Although the chapter and verse divisions contained within modern-day versions of the Bible do not appear within the original manuscripts, they are often useful in allowing us to follow a Biblical author’s train of thought. Such is the case with the chapter division between 1 Corinthians nine and ten.
You see, Paul the Apostle shared the following concern in the closing verse of 1 Corinthians chapter nine: “…I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Here now in the opening verses of chapter ten, Paul will go on to validate that concern by pointing to the Old Testament example of God’s chosen people- the Israelites…
“Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.
For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).
For anyone who may have been inclined to dismiss Paul’s concern, this message will serve to provide a sobering reminder:“Don’t kid yourselves- others have been disqualified before.” Paul’s case in point involved Israel’s departure from Egypt and subsequent journey to the land of God’s promise as detailed within the Biblical book of Exodus.
The people of Israel had endured many years of slavery in Egypt until the Egyptians were finally compelled to let the Israelites leave the country after a series of increasingly devastating plagues. But how would the Israelites employ their newly-gained freedom?
Well, the Biblical record tells us that the Israelites used their freedom as an opportunity to pursue immorality and idolatry. Thus, these demonstrations of faithlessness disqualified the people from sharing in God’s blessings. Because of this, the members of the Corinthian church would be unwise to think that they could exercise their freedom in a similar manner without a corresponding response.
As the philosopher George Santayana was famously quoted as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (1) In a similar manner, the opening verse of this chapter (“I want you to remember, my friends, what happened to our ancestors who followed Moses…” [GNB]) expresses Paul’s heartfelt desire for the Corinthians to learn from Israel’s past example so they would not be condemned to repeat it.
(1) The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense. 1905 pg. 284
“Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).
Although many members of the Corinthian congregation were not Jewish by birth, the people of Old Testament Israel represented a significant portion of their collective spiritual heritage. Therefore, the experience of the ancient Israelites could help provide the Corinthians with a good example to follow (and illustrate mistakes to avoid) in their relationship with God.
This same idea also holds true today, for the opening verses of 1 Corinthians ten make use of an Old Testament historical account to provide us with an important cautionary message. You see, this passage identifies two important elements that are associated with Old Testament Israel’s departure from the nation of Egypt: “the cloud” and “the sea.”
For instance, “the sea” refers to that famous episode in Israel’s history where God miraculously parted the Red Sea to enable the Israelites to escape from the pursuing Egyptians (see Exodus chapter fourteen).
The Old Testament book of Exodus also defines the origin of “the cloud” referenced here in 1 Corinthians ten: “…the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light… He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22).
This cloud represented the visible manifestation of God’s power and presence and served to provide God’s guidance and direction to the people of Israel during their journey. It presumably offered protection from the direct impact of the desert sun as well, thus providing an important benefit for a group of travelers who had limited protection from the elements.
Yet for 21st century readers of this account, this visible, tangible expression of God’s presence may give rise to a familiar question from those who challenge the idea of God’s existence: “If God really exists then why doesn’t He show Himself in a similar manner today?”
In addressing this question, we might respond with another question: “Would you continue to do something that was clearly ineffective?” For example, we can use the example referenced here in 1 Corinthians ten to help explain why God may decline to reveal His presence in a more direct manner today- and we’ll take a closer look at that explanation next.
“I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2 NLT).
This account of Israel’s exodus from the nation of Egypt offers an opportunity to return to a point made earlier in 1 Corinthians chapter one. You see, the pillar of cloud that led the people of Israel by day provided an unmistakable confirmation of God’s existence for Old Testament Israel. The same could also be said of the pillar of fire that led the people by night (see Exodus 13:21-22).
Unfortunately, the people of that era chose to reject these visible, tangible indicators of God’s existence in favor of their own self-created objects of devotion (Exodus 32:7-8). In a sense, this is not unlike the way in which many respond to the Biblical concept of “God” today. Instead of adjusting and conforming to God’s self-revelation as found within the Scriptures, many prefer to replace Him with a self-created object of devotion that allows for the pursuit of whatever they happen to desire.
Then as now, people may seek to exchange the God of the Scriptures with a god that is more to their liking. But whenever someone exchanges the one true God for a self-created object of devotion, bad things are sure to inevitably result…
“Why do the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:2-8).
So even though the people of Mosaic-era Israel possessed these clear, unmistakable evidences for God’s existence, they deliberately chose to reject them in pursuit of another agenda. Unfortunately, this same type of rejection also occurs today (albeit in a more indirect manner), for as we’re reminded in New Testament book of Romans…
“…since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20 NIV).
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2 HCSB).
The people of Israel enjoyed two God-given privileges in the course of their exodus from the nation of Egypt. First, they experienced God’s direct presence in the form of a pillar of cloud that led them by day. They also had the tangible experience of God’s miraculous deliverance from the pursuing Egyptians as He parted the Red Sea to allow them to escape. Thus, the people of Israel enjoyed God’s divine guidance and divine deliverance in their journey to the land of promise. (1)
These points help set the stage for the application that Paul the Apostle will deliver in the verses to follow, in addition to the unusual turn of phrase that he employs here in verse two: “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (NIV).
Moses, of course, is well known as the mediator of the Old Covenant, the agreement in which God promised to save the people of Israel by way of the sacrificial system that is detailed within the first five books of the Old Testament.
In departing from the land of Egypt, the people of Old Testament Israel were identified with Moses as they followed him towards the waters of the Red Sea. In a sense, their procession onto the dry sea bed symbolized the “death” of their old life in Egypt, while the act of passing through the walled sea water represented a type of burial. Finally, their emergence on the opposite side of the Red Sea signified new life in God’s redemptive plan. (2)
With this in mind, its not difficult to see how the people of Israel were identified with Moses in much the same manner as a person is identified with Christ through the act of baptism today. One commentator helps to illustrate these parallels and link them to the application that Paul is about to make…
“Baptism means to be ‘immersed.’ For the Christian, we are baptized into the Body of Believers, into Christ Himself, and into water as a symbol of our immersion into Christ. Here Paul seeks to identify the miraculous experience of the exodus from Egypt and the Jews’ identification with Moses with the believers’ exodus from the world to an identification and immersion into Christ. Remember, Paul’s goal is to show the Corinthians that their Christian experiences, just like the Jews with Moses, do not immunize them against falling into sin.” (3)
(1) William MacDonald Believer’s Bible Commentary [10:1] pg. 1780
(2) See Exodus 13:17-14:31
(3) Bob Caldwell 1 Corinthians 10 Old Testament Examples [v.2]
“all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:2-4).
Following their departure from the nation of Egypt, God miraculously sustained the people of Israel by way of a substance called “manna.” The word “manna” literally means, “what is it” (Exodus 16:15) and it served as Israel’s primary food source in the decades prior to the nation’s arrival in the land of God’s promise.
The Old Testament book of Exodus provides us with a brief description of this supernatural provision: “…in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor… when the sun grew hot, it melted away… The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:13-14, 21, 31 NIV).
