1 CORINTHIANS 10
Warning: Don’t Worship Idols
10:1-5 Remember the Israelites
I want you to know, brothers, 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 in the wilderness.
Paul continued here with the theme he began in 9:24, which is “be careful when you think you are standing firm, so that you will not fall.” He goes on in this chapter to talk about the example of the Israelites in the Old Testament and the impossibility of participating both in the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
Paul tells us that the Old Testament Israelites had great demonstrations of God’s power and his grace in providing for them by miraculous means, yet they did not please God and they were punished for it.
They were led by the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire as they left Egypt. See Exodus 13:21-22. They experienced the visible manifestation of the presence of God among them. (They were “baptized” into Moses, by acknowledging his leadership and qualification as the representative of the Father.)
They passed through the Red Sea, according to Exodus 14:21-22, experiencing miraculous deliverance.
They ate manna that fell from heaven and they only had to gather it. See Exodus 16:4.
They drank water from a rock. See Exodus 17:5-6. That water was provided by Christ.
Despite these miracles, the Israelites sinned. They rebelled against God, they broke his commandments and they worshipped idols. So, many of them died in the wilderness. We know from Exodus 32 that, even while Moses was on the mountain receiving the commandments, the people built an idol in the shape of a golden calf. Despite their mighty deliverance, they told Aaron “Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:22-23). The result was the 3,000 men were killed by the Levites.
Ultimately, all but 2 of the men of that generation died in the wilderness. Those men were Joshua and Caleb. Only those 2 were obedient and faithful.
10:6-11 Learning From Their Mistakes
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  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.
Paul said these events took place as examples for us. They are to instruct us not to desire evil as the Israelites did.
The Israelites constantly grumbled and complained during their exodus. When they saw the Egyptians coming at them at the Red Sea, they said “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” (Exodus 14:11). When they encountered bitter water at Marah, they grumbled against Moses, according to Exodus 15:24.
When they were hungry, and God was about to provide manna, they grumbled against Moses and Aaron and said “would tha 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” (Exodus 16:2-3).
When the Israelites came to Rephidim, they did not trust the Lord for water, but quarreled with Moses, according to Exodus 17:2. They said “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Moses finally said to God “what shall I do with this people?”
In Numbers 11, the people began to complain as they left Sinai for the Promised Land of Canaan. Fire from the Lord broke out and killed some of them, because the Lord was angry.
Over and over they complained in the face of the great works of God and were punished for it.
So, this passage tells us not to:
1. set our hearts on evil things;
2. not to be idolaters;
3. not to commit sexual immorality;
4. not to test the Lord;
5. and not to grumble or complain.
Many people read these Old Testament stories and criticize the Israelites for their actions, assuming they would not act that way. What we should do is realize we have the same sinful heart in us that they had in them, and we are perfectly capable of the same sins and rebellions they did. That should warn us to examine ourselves and use their example to avoid sin, not to react in a sort of righteous indignation and presumption that we are better.
Paul said that not only did these things happen as an example for us, but they were written down for our instruction. We are supposed to learn from them. Some say we are to dismiss the Old Testament, but Paul said to learn from it. Learn all you can from their example and avoid making the same mistakes yourself.
10:12-13 A Warning About Temptation
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.
The biggest problem of the Corinthians was pride. They thought they could handle anything because they were so smart and sophisticated. Paul said be careful. If you are convinced you can stand against anything in your own strength, you may well fall.
The good news is, God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can stand, and he will always provide a way out. All of these temptations have happened to people before you; you are not unique in this. If you will look back at times you sinned, you will often see that there was a way out before you sinned, you just didn’t take it. Look at the example of Joseph and the example of David with regard to sexual sin.
In Genesis 39, Potiphar’s wife tried day after day to seduce Joseph while her husband was away. Joseph would not give in. When she finally grabbed him, he left his garment behind and fled the house to avoid sin.
