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Lowell Brueckner

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1 Corinthians 10


Chapter 10

A false presumption due to experience

1.      For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea.
2.      and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
3.      and all ate the same spiritual food,
4.      and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
5.      Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

The apostle Paul took upon himself the responsibility of assuring that Christianity would not be a religion of ignorance. In chapter 12:2, he wrote of their blindness as pagans, following their leaders in idolatry, as uninformed as the dumb idols that they served. Christian instruction is not an adornment, given to embellish the church and its members, but is essential in order to carry out its mission and to give glory to God.

What is the apostle’s source for the text, from which he will teach? It is the Old Testament Scripture. Jesus said, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me” (Jn.7:16). It was already established before He came to earth and He simply built upon those Scriptures. Jesus recognized the divine inspiration of the 22 books already determined by the Jews to be inerrant and infallible truth. His disciples followed him and later taught the church their doctrine (Ac.2:42). Today we have divided those 22 books into 39, but they are precisely and completely the same text, from which the earliest believers were taught.

It is truly astounding that there are many believers, who treat the Bible with indifference. God has graciously bestowed upon us this unique treasure store of divine thoughts and ways. There is nothing in the world to compare to it and nowhere else on earth can we learn of heavenly, eternal truth.

Some of us have been exposed to an evil deception, hearing that Old Testament Scripture is somehow less relevant for us in the Gospel Age. Partly because I insist on the value of the Old Testament, a leader in Spain told me, when I frequently came down from Germany, “After you leave, we have to straighten out the damage you do by your teaching.” May God ever enable me to inflict such “damage”! The portion that we are about to study will uncover this false thinking and, I hope, we will be able to discern how the devil desperately intends to subtract from the whole spectrum of Holy Spirit revelation. How alarmed we should be, if we have listened to such lies and perhaps believed an error of that magnitude. How grateful we should be, now that we see the light of truth, as we devour and digest the Old Testament! Believer, do not relax your guard; open your entire Bible today and kneel before the Father in the name of the Son, depending upon the instruction of the Holy Spirit. The Bible will be the text book, from which He will teach, because He is its Author from Genesis to Revelation.

So Paul begins this chapter: “I do not want you to be ignorant…” (KJV, ASV, AMP, and others). He takes us back to the ancient Israelites, their Exodus from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and the cloud of the guiding presence of the Lord. His point is that, without exception, all the children of Israel had the same experience.

In order to be absolutely sure of the incidents, of which Paul is using as examples, I will point out that the cloud is the one that appeared to lead the people as they left Egypt (Ex.13:21-22) It came between the Egyptians and the Israelites, when they were hemmed in by the Red Sea (Ex.14:20). Then the sea opened and every Hebrew passed through on dry ground. The cloud continued to lead them throughout their time in the wilderness

Paul called the cloud and the sea a baptism. Baptism signifies initiation and identification. For the children of Israel, it was an end of the slavery of Egypt and the beginning of a new life in the wilderness. Their lord, Pharaoh, was left behind and they were now under the leadership of Moses, their liberator and lawgiver. Baptism also means death and resurrection. Were it not for the supernatural intervention of God, they would have been destroyed by the approaching Egyptian army. He provided a way, where there was no way, and as they came out of the sea on the other side, it was life from the dead. Not always does baptism refer to literal water baptism in the New Testament. Clearly, the baptism in this verse is spiritual (2).

Manna (Ex.16:15) had a spiritual significance for the Israelites, just as it does for us. Jesus taught that literal manna was not bread from heaven (3). “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven” (Jn.6:32). The literal water that flowed from the rock (Ex.17:6), also had spiritual significance. That rock symbolized Christ, who was with them throughout their wilderness journeys (4).

All experienced the same things, but now Paul makes the point: God was not pleased with most of them and they were overthrown in the wilderness… an overwhelming majority (5). Only Joshua and Caleb entered the Promised Land. We must be careful not to substitute words or infer things that the inspired writer did not intend. The Promised Land does not symbolize heaven or salvation, but a place where the Israelite could find rest, ceasing from his own works, and experience the intervention of the Lord, as he possessed the land. However, God never abandoned His people in the wilderness. No one returned to Egypt, in order to come under its slavery and be ruled again by Pharaoh.

