1 Cor. 10:1-13

1 Cor. 10:1-13

SERIES: Christ Is the Answer When the Church Is in Crisis

The Peril of Overconfidence

SCRIPTURE: 1 Cor. 10:1-13

Introduction:  Someone has said that if history teaches us anything, it is that history teaches us nothing.  In other words, those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes.  In 1 Corinthians 10 the Apostle Paul gives us a major history lesson, with the express purpose of getting us to learn from the past.  In chapter 9 he told us that he kept his body in top shape spiritually because he didn’t want to end up being disqualified from the race, i.e., the Christian life.  What he considered a possibility in his own life, he now presents as a sad reality in the lives of the OT Israelites.  Let’s pick up our reading with the first verse of chapter 10:

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. {2} They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. {3} They all ate the same spiritual food {4} and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. {5} Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. 

{6} Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. {7} Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” {8} We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did‑‑and in one day twenty‑three thousand of them died. {9} We should not test the Lord, as some of them did‑‑and were killed by snakes. {10} And do not grumble, as some of them did‑‑and were killed by the destroying angel. 

{11} These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. {12} So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! {13} No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it.

The historical period the Apostle Paul is referring to here is the time that followed the Exodus from Egypt, when the Jewish people wandered for nearly 40 years in the Sinai desert under the leadership of Moses, the former Prince of Egypt.  Please follow along with an open Bible, because this is a great passage in which to underline some things, particularly the repetitions Paul uses to drive his point home.

ALL of God’s people enjoy great spiritual privileges. (1-5)  

I would underline the word “all” in your Bible, as Paul says the following of his forefathers, the ancient people of Israel:

“ALL were under the cloud.”

“ALL passed through the sea.”

“ALL were baptized into Moses.”

“ALL ate the same spiritual food.”

“ALL drank the same spiritual drink.”  

In the original Greek the word “all” is repeated five times, though strangely the NIV leaves it out with the last item, probably thinking it was getting a little repetitious.  Sure, it’s repetitious, but for a reason.  He’s trying to drive home the point that no one was left out.  God in His grace included the entire community of Israel in these privileges.

Let’s take these privileges one by one.  The first, “all were under the cloud,” reminds us of the fact that during Israel’s wilderness wanderings God provided a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  The cloud protected them from the horrendous heat of the desert, while the pillar gave them protection from the cold of night.  Both were used by God to guide the people from one place to the next.  The cloud didn’t rest just over the priests and Levites and leave the lay people out.  Nor did it cover only the spiritual people and leave the immature ones out.  All of them were under the cloud.

Second, “all passed through the sea.”  When the Israelites finally escaped from Egypt after the Ten Plagues, they faced an insurmountable obstacle as they arrived at the Sea of Reeds.  With Pharaoh and his army closing in on them, God told Moses, 

“Tell the Israelites to move on.  Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground….  Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land.  The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.”  (Exodus 14:15-16, 21-22).  

All of them escaped through the sea; none was left on the western shore; none was caught in the torrent when the walls of water collapsed, trapping Pharaoh’s army.

Third, “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”  Obviously, the reference here is not to water baptism, because the people didn’t even get their feet wet.  The root meaning of the term “baptism” is “identification,” and clearly that is what is intended here.  The people attached themselves to Moses and were identified with his leadership and with God’s blessing on him as they followed him into the wilderness.  

Fourth and fifth, “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.”  By calling the food and drink “spiritual,” he is not denying that it was physical; rather he means it had a supernatural source.  Clearly the food here is a reference to the manna and quail which God provided from heaven, which fed the Israelites throughout their wilderness wanderings.  The drink refers to the water which God provided, which gushed out of a rock.  All of them enjoyed this supernatural sustenance, not just some of them.

By the way, there is a very curious statement at the end of verse 4: “for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”  If you are familiar with the history of Israel from the books of Exodus and Numbers, you may be aware that twice during their wilderness wanderings God provided water from a rock–once at the beginning of the journey at a place called Rephidim and once toward the end at another place called Kadesh.  The latter event had a profound impact on Moses, for on that occasion he disobeyed God by striking the rock when God had told him to speak to it.  Because of that act of disobedience, Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land but died within sight of it.  