1 Corinthians 9:2-4 serves to emphasize the supernatural origin of manna in referring to it here as “spiritual food.” So just as Israel’s passage through the Red Sea served to demonstrate God’s protection and deliverance, the appearance of manna in the desert served to demonstrate God’s continued provision.
Yet even though Moses identified manna as “…the bread the Lord has given you to eat,” a number of people began to complain about this miraculous provision (Numbers 11:4-6). In response, we’re then told, “Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, everyone at the door of his tent; and when the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly, Moses was also displeased” (Numbers 11:10 NET).
Thus, the example of the Israelites helps to provide us with a clear spiritual warning whenever we are tempted to complain regarding God’s provision in our own lives. For instance, the challenges and difficulties that often accompany the routine of daily life might be compared to the prospect of having to eat manna day after day- and if we are not diligent to prayerfully cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving for the blessings that God has graciously provided, we might fall into the pattern of complaint and criticism exhibited by the people of Old Testament Israel.
In such instances, we would also do well to consider another reminder from Paul the Apostle: “…our present trouble, which is only for a short time, is working out for us a much greater weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17 BBE).
“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” (1 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Much like the prospect of having to eat manna on a daily basis, the scarcity of water was a source of complaint for the people of Old Testament Israel following their departure from the nation of Egypt. However, the Scriptures tell us that God miraculously provided water for the people of Israel during this period on two separate occasions.
The first instance occurred while the nation was camped at a place called Rephidim. It was during that time that the people of Israel began to quarrel and complain against Moses regarding the lack of water for their families and livestock. In response, God directed Moses to go to an area known as Horeb and strike the rock that was there. Moses did as he was instructed and God provided water for the people to drink as a result (see Exodus 17:1-7).
The second instance occurred some time later when the people voiced a similar complaint regarding the lack of water. In that instance, God instructed Moses to respond in the following manner: “Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals” (Numbers 20:8).
Unfortunately, Moses disregarded God’s direction and elected to strike the rock twice instead of speaking to it as he had been told. Although God graciously provided water for the people anyway, Moses was subsequently disqualified from entering the Promised Land as a result of his disregard for God’s direction (see Numbers 20:1-13).
As was the case with the spiritual food mentioned within these verses, this “spiritual drink” was actual water that was spiritual in the sense that it was provided through the divine intervention of God. (1) Furthermore, this passage serves to associate God’s provision of life-giving water in these instances with Jesus Himself. One commentator explains this association in the following manner…
“According to Paul, Christ was the source of this supernatural water. Since the incident of the rock which produced water marked the beginning of Israel’s wilderness wanderings (Exo_17:1-7) and happened again near the ending of their wanderings (Num_20:1-13), Paul concluded that Christ accompanied them.” (2)
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2308). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
(2) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck Bible Knowledge Commentary [10:4] (p. 526)
“But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5).
Without a doubt, 1 Corinthians 10:5 represents one of the great understatements in all Scripture. You see, the Old Testament book of Numbers tells us that there were over 600,000 men of military age in Israel during the period of their exodus from Egypt. (1) If we were to estimate the additional family members represented by this number, its likely that the total population of Israel approached 2 million people during that time.
Yet out of this number, only two people completed the journey from Egypt to the promised land. The vast majority of others perished in the wilderness. (2) But even the fact that hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives in the desert during this time does not provide us with the complete picture.
Here’s why: 1 Corinthians 10:5 tells us that the bodies of these individuals “…were strewn along the ground in the uninhabited region” (Wuest). So this portion of Scripture implies that the overwhelming majority of those who left Egypt never even received an honorable burial when they passed away. Thus, they suffered the final indignity that can be imposed upon a person: “…their dead bodies were scattered over the desert” (GNB).
Because of this, its important to take note of the relationship between the first four verses of 1 Corinthians chapter ten and the fifth verse quoted above. Remember that each of these individuals were under the cloud upon their departure from Egypt and each passed through the Red Sea as well (verse one). Subsequently, they all ate the same spiritual food (verse three) and all drank the same spiritual drink (verse four). But while everyone received these benefits, God was not pleased with most of them due to their attitude of unbelief.
This has led one commentary to offer the following observation…
“Divine privilege does not guarantee divine success. The evidence of this is that they were overthrown in the wilderness (lit., “their bodies were strewn about the wilderness”). Paul draws a pathetic picture of people, sated with providential privilege, paving the wilderness trail with their dead bodies… This also ties with 9:24, “all the runners run.” Historically, in the case of Israel, all ran, but only Caleb and Joshua received the prize. (cf. Num 14:29). (3)
There is much to learn from the example given to us within these verses- and we’ll take a closer look at the experience of the Israelites following their departure from Egypt and its relevance for us today over the new few studies.
(3) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2308). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted” (1 Corinthians 10:6).
The warning given to us here in 1 Corinthians 9:6 echoes a similar cautionary message contained within the New Testament book of Hebrews…
“…Never forget the warning, ‘Today if you hear God’s voice speaking to you, do not harden your hearts against him, as the people of Israel did when they rebelled against him in the desert.’ And who were those people I speak of, who heard God’s voice speaking to them but then rebelled against him? They were the ones who came out of Egypt with Moses their leader.
And who was it who made God angry for all those forty years? These same people who sinned and as a result died in the wilderness. And to whom was God speaking when he swore with an oath that they could never go into the land he had promised his people? He was speaking to all those who disobeyed him. And why couldn’t they go in? Because they didn’t trust him” (Hebrews 3:15-19 TLB).
We can grasp the full impact of this historical example by taking an abbreviated tour through the Old Testament record of this account, one that should help to establish the framework necessary to apply these warnings in an appropriate manner…
“The LORD now said to Moses, ‘Send men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to Israel. Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes’
…Moses gave the men these instructions as he sent them out to explore the land: ‘Go north through the Negev into the hill country. See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see’
After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned… This was their report to Moses: ‘We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified…” (1)
We’ll continue our look at the historical record of this account next.
(1) Numbers 13:1-2, 17-20, 25, 27-28 (NLT)
“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6 ESV).
The Old Testament book of Numbers provides us with the historical background related to the warning given to us in the passage quoted above…
“But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. ‘Let’s go at once to take the land,’ he said. ‘We can certainly conquer it!’ But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. ‘We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!’
So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: ‘The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too’
Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. ‘If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!’ they complained. ‘Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?’ Then they plotted among themselves, ‘Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!’
Two of the men who had explored the land, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, tore their clothing. They said to all the people of Israel, ‘The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey.
Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!’ But the whole community began to talk about stoning Joshua and Caleb. Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the Tabernacle.
…Then the Lord said ‘…not one of these people will ever enter that land. They have all seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they have tested me by refusing to listen to my voice. They will never even see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will ever see it… The only exceptions will be Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.'” (1)
Now that we’ve seen the historical basis for 1 Corinthians 9:6, we’ll consider some applications from this passage next.
