Posts Tagged ‘1 Corinthians’

If you have ever read 1 and 2 Corinthians, especially straight through, you know that Paul and the Corinthians had a stormy relationship. In fact this accounts, in large part, for why Paul wrote so much to them. There is a correlation between the amount of trouble and the amount of writing Paul had to do.

He had founded the church, but then left for other parts to preach the gospel. And in his absence the Corinthians started to think they were pretty smart. And also other Christian workers came to them and the Corinthians began comparing them against Paul, and seemed to like these others more than they liked Paul. And so some began to question him and pick him apart and there were various disagreements between them.

For instance:

  • There was a misunderstanding about his travel plans that upset them. Some were asking, “Why didn’t he visit us like he said he would?” (2 Corinthians 1:15-23)
  • Some thought they knew more than him about several topics of the Christian faith even though he was an apostle of Christ. (idol food, sexual immorality and the resurrection)
  • Some thought he boasted too much. (2 Corinthians 3:1; 10:8)
  • There were issues of trust regarding the offering being taken for the Jerusalem church. Can he be trusted to deliver this money? (2 Corinthians 8:20-21; 9:-21; 1 Corinthians 16:3-4)
  • Some thought that he was a poor speaker. This is interesting because we would never think this, but they were judging him by Greek standards of rhetoric and speech. In 2 Corinthians 10:10 Paul quotes some of them as saying “his speech is of no account.” (1 Corinthians 1:7; 2:1; 2 Corinthians 11:6)
  • Some thought he was weak; that he didn’t make a good impression. Again in 2 Corinthians 10:10 he quotes some of them as saying, “his bodily presence is weak.” (2 Corinthians 10:1)

All of this conflict is why Paul speaks of making painful visits  with them (2 Corinthians 2:1) and writing painful letters to them (2 Corinthians 2:4).

The core issue in all of this is the Corinthian’s pride and arrogance – in themselves and in their ideas about how he should be a minister.This shows up in 1 Corinthians 4:8, where he says sarcastically, “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!” They had a very high view of themselves.

Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 4:18-20. “Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

With this background in place let’s look at our passage and its warning in v. 12. I will break it down into four parts:

1. The Israelites “had it all” too

vs. 1-4 – “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

  • The Israelites shared in a baptism. They passed through the red sea, just as the Corinthians were baptized.
  • The Israelites shared in the Lord’s food and drink. They ate manna and drank water from the rock, just as the Corinthians partook of the Lord’s supper.

They too enjoyed the privileges and blessings of the Lord, like the Corinthians.

2. Yet they failed and were judged

v. 5 – “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” They did not enter the promised land.

Paul then gives four examples of how they displeased God:

  • v. 7 – Idolatry. “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.’” This refers back to the golden calf incident in Exodus 32. (v. 6 is quoted)
  • v. 8 – Sexual immorality. “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” This refers to Numbers 25 when the Israelites engaged in sexual immorality with the Moabites.
  • v. 9 – Testing God. “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents.” This goes back to Numbers 21, where they complained against God and Moses about his provision of manna. They wanted God to prove himself by giving them more and better food.
  • v. 10 – Complaining. We must not “grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” This refers to Numbers 14 and possibly also Numbers 16-17. In each of these cases the Israelites grumbled against God and Moses and were judged.

What is Paul’s message? The Israelites had it all, the blessings and privileges of God. But they were not careful and gave in to evil desire. Only two of them – Joshua and Caleb made it into the promised land. The rest were judged.

3. These stories are examples for Christians

And he emphasises this in two places in this passage. v. 6 – “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” And then also v. 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.” Paul is saying, what happened to them can happen to you – Corinthians.

And this point is made all the more secure in that the Corinthians were struggling with the same things that the Israelites in the wilderness struggled with. And that, even as they thought so highly of themselves.

– some were involved in idolatry, as he will warn them later in our passage, when they eat idol food in a temple they are actually connecting themselves to the demons behind idol worship. (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)

some were involved in sexual immorality – indeed they were even OK with a couple involved in incest being a part of their congregation (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 12:21)

some were testing God – this might refer to how they were partaking of the Lord’s supper wrongly, bringing judgment on themselves (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)

some were grumbling against Paul as a leader, not receiving his counsel, thinking they knew more than him, and picking him apart.

And so he warns them in relation to all of these things –

4. Take care lest you too fall!

v. 12 – “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” You who think you have it all together, who think that you are standing firm, learn from this that you too can fall. You may now experience the blessings of God. But you risk being excluded from the promises of God – just as most of the Israelites did not enter the promised land.

And the issue is their pride and arrogance:

Their pride blocks them from being able to see their own problems, struggles and failures. Right? Pride makes us really good at finding other peoples’ problems, but really bad at seeing our own. And this was true in how the Corinthians treated Paul.

And their pride keeps them from receiving input and correction from Paul, so that they can change.

The lesson for us

Beware overconfidence! We all need faith and confidence in our relationship with God, but watch out for overconfidence. Beware pride! Beware arrogance!

All of us have weaknesses and we stumble in many ways. But when we are arrogant it blinds us to our problems and it keeps us from receiving input and correction from others. It is just as Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

So then, let us learn humility. Let us confess our struggles. And let us receive from one another correction and help – so that we can all receive the promises that God has for us.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »