Examples and Warnings, Part 3: Sexual Immorality and Grumbling

Jan van't Hoff, "The Bronze Serpent"

**Image above is “The Bronze Serpent” by Jan van’t Hoff**

Please turn with me in your bibles to 1 Corinthians chapter 10. 1stCorinthians 10. We’re walking our way through Paul’s letter to the church of God in the Greek city of Corinth. And within this letter, we’re in a significant section where Paul is encouraging the Corinthian believers to remain faithful.

Chapter 9 ended with the exhortation to finish the race well. To run the race of the Christian life in such a way as to win the prize. Don’t be disqualified through sinful behavior.

And to further the point, Paul enters chapter 10 by using several Old Testament episodes as illustrations. Remain strong. Don’t falter like our Hebrew fathers. Finish the race of desert wandering in this life, so that you may enter well into the promised land of heaven.

Let’s read chapter 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, 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. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown[b] in the wilderness.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 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.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 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.

By way of review, I have said in previous sermons that this section of 1 Corinthians 10:1-14 may be divided into 3 parts, which we might remember with 3 E’s: Experiences, Examples, Exhortations.

In verses 1-5 we looked at the Old Testament Experiences. These were Experiences from the Old Testament that Paul used as illustrations of theological truth. Experiences like the Exodus, the cloud and the pillar of fire, drinking water from the rock.

Then in verse 6-11 we see the Examples. Paul uses the stories of the Hebrew Fathers as Old Testament Examples of sin to avoid. We’ve already looked at sinful desire and idolatry, if you’ll remember, when we looked at the tragic story of Aaron and the Hebrews making a golden calf and then bowing down to it. These were examples of sins that we need to avoid.

And later, in 1 Cor 10:12-14, we will see the final E: Exhortations to flee from sin and endure in righteousness.

But before we get to that, let’s pick up where we left off last time in verse 8, and see the next example of sin to avoid: and that is Sexual immorality. Paul warns against the sin of sexual immorality.

Verse 8: We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.

Paul condemns all types of sexual sin. And it’s not insignificant that the condemnation of sexual sin comes on the heels of his condemnation of idolatry in verse 7. And that’s because in scripture, sexual sin always seems to be downstream of idolatry of some kind. When you give up true worship of the true God, the indulgence of fleshly appetites surely follows.

We see such a connection made explicit in Romans 1. You don’t have to turn there if you don’t want to; I’ll read it to you. Romans 1:22-27:

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. [that’s the idolatry; worshipping the creatures rather than the creator]

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Man chose to worship creatures, rather than the creator, and so God’s act judgement upon sinful men and women was to say: “ok. Have at it.” And he releases his restraining hand, and let’s mankind loose on the sinful desires of their hearts. And the fruit of those desires is depraved sexual activity. Idolatry leads to sexual deviancy. That’s the pattern to see.

In fact, that same pattern is seen in the story that Paul directly references back in verse 8 of 1 Corinthians 10. Turn with me to Numbers 25. Numbers chapter 25.

In Numbers 25, we see God’s people camping near the Moabites, and Moab is one of the places where the Hebrews are tempted not only to idolatry again, but also the subsequent sin of sexual immorality.

Numbers 25, starting in verse 1, and take special note of the mingling of idolatry and sexual sin:

25 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.

 Sexual sin and Idolatry intimately tied together. Just like they were tied together in the city of Corinth, where the pagan temples employed hundreds of enticing cultic prostitutes to lure men and women into the worship of their pagan Gods.

But lest we think that such a sin is simply for the old testament, let’s think about our situation today. Probably the most vocal false god of our cultural moment in America is the god of free sexual expression.

  • The world wants us to:
    • worship at the temple of pleasure.
    • To offer sacrifices of praise to the god of immediate gratification.
    • To indulge in the liturgy of hooking up with him or her, or downloading this or that, so that our unseemly impulses might be satisfied.

Our desires get all disordered, as we discussed last time, and we long after the worship of physical pleasure, instead of the worship of the true God. We take a good gift, sexuality, and try to turn that gift into the giver of life, rather than turning to the giver of life and praising Him for His good gifts.