“Nevertheless, God was not pleased with the great majority of them, for they were overthrown and strewn down along [the ground] in the wilderness. Now these things are examples (warnings and admonitions) for us not to desire or crave or covet or lust after evil and carnal things as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:5-6 AMPC).
Now that we’ve examined the historical basis for the warning found within the passage quoted above, let’s consider some applications from the Biblical account contained in Numbers 13-14.
One obvious application from this text relates to the need to avoid the kind of “faith” displayed by the overwhelming majority of those who departed the nation of Egypt. While these individuals were presumably happy to escape their servitude in Egypt and enjoy the benefits of a relationship with God, they were unwilling to place their trust in Him when circumstances seemed less than ideal. And even when they did experience the blessing of God’s provision in their lives, they were unwilling to continue to place their trust in Him.
In contrast, a genuine, God-honoring faith is demonstrated by “a belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to His will for one’s life.” (1) Unfortunately, the people referenced here in 1 Corinthians 10:5 failed to exhibit the confident expectation that God would do what He promised to do despite the repeated evidences that He offered.
Those evidences included the visible, tangible indicators of God’s presence, providing the ability for the people of Israel to escape from the pursuing Egyptians by way of the Red Sea parting, and the miraculous provision of food and water on the desert. As a result, a great number of people forfeited their opportunity to enjoy the blessings that God had prepared for them.
But there was a darker component associated with this display of faithlessness- one that went beyond the simple forfeiture of these future blessings. Remember that these men and women were sentenced to death in the uninhabited wastelands for their unbelief- and it was there that their bodies were left to decay upon the ground like any common animal.
It was even worse for the ten spies who incited a rebellion against the Lord with their unfavorable report regarding the Promised Land: “The men Moses had sent to explore the land brought back a false report which caused the people to complain against the Lord. And so the Lord struck them with a disease, and they died” (Numbers 14:36-37 GNT).
So when taken as a whole, these passages remind us that there may be a heavy price to pay for unbelief in the face of the evidence that God provides.
(1) “Faith” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
“And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” (1 Corinthians 10:7).
We might view 1 Corinthians 10:6 and 1 Corinthians 10:11 as two bookends that encompass a short account of Israel’s departure from Egypt and subsequent arrival in the promised land. In between these bookends are verses seven to ten which serve to underscore the warnings that open and close this section.
Within this portion of Scripture, the Apostle Paul will detail the sinful behaviors that marked this period in Israel’s history and remind us that these examples are provided for our instruction. Therefore, it is in our interest to carefully consider this passage to see how the record of these examples might apply within our own lives.
For instance, consider the historical reference that Paul mentions here in 1 Corinthians 10:7. When Moses traveled to the upper regions of Mount Sinai to receive God’s instruction (1) how did the people of Israel ultimately respond? Well, the Old Testament book of Exodus provides us with the answer…
“…the Lord said to Moses, Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!'” (Exodus 32:7-8).
The “molded calf” (2) mentioned within this passage is perhaps the best-known example of Old Testament idolatry but it is far from the only one. You see, it was common for a group or individual in the Old Testament era to fashion an image that was carved from wood, molded from metal, or chiseled from stone to serve as an object of devotion.
Of course, some may believe that 21st century culture has progressed to point where people are too advanced to participate in the worship of an inanimate object. But as noted previously, (3) an “idol” does not have to consist of something that is made from wood, stone, or metal. In reality, an ‘idol’ can be anything that someone loves, fears, or depends upon more than God.
For example, there are those who idolize their possessions, their financial wealth, or a relationship of some sort. Remember that an idol can be anything that takes the place of God in someone’s life. Once something has become more important than God in our lives, that thing (whatever it is) effectively becomes our “god.”
(1) See Exodus 24-31
(2) Exodus 32:1-6
“Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell” (1 Corinthians 10:8).
In reaching back to the example of Old Testament Israel, Paul the Apostle issued a cautionary warning that was well suited for life in first-century Corinth: “We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did” (NIV). This reminder was especially important for the members of the Corinthian church in light of Corinth’s association with pagan religions.
Its worth mentioning again that Corinth was home to the Temple of Aphrodite along with the one thousand religious prostitutes who masqueraded as temple priestesses there. Those who were seeking to rationalize their lustful indulgences under the guise of “religion” could easily find their needs met there at the Temple of Aphrodite.
In like manner, the historical example referenced here in 1 Corinthians 10:8 refers to the time when the men of Israel became physically involved with the godless women of the surrounding region of Moab. The Old Testament book of Numbers provides us with the record of that account…
“Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel” (Numbers 25:1-3).
Interestingly, 1 Corinthians 10:8 identifies twenty-three thousand people who died as a result of these actions while Numbers 25:9 tells us that twenty-four thousand perished in connection with these events. The seeming contradiction between these two accounts is addressed by the following commentator…
“The sin mentioned in verse 8 refers to the time when the sons of Israel intermarried with the daughters of Moab (Num. 25). Seduced by Balaam the prophet, they disobeyed the word of the Lord and fell into immorality. We read in verse 8 that in one day twenty-three thousand fell. In the OT, it says that twenty-four thousand died in the plague (Num_25:9).
Critics of the Bible have often used this to try to show a contradiction in the Sacred Scriptures. If they would read the text more carefully, they would see that there is no contradiction. Here it simply states that twenty-three thousand fell in one day. In the OT, the figure of twenty-four thousand describes the entire number that died in the plague.” (1)
(1) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary [10:8] (pg. 1781)
“We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents” (1 Corinthians 10:9 ESV).
The incident referenced here in 1 Corinthians 10:9 is recorded for us in the Biblical book of Numbers…
“Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses: ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.’ So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:4-6).
An interesting parallel to this account can also be found in the New Testament book of Acts…
“…a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’
Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?’
She said, ‘Yes, for so much.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband” (Acts 5:1-10).
Much like the examples referenced here, we may also put “God to the test” whenever we take His provision for granted by demanding a life situation that is more to our preference or by presuming that He is incapable of detecting our actual motives.
“nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer” (1 Corinthians 10:10).
As Paul the Apostle continues to mine the rich vein of application contained within the Old Testament book of Numbers, we now come to 1 Corinthians 10:10. This portion of Scripture brings to mind God’s miraculous provision of manna for the people of Israel to eat as they traveled throughout the desert. Unfortunately, we’re told that a number of people eventually grew disenchanted with that arrangement…
“Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!'” (Numbers 11:4-6).
In response, Numbers 11:18-20 says this…
“…’Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt.’ Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the Lord who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, ‘Why did we ever come up out of Egypt?'”
Psalm 106:15 provides us with a pointed commentary regarding this period of Israel’s history when it tells us that God “…gave them their request, But sent leanness into their soul.” Some paid an even higher price for this self-centered display of thanklessness for it was a decision that cost them their lives (see Numbers 11:31-34).
This unfortunate episode reminds us that it’s possible to get exactly what we think we want yet still be unhappy. In this instance, God gave the people of Israel what they asked for but not what they really wanted. But instead of simply disregarding the blessings that God has already has provided for us, Jesus encouraged us to maintain a different set of priorities…
“…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:33-34 NIV).
