant that the “fruit of the vine” (wine) symbolized his blood; it was his blood in symbol. “Cup of thanksgiving” was the name for one of several cups drunk in the Jewish Passover observance. Jesus used the cup and bread from the Passover table when he instituted the Lord’s supper as a memorial of his death and resurrection. In the centuries following the apostles, the Lord’s supper came to be called the “eucharist,” a word which means giving of thanks.
And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Our unity with Christ and with his people is also shown by our joint fellowship in the bread of the Lord’s supper. Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf, showing our solidarity.
10:18 22 – Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Does not their eating show that they are part of Israel’s worship to God in the Old Covenant? Paul’s point in all of this is that just as those who eat the Lord’s Supper belong to Christ, and those who eat the sacrifices of Israel’s altar belong to the Old Covenant with God, so those who join in worship at an idol feast belong to the idol and what it means. Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, Paul has already shown that these are nothing in themselves, provided that a person has no thought of serving the idol.
No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. And that is what you are if you take part in feasts of worship to idols. The New Testament treats demons as very real. Christ encountered many demons during his ministry. Some people believe demons are the spirits of particularly wicked people who have died. Others believe they are one of the orders of spirit beings or angels that serve Satan. Demons are behind the idols and use the idols to enslave people spiritually – compare Psalm 106:36,37; Leviticus l7:7; Deuteronomy 32:16,17. Demons serve Satan and the darkness. A Christian belongs to Christ, is a child of light, and has no business fellowshiping with demons or their worshipers.
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. You cannot have it both ways. God is gracious in his dealing with us, but some things God will not tolerate. By the nature of things, some clear choices have to be made from the beginning of the Christian life. Light and darkness don’t mix. If we take worship and service that belong to the Lord and give them to demons, we cannot expect the Lord not to react.
Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he, so that we can do whatever we please without caring about his reaction? We usually think of jealousy as a sin. However there is a holy and righteous kind of jealousy, such as that of a husband whose wife takes love that is rightfully his and gives it to some other man. In the Old Testament God often pictured Israel as a wife unfaithful to God her husband, because Israel so often turned away to worship idols. When God commanded Israel to have no other gods before him, he reminded them that he is a jealous God – Exodus 20:3 6. There are still ways today in which God’s people provoke him to jealousy. Whatever takes control of our lives in place of God is an idol to us – Colossians 3:5.
Having warned the Corinthians about playing around with idols, Paul finishes the chapter with practical instructions about what to do if one encounters food that was once offered to an idol. See notes on chapter 10:23-11:1 in the set of study notes for the Period 6 Test. These verses were considered there in connection with material on the same theme in chapter 8.
Thought questions for discussion:
1. Some people questioned if Paul was a real apostle of Christ. How could Paul get people to see that he really was an apostle? How was the Corinthian church itself proof of Paul’s apostleship?
2. Why would it normally be better for the work of the church if preachers and leaders where supported financially by the church?
3. Where there are sincere and able gospel workers available, and the church is not willing to give liberally enough to support them, what does this say about the commitment of the members to Christ?
4. What do you think teaching new converts to give to God’s work has to do with their spiritual growth? How could they be taught from the time of their conversion?
5. What kind of situation today would make it wiser for the preacher not to accept pay from the church?
6. Paul went the “second mile” by preaching without pay. In what other ways might a preacher go the “second mile” in his work, beyond mere duty.
7. What are some modern situations where we are called on to follow Paul’s example of “becoming all things to all people” in order to reach them?
8. What limits should there be on doing this?
9. If a Christian takes serving Christ and winning souls as seriously as an Olympic athlete takes winning his event, what are some of the disciplines the Christian will be willing to bring into his life? What are some things he will leave off? What things will he start doing?
10. What are some of the strong temptations which can still take us away from God though we have been baptized and share in the Lord’s Supper?
11. Tell about a “way of escape” that God gave you in a time of temptation.
12. Name some types of sin that are so enticing and destructive that the only thing to do is “flee from them.”
13. What are some things in our world today which, if we participated in them, would conflict with our participation in the Lord’s table, just as feasting in worship to an idol conflicted with the Corinthians’ participation in the communion of Christ? Are there some things so directly connected with darkness that they are absolutely off limits for faithful Christians?
14. What kind of things today provoke the Lord to jealousy?
8 by G.B. Shelburne, III (except for any graphics and scripture quotations). May be reproduced for non-profit, non-publishing instructional purposes provided document content is not altered and this copyright notice is included in full. Format may be altered. South Houston Bible Institute, 14325Crescent Landing, Houston, TX 77062-2178, U.S.A., tel. 281-990-8899, email <firstname.lastname@example.org>, web site <www.shbi.org>. Scriptures, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION 8 1978 and 1984 by the New York International Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.