The fact that God produced water from a rock at both the beginning and end of the journey contributed to the development of a legend, namely that the rock actually accompanied them throughout their four decades in the wilderness.  Whenever they needed water, they would just go to the rock and turn on a spigot.  Now that was only a legend, not reality, but Paul picks up on it and says, in effect, “There is a sense in which that legend is true.  There was a Rock that accompanied them, namely the Pre-incarnate Christ, the Angel of the Lord–God’s Son, Jesus, before He became incarnate.  He ministered to them and protected them during their wanderings and led them to the Promised Land.” 

Now stop and think about these five great spiritual privileges and consider why Paul chose these five events in writing a history lesson for the Corinthians.  I think it’s because there is a remarkable parallel in each case to the privileges NT believers enjoyed, and believers today enjoy.  The cloud, for example, speaks of God’s providence (i.e., His protection and guidance).  The Exodus experience is the paradigm illustration of redemption, i.e., God’s rescue of us from our slavery to sin.  Baptism into Moses parallels, of course, NT baptism, through which the believer identifies with Christ.  And supernatural food and drink are an obvious reference to the Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine of which reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice.  

Here is what he is saying: every great privilege the ancient Jew enjoyed has a parallel for us.  And just as no Israelite was left out, so no believer is left out.  If you are a true believer in Christ, these privileges are yours for the taking.  And these are only representative privileges.  What are some others?  Think of your Christian family, a church that teaches the truth, loving friends, Bible studies, community groups!  You’re a King’s Kid.  You’re special!  

Well, anyone who enjoys such great spiritual privileges must have all the motivation he could possibly need to live in obedience to Christ.  Right?  Look at the next word: “nevertheless.”  This is the strongest adversative in the Greek language.  Every Israelite enjoyed these great spiritual privileges, BUT God was not pleased with most of them.  

I see two remarkable understatements here.  One is the phrase, “most of them.”  The fact is, God was not pleased with any of them, except Caleb and Joshua.  They were the only ones allowed into the Promised Land, because everyone else refused to trust God when the twelve spies were sent into the Land to check it out just as they were on the brink of entering early in their journey.  The spies, you may recall, came back affirming everything God had said–it was a land flowing with milk and honey, a rich and fertile place.  But ten of the spies concluded it was too risky because the cities were fortified, there were giants in the land, and giants who made them seem like grasshoppers.  Only Caleb and Joshua believed that God could give them the land. 

The other understatement is that “God was not pleased.”  You bet He wasn’t!  If you read the account of the wilderness wanderings, you discover that God was so fed up with the rebellion and unbelief of the people that He determined to wipe them out and start over.  He would give Moses a new nation to work with.  Because of Moses’ intercession, God decided not to annihilate the nation, but He did bring judgment on them.  Listen to God’s words from Numbers 14:29-32:

“In this desert your bodies will fall–every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.  As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected.  But you–your bodies will fall in this desert.”  

That’s exactly what Paul recalls when he says in verse 5, “their bodies were scattered over the desert.”  The picture is stunning–for the next 37 years the desert was strewn with corpses, bloated with supernatural food and supernatural drink.

Now there is a lesson for the Corinthian Christians in all this.  Though they lived 1400 years later, the experiences of the ancient Jews serve as examples to keep them from making the same mistakes.  And though we live another 2000 years later, these examples should keep us from making the same mistake of taking our spiritual blessings for granted and failing to trust God, who freely gave them to us.

Unfortunately, however, we see in the second paragraph that …

MANY of God’s people experience great spiritual failure.  (6-11)

These failures are expressed in the context of warnings to us, once again from the lives of the same ancient Jews.  And again there is a phrase repeated five times which might be good to underline:

“We should not set our hearts on evil things, AS THEY DID.”

“Do not be idolaters, AS SOME OF THEM WERE.” 

“We should not commit sexual immorality, AS SOME OF THEM DID.” 

“We should not test the Lord, AS SOME OF THEM DID.” 

“And do not grumble, AS SOME OF THEM DID.” 

Let’s look at each of these failures, one by one.  First, the ancient Jews set their hearts on evil things.  The KJV speaks of them “lusting” after evil things.  The NASV uses the term “crave.”  The historical reference which helps explain Paul’s point is found in Numbers 11.  After crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites journeyed to Mt. Sinai, where they spent just over a year getting organized, receiving the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Mosaic Law, and building the Tabernacle.  But unbelievably, just three days after leaving Sinai, they start complaining about their hardships.  The Lord judges them with fire, but within a few short days they are complaining again.  We read in verse 4 of Numbers 11: 

“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’”

Now while I don’t particularly share their appetite, I am tempted to ask, “Why does Paul use this incident as proof that they set their hearts on evil things?  Are onions evil?  Are melons evil?”  No, of course not, at least not in themselves, but if God has provided one thing and we want something else, then that is evil. 