Examples from the Old Testament

6.      Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil 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 rose up to play.”
8.      We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.
9.      We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,
10.  nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.
11.  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
12.  Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
13.  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
14.  Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
15.  I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.
16.  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
17.  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
18.  Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?
19.  What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?
20.  No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.
21.  You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
22.  Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Here in verse 6 we have the absolute apostolic truth to refute any argument devaluating the Old Testament. The Old Testament things that Paul has mentioned and those that he will mention in the next verses, “took place as examples for us.”  Just a few verses down (11), he reaffirms this truth, adding precisely that “they were written down for our instruction”. Leaving no doubt as to whom he means by our, he concludes, “on whom the end of the ages has come.” He confirmed the same truth to the Romans: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the (Old Testament) Scriptures we might have hope” (Ro.15:4). Paul encouraged Timothy, because of his knowledge of Old Testament Scripture: “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Then Paul affirmed: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 T.3:15-16). That should put to rest all foolish talk about ignoring the Old Testament in our personal Bible study or our teaching and preaching.

They lusted in the wilderness in Numbers 11:4. From the example of Exodus 32:6-8, when Aaron molded the golden calf for the children of Israel, we learn not to be idolaters (7). From their fornication with the daughters of Moab in Numbers 25:1-9, we are instructed against sexual immorality and learn God’s judgment against it (8). From their resistance to God in Christ in Numbers 21:6, we learn not to tempt Him (9). Yes, Christ is the message of the Old Testament and the gospel was preached. From their complaining in Numbers 16:41-49, we are taught to guard our attitudes (10). The Corinthians were guilty of all these sins and to sin against the law, as Israel did, is bad, but to sin against grace, is worse.

The arrogance of standing in human confidence is the underlying error of the Corinthian church. Even in their questions to Paul, as indicated by some of his quotes of their statements, they are trying to justify and excuse themselves. Let me caution you not to take the road of self-justification. Spiritual progress can be made by the one who, when accused, will immediately bow his head in self-degradation and admission of guilt. I have learned that, although the enemy also takes advantage of this attitude and brings believers under condemnation, it is far preferable to fall under that temptation, than to always rise up in defense of oneself.

There is a huge difference between standing in self-confidence and standing in grace. Grace humbles! Self-trust breeds arrogance! It is always a benefit to the believer to rely in confidence upon Christ and His work. In the last couple of days, I have meditated upon the words of Moses to the people of Israel: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today… The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Ex.14:13-14). To know that salvation is of the Lord and not from man, to know that works of righteousness can never attain the favor of God, but that He has worked for us. To see Him fight for us, while we wait, trusting in Him, is the epitome of a healthy spiritual condition (12).

Paul comforts the believer, who takes the trusting position. God is faithful, he assures, and takes sovereign control over His children’s dilemmas. He regulates the heat of the aggression and provides an escape, when the temperature rises too high. The tempter’s tactic is to isolate his victim from the general body of Christians, making him feel that he is an exception to all God’s rules and promises. Thereby the temptation becomes unbearable. Cast yourself upon the Lord and trust fully in Him to bring victory (13).

The apostle has been dealing with the question put to him concerning eating things sacrificed to idols, and continues now. His counsel is to have nothing to do with idolatry in any form (14). We have already glanced at this portion, when we studied in chapter 8. It is useless to reason with those who lack the common sense of the new creation, but Paul is sure that the church can see the reason, with which he speaks (15).

He is speaking of participation, which we could also call identification. The ordination of the Lord’s Supper is identification with Him. The inner man does not partake of the physical symbols, but of the reality of the body and blood of Christ. We participate in the life that flows from His blood and His body that was broken for us, which brings healing to the soul and spirit (16), and can even effect the physical body.

Communion is an act of oneness that unifies the mystical body of Christ. Paul is still thinking of the carnality manifested by the various divisions among the Corinthians. In recognition of the one Bread, from which all Christians partake, we are all made one (17). It was symbolized in the Old Testament sacrifices; a portion of that, which was offered to God on the altar was eaten by the people, and another portion by the priests. They participated with God in worship (18).