“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).
There is a word that we use to describe the type of of attitude referenced here in 1 Corinthians 10:12: presumption. This is important to remember, especially when we consider that Jesus’ own disciples fell prey to a similar response. Consider the example of James and John…
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to (Jesus), saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.’ And He said to them, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ They said to Him, ‘Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory'” (Mark 10:35-37).
So James and John approached Jesus with a rather brash request: “We want seats of honor when you establish your rulership.” In response, Jesus said, “You do not know what you ask. Can you drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” to which they replied, “We are able” (Mark 10:38-39).
Even though James and John were under the impression that they were prepared for any trials they might have endure, we later find that these men (along with the rest of the disciples) actually chose to desert Jesus in His hour of greatest need (Mark 14:43-50). In a similar manner, we may also feel as if we are well prepared to face the challenges associated with a God-honoring life until a period of testing serves to confirm or falsify that belief.
In light of this, we would do well to consider the counsel offered here in 1 Corinthians 10:11-12: “Therefore let the one who thinks he stands firm [immune to temptation, being overconfident and self-righteous], take care that he does not fall [into sin and condemnation]” (AMP). This passage should encourage us to maintain an attitude of humility in making a similar self-assessment, for as one commentator has observed…
“The word ‘examples’ is from a Greek word, ‘tupos’, which means ‘type’. A type is like a printer’s type, a symbol that leaves an impression on the printed page. So these examples Paul mentions are really little allegories, meant to make an impression upon the Corinthian believers and us today.” (1)
(1) Dick Woodward, Mini Bible College International Booklet Eighteen Verse by Verse Study of First Corinthians (Part 1) Chapter 23 “Examples and Warnings” (I Corinthians 10:1–22) http://mbc.icm.org/
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
When used in a Scriptural sense, a “temptation” represents an invitation or opportunity to act in a manner that doesn’t honor God. A temptation can also be seen as a kind of test to serves to determine if someone can be made to respond in an inappropriate manner. In fact, one definition for the word “tempt” involves a trial of one’s fidelity, integrity, or virtue. (1)
Unfortunately, it seems that we often fall prey to a tendency to shift the blame to others whenever we fall into temptation, a penchant that dates back to the experience of the very first human couple. Yet the reality is that no one is compelled to yield to a temptation- there is always a choice involved.
Although God may permit us to experience challenges and difficulties for various reasons, a temptation to sin never comes from God, for as the New Testament book of James tells us “…God never wants to do wrong and never tempts anyone else to do it” (James 1:13, TLB).
Instead 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us “…God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (NIV). This portion of Scripture reminds us that God always provides an “escape hatch” whenever we are presented with a temptation to do wrong.
While this way of escape may take many different forms, the best means of avoiding temptation often involves making an advance decision to stay away from those situations that might encourage it. Another means of avoiding temptation involves the simple but effective advice contained within the following adage: “If you feed it, it grows; if you starve it, it dies.”
In other words, we should prayerfully refrain from feeding those areas of vulnerability to sin that may exist in our lives. If we neglect to do so, those vulnerabilities will surely grow and ultimately become more difficult to overcome. So just as a fire will diminish when it is deprived of fuel or oxygen, the potential for temptation often becomes easier to manage if we diligent to avoid feeding it.
(1) G3986 peirasmos Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
“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” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV).
One of the peculiarities of human nature involves the feeling that the personal challenges, problems, and temptations we experience are exclusive to each of us as individuals. In other words, its not unusual to sometimes feel as if “I’m the only one” who is struggling with a particular issue or difficulty in life. Yet while it is true that every person faces his or her own unique set of circumstances, the reality is that everyone faces a similar set of challenges in dealing with the temptations of life.
You see, it’s been said that there are three obstacles that every God-honoring person must overcome. The first obstacle involves the pressure exerted by a world that goes about it’s business as if God did not exist. The second obstacle can be found in our own natural tendency to think and act in ways that are out of alignment with God’s intent for His creation. The third obstacle is a powerful, unseen spiritual enemy who seeks to depose the Creator and subjugate His creation. (1)
These common obstacles are collectively referred to as “the world, the flesh, and the devil” and the temptations we encounter as a result are often just variations in the time, place, and method- or as we’re told here in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience…” (NLT).
Nevertheless, 1 Corinthians 10:13 also assures us that God will provide a means of escape when dealing with such things. While this might involve the permanent removal of a particular temptation, it might also involve developing the strength and ability in Christ to stand against it.
Unfortunately, it appears that there are always some who seem less interested in finding a way out when facing temptation and more interested in finding a way in by indulging in it. (2) But as one commentator observes…
“Paul’s carefully chosen words imply that at times “escape” from temptation will not entail a change of circumstances, but the Holy Spirit’s power to withstand and endure (2 Cor. 12:2–10)… This well-known verse has provided great encouragement to Christians facing temptations. At the same time, Paul’s words contain an implicit rebuke. If God keeps us from temptations greater than we can withstand, we cannot plead our temptations as an excuse for sinning. Sin is never a necessity for a believer.” (3)
(1) See here
(2) John F. Walvoord Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [10:13] (pg. 527)
(3) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2030). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14 NIV).
The Apostle Paul’s use of the word “therefore” here in 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that he is moving towards the close of this three-chapter discussion on the subject of Christian liberty. Paul will take the remainder of this chapter to complete his address on this subject by returning to a concern that faced many within the first century Corinthian church: the issue of eating meat that had been involved as part of an idolatrous sacrifice.
In a manner reminiscent of his earlier counsel to “Flee from sexual immorality…” (1 Corinthians 6:18 NIV), Paul began by advising his readers to “…get as far away from the worship of false gods as you can” (GW). In commenting on this verse, one source makes an important observation: “The apostle’s inspired advice is to flee from idolatry. He does not say to study about it, to become better acquainted with it, or to trifle with it in any way. They should run in the opposite direction.” (1)
This passage also brings to mind Jesus’ teaching on a similar subject, one that might apply to a more familiar, modern-day form of idolatry…
“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:19-21, 24).
Although it may be easy to accept Jesus’ teaching within this passage in a theoretical sense, it is often more difficult to identify those areas within our personal lives where we have begun to serve our treasures instead of the other way around. In such instances, an objective look at our financial statements, personal interests, and the various things that occupy our time may serve as a more accurate indicator of our true priorities.
If an inventory of our time, finances, and interests show that we are investing in the modern-day equivalents of idolatry, then the Apostle Paul’s advice is just as relevant today as it was in the days of the first century: “My friends, you must keep away from idols” (CEV).
(1) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary [10:14] (p. 1781)
“I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:15-17).
Earlier in his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul the Apostle asked a question of his readers: “…Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” (1 Corinthians 6:5). But Paul’s statement here in 1 Corinthians chapter ten (“You are intelligent people…” [ERV]) tells us that he did indeed believe that the members of the church had the ability to grasp the truths he had been sharing throughout this letter.