Whenever we lust after that which isn’t ours to have, whenever we’re discontent with the avenues of sexual expression available to us, whenever we’re tempted by the Moabite women of our modern age, and lured into false worship, we’re no better than the Hebrew fathers in the desert.

And what does God do to them? How does a Holy God treat sexual impurity among his chosen nation? Verse 4:

 And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang[a]them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”

Idolatry and sexual sin deserve death. That’s what the bible teaches. Sexual sin earns for the sinner a sentence of death. And it’s not merely the physical expression of the sin. The root desire behind the sin is enough to condemn us. Jesus makes that clear.

Outside of Christ, whenever my lust pushes me to covet that which isn’t mine to have, I stand worthy of death. Whenever our heart longs after a man or woman that hasn’t been given to me, I’ve Yoked myself to Baal, and provoked God’s Holy wrath.

And Holy wrath is exactly what comes next in the text. Look at verse 6:

And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.

The unholy action of a sinful Hebrew man provokes the wrath of a holy Priest name Phineas, and he gets up, and slays the sinner deserving of death. Phineas knows that such blatant disregard of God’s holy law is a blasphemous idolatry. He knows that a little leaven among God’s people leavens the whole lump. And so he removes the leaven.

Phineas’ actions remind me of another priest. A priest who, when confronted with the sinful actions of an unrighteous people, rose and took drastic action. Think about Jesus in John 2, when we walked into the temple, the place of God’s holy worship, and saw how it had been filled with greedy men indulging their sinful desire at the expense of God’s people. The Apostle John then quotes from the Old Testament and attributes to Jesus the words, “Zeal for thy house consumes me”, as Jesus proceeds to flip over tables and crack people with a whip.

Like Phineas, Jesus is a holy priest who will not stand for God’s people to follow sinful desires and indulge in clear immorality.

Our sin, of whatever kind, merits judgement. Unholiness, especially of a sexual nature, impurity of our sexual desires and actions, provokes holy wrath. And that’s where each of us stand condemned, outside of Christ.

We’re like the brazen Hebrew man, parading our forbidden Midianite wife of sexual immorality around within the sight of God almighty. He sees every bit of our sexual sin, even our sinful desires, and sees it all even more clearly than the Hebrew people saw that Midianite woman in the flesh.

And yet, what does God do for his people? God in Christ does the unthinkable. He doesn’t show us mercy, at the expense of justice. He doesn’t simply overlook our sin. Nor does he show us justice at the expense of mercy, and send in a Phineas to drop us dead immediately.

The New Testament reveals the plan of God in gloriously unthinkable way.

God sends his son, Jesus Christ, to be the holy priest, like Phineas. He personally brings death to the sin that has infected His people.

But, and this is the unthinkable part. Jesus Christ is also the one killed for sexual immorality. God’s holy priest kills a man of sin, but in a shocking twist, Christ himself becomes as the sinful man. Christ, the sinless holy priest, goes to the cross and bears the sinfulness of his people. The zealous priest himself becomes the sacrifice.

The holy one, becomes the scapegoat, so that a sinful people can be made pure. The sexually immoral bride is washed clean, and made into a faithful wife, and all because of a zealous, priestly husband, who loved his bride with immeasurable love. “Zeal for thy house consumes me”, indeed, a zeal of such depth that he’d give his life for that house.

That’s the good news of the gospel.

When you’re tempted to indulge in sexual sin, remember the story of the Hebrews, remember the zeal of Phineas and the judgement of death that your sin merits, but also remember Christ, who came and bore that death so that His people might be forgiven and made pure. Be warmed again by that gospel, and trust in that Christ.

And if you’re toying with sexual sin right now, hear the warning. If you’re outside of Christ, you stand condemned. You’re as exposed as that Hebrew standing in the middle of the camp with his forbidden Midianite wife.

But like Adam hiding in the bushes, God calls out to you. He’s calling to you now, offering you a better way, a way of forgiveness and acceptance. A way of satisfaction and joy. A way of purity and escape. Come to this Jesus. Even the worst of sexual offenders can be forgiven. His gospel is open to any who would come, and none are too far down the road of sin to be made clean.

Trust in this Jesus, the Christ of the scriptures, and you too can be made pure by the zealous priest of holiness.

