Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 10
We are always warned about dwelling in the past. Especially the bad past. Dwelling is one thing; forgetting is entirely another. Why? As George Santayana, a former philosophy professor at Harvard, said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
We have a responsibility to look to the past when it will guide our steps into a successful future. The past is not meant to be cement to hold us hostage to our mistakes and blunders, but it should help us reflect when we need the past to make a wise future decision. Reflecting on the past is not the same as living in the past. Certain parts of all of our pasts can either keep us stuck and condemned or reflective and wiser. It’s up to us how we use it.
This is the truth the apostle Paul is bringing to the light for the Corinthians in chapter 10. Listen as he reflects on the Israelites’ blunders while they were in the desert:
These things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things 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 got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:6-13, NIV)
I don’t have to sin to understand sin better. I can evaluate others’ experiences to help me come to a wise conclusion. And Paul is asking us to use a scenario from almost two thousand years earlier. Paul is asking the Corinthians and us to evaluate their bad decisions so we can make good decisions.
Paul starts the section by reminding us that these are not just Old Testament stories we are reading but “these things occurred as examples” to keep us from doing the same things. That means when we read the Old Testament, we read those stories not simply with a historical mindset but as present-day students imposing the question to the text, “What is this saying to me? How can this story help me?”
Look at the four things he warns us against.
1. Do not be idolaters. We probably should pause on this word idolatry. When we hear it, we immediately think of an ugly statue that people bow to and claim to be over them. Twenty-first-century idolatry still exists. The statues are less conspicuous. They may have an apple on them and we can carry them in our hands. They can be a little box on top of the television that will not let us stop playing. They can be a person, a sport, a casino, or something in a glass. Idolatry is whatever has the power over you. So Paul tells us not to be idolators.
2. Do not commit sexual immorality. That means having sex outside of marriage.
3. Do not test the Lord. What does that mean? It means when we go into tough seasons with no regard of God’s faithfulness and deliverance before. We test God when we go into a difficult moment with no recollection or memory of what He did before to help us. This is an affront to God.
4. Do not grumble. No complaining.
Then Paul reminds us again in verse 11: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us” (NIV). He starts in verse 6 with the words, these things happened as examples, and bookends the passage with those same words in verse 11. Paul is saying that we need to pay attention to these markers, reminders, reflective materials for us to live in the future. The challenge is for us to read them that way.
Paul ends with this exhortation: “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, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Keeping all the past in mind, here is how we get out of the difficult present: endure and exit. It’s two ways through hell. There’s always an exit for us and there’s always strength too. Satan’s job in those times is to blind our eyes and create a narrative like this . . . “No one has ever gone through this. You’re the only one, so God must hate you” or “This is so intense, there’s no way out and this will finally crush you.” Neither is true.
It will never be too much to handle. No one can say, “There’s no way to overcome this.”
God is faithful to provide the way. He will offer us escape or endurance.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4 that Satan blinds eyes. In temptation, in the casino, in the arms of a lover, at a website, around a bottle, he blinds people so they don’t see their family, our future, and God Himself. And Paul says that those people in the desert went blind and forgot that God provided a way out and strength to make it through.
Paul connects three important words with every trial and temptation. Don’t miss them.
God is faithful.
Theologian Wayne Grudem explains about God’s faithfulness: “God’s faithfulness means that God will always do what he has said and fulfill what he has promised.”
Whenever I think about God’s faithfulness, my mind goes back to this hymn I sang so many times growing up in the church:
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!