This seemingly inconsequential aside carries an implication for those who feel that a belief in the Scriptures means that we must also abandon our capacity for rational thought. In saying, “Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true” (NLT), Paul asked the Corinthians to examine the elements of his argument and render an appropriate judgment. In other words, Paul did not ask the members of this congregation to leave their intellect at the entrance to the church.
Instead, Paul elevated the members of the Corinthian church by revealing his true expectation of them: “I am speaking as to intelligent (sensible) men. Think over and make up your minds [for yourselves] about what I say. [I appeal to your reason and your discernment in these matters.]” (AMPC).
He began by establishing the framework to conclude this section on Christian liberty with an argument that blended elements from the Old and New Testaments. For instance, the “cup of blessing” was a feature of the Jewish Passover celebration and Paul associated this imagery with the elements of communion that Jesus instituted during the last supper. One commentator helps to summarize the idea behind these symbols and prepare us for the application that will follow over the remaining verses of this chapter…
“These statements about the Lord’s Supper demonstrate the significance of taking part in a distinctively religious meal. Just as it would be impossible to take the Lord’s Supper and claim that it had no religious significance, so it is naive for the Corinthians to think they can participate in temple feasts without being involved in idolatry.” (1)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2030). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything?
No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 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” (1 Corinthians 10:18-21 NIV).
To illustrate the spiritual danger associated with the practice of idolatry, Paul the Apostle drew upon the visual imagery associated with the Old Testament sacrificial offerings and the New Testament elements of communion to make his case. One source helpfully summarizes the Apostle’s use of these examples in the following manner…
“Paul’s line of reasoning was proceeding as follows. Christians who eat the bread at the Lord’s Supper thereby express their solidarity with one another and with Christ. Likewise Jews who ate the meat of animals offered in the sacrifices of Judaism expressed their solidarity with one another and with God. Therefore Christians who eat the meat offered to pagan gods as part of pagan worship express their solidarity with pagans and with the pagan deities.” (1)
Another commentator offers the following insight…
“Paul’s point may seem obscure to us, but it was plain to someone in that ancient culture. Just as the Christian practice of communion speaks of unity and fellowship with Jesus, so these pagan banquets, given in the honor of idols, speak of unity with demons who take advantage of misdirected worship. To eat at a pagan temple banquet was to have fellowship at the altar of idols…
In the thinking of that part of the ancient world, to eat at the same table with someone indicated friendship and fellowship with that person. Since you ate of one bread, that made you one body, because you both shared of the same food at the same table. So to eat at the table of a pagan temple restaurant was not as innocent as it seemed.” (2)
So while Paul accepted the fact that an idol was nothing, that did not necessarily mean it was appropriate to attend an idolatrous banquet. First, it was important to consider the detrimental effect that such a choice might have upon others. But there was another consideration as well: where nothing exists, something is bound to eventually seek to fill that void.
Paul identified that “something” in the passage quoted above and we’ll go on to examine his cautionary message in greater detail next.
(1) Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Corinthians 2017 Edition [10:18] http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/1%20Corinthians/1Corinthians.htm
(2) David Guzik, 1 Corinthians 10 – Idolatry Then and Now [2. (15-22)] https://enduringword.com/commentary/1-corinthians-10/
“What am I saying then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I do say that what they sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to participate with demons! You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot share in the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?” (1 Corinthians 10:19-22 HCSB).
While there was nothing inherently wrong with eating something that had once been a part of an idolatrous sacrifice, that did not necessarily mean that it was wise, good, or appropriate to attend such sacrifices or associate with them in any way. Paul the Apostle revealed one reason to avoid doing so in the passage quoted above: those who participated in such things were actually engaged with hostile spiritual forces beyond their understanding.
In one respect, these idols were simply images that had been crafted from stone, wood, or metal and were really no different than a brick, a table, or a paper clip in that regard. However, Paul’s concern was related to how those inanimate objects were used.
You see, Paul was aware of something that those who who participated in these idolatrous practices failed to comprehend: malevolent spiritual beings were using these sacrifices to usurp the worship that should have been directed towards the only One who was truly worthy of it.
One source makes an especially perceptive comment in regard to these first-century acts of idolatry, one that carries 21st century implications…
“Although Christians may understand that a thing is neither right nor wrong in itself, when they participate in the wrong use of an object, they become partners with the evil person who is using that object to destroy goodness. This is not guilt by association, but guilt by participation. Can we buy, sell, attend, defend things and places devoted to sin and destruction of mind and body without sharing in the devil’s work?” (1)
In addition, this passage should serve as a warning for those who may be tempted to seek direction from a spiritual source other than the God of the Scriptures. Such alternative sources might include things like fortune-telling, astrology, psychic readings, or the use of tarot cards, Ouija boards, or other similar forms of divination.
Much like the people who were engaged in these first-century forms of idolatry, those who choose to participate in such things may also find also themselves engaged with malevolent spiritual forces beyond their limited understanding.
(1) Paul T. Butler, Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In First Corinthians College Press Publishing Company, Joplin, Missouri [pg. 190] https://archive.org/stream/FirstCorinthians/131Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too. What? Do we dare to rouse the Lord’s jealousy? Do you think we are stronger than He is?” (1 Corinthians 10:21-22 NLT).
In contrast to the sacrament of communion that was instituted by Jesus for His church, the Corinthian believers were presented with a kind of spiritual counterfeit that was observed among the pagan religions that flourished in first-century Corinth. The question faced by the men and women of the Corinthian church is similar to one that God’s people must face in evaluating such alternatives today: are such choices morally and spiritually appropriate?
One commentator defines these options in a straightforward manner…
“It is inconsistent for a Christian to partake in the Lord’s Supper and to take part in pagan religious feasts. In the former he eats and drinks in union with Christ, and in the latter he is in union with demons who direct the devotees to worship idols. What the Lord promotes and what the demons promote are opposite…
Christians have a unique relationship with the Lord and with fellow believers, which the Lord’s Supper symbolizes. It is, therefore, inappropriate for us to have a similar association with demons and unbelievers (1Co_10:20-21), which participation in pagan cultic events involves.” (1)
When faced with the modern-day equivalents to such activities, a few questions may be helpful. For example…
- Will my participation in this act send the wrong message to others concerning what I claim to believe?
- In 1 Corinthians 11:1 the Apostle Paul will go on to say, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Is my participation in this act or event something that others should imitate?
- Does this reflect well upon Jesus and His teachings?
- Will I be able to give a good answer if I am called to account for my participation in this act or event?
As Proverbs 9:10 reminds us, “…the reverence and fear of God are basic to all wisdom. Knowing God results in every other kind of understanding” (TLB). Despite the fact that these idols were nothing, those who chose to participate in the pagan rituals of first century Corinth displayed a lack of reverence for the God they served- and we would do well to consider their example as we pursue the choices and decisions of daily life.
(1) Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Corinthians 2017 Edition [10:21] http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/1%20Corinthians/1Corinthians.htm
“Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Corinthians 10:22 ESV).