The newly-created mind should be able to see his reasoning, Paul thinks. Although an idol is an inanimate object, therefore whatever is offered to it is done in vain (19), yet there is a spiritual force, which gives power to that useless thing, deceiving the pagan worshiper. In the Song of Moses, it states, "They sacrificed to demons that were no gods" (Dt.32:17). Pagan idolatry is identification and participation with the evil kingdom of Satan. Therein lies the danger and therefore Paul is warning them to flee this practice (20). Obviously, there is a need for the light of Christianity to distance itself from darkness. This is what holiness is all about; it means separation from all else unto God. Paul expresses the impossibility of mixture; you cannot partake of both, he says! When the church delves into the world or permits the world into its precincts, in all practicality, it ceases to be the church. Church means those called out of the world (21). Please, let us recognize the absolute folly of trying to dispute with God and provoke Him. Who winds up the loser? Again, let’s be reasonable (22).  

To live for the glory of God and the salvation of men

23.   “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
24.  Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
25.  Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.
26.  For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”
27.  If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.
28.  But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,@ then do not eat if, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience-
29.  I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?
30.  If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
31.  So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
32.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,
33.  just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

Paul returns to chapter 6, verse 12, and brings to the Corinthians’ attention their own proverb, “All things are lawful.” We remember that Warren Wiersbe thought that Paul might have been using a popular term in Corinth, “based on a false view of Christian freedom. As Christians, we must ask ourselves, 'Will this enslave me? Is this activity really profitable for my spiritual life?’”

A good general rule for Christians is not to question or be motivated by whether something is right or wrong. We are not to live simply in that realm. The newly-created person is taken up (Shall I say he is obsessed?) with God’s pleasure and by living as close to Him, as is humanly possible on this earth. He is not under law, but under grace, and grace does not function by do’s and don’ts. His heart beats in tune with the heart of God, as Paul here states, according to whether his conduct is helpful and edifying. How can I help and how can I build up?... those are the questions (23). You are completely free, if what you do is not offensive, but if it is an offense to another, then you are completely bound to do what is best for him.

The rule of verse 24 is within the same spiritual sphere, based on the second great commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That commandment is totally out of the realm of human love. Only God’s love takes us outside the ego into the area of godly compassion and concern. This was the rule, demonstrated by Paul’s personal testimony and what he has already taught us in this letter; he will continue with this theme, especially in chapter 13.

Follow the law of love in practical life… even when eating your private meals. In the Corinthian market, meat generally hung generically unlabeled. Paul advises the Christian to buy, without giving it more thought (25), for the Psalms teaches, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (26, Ps.24:1). This is the rule of Christian liberty; it is what Christ taught and it can be generally applied (Mk.7:18-19).

The apostle raises another circumstance… an invitation to eat with an unbeliever (27). The first thing we might consider is that it is right to accept such an invitation. Jesus certainly did. Do not make a point to define your religious scruples. Just eat! However, if someone at the table makes the point that the meat served has been offered to idols, then politely refuse, with an explanation that you do not purposefully partake in idolatrous sacrifices (28). You will desist for the sake of the conscience of the one, who brought up the subject. Perhaps he is a believer, also present at the meal, or it could just as well be an unbeliever (29). Your eating, after being informed, would legitimize, for him, the whole question of idolatry, false gods, sacrificing to them and participating by eating the sacrifices. Here also Paul qualifies his statement of being “all things to all people” (1 Co.9:22), as well as his final determination in this chapter: “I try to please everyone in everything.” We are to read nothing of compromise into these statements.

Paul teaches the principle involved in the form of two questions: 1) Why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? and 2) Why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? (29 & 30). The answer: Because we live, eat and drink for the glory of God (31)! It is the basic governing principle of Christianity, rather than pleasing ourselves. It is the greatest commandment of all: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Dt.6:5; Mt.22:37). That fact, fully satisfies both questions and nothing beyond need be considered.

Whether we are dealing with believers or unbelievers, with Jew or Gentile, this is the immutable law deeply innate in the new creation. We give glory to God, not only in praise and worship, but by our lifestyle, and we give no offense to people (32). This final verse cannot contradict what Paul stated to the Galatians: “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Ga.1:10). No, he is speaking in relation to his own advantage. He is seeking the advantage of others, not his own… that is, he is looking towards their best spiritual good. He is pleasing that area in man, where God can work, in order to bring salvation. And that is exactly what he states in his final words: “That they may be saved.”


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