Please turn with me in your copies of God’s holy word to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Saint Paul’s first letter to the church of God in Corinth. It’s been a couple weeks since we were last here, but tonight we will resume our slow march through this instructive book of the bible.
Last time, if you will remember, we studied the end of chapter 9, where Paul uses the metaphor of a race to describe the Christian life. Run the race so as to win the prize, Paul says. Compete so that you can win. Don’t be lazy, don’t be undisciplined, don’t be disqualified because of a lack of self-control.
And in the larger context of chapters 8-10, he’s specifically addressing our liberties, our Christian freedoms. Use your genuine freedoms in Christ as a tool for racing well, for finishing the Christian race victoriously, rather than using your freedoms to the detriment of your performance.
Tonight, Paul switches to another source of illustrative material. He moves from the sermon illustration of athletic competition in chapter 9, back to the Old Testament. Paul sees in the Old Testament, many illustrations, many parables, which ought to serve us as both positive examples and negative warnings.
We will note especially tonight, the sin of presumption. That is, to pridefully presume upon the grace of the Lord, to take for granted the Grace that God has shown you, and to ignore his clear warnings against sin. God’s grace never grants license to sin, and Christian freedom is never to be used as an excuse for lawlessness, as we will soon see.
Lord willing, over the next few weeks we will work through this chapter and see not only what Paul sees in the Old Testament, but also see HOW Paul reads his Old Testament. That is, I hope to slow down and examine exactly HOW Paul sees the Old Testament, and I hope that will help us all to read our bibles better.
But let’s start by reading our passage. I’ll read the entirety of 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, though we won’t make it all the way through it tonight. 1 Corinthians 10:1-13:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[a] 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[b] in the wilderness.
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[c] 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.
We should begin by remembering the context of Paul’s exhortations here. Paul is confronting the Corinthian believers who had been using their freedom in Christ as an excuse to sin against God and against their fellow believers.
We might say that Paul is here warning against the danger of the sin of presumption. I mentioned it above, but presumption is the arrogant disposition of heart whereby a believers take God’s grace and mercy for granted, and instead boldly act in some sinful way, presuming that God would forgive them.
God has shown me grace in the past, and He will do so in the future. God has forgiven me then, and he will forgive me for this sin I’m about to commit. Such a disposition forgets the true reality of God’s prior grace, and presumes God will continue to show such mercy, and indeed assumes that such an act of future forgiveness and mercy in the future is owed to me.
That’s a dangerous place to be. A precarious position to be in, as we will see. And the Old Testament saints pictured this sin in the way that they ignored God and presumed upon his continued mercy. Let’s look at verses 1-5 and see the Old Testament Experiences Paul gives as an illustration, the Old Testament experiences that Paul intends us to remember by way of illustration.
Paul says in verse 1, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers…” He’s using a negative construction here to make a point. For the grammarians in the room, this is an example of litotes, deliberately understating something for rhetorical effect. He says he doesn’t want them to be ignorant of something, which is an intentional understatement. The rhetorical effect is he wants them to know something. He’s saying “Heads up!” Listen in. Pay attention. This is serious.
OK Paul. You’ve got my attention. What’s so important?
He then uses verses 1-5 to make this point in various specific way: Don’t be like our fathers. Don’t be like our fathers. Don’t be like the Hebrews in the desert. Don’t presume like them because, and this is the most important part, because God was not pleased with them. That’s what verse 5 says.
Let’s walk through this passage slowly and talk about where these Hebrew fathers went wrong. Verse 1: I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,
Paul is here referring to the events of the Exodus and the crossing of the Red sea, one of the most central events of Jewish history, where God miraculously brought His people out of slavery in Egypt by His mighty arm. You could go back and read Exodus 13 and 14, but I’ll just remind us of the story. God sent all the plagues to Egypt, and eventually Pharaoh relents and lets the Hebrews go. God then leads the mass of people with a cloud during the day, and a pillar of fire at night. This cloud and the pillar represented the presence of God with his people. It reminded them of God’s special presence in their midst, leading them and protecting them and guiding them.
Whenever they were afraid, they could look out their window and see that God’s pillar was still there. Whenever little Sally couldn’t sleep at night, she could look out her tent window and see the pillar of fire, and know that God was with them, he hadn’t left them.