And for all of us, let us renew our efforts to battle in the Lord’s strength against the temptations toward sexual sin. There is nothing new under the sun, and the same lusts prevail today as the did in the region of Moab. But we have a God who is faithful, and he will help us endure.

Next, we have seen examples against sinful desire, idolatry, sexual immorality, and now let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 10, and see another pair of sins to be avoided: and those are putting God to the test, and grumbling. Putting God to the test, and grumbling.

Paul says in verses 9 and 10 of 1 Corinthians 10, 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.

I will treat both of these sins together, since they so often are joined in our hearts, and in the texts. Testing God and grumbling, or murmuring, are often seen in the same passage. For example, Paul is in verse 9 referencing a story from Numbers 21, if you’d like to turn there.

In Numbers 21 God’s people are still wandering in the desert, and they are sent by God to walk AROUND the land of Edom. They’re having to travel, from their perspective, a less than direct route, which was an unnecessary burden. And they were having to do it with fewer provisions than they’d like.

Numbers 21:4-9:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”

 The text says the people of God became impatient, which is the fruit of a prideful heart who thinks “I. Know. Best.

I know what is best and I know it even better than God. I know where we should go, and I know what would be the best route. I know the best timing, and I know what I deserve in the meantime.” And when God doesn’t listen to this stiff-necked people, they begin to complain.

“Where is our food? Where is our water? Why have you brought me here? What are you doing to me? Don’t you know that I am suffering? Don’t you know that I deserve better than this?”

They murmur. They grumble.

One pastor has defined grumbling as “giving audible expression to unwarranted dissatisfaction.”[1] Giving audible expression to unwarranted dissatisfaction. And in their grumbling the people of God were putting God to the test. They placed themselves up as the judge, and put God on the docket. They were testing to see if God really was who he says he was, and they presumed to be fit judges for the task.

Have you felt that way in your heart? When a trial comes, or a burden is weighing upon you. That’s when you’re most likely to feel it.

Why is this happening to me?

Won’t God hurry up and relieve this burden?

Haven’t I carried this long enough?

This isn’t fair. I don’t deserve this.

God, what are you doing? Can’t you see that I’m suffering?

And if we’re not careful, godly lament can quickly slide into grumbling and murmuring, both of which impugn the character of God, and test him, tempt him toward judgement or discipline.

And that’s because grumbling is no slight sin. To grumble is to believe that God is not holy, that he is not good, that he has done wrong to you, and that he owes you something. In short, grumbling is to treat God as if he were a devil, and to say that God’s works are no more righteous than Satan himself. That’s high treason against our creator.

Every time we complain about how unruly our children behave, every time we grumble about getting stuck at a traffic light, every time we whine about our condition, or our finances, or our jobs, or our spouse, we’re in effect saying that God is not, in fact, good, but is instead evil.

And what does such treasonous slander merit? It merits death. To smear God’s character is to incite holy wrath. And that’s exactly what the Hebrews tasted next in the text. Verse 6:

 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.

 Fiery serpents, a combination of two symbols indicative of judgement and cursing in the bible, slither into the camp, and send many people to the grave. Souls swelled with pride, overflowing with presumptuous slander. And that slander earned them a slithering sentence of death.

And outside of Christ, each of us earns the same.

But notice what happens next. God doesn’t leave them without hope, nor was he unconcerned about the plight of his people. Verse 7:

And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze[c] serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Moses makes a metal image of snake, the image of the curse itself from the garden, and he raises it up for all to see. And when they see the image of the curse raised, they are healed.

And it is to this exact story that Jesus links himself in John 3. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Just as the sight of a cursed serpent saved a nation, so too does the sight of Christ lifted on the cross, bearing the curse itself, save a nation of sinners. The cursed one lifted up purchases from condemnation an entire nation of condemned grumblers, and it is but the sight of him raised up that saves.

Praise be to God that he has provided a way for eternal life, and all we have to do is but look.

Looking by faith is all that is needed to save from the venom of sin. Gazing is all we must do to have the poison undone. Grumbling has put us in the grave, stung by death itself and sent there by the bite of a fiery serpent, destined for eternity in a fiery place called hell.