This passage (along with others such as Exodus 34:14, Deuteronomy 4:24, and Deuteronomy 5:8-9) may be difficult to reconcile with the Biblical concept of a holy, righteous, and morally perfect Creator. Since jealousy is generally associated with a negative human emotion, how can we attribute this sort of response to God?
Part of the issue may be related to the fact that we often associate jealousy with a sense of insecurity in regard to something we have or wish to possess. However, God is never threatened by a sense of insecurity. Therefore, we might best understand this reference using the analogy of a marriage relationship. Just as a virtuous husband or wife will not share his or her spouse with another person, God also seeks an exclusive relationship with His people and will not share that relationship with anyone or anything else.
By choosing to associate themselves with the hidden (but all too real) worship of demonic entities through their participation in the functions held at the pagan temples of Corinth, the Corinthian Christians ran the risk of provoking the God who was jealously protective of His relationship with them. As one source explains, “It doesn’t matter that the Corinthian Christians didn’t intend to worship demons at these heathen feasts in pagan temples; if a man puts his hand into the fire, it doesn’t matter if he intends to burn himself or not. He is burned just the same.” (1)
Another source also goes on to provide us with an in-depth response to this question…
“God is jealous in the good sense of the word, namely, He is jealous for the love and devotion of His people (compare Exodus 20:5). Paul spoke of a “Godly jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:2). The verses on God’s jealousy are all in the context of idolatry. Like any true lover, God is jealous when anyone or anything else steals the devotion of His beloved.
Human jealousy is often coveting what does not belong to us. However, God’s jealousy is protecting what does belong to Him, namely His own supremacy. It is not a sin for God to claim allegiance of His creatures because He is the Creator. And He knows that it is best for them not to make an ultimate commitment to what is less than ultimate (idols). Only an ultimate commitment to what is really Ultimate will ultimately satisfy the human heart. God is jealous to protect this.” (2)
(1) David Guzik, 1 Corinthians 10 – Idolatry Then and Now https://enduringword.com/commentary/1-corinthians-10/
(2) Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe When Critics Ask A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties Victor Books (Exodus 4:21).
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).
In 1 Corinthians 10:23, Paul the Apostle reiterated a principle established earlier in 1 Corinthians 6:12 with one additional observation: ‘”Everything is lawful,’ but not everything builds others up” (NET). Since Paul made a point to repeat this concept virtually word-for-word, it might be useful to consider this verse more closely by examining how different Biblical translations render 1 Corinthians 10:23…
“Some of you say, ‘We can do whatever we want to!’ But I tell you that not everything may be good or helpful” (CEV).
“You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is good for you” (NLT).
“There’s a slogan often quoted on matters like this: ‘All things are permitted.’ Yes, but not all things are beneficial” (Voice).
So while Paul agreed that “All things are lawful…” the question was not simply limited to whether something was permissible; it also involved whether the thing in question was expedient (ASV), wise (BBE), or constructive (NIV). Yet even “all things…” should not be taken to mean that anything is permissible in an absolute sense for it would be wrong to suggest that we are free to act in a way that conflicts with God’s holy character.
Instead, we can apply this principle in the everyday choices and decisions of daily life in such diverse areas as our schedules, our purchases, and the way in which we spend our leisure time. You see, there may be any number of areas where a choice or action may be perfectly lawful but not necessarily beneficial for ourselves or others.
Unfortunately, it can often be difficult to make such determinations at the point of decision. Therefore, we would be well advised to seek God for three things on a daily basis: wisdom (or the ability to know what to do with the facts), perception (a truthful assessment of a given situation or an accurate understanding of how others regard us), and discernment (or the ability to see things as they really are).
The qualities of wisdom, perception, and discernment can help us make good, God-honoring choices or identify those areas where our words and actions may have a detrimental effect. They can also help us determine what is truly beneficial in a given situation, even in those circumstances where others may fail to grasp or accept the rationale for our choices and decisions.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’–but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).
The term “tunnel vision” can be informally defined as “The tendency to focus exclusively on a single or limited objective or view.” (1) When used in the context of our personal relationships, this term can also refer to a failure to perceive how one’s actions might negatively impact others.
These definitions are important because a person who exhibits these qualities will surely encounter difficulty in implementing the counsel found here in 1 Corinthians 10:24: “None of you should be looking out for your own interests, but for the interests of others” (GNB).
You see, there are any number of ways in which otherwise caring individuals might exhibit a hidden degree of self-interest. For instance, we might subtly attempt to steer conversations towards subjects of interest to us. Or perhaps we might quietly view the circumstances of others through a filter of how we might personally benefit.
Parents may press their children to make choices that are more aligned with their own interests rather than the child’s demonstrated level of talent, skill, ability, or desire. Or we may fail to allow others to “be themselves” by subtly pressuring them to conform to our preferences in various areas of life.
The point is that whenever we fail to consider the impact of our choices and decisions upon others in these ways, we often pay the price in strained relationships, an erosion of respect or authority, or a lack of depth in our fellowship with others.
Of course, its often difficult to perceive these realities for it is far easier to identify such behaviors in others than ourselves. Therefore, we might wish to adapt a concept from the professional law-enforcement community: the idea of “situational awareness” or the ability to accurately perceive an environmental condition and make appropriate decisions.
Those who prayerfully seek to become “situationally aware” are often in the best position to recognize when a seemingly well-intentioned action might actually be rooted in self-interest rather than the good of others.
As one commentary observes,
“…The goal here is not a general hypersensitivity that worries about what others might possibly think. Rather, it is a genuine awareness of others and a willingness to limit what we do when there is a real possibility of misunderstanding and offense. Some actions may not be wrong, but they may not be in the best interest of others… We are not to consider only ourselves; we must also consider the needs and perspective of others.” (2)
(1) “tunnel vision” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/tunnel_vision
(2) Life Application Study Bible [1 Corinthians 10:23-24] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it'” (1 Corinthians 10:25-26).
In keeping with the Apostle Paul’s use of sporting analogies, we might say that 1 Corinthians 10:25 begins the “home stretch” or final portion of this chapter before reaching the finish. Here within this portion of Scripture, the Apostle will offer his final instructions in regard to Christian liberty by using the example of food purchased at a local market.
Although it would be inappropriate for the members of the Corinthian church to attend or participate in a ceremony where idolatrous sacrifices were offered, the fact that some of those sacrifices eventually found their way to the meat market had no bearing on the actual food itself. Unless there was an extenuating circumstance (which Paul will go on to detail in the following verses), the Corinthian Christians could feel free to enjoy a meal prepared with such ingredients in good conscience.
You see, once these sacrificial offerings were disengaged from their association with a pagan temple, they reverted back to a position of spiritual neutrality. If we were to borrow a term used in modern-day software programming, we might say that such offerings had been “debugged” so to speak, since they no longer held any spiritual significance.
