AN EXAMPLE OF SPIRITUAL FAILURE
1 CORINTHIANS 10:1-13
In 1980, Ronald and Nancy Reagan moved to Virginia for the presidential elections. Although they had belonged to a Presbyterian church back home in California, they decided to visit an Episcopal church in their new community.
Upon arriving at the church service, they found that the Lordís Supper was to be observed and it was here that the problem arose. They were familiar with the Presbyterian practice of passing around a tray of bread pieces and a tray of small individual cups. However, within the Episcopal Church it was the practice for everyone to come forward and kneel down before the priest who would dispense the small wafers and who would pass around a single cup from which everyone would drink.
The Reagans were disturbed by what they regarded as an unsanitary practice until an aide leaned over and whispered that it was acceptable to take the wafer and to dip it into the cup instead of drinking from it.
Ronald Reagan was already a bit hard of hearing and could not make out the instructions, so his wife Nancy said to him, "Donít worry about it. Just do what I do and follow my example."
At the proper time, they came down the aisle and kneeled before the priest. Nancy took the wafer from him and went to dip it into the cup, but in her nervousness, she dropped the wafer and it sank to the bottom of the cup. With regal bearing, Ronald Reagan took his own wafer from the priest and dropped it into the cup. The priest went on his way, shaking his head.
This was an instance in which a man followed an improper example. The Bible is full of such examples. It presents, not only the victories of its heroes, but also their failures. Just as we can learn a great deal about how to win by watching their victories, so also we can learn from what not to do to avoid losing.
As we come to this chapter, Paul has been speaking of the danger of being disqualified from the spiritual race. He now moves to a specific example. It is an example of failure. It is an example of what not to do.
Run the Race
Portrait of Failure
Purpose for the Portrait
When he completed the portrait, he will then go back and tell us the purpose of the portrait. It will be that we might learn from past failures.
A PORTRAIT OF FAILURE
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, 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 were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.
5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).
In our last chapter we saw the danger of disqualification. Paul told how it is possible to put all of the effort in training to run the race and to cross the finish line, only to find that you have been disqualified. Now he turns to an example of such a disqualification. It is the example of Israel in the wilderness.
Here is the point. All of Israel was in the race. Notice the repeated use of the word "all."
Everyone who came out of Egypt was in the race. But not everyone was a winner. Not everyone won the prize. Not everyone was permitted to enter into the Promised Land. This is seen in verse 5: Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness (10:5).
Most of the Israelites who came out of Egypt died in the wilderness. Why? Because they were disqualified. Even though they entered the race, even though they exercised a certain level of self-discipline, even though they were headed toward the right goal, they still fell short. They were disqualified. They died in the wilderness.
The Old Testament account leads us to believe that nearly two million people went out of Egypt in the Exodus. Out of that number, only two entered into the Promised Land. Only two men won the race. Only Joshua and Caleb entered into the land of Canaan. The rest died in the wilderness.
PURPOSE OF THE PORTRAIT
6 Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. 7 And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play." 8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. (1 Corinthians 10:6-10).
Why were so many of the Israelites disqualified in the wilderness? Paul lists several reasons.
In each case, they fell into temptation. In each case, they sinned. As a result, they were disqualified from the race.
The fact that Israel fell is a warning to us. Paul says that these things happened as examples for us (10:6). It is given that it might teach us a lesson. The lesson we need to learn is that it is possible for us to be disqualified in each one of these areas. It is possible for us to be tempted in these areas and to fall into sin.
This illustration of Israel in the wilderness is more than a mere sad story. It is not given for our intellectual enjoyment. It is given to teach us something. It is to teach us how we ought to live. It is not just for Sunday morning. It gives us a lesson that we need to take to work with us and to utilize on Monday and keep throughout the week.
Why is this so important? Because temptation is going to come on Monday and on Tuesday and throughout the rest of the week. It is important that we understand the consequences of sin. It will only be then that we will be able to use Godís provision against its lure.
Israel is a type of the Christian. The exodus from Egypt is a picture of the conversion experience of the Christian.
Just as all of Israel were under the cloud, so we have all come under Godís protection. Just as all of Israel passed through the sea, so we have all passed from the bondage of sin to freedom in Christ. Just as all of Israel were baptized into Moses, so we have all been baptized into Christ. Just as all of Israel ate the same spiritual food, so we have all been made partakers with the body of Christ. Just as Moses struck the rock so that all of Israel could drink from it, Christ was stricken and died for us so that we can partake of the benefits of His death.
The goal of the Christian life is to win the race -- to enter into the Promised Land. But some are disqualified. Some do not enter in. The reason for this is SIN.
A lot of books have been written on what is wrong with the church today. We are told that if only we will have better music, more prayer, more powerful preaching, greater giving, better outreach ministries, motivated missions, better body life or updated Sunday School programs, that all of the problems of the church will be solved. One thing is usually neglected from these discussions -- the presence of sin. Paul lists this one factor as the reason why churches fall and why Christians are disqualified.
The sin that Paul describes takes a number of forms. He presents five ways in which sin is manifested. These manifestations of sin are especially significant to the Corinthians.
Sin always begins with a mental attitude. Whenever you move into the realm of sin, your mind always moves ahead of you. Sin always begins with a desire. It begins with a desire for something that is contrary to the will of God. It begins with a craving for that which is wrong.
The issue with which Paul has been dealing in the last three chapters has involved the eating of meats that have been offered to idols. Many of the Corinthians took a very flippant attitude toward such idol worship. They realized that meat that had been offered to idols is not in itself bad, so they was a tendency to conclude that there was nothing wrong with a little idol worship, either. They concluded that they could associate with pagan rituals and pagan worship without being affected.