In contrast, David stayed home from battle and went walking on his roof. He saw Bathsheba bathing and liked what he saw, so he sent for her and had sex with her. This ultimately led to the murder of her husband, a loyal soldier, and the death of the baby born of David and Bathsheba. This is recorded in 2 Samuel 11-12. David could have gone to war when he was supposed to, he could have been busy rather than wandering about on his roof in the afternoon, he could have turned away after he discovered Bathsheba, he could have seen he but not followed through in sending for her. He had many chances to avoid sinning, but he refused them because he desired evil.
We need to be conscious to avoid sin. When you find yourself tempted, look for the way out and take it. Don’t play with it or assume you are strong enough to resist it.
We must also seek a balance. We do not need to live in fear of the devil or of temptation, for God has provided for us. He will provide the way of escape. 2 Peter 1:3 says “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…” Yet, we need to avoid pride and confidence in our own flesh. Our confidence is in the Lord. Our humility allows us to know our own hearts and rely on him to avoid sin and obtain holiness.
You want to avoid the fall, the moral collapse, the life changing mistake. It is hard to recover from. Psalm 51 records David’s suffering from his sin and his repentance.
10:14-22 Avoid Idolatry
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel:  are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
Paul cautioned the Corinthians to avoid idolatry, to flee from it. It seems as if they thought they could take part in pagan ceremonies for the sake of the party or the food, without succumbing to idol worship. Paul tells them to flee from it, just as Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife. Sometimes young people ask me how far they can go and not sin. I tell them they have asked the wrong question. The question is how far will you go to avoid sinning?
He is back to food offered as sacrifices to idols. He acknowledged, in verse 19, that neither the food nor the idol is anything. But he warns them that the sacrifices are to demons and they cannot participate in this. You cannot be part of the Lord and part of demons. So, though all these passages, we see that Paul teaches that, although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with food offered to idols, they should refrain out of concern for weaker Christians and so they themselves will not be tempted into idol worship, especially for feasts that were actually held in the pagan temple.
Would you go to a satanic ritual? Would you go to a Wiccan ceremony?
How about a more practical example. Most of you are probably unlikely to fall into the worship of pagan gods or idols. You’re not likely to put a statue of Baal or Zeus in your living room. We cannot totally dismiss the thought, as paganism is certainly on the rise. But, what about this. Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:5 tells us that greed, or covetousness in the ESV, is idolatry.
What is greed or covetousness? It is the desire for more than you need or the inordinate desire to acquire possessions. Jesus addressed it in Luke 12:13-21. H refused to intercede in a dispute between brothers over their inheritance. Instead, he said be on our guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist of an abundance of possessions. Then he told a story about a rich man tearing down his barns and building bigger ones, only to discover he would die and his possessions would be useless. Jesus said so it is for the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.
So, how would you flee from the idolatry of greed or covetousness?
A. Deriving the character of God by faith.
B. God's character involves contentment. God lacks nothing, wants nothing.
Lk. 3:14 - "be content with your wages"
Phil. 4:11 - "content in whatever circumstances I am"
I Tim. 6:6 - "godliness is means of gain, accompanied by contentment"
I Tim. 6:8 - "food and covering, with these we shall be content"
Heb. 13:5 - "content with what you have"
C. We are to be fulfilled and satisfied in the abundance of Christ's life -
John 10:10 - "life more abundantly"
Other idols in our day might be success, good looks or popularity.
You see here references to the Lord’s supper, drinking the cup that is participation in the blood of Christ, and eating bread that is participation in the body of Christ.
10:23-33 Living For the Glory of God
23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
Paul set out some rules for the eating of food sacrificed to idols. You can go to a pagan’s house and eat whatever is put in front of you without asking any questions because all food is given by the Lord and acceptable, as he has discussed. But, if it is said that it is part of a sacrifice, you should not eat it for the sake of the conscience of the person who brought the subject up.
The greater act is to avoid bringing offense to another person or the church, in order that you may be a good witness and bring people to salvation. The ultimate test is, whatever you do, you do it not to indulge yourself or exercise your freedoms, but to glorify God.