While a Christian who participated in a ceremony held at a pagan religious temple might legitimately have his or her commitment to Jesus called into question, a simple purchase at the local butcher shop was unlikely to raise such concerns. And as Paul mentioned, God maintains ownership responsibility for the world and everything in it; therefore, He reserves the right to override any human apprehension related to the origin of such food.
For Paul, the critical principle was summarized by the following paraphrase of verse twenty-six: “‘The earth,’ after all, ‘is God’s, and everything in it.’ That ‘everything’ certainly includes the leg of lamb in the butcher shop” (MSG). In commenting on this portion of Scripture, one source concludes by observing…
“In 10:25-27 two issues are held together by their shared advice, in effect, ‘Don’t ask whether the food was previously offered in a sacrifice to an idol. It is not a moral issue.’ Although Paul forbids eating at pagan temples (10:1-22), here he insists that the issue is not food itself but the situation in which it is eaten. In religiously neutral situations, the source of the food is a matter of indifference.” (1)
(1) Asbury Bible Commentary F. Food Sacrificed to Idols (8:1–11:1) https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/asbury-bible-commentary/Food-Sacrificed-Idols
“If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. but if anyone says to you, ‘this was offered to idols,’ do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness” (1 Corinthians 10:27-28).
The question of how to respond to an invitation from someone who might be planning to serve a sacrificial offering for dinner may not seem very relevant today. However, this passage provides us with a hypothetical situation that helps establish some important guidelines that we can apply in any number of modern-day social situations.
The first element contained within our hypothetical example is this: “If an unbeliever invites you to dinner…” (CEV). So this scenario begins with the presumption that the person involved has an acquaintance with a host who does not share his or her faith. In general, this implies that we can and should maintain friendly relationships with others whenever possible, even with those who do not share the same spiritual beliefs.
Nevertheless, this does not necessarily mean that we are obligated to act on every such request: “…accept the invitation if you want to” (NLT). In other words, there is nothing wrong with a decision to decline such an invitation; in fact, doing so might actually be a wise choice in certain situations for as the Apostle Paul will later go on to tell us, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character'” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV).
The third element involves the meal itself: “…eat whatever is served without asking questions of conscience” (NET). Since “…everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4 NIV), a man or woman of God has the liberty to enjoy a variety of different foods if he or she wishes to do so.
However, there is an important caveat: “…if someone says to you, ‘This meat was offered as a sacrifice,’ then don’t eat it, out of consideration for the person who pointed it out and also for conscience’s sake” (CJB). That “someone” might be a fellow Christian or even a conscientious non-Christian host or dinner guest. While its easy to understand why another Christian might object to such a meal, there is a reason to explain why those who were less spiritually inclined might also elect to do so- and we’ll look at that explanation next.
“…if someone tells you, ‘That food was offered to idols,’ then don’t eat it. That’s because some people think it is wrong, and it might cause a problem for the person who told you that” (1 Corinthians 10:28 ERV).
A Christian who worked for a secular employer once visited the home of a co-worker who had unexpectedly been relieved of his duties earlier in the day. In the course of their conversation, the now-former co-worker offered the man something to drink but quickly added, “I know you don’t drink alcohol.” The Christian accepted his host’s offer of a non-alcoholic alternative and they continued their visit.
Nevertheless, the Christian was somewhat perplexed by this comment since he could not recall a time when the subject of alcohol abstention had ever been discussed between them. It then occurred to him that even though they had never discussed that topic, his faith in Christ was generally well-known among his co-workers. This, in turn, led him to conclude that his host must have made some indirect assumptions concerning him.
You see, this former co-worker correctly assumed that a dedicated believer in Christ would naturally be opposed to alcohol abuse. (1) This would serve to explain why he might presume that a Christian might choose to abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages entirely.
Yet rather than debate the subject of whether or not it was appropriate for a Christian to drink alcohol in moderation, the man voluntarily chose to limit his freedom in deference to his host’s expectation of what a Christian should and shouldn’t do. One source expands on this real-life example and ties it together with 1 Corinthians 10:28…
“A pagan host might warn his Christian guest that the food before him had been offered in an idol temple… He does not want his Christian guest to be unaware that he is being served food that the Christian might object to and might want to abstain from eating…
Specifically, if the Christian ate the meat, the pagan might conclude that his guest was doing something Christians should not do. He would be wrong, of course. Yet Paul advocated not violating the pagan’s understanding of what Christians should or should not do rather than instructing him about Christian freedom at the table.
A present-day analogy may be imagined if someone with strong principles on total abstention from alcohol were the guest of friends who did not share these principles. He would be well advised not to enquire too carefully about the ingredients of some specially palatable sauce or trifle, but if someone said to him pointedly, ‘There is alcohol in this, you know’, he might feel that he was being put on the spot and could reasonably ask to be excused from having any of it.” (2)
(2) Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Corinthians 2017 Edition [10:28-29a] http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/1%20Corinthians/1Corinthians.htm
“But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience” (1 Corinthians 10:28 NIV).
Along with the liberty that accompanies our freedom in Christ, it is important to guard against the danger of arrogance as we interact with others who may not possess a similar sense of freedom in regard to a particular action or decision.
You see, we might be inclined to reply, “That’s your problem, not mine” if we are confronted with an attempt to question our choices in areas where others may reach different (but legitimate) conclusions concerning what is right and what is wrong. But a dismissive, patronizing, or condescending response in such instances may actually serve to reveal more about ourselves than anything else.
This kind of response may sometimes result from a prideful sense of resistance towards those who might dare to question or judge our choices and decisions. Or it might serve to reveal the possibility that we are not entirely convinced that what we are doing is right in a given situation.
For example, there is an old adage that says, “If you throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the dog that howls is the one who was hit.” In this instance, a person who legitimately seeks to question someone’s freedom in a debatable area is the “rock thrower” so to speak- and our response may serve to indicate whether that rock is on target or missed the mark.
So this passage, along with 1 Corinthians 8:9, serves to remind us of the need to demonstrate graciousness and courtesy whenever there is a legitimate possibility that our liberty in Christ might misrepresent Jesus or lead to misunderstandings concerning Him. One commentator helps to put this idea in perspective…
“With all the freedom in Christ and with the liberated conscience of the believer comes the danger of callousness on the part of the person who knows an idol is not a god. It is often true that the non-Christian has a much stricter opinion of the proper behavior of a Christian than a fellow-Christian has.
So the Christian must be willing to sacrifice his “rights” even when the unbeliever is excessively scrupulous. If a Christian is insensitive and disregards the scruples of an unbelieving friend, he almost inevitably damages his influence for Christ with that friend.” (1)
(1) Paul T. Butler, Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In First Corinthians College Press Publishing Company, Joplin, Missouri [pg. 195] https://archive.org/stream/FirstCorinthians/131Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“‘Conscience,’ I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?” (1 Corinthians 10:29-30).
The course of action that the Apostle Paul prescribes here in 1 Corinthians 10:29-30 may often present a challenge as we interact with others on a daily basis. For instance, consider the factors that might be involved in determining the proper course of action in those areas that may not be a matter of conscience for us, but could be for others…
- It might involve prayerfully uncovering the motivations behind our choices to determine if we are truly acting in a God-honoring manner.
