December 3, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“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. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 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.’ Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”—1 Corinthians 10:1–10 (NKJV)
Paul continues to instruct the Corinthian Christians on how to correct their spiritual walk, which had become wayward in many ways. At this point he draws from his prolific knowledge of the Old Testament by drawing their attention to that time in Israel’s past when they wandered in the wilderness for a period of forty years. This is that sliver of Hebrew history between their Exodus from Egypt and their entrance into the Promised Land. Why does Paul pull from this page in the past? Because he’s about to reveal some powerful parallels between the ancient Israelites and the Corinthians.
Notice how Paul emphasizes the word “all” as he introduces this example. He says, “all our fathers,” “all passed through the sea,” “all were baptized,” “all ate,” and “all drank.” Why this five-fold emphasis on “all?” Paul is drawing their attention to the solidarity of God’s people. They were all one, just as the Corinthians were also one. They were called out of the world to form one new and glorious thing, the body of Christ. As Israel was united in solidarity, so were they.
But solidarity doesn’t guarantee spirituality. In fact, it was just the opposite in Israel’s case. As you read the account of what happened with them (particularly in the Book of Numbers) you find that they sinned . . . big time! There was a lot of lusting after the wrong things, a lot of idolatry, and a lot of complaining. And sadly, when they had a chance to enter the Promised Land, their shallowness of faith held them back from possessing what God had promised to them—and an entire generation of Israelites fell in the wilderness as a result.
This is another point of relatability for the Corinthians, for as we’ve seen, their spirituality was severely lacking. A lot of sinful thinking and a lot of ungodly behavior had crept into the Church of Corinth. There was a lot of lusting, a lot of idolatry, and a lot of complaining. And just like Israel of old, their shallow faith was holding them back from experiencing what God had prepared for them.
But here’s where the similarities diverge. Paul reminds the Corinthians that this imperfect past can play a positive part in their present, because it serves as an example and warning against following in their footsteps. They weren’t fated to fall as the Israelites fell in the wilderness. There was time to correct their course and leave a different legacy.
What we see written for the Corinthians is also written for us. Notice how Paul includes himself in this passage by using the words “we” and “us” in his exhortation to walk more wisely than Israel did. This isn’t just for the Corinthians, it’s for every single one of us, because nobody’s perfect and we’re all sinners saved by grace though faith in God. But even though we’re not perfect, God can still continue His perfecting work in us as we learn from the imperfections of the past.
Pause: What was Paul’s point in using this example from Israel’s past?
Practice: Consider how this particular example from Israel’s past speaks to you in your life right now.
Pray: Father, I confess that I’m undone and in need of Your continual assistance and strength. Apart from You I’m nothing and can do nothing worth doing. Please give me a heart that’s open and eager to learn from the past, to be made perfect by You, as I avoid the imperfect examples from the past. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.