Indeed, it wasn’t merely the pillar and the cloud, Paul says ALL of them passed through the sea. And he doesn’t mean they swam across the red sea. He doesn’t mean they walked around it, or walked through a mucky part of it. He’s referring to the miraculous event where God used Moses to split the sea into two walls of water, and the people of God marched through on dry ground. And then, when all the Hebrews were on the other side, God released the walls of water, and judged Pharaoh and the most powerful army on the planet.
Let me ask you a question: If you had experienced such a miracle, do you think you’d ever have reason to doubt God’s power again? Having seen that, do you think you might ever have just cause to question God’s power or goodness or favor toward you? Of course not. And yet, that’s what they did.
Even with God’s visible presence with the people both day and night, and with God’s miraculous splitting of the sea and creating of dry ground, many of the people of God presumed upon God’s grace. They sinned. They ignored God. They doubted God’s presence. They doubted God’s goodness to provide for them. They doubted God’s plan for them.
But what is this language of baptism in verse 2?
2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
Paul here is using the Christian understanding of baptism to fill in the meaning of what was happening here in the events of the exodus. The Hebrews were coming under the leadership of Moses. He was their covenantal head, which means that God makes a covenant with his people of Israel, and Moses is the one that represents God to the people, and he represents the people to God. He is the mediator, the go-between, the covenantal head.
It’s the same in the new covenant. When we come through the waters of baptism, which symbolize our being born again, washed of sin, regenerated and made new, we’re baptized not into ourselves. We’re not baptized into autonomy. We’re not baptized into a pastor, or a pope. We’re baptized into a new head, that is Christ. Christ is the mediator of the new covenant, and perfectly fulfills the pattern that was set by Moses. Indeed, Jesus exceeds the pattern and is greater than Moses ever was or could have been. That’s what Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 are about, which you can read later for homework.
But these Hebrews weren’t merely ALL benefiting from the cloud and the sea, verse three tells us more:
3 and all ate the same spiritual food,
Paul’s referring here to the miraculous provision of manna. After the Hebrews had made it past the red sea in Exodus 14, they then went into the desert. Then in chapter 15, Moses leads Israel in a glorious song of praise to God for his miraculous provision of salvation. Then we get to chapter 16, which you can turn to if you’d like. Hold your finger in 1 Corinthians 10, and flip over to Exodus 16. We see in chapter 16 things take a bad turn very quickly.
Exodus 16, verse 1: They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
I’m so hungry I could die, they said. I wish God would have killed us in Egypt! At least in Egypt when we were slaves, we had food to eat.
And God in his kindness does what? He rains down bread from heaven to feed the people of God. Amazing, miraculous, and exceedingly merciful provision to a people who didn’t deserve one bit of it.
But don’t let God’s merciful provision distract you from Paul’s main point about the Hebrews. Did you see how quickly the people of God turned? Do you see the presumption in their hearts that lead them to grumble against the God who just split the sea and protected them with a pillar of fire?
That’s Paul’s point for us in 1 Corinthians 10: Don’t forget. Don’t be like our fathers. Don’t presume upon God, don’t arrogantly posture yourself as the one who is fit to judge God. Don’t grumble against his provision.
And this sinful grumbling wasn’t just a one- time event. Paul reminds the Corinthians in verse 4 that they
4 and all drank the same spiritual drink.
He’s referencing here exodus 17, which I encourage you to read along with me. Exodus 17, verse 1
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, [and here is the key verse of the whole passage] I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah[a] and Meribah,[b] because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Similar to the previous chapter, the Israelites grumble against God. They quarreled with God and with God’s representative, Moses. They had forgotten about God’s former provision, and presumed upon God’s gracious action.
But what does God do? Look back at verse 6, “I will stand before you there on the rock, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it.” The Hebrews were trying to put God on trial. They were trying to question his faithfulness and provision and goodness. But God does something unexpected.
He says “I will stand on the rock at Horeb. He would be where Moses would strike the rock.” In other words, God himself would submit to being struck by his own instrument of judgement so that his grumbling people could have their lives saved. Is that starting to sound familiar?
And that’s where Paul reveals something significant about the story. He reveals in verse 4 of 1 Corinthians 10, that the Hebrews drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
Paul’s point is huge for us. He’s saying that when God submitted to be struck so that his thirsty people could be saved, that was a picture of Christ. The innocent God, rejected by his people, falsely judged as guilty, struck by a rod of judgment, then providing a source of life for the presumptuous people.