The second spiritual failure, mentioned in verse 7, is that they participated in idolatry.  And here Paul backs up his assertion with a quotation from Exodus 32:6, the Golden Calf incident, with which you are probably familiar.  He says, “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.”  The worship of the Golden Calf is one of the low points of Israel’s history.  While Moses was up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, the people decided he had been gone too long and asked Aaron to “make us gods who will go before us.  As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”  (Exodus 32:1)

So, Aaron took their jewelry and fashioned a golden calf for them to use in their worship of God, something God Himself had strictly forbidden.  Furthermore, Aaron scheduled a festival, where they could eat, drink, and indulge in revelry.  The whole thing turned into a wild, drunken orgy, not too different from Mardi Gras today.

Moses, of course, was shocked and furious when he came down from the mountain and saw all this happening, to the point that he threw the Ten Commandments down, took the calf they had made, burned it in the fire, ground it to powder, scattered the powder on the water, and made the people drink it.  Tough medicine, wouldn’t you say?   Then the Lord brought a plague upon the people to top off His discipline.

The third spiritual failure, mentioned in verse 8, is sexual immorality.  As we have already seen, immorality was a major problem in Corinth, for the Temple of the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, was the focal point of the city, with its hundreds of temple prostitutes and degrading worship of fertility and sex.  Some of this gross immorality had even infiltrated the church, as we saw in chapters 5 & 6.  

So, Paul goes back to Numbers 25, where just before entering the Promised Land, God brought judgment on the Israelite men for indulging in sexual immorality with Moabite women.  The Moabites had invited the Israelites to attend the sacrifices to their gods, and possibly in a well-intentioned attempt at “friendship evangelism” toward the Moabites, they got caught up in the sexual immorality that was inevitably part of pagan worship.  God judged them with another plague, resulting in more than 23,000 deaths.[i]  What does this say to those today who think God is just a God of love who winks at promiscuity?

The fourth spiritual failure, verse 9, is that they tested the Lord.  In Numbers 21:4, 5 we find the people of God once again complaining: 

“They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food (the Manna)!’”

The point Paul makes of this incident is that when people are not satisfied with God’s provision and even detest what He gives them, they are testing His patience. The result was God allowed a plague of venomous snakes to come upon them, and many died.  The only solution God provided was to have Moses make a bronze snake and put it on a pole.  Anyone who was bitten could look at it and live.  

That event is, of course, used by the Apostle John as an illustration of Jesus’ death.  Listen to John 3:14: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

Finally, verse 10, “And do not grumble, as some of them did–and were killed by the destroying angel.”  The term for grumble in Greek is a unique example of onomatopoeia, i.e., a word which sounds like its meaning.  The word is yoyyudzo, pronounced in English as “gongudzo.”  Even if you didn’t know what it meant, it sounds like grumbling, doesn’t it?  

The historical reference is to the story of Korah’s rebellion, found in Numbers 16:3-4.  Korah recruited 250 community leaders to join him in a coup against Aaron and Moses.  The text says Korah was insolent, which means he was insultingly contemptuous in speech and conduct toward the leadership that God had put in place.  Today we would say he had “an attitude.”  The result is that God caused Korah and the other leaders of the rebellion to be swallowed up by an earthquake.  Then fire from the Lord devoured the rest of the rebels.  Finally, a plague took the lives of 14,700 who had sympathized with them.  What’s the point here?  God doesn’t take lightly to grumbling or complaining against Himself or His appointed leaders.  In fact, He takes it quite seriously.

Now aren’t you glad God doesn’t normally discipline us today as swiftly or as permanently as He did then?  After all, each of these five spiritual failures has its parallels in the church today.  The parallel to setting our heart’s affections on evil things is greed or coveting, and whether the object of our coveting is a neighbor’s mouse, house, or spouse, it is wrong, and we will not escape the judgment of God. 