There is an important principle here. It is that you are affected by those with whom you associate. What kind of people do you make your close friends? Who are the people with whom you surround yourself? Donít think that you can join yourself to worldly people without their attitudes rubbing off on you.
Paul has already spent three chapters (5-7) dealing with the problem of sexual immorality within the church. It is an issue that was relevant in that day and it is an issue that is relevant in the church today.
There is a line of thought today that says anything that two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is okay. Nothing could be further from the truth. God wants His people to be sexually pure. He has called His people to live a life that is set apart from the world. He takes sin very seriously.
The Corinthians had been guilty of tempting God. They had reasoned that they had liberty and they sought to push their liberty to the maximum limits. They wanted to see how much of the flesh they could enjoy without stepping over the line into the judgment of God. Their reasoning was that, since they were saved by grace, they could live as they pleased. They needed to learn that being a Christian means that you are to live as God pleases.
There is a disturbing teaching going around today that says this is the age of grace and that we donít have to worry about the judgment of God if we have believed in Christ. Paul counters such a teaching by showing how those who were identified with Moses and the rock who is Christ were judged by God and died in the wilderness. The Christian is not one who can ignore sin. To the contrary, a Christian is one who has seen his sin for what it is and who now seeks to live a holy life.
The Israelites in the wilderness reached the point where they became dissatisfied with their circumstances. They complained about the taste of the manna and they complained about their lack of comforts and they complained about their lot in life. As a result, they were judged.
Why is it wrong for Godís people to complain? Why is it wrong for us to be dissatisfied with our lot in life? Because when we complain, we are expressing dissatisfaction with Godís plan.
If there is a problem in you life, then God has placed it there. If there is an uncomfortable situation, then God has brought it to pass. If you are facing some unpleasant circumstances, it is because God has put you there. Nothing comes into your life until it has first come across the drawing board of the Architect of the universe and He has affixed His signature to it. Therefore, to be discontent with your circumstances is to be discontent with the wisdom of God.
THE PERIL OF OVERCONFIDENCE
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).
Paul now turns from the theoretical to the practical. He takes the illustration of Israelís failure and he applies it to the believer today.
The fact that these things happened as an example for us tells me something about the Old Testament. It tells me that the Old Testament was written for my benefit. It was written for my instruction. It contains lessons that I need to learn.
There is a teaching that is going around today that says the Old Testament is not for the Christian today. This teaching says that the Old Testament was written to the Jews who lived before Christ and that it has nothing of practical value for the Christian in the 21st century. This is not true. All of the Scriptures are inspired by God and all of the Scriptures are profitable to me in the areas of doctrine and for reproof and for instruction in how to be righteous.
Paul gives a warning. It is a warning against overconfidence. It is a warning given to the man who sees the example of Israel in the wilderness and who says, "That could never happen to me."
Those are the famous last words of Peter as he stood in the Upper Room and proclaimed that he would follow Jesus to the death. Jesus said that all would forsake Him and Peter retorted, "Those other disciples might do that, but I certainly will not!" His overconfidence is all too apparent. It is seen in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was sleeping when he ought to have been praying. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, he was ready to jump into their midst and begin defending Jesus with his little sword. But when he was caught unaware by the question of a lowly slave girl, he panicked and he denied Christ.
Our failures follow a similar pattern. We are ready to make a great show of following Christ. We put on our Sunday best and we show up in church and we proclaim our faithfulness to the Lord. We experience a temporary confidence. But when an unexpected time of crisis arises to threaten us, how often do we hit the panic button?
Be warned! Let him who think that he stands secure from temptation take heed lest he fall.
Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before stumbling. (Proverbs 16:18).
One of the most fascinating battles of the American War between the States is the Battle of Chancellorsville. The Confederate forces had been outmaneuvered and were now almost completely surrounded. On the morning of the battle, Union General Joseph Hooker called his subordinates together for a staff meeting. He was confident of a sure victory and, as the meeting drew to a close, he commented, "Not even God can take this victory from me." Whereupon he went out and lost the battle.
It is when you are your most confident that you are in danger of your greatest defeat. It is at this point that you tend to become careless because you begin to substitute confidence in the Lord for confidence in your own ability.
PROVISION FOR TEMPTATION
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Though we are warned against being overconfident, this does not mean that we should have an attitude of defeatism. We have a strong word of encouragement. It is that God has made provision for us in our hour of temptation. God will never taken you into a tunnel that does not have a light at the end of it. He will never take you into the valley of the shadow of death without being with you.
You wonít necessarily believe this when you are in the midst of temptation, so I want you to learn this principle now. It is that your temptations are not unique. Whatever you are going through has been experienced by millions of other people just like you. You are not alone. Even Jesus experienced those same temptations.
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus was tempted in all things as we are. Everything that you go through, He went through. He understands your problems because He experienced them. This means He is qualified to help you.
The reason you do not need to fear temptation is because God is faithful. Even when you are faithless, God is still faithful.
He designed you. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows your stress limit. He knows exactly how much you can take and He has promised not to exceed that limit.
This means you have no excuse to sin. You canít say, "The devil made me do it." Satan cannot make you sin. If you sin, then it is because you decided to sin. Donít ever try to blame God because of your sin. He has made a way of escape.
I have spent many years as a fire fighter. It was my job to put out fires. One of the things that I learned was never to go into a burning building unless there is a way out of that building.
God makes the same provision for me. In the heat of the battle and when the smoke is all around us, He says, "Donít worry, Iíve put you here and Iíve got your escape route open."
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