That’s the gospel right there. Christ was the innocent one struck by the rod of judgement in order that a grumbling and presumptuous people might be given the water of life. Rather than striking his sinful people in judgment, Christ becomes the one struck for our sins.
He was wounded for our transgressions, and he was crushed for OUR iniquities. By his stripes we are healed.
Do you know this story? Have you tasted of the water of life that comes only from Jesus Christ, the one who was struck in judgment so that his grumbling people might be saved? If not, then I encourage you to consider yourself. Are you a grumbler? Have you a complaining spirit that quickly whines about trials, and dares to judge God’s faithfulness at the first sign of discomfort?
If that’s you, then remember this rock that was struck so that you can be refreshed. He was killed in the place of a sinful people, in order that that sinful people might be given the one thing they need: life. We all are born sinners and under the curse of sin and death, but when we come to Christ and believe, we’re given new life, eternal life, and we’re given forgiveness, and our souls are refreshed, and we’re even promised by Jesus hearts that overflow with rivers of living water, John 7:38.
Trust in this Jesus, in the one that was struck in our place, so that you too might be forgiven, and taste of the water that quenches every thirsty soul.
And believers, come back to this rock again, and have your parched soul refreshed. Perhaps you find in yourself the sins of the Hebrews. Maybe you have grumbled against God’s plan for your life, you’ve griped about his goodness, or questioned his provision. We’re all guilty of presuming to Judge the God of all living, and in doing so we demonstrate our need of his mercy.
But be encouraged that he willing provides that which we need most. He’s granted us a spiritual rock, that is Christ. He’s promised us living water to satisfy us for all eternity. He’s promised us the bread of heaven as we wander the remaining desert of this life. He’s promised us his presence in this world, but not merely a pillar or a cloud, but the presence of his very own spirit sent to dwell within us.
And most of all, he’s promised us forgiveness for our sins of grumbling and presumption. And if that’s the case, then let us never presume upon God’s grace. Let us never toy with sin. Let us never use our freedom in Christ as an excuse for license. Let us never forget the past provision of God, and assume that “he’ll forgive me anyway.”
Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 10:5 to not be like these Hebrews who ALL went through the sea, ALL, saw ate the bread, ALL drank from the rock, and yet,
with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
Even though they all started the race well, they all were on the same footing coming through the red sea, they all tasted of the same manna and same water, not all of them ended the race well. In fact, most of them didn’t. In Exodus 12 it says that roughly 600,000 men left Egpyt. So if you count women and children, you’re well into the millions. And of those millions that left, only Joshua and Caleb were the faithful ones to enter into the land.
Most didn’t end their race well. And that’s what Paul was pointing out. He says that not to say that few will finish, but as a way to sober us into the necessity of running so as to win the prize. As I’ve said in previous sermons, I don’t think Paul is talking about salvation in these chapters 8-10. Rather, Paul is talking about finishing the Christian life well, versus finishing the Christian life by the skin of our teeth.
And yet, we all need to hear the warning. Am I closer to finishing this race well? Or am I like the Hebrews in the desert, forgetting God’s gracious past action, grumbling about God’s present provision, and doubting God’s future goodness?
I was reflecting this past week with a fellow pastor about how disappointed and sobered I was by thinking about some people recently who hadn’t been finishing their race well. They had earlier in life served the church with great faithfulness: they were regular in attendance, committed to the life and health of the body, serving in leadership at their church, and appeared to be growing in the Lord.
But slowly, almost imperceptively, their attendance began to slack off. Their involvement began to wane. They had begun to drift. Each had a different reason, which was of course compelling to them and justifiable for their drift. One was too busy with work. One was unhappy about this or that. One had been hurt. Many of their feelings were true and valid, but the result was that they began to drift from a former pattern of faithfulness. And it was sobering to me.
Once they were faithful leaders, and they were now on the fringe. Once dedicated soldiers of Christ, now they were AWOL. Once dedicated, now distracted.
We all need these examples from the Old Testament, if only to sober us up to the REAL danger of not finishing well, of letting our grumbling, presumptuous hearts lead us where we never thought we would go.