Idolatry is still practiced today, though we hide it better.  Idols, you know, do not have to be made of wood or metal or stone.  Of course, we are too sophisticated for such things.  Many today have made virtual gods of success, wealth, possessions, love, lust, social service, self-image, or the environment.  Anything that overtakes our first loyalty and allegiance to God is an idol.  By the way, two nearly foolproof ways to know what you idolize is to look at your checkbook or your Palm Pilot (or Day Timer for those of us who are technologically challenged).  

Sexual immorality is still a major problem.  Many Christians fall into moral problems because they put themselves into situations which they think they can handle, often finding out too late that they cannot.  Or they go places and do things closely associated with immorality, stopping short of gross immorality themselves.  But even if a person never commits an immoral act in such a situation, his mind is filled with vulgar ideas and images, and his spiritual life and testimony are seriously weakened.[ii]

Testing the Lord is something we do whenever we question His goodness and look down on His provision.  Suppose you want to be a soloist in church, but God only provides you the opportunity to sing in the choir?  Suppose, young people, you desperately want a 30 on your ACT but you only get a 28?  If you aren’t careful, you can begin to question God’s goodness and fail to see the blessings He does give you as sufficient.  Remember, God is good, all the time.

Grumbling is a related and common problem for some Christians.  Have you ever thought about the fact that when you grumble and complain, either against God directly or against those to whom He has delegated leadership over you (like parents, teachers, pastors, bosses), you are really questioning His wisdom, His grace, His goodness, and His righteousness?  And friends, grumbling paired up with its evil twin, gossip, can destroy a church faster than an arsonist.  Just stop and think this morning about how much better life could be, not only for you but for those around you, if you stopped all your grumbling.

A pointed application: These things were written down as warnings for us.  (11)  They are like the warning lights on the dashboard of your car.  They are a wake-up call, a 2 by 4 upside the head to those of us who may have drifted into complacency and are living our Christian lives on cruise control or autopilot. 

What are the explicit lessons?  I think there are two:

Two profound lessons

There is peril for the overly confident.  Verse 12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”  Some of you remember the KJV version: “Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.”  There is no more important warning in all of Scripture for many of us than this one.  If spiritual failure was experienced by the vast majority of the ancient Israelites, in spite of their great spiritual privileges, then it can happen to us as well.

How subtle are the sins of arrogance and self-confidence!  How easy it is for us who have grown up in the faith, or think we have reached full maturity, to get cocky, think we have arrived, and assume we are immune to failure!  Like the proverbial frog in the kettle, we can slowly and steadily cook in the boiler of spiritual pride.  

We have no business thinking anything evil is beyond us.  Given the right circumstances and the right state of mind and the right relationships (maybe I should say the wrong circumstances, the wrong state of mind, and the wrong relationships), any of us is capable of almost anything.  By the way, this is also good to remember when you start feeling contemptuous toward a fellow believer who has blown it big-time.  Instead of scorning him or erasing her from our lives, perhaps what we need to say is, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”  Instead of being overly confident, we need to be God-confident.  

There is also hope for the overly despondent.  Perhaps you have messed up your life and are suffering from the painful, lifelong consequences of broken relationships, addictive behavior, or irresponsible decisions.  You feel caught in an endless cycle of failure.  Maybe you have the feeling that God has put you on the shelf–put you out to pasture in a spiritual desert.  Is there any hope for you?  Is there any way out of that awful cycle of sin?

Yes, there is hope in one of the greatest concepts in the whole Bible–right here in verse 13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it.”  What a powerful verse, but we need to take it apart in order to plumb its depths.  

Before we do that, I want you to know that the word for “temptation” and the word for “trial” is the same in the original Greek.  I’m just going to talk about temptation this morning, but next Lord’s Day in our Fifth Sunday worship I want to come back to this verse and address the issue of trials, and the powerful encouragement this verse has for that subject.

The first thing we learn is that when temptations come, they generally don’t announce themselves in advance or politely knock at the door and say, “I was wondering if you’re up to a visit today?”  They just burst into our lives like a flood–they blindside us.  Paul uses the term “seize” to convey this. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.”  But despite the fact that they come forcefully and without warning, there is still no excuse for yielding.  You’ve heard, perhaps, of the guy who bragged, “I can resist anything but temptation.”  That is not a biblical view. 

