1 Corinthians
Learn from old Israel's experience. 10:1-13

In our passage for study, Paul continues with his warning to the Corinthian believers of the danger of disqualification from the Christian faith. The people of Israel were disqualified, so beware!

The passage

v1-5. In the opening verses, Paul presents a warning from history. Israel had participated in the outpouring of God's providential care toward his called-out people. They were covered by God's shekinah glory and passed miraculously through the Red sea; they were joined to their deliverer, Moses, under God, as we are jointed to our deliverer, Christ; like believers to day they ate and drank of God's spiritual food Yet, this had not magically protected them from God's wrath. Israel had suffered loss, and this serves as a warning to us that the same can occur if we, like them, flirt with paganism.

v6-10. Paul goes on to further develop his Exodus illustration. First, he points out in v6 that what happened to Israel in the wilderness serves as a prototype for us. So, don't get into idolatry like them, or fornication, or into testing God as they tested God, or grumbling against God as they grumbled. These are the reasons why "God was not pleased" with Israel and so judged them, v5.

v11-12. Paul now completes the point he began to make in v6. He warns the Corinthians that they are in a similar situation to Israel. They are blessed, yet at the same time they are flirting with idolatry and so face judgment. Be careful then, for it is dangerous to think that believers today are beyond God's chastening hand; those who think they stand should be careful lest they fall.

v13. Finally, Paul encourages his readers with the truth that not all tests of faith are as dangerous as syncretism. We don't have to end up neurotic with life. Most of Satan's ploys, his tests of our faith, are easily resisted with the Lord's help. God restrains the tempter's hand and ends the test before it overwhelms us. When we rely on the Lord, we endure. Yet, this is not so when we flirt with other deities, "therefore, my friends, flee from idolatry", v14.

Flee from idolatry

While in the wilderness, Israel faced many tests of faith. Would the Lord provide for Israel and lead them to safety in the promised land? At Meribah they sought to provoke the Lord's gracious hand with the retort, "is the Lord among us or not?" The worst failures occurred when they looked to other deities for their security, for example, the incident of the Golden Calf, or Baal of Peor, and of course, they continued to flirt with syncretism as they sought security in the gods of Canaan, in the fertility cult of Baal. Time and again Israel failed the test of loyalty to God. Organized Christianity today faces similar tests of faith. Sadly, we often seek security in the secular deities of human ingenuity and sensual power. Syncretism is no new thing and the scriptures warn us to run from it.

1. Duty-bound religion

In a world that glories in the deity of human ingenuity, it is only to be expected that believers are constantly moved toward duty, expectations, demands and obligations. This form of Christianity has lead to subjugation, guilt and disillusionment; it has moved us from the cross to the Law.

Yet, the Christianity of the New Testament is a Spirit bound religion - a religion of grace. It is a religion concerned with faith in the renewing work of the Spirit of Christ. A receiving, rather than doing form of Christianity, leads to faithful discipleship through the compelling love of Christ; it moves us from the cross to the empty tomb and onward to freedom.

The danger we face is that we can so easily move from grace to law, from receiving to doing, as if Christ has not completely secured our salvation. We can so easily be sucked into duty-bound religion - a religion of human ingenuity and effort. Always remember, "we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code", Rom.7:6.

2. Power religion

Another great danger we face today is the seductive power of sensuality, the very danger facing the Corinthians. This world is the domain of the powers of darkness, Luke.4:5-7. An idol has no power in itself, so the Corinthians were right, in a sense, not to be concerned about attending feasts at the local pagan temple. Yet, behind the idol there lies the powers of darkness.

The Corinthians were using the freedom they had in Christ to enslave themselves again to sin. This they did by being "participants with demons" through their involvement in the temple feasts, 1Cor.10:20. The people of Israel did the self same thing. Confident in their standing before God, they conjoined the pagan gods of Egypt with Jehovah. This only led them into "pagan revelry" and "sexual immorality". So it was that their "bones were scattered over the desert".

The pagan cult of human sensuality is dominant in Western society. Youthfulness, beauty, energy, ..... in these we glory, rather than just enjoy. These powers manipulate and so a mass of humanity is enslaved to media marketing, personality politics and galloping greed. Debt, violence, sex, ... display a people who worship the creature rather than the Creator.

Believers are not immune from corrupted sensuality. Although we "cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons", 1Cor.10:21, we none-the-less intrude success criteria, entertainment, manipulative marketing into the business of church, ....., we intrude the spirit of this age into our worship services. We chase the god of success and encourage others to chase the same illusionary dream. Therefore, flee from idolatry.


1. The Israelites set their hearts on evil things. Apply this.

2. What is the temptation that can destroy our standing before God?

3. How has idolatry entered the life of the church and by what means do we remove it?