But Christ has born our judgement and removed our condemnation. No other prescription is needed, no other remedy can cure. Look to this Christ, the one raised on the cross and bearing the curse for all who would believe.

Trust in him, and his provision, and his forgiveness, and you too can be cured of your sentence of death.

And when you find yourself tempted to grumble, when you find yourself like the Hebrews, wandering in the desert and grumbling about God’s provision for you, remember this: If God, did not spare his own Son but gave him up for you, how will he not also graciously give you all things? That’s Paul’s logic in Romans 8:32. If God gave you the most precious and valuable thing, his son, will he not also give you the things that you need for your journey in the desert of this life?

God is good, so good he gave up his son for you. And if he is that good, then his gifts to you in this life are also good. Your trials aren’t meant as punishment, but as purification for you. His burdens aren’t meant to crush, but you bring you closer to him. Your valleys can do nothing of eternal significance to you, and are but occasions for you to know better the savior who has walked the valley of death before you.

Don’t grumble against God’s provision, and don’t look back to the vegetables in Egypt. Don’t be like Lot’s wife. Rather, look to the cursed one who was raised up that you might be saved to eternal life.

And if you have not yet trusted in Christ, then know that the offer of eternal life is made to you as well. Your grumbling has earned you a sentence of death, but that can be replaced by a simple look at the cross.

Trust in that Jesus, and you can be purified of the poison of sin. You can be cured of the cancer of eternal death, and instead given the remedy of forgiveness and eternal life. Don’t try to clean yourself up, don’t try to work up to it. Just look. Gaze. Keep your eye on that savior raised up on the cross in the place of a sinful people, and you too can be saved.

Now, I fully intended to finish through verse 13, but I’m clearly not going to make it tonight. So let me close with a final observation and an encouragement.

One observation, by way of application, is to notice Paul’s warning against murmuring in verse 10.[2] We’ve noted more than once, and it is plainly clear to anyone who reads the history of Israel, that God’s people are prone to grumble. But we should also take note that grumbling is a compounding sin.

The initial sin is that they grew impatient and quarreled with God, but it is compounded by their murmuring against God’s chosen leaders as well, whenever any difficulty pressed upon them. When they met with trials on the way to Canaan, they were very prone to confront their leaders, to seek their removal, and to return back to Egypt under the leaders of their own choosing.

Grumbling tempted toward rebellion and usurpation of the authorities God that had ordained be over them. And I think a similar situation was present in Corinth. They were murmuring against Paul, and by extension Jesus, and were instead seeking to prop up their own leadership of choice: may be Peter, maybe Apollos, probably others that were called “super apostles.”

And the men of their own choosing would let them indulge in their chosen idolatry, feasting on idol meat, rather than sacrifice their own preferences or bear the reproach of their pagan neighbors.

It’s similar to Paul’s warning elsewhere about the temptation toward setting up preachers of our own design who will say the things that our itching ears desire. They will scratch us where we want to be scratched, and let us indulge where we want to indulge.

Such conduct was very provoking to God, and was likely to bring upon them swift destruction, as it did on the Israelites.

For example: Numbers 14:36-37: “36 And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land— 37 the men who brought up a bad report of the land—died by plague before the Lord.”

All that to say, I wanted to point out that grumbling is a sin that isn’t content to remain alone, and it is a sin that greatly provokes God. Murmuring often will incite rebellion against human authorities over us, and can even grow to such a head as to produce outright revolt from God himself, and from his good ways.

Let us heed Paul’s warnings, and soberly battle against the temptations within us to grumble and complain when things don’t go our way. That is but the first step of potentially greater rebellion, whose end is neither good nor pleasant.

And by way of closing, I will leave you with the words of an old Hymn by Haratio Palmer, entitled Yield Not To Temptation, as we battle against our temptation toward sin:

Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin;
Each vict’ry will help you some other to win;
Fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Ask the Savior to help you,
Comfort, strengthen, and keep you;
He is willing to aid you,
He will carry you through.

[1] Alistair Begg, sermon on the same text, “Examples and Warnings, Part 2”, 5/30/1993.

[2] This point about murmuring and leadership is adapted from a thought made by Matthew Henry in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 10:10.


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