That’s why the New Testament is full of statements like: Hold fast to your confession, remember the things you were taught. These things were written down for our instruction, Paul says.
Now, I’ve said a lot tonight, and I haven’t made it as far in our text as I was hoping, but I would like to make a few passing observations before we finish. I think this passage of scripture is especially helpful for us to better understand the bible. Paul’s reading of the old testament helps us understand the whole bible better.
So, in no particular order, a first observation: notice how Paul assumes great Old Testament knowledge. Paul assumes great familiarity with the old testament. Paul’s argumentation in this passage, and many others, assumes that his hearers would know what he’s talking about from the Old Testament. That they’d have been very familiar with the Exodus story. And I think that is instructive.
Corinth was a predominately gentile congregation. If the Old Testament was merely for the Jews, then Paul wouldn’t have assumed the knowledge of the Old Testament. But he doesn’t. He actually assumes that these gentile Corinthian Christians would know their old testament very well.
And that leads to second observation. What does Paul call the Hebrews from the Exodus story? Look at 1 Corinthians 10:1. He says “OUR FATHERS.” Our fathers. He’s speaking to a predominately gentile group, and says that the Hebrew fathers were their fathers also. How could Paul say that the Jewish fathers also be the fathers of gentiles?
He could say that because Paul understood the unity of the people of God. He understood that God has one people, not two. Christ is no polygamist; he has ONE bride. That one bride is made of both Jew and gentile, from every tribe tongue and nation.
That’s why he can say in Galatians 3:29: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Not every Jew born of the flesh is actually Abraham’s seed. To be a child of God, to be a part of God’s household and God’s people, to be a son of Abraham, you must be united to God by faith, not merely born of jewish decent or circumcised.
Paul makes that clear in Romans 2:
“For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”
That means that to be a true offspring of Abraham and child of God, heir of the promises of God, we must be born of the spirit, not flesh, and we must be circumcised of heart, not flesh. And when we are born again, we, gentiles, become spiritual heirs of a God’s nation, we are a branch grafted on to the tree of God’s people. We become part of God’s one people.
That’s why the children’s song is correct: Father Abraham, had many sons. Many sons had father Abraham. I am one of them. Are you?
Next, a third observation from 1 Corinthians 10. We’ve seen the assumed Old Testament knowledge and the unity of God’s people. Now let’s see a third observation, which I think was assumed in the previous observation: notice the unity of God’s redemptive plan. The Unity of God’s redemptive plan.
There are some theologies out there, some systems that put a sharp discontinuity between the old testament and the New. In fact, some might go so far as to say that God saved people one way in the old testament, and saves people differently today. They say that God has one plan for the Jews, and another for the church. But I’m not convinced that’s the best way to read the bible, and this is one of the passages that leads me to think that way. Paul assumes fundamental continuity between the old testament and the new testament.
Verse 4 says that the Hebrews drank from the same spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ.
The Lord so ordained the story in Exodus 17 that there would be in it BOTH physical provision of water for a thirsty people, AND ALSO an illustration of a deeper spiritual reality. And in light of later scripture, we’re made aware of the deeper meaning that was present the whole time in earlier passages. That is to say, the New testament makes clear to us things that were present in the Old testament, even if we never saw them before. And this passage in 1 Corinthians 10 is one example of that.
Paul says that the striking of the rock was a picture of Christ, a foreshadowing, that was meant to teach everyone what God’s provision would look like. It wasn’t that there was NO imbedded truth, and then Paul just snatched this old testament story as a helpful sermon illustration that happened to fit his point.
He’s saying that Christ was the point of that story. God’s provision for his people, through being struck himself, that was the point that was there all along. We just needed a spirit-filled apostle to teach that point to us.
God’s plan of redemption from the beginning was to save a people of his choosing, through his sovereign action, and to save them through faith. That was true of Abraham, that was true of the Jews, and that’s what’s true of us. Read Romans 4, it makes that point clear. Faith in God is what counts us as righteous.
God has acted in this redemptive way from the beginning, because of a fundamental unity in his redemptive plan.
 See also: Shawn Merithew sermon on Exodus 17:1-7, preached 11/24/2013 at Morningview Baptist Church. http://media.blubrry.com/morningviewbaptistchurch/content.blubrry.com/morningviewbaptistchurch/The-Rock-That-Is-Christ.mp3