- It might require us to sift through a number of alternative options.
- We might have to consider the potential impact of our decisions upon others; perhaps many others.
- It might involve the abandonment of what “feels right” in order to act in a manner that will withstand the scrutiny of the God to whom we must give an account (see Hebrews 4:13).
This often represents messy, difficult work that may involve a considerable amount of effort on our part. You see, anyone who truly desires to make a God-honoring choice when confronted with a “gray area” in life will inevitably be faced with the following question: “If I can act with a clear conscience in this area, why should my freedom be limited by someone who may or may not be a wise or spiritually mature person?”
The answer to that question involves two considerations, one vertical and one horizontal. First, we are responsible to voluntarily limit our freedoms if doing so would legitimately serve the best interests of others- that represents the horizontal element. Paul will go on to address the vertical component in the following verse.
In the case of a fellow Christian who holds a different opinion as to what is appropriate and inappropriate in a given situation, one source reminds us of the need to make an important distinction…
“A knowledgeable Christian did not need to alter his convictions to accord with the conscience of a weaker brother (1Co_10:29), but he did need to alter his behavior when in the weaker brother’s presence. Otherwise the weak brother might act against his conscience and harm himself (cf. 1Co_8:11), which would bring denunciation on the strong brother.” (1)
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck Bible Knowledge Commentary [10:27-30] (p. 528)
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
In 1 Corinthians 10:29, Paul the Apostle asked, “Why should my freedom be determined by someone else’s conscience?” (CJB). In other words, why would someone surrender his or her freedom based on what someone else thinks? Why would someone decline to exercise a legitimate right simply because someone else feels that he or she should do otherwise? In fact, why would we even wish to consider what someone else thinks?
Well, Paul provides an answer to that question here in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (NLT). The idea is that we are not only responsible for considering the needs of others in the choices and decisions of daily life but we are responsible for placing God’s interests ahead of our own as well.
For instance, an action that might encourage another person to violate his or her conscience does not serve to honor God. Instead, one source identifies a consideration that should serve to represent our true objective…
“What glorifies God? Consideration for the consciences of other people and promotion of their wellbeing does. This contrasts with the observance of distinctions between foods, the satisfaction of one’s personal preferences, and insistence on one’s own rights. What glorifies God is what puts His preferences, plans, and program first (cf. Col_3:17).” (1)
When presented with a legitimate question regarding our liberty to pursue a particular course of action, we should take time to consider the potential impact of our choices from God’s perspective. For example, the following questions may help narrow the potential options in a given situation:
- Would this decision honor God by strengthening another person’s faith or would it serve to weaken it?
- Would this decision build others up in Christ or is there a reasonable possibility that it may stumble others?
- Can I do this to the glory of God?
Instead of carelessly exercising our freedoms in a manner that may reflect poorly on our relationship with Jesus, Paul suggested a better course of action in his letter to the church at Rome…
“You may know that there is nothing wrong with what you do, even from God’s point of view, but keep it to yourself; don’t flaunt your faith in front of others who might be hurt by it. In this situation, happy is the man who does not sin by doing what he knows is right” (Romans 14:22 TLB).
(1) Constable, Thomas. DD. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 10:4”. “Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable“. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/1-corinthians-10.html. 2012. [v.31]
“Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God– even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:31-32 NIV).
The New Testament letter of James identifies one aspect of the human condition that most of us would probably like to forget: “…we all stumble in many things” (James 3:2). However there is a difference between a simple mistake, oversight, or misunderstanding and the deliberate act of causing someone else to stumble. This is the idea that we’ll explore as we consider the final verses of 1 Corinthians chapter ten.
You see, a person who truly seeks to honor God is someone who will make a good-faith effort to identify those areas that might potentially stumble (or adversely affect) someone else. From a positive perspective, such a person will actively consider what may help to benefit others. From a negative perspective, he or she will seek to avoid those situations or activities that may serve to provide others with an opportunity to unjustly criticize Jesus or His followers.
As with the qualifications for spiritual leaders mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:2-3, we should also take care that our lives do not provide others with an opportunity to misrepresent Christ or place an obstacle before those who seek to follow him. This may be more difficult than it appears at first glance, for as one commentator is quick to point out…
“Strange as it may seem, there are Christians who, while being careful not to offend an unbeliever, are careless about offending a brother in Christ. That is somewhat like the behavior of certain persons toward their immediate family members—showing deference and politeness to strangers while being rude and insensitive toward father, mother, brothers and sisters. So, Paul makes a point of saying, ‘Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church (Gr. ekklesia, congregation) of God.'” (1)
At the time this letter to the Corinthians was written, the term “…Jews, Greeks or the church of God” encompassed all human beings regardless of race or national origin. For example, “the Jews” identified the people of Israel, the “church of God” referred to those who followed Jesus, and “Greeks” served to identify everyone else.
Therefore, the Apostle Paul’s counsel applies equally both inside and outside the church: “Live in such a way as to cause no trouble either to Jews or Gentiles or to the church of God” (GNB).
(1) Paul T. Butler, Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In First Corinthians College Press Publishing Company, Joplin, Missouri [pg. 196] https://archive.org/stream/FirstCorinthians/131Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please all people in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33 HCSB).
The idea of “trying to please all people in all things” does not necessarily mean that we should strive to make everyone happy. Nor does it mean that we are automatically obligated to accept or endorse the beliefs and opinions of others just to please them. Instead, these verses provide us with the means to properly apply this teaching by identifying what the Apostle Paul sought to achieve: “I am not trying to do what is good for me. I am trying to do what is good for the most people so that they can be saved” (ERV).
As Paul has reiterated on a number of occasions throughout this three-chapter section on Christian liberty, it is important to maintain an awareness of other’s needs in the choices and decisions of daily life. One commentary illustrates this idea by further identifying what it does (and doesn’t) mean…
“Paul’s criterion for all his actions was not what he liked best but what was best for those around him. The opposite approach would be (1) being insensitive and doing what we want, no matter who is hurt by it; (2) being oversensitive and doing nothing, for fear that someone may be displeased; (3) being a “yes person” by going along with everything, trying to gain approval from people rather than from God.
In this age of ‘me first’ and ‘looking out for number one,’ Paul’s startling statement is a good standard. If we make the good of others one of our primary goals, we will develop a serving attitude that pleases God.” (1)
The affairs of daily life present us with a number of different ways to apply these teachings on a regular basis. In some instances, it may require us to accommodate a person who possesses a sensitive conscience. In other situations, it may be more appropriate to respectfully set the right example for others in regard to our liberty in Christ.
Remember that love always seeks another person’s highest good- and if we take the time to consider the highest good from God’s perspective in our relationships with others, we can be confident that we are exercising our liberty in Christ in an appropriate manner.
(1) Bruce B. Barton, Grant R. Osborne, Philip W. Comfort, Life Application Bible Commentary Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1999 [pg.150]