One reason why there is no excuse for yielding to temptations is that none of them are superhuman.  The only temptations that come our way are those that are “common to man,” i.e., human in nature.  Now don’t misunderstand that.  It doesn’t mean that everyone else experiences every temptation you experience.  Some of you are tempted by alcohol or gambling.  Those are not temptations to me.  I have never once in my life longed for a drink.  But then I have temptations that you may not have.  The point is that none of our trials–yours or mine–are superhuman. 

A second reason why there is no excuse for yielding to temptation is that there is supernatural help for the temptations that come our way, for it says, “God is faithful.”  There are no supernatural trials, but there is supernatural help.  God doesn’t abandon us when we’re facing temptation or trial. He doesn’t set us up and then leave us defenseless.   Rather He is faithful and powerful, and He knows our capacities, our endurance limits, for it says, “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” 

My son has some pretty powerful sound equipment.  He tells me his system has to be balanced.  If the receiver has more amps than the speakers, he can blow the speakers.  The point is that God won’t turn up the juice on our speakers more than we can bear.  

A third reason there is no excuse is that He has promised a way out so that we can overcome the temptation.  The Greek word translated “a way out” is used elsewhere of a mountain pass that enables a trapped army to escape an ambush.  God has many ways of providing such an escape.  Sometimes He will sovereignly remove the temptation when we ask; sometimes He will change the circumstances; He may even choose to rid us of the fascinating charm; or He may use an accountability partner to challenge us.  Sometimes it’s prayer and meditation on God’s Word that gets us through.  But mostly we escape temptation, not by getting out of it, but by overcoming it.  

I thank God for this promise of a way out, and I have experienced it on numerous occasions.  I hope you have too.  I can honestly say that I don’t ever recall facing a temptation where the way of escape wasn’t obvious.  Sadly, I haven’t always taken it, but it’s been there.  

Conclusion:  Undoubtedly there are many here this morning who have enjoyed enormous spiritual privileges.  Some of you may consider your privileged position as a guarantee that you could not fail.  If so, you are walking close to the edge of a precipice.  You are on dangerous ground–as dangerous as a minefield.  You are literally daring the Devil to target you.

Others may have already succumbed and are rationalizing it by claiming the temptations were too great.  You couldn’t help yourself.  It wasn’t your fault. “Where was God when I needed Him?”  Friend, God’s Word tells us that if we failed, it’s because we refused to take the way out that God provided.  Let me say that again, because it is of critical importance:  If we failed it’s because we refused to take the way out that God provided.

But God doesn’t write you off just because you failed.  His compassions never fail, they are new every morning, great is His faithfulness.  He is a God of second chances.  His forgiveness is available, and His cleansing is thorough.  He only asks that we confess our sin, to say the same thing He says about it, namely that it is without excuse.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

For how long will we continue to ignore the lessons of history and continue to repeat its mistakes?  One of the most moving experiences of my life was visiting the concentration camp at Dachau, just outside of Munich.  Back in 1980 Jan and I and Eddie spent several hours walking through that place of torture and death, hardly saying a word.  There was nothing to say as one looked at the shelves on which the living were warehoused, the gas chambers in which they died, and the ovens in which their dead bodies were burned.  But the most profound aspect of the visit was the sign as we exited, etched in stone in seven languages: Never again.

What is your motto today?  “I would never!”?  Or, “Never again!”?  Instead of saying, “I would never do such-and-such”, how about saying, “Never again will I allow my great spiritual privileges to lull me into overconfidence so as to cause me to experience great spiritual failure.” 

Prayer:  Father, help us to learn the lessons of history, especially the history of Your people, which you have carefully preserved for us in the Bible.  May we not repeat their sins or their mistakes.  Help us never to take the great spiritual blessings you have given us for granted; help us never to allow those privileges to lull us into overconfidence.  May we never become shipwrecked; rather make us a lighthouse to shine forth in a dark world for your glory and the glory of Your son, Jesus Christ.  

DATE: April 22, 2001








[i].  By the way, if you check this story out in Numbers 25:9 you discover that the number who died in the plague was 24,000, while Paul says it was 23,000.  Some skeptics who seem to have nothing better to do, enjoy pointing out this major contradiction in Scripture.  However, there is no necessary contradiction.  Paul says 23,000 died in one day, while Numbers says a total of 24,000 died.  It is quite possible, even likely, that some who were struck ill didn’t die until the next day.

[ii].  John MacArthur, First Corinthians, 224.