“Warnings From The Wilderness” (I Corinthians 10:1-13 sermon)

21stonesspan-master768-v2On the coastline of Japan, by the little village of Aneyoshi, is an ancient stone tablet. Engraved on this tablet is a somber warning: “Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes beyond this point.” In 2011, as you may remember, a great tsunami did indeed strike the coast of Japan. Every home in Aneyoshi, built above that warning marker, survived — unlike thousands of others along the coast who ignored that warning, and over 29,000 people were killed when the tsunami struck. The people of Aneyoshi wisely listened to the ancient warning, and were saved.

Here in I Corinthians 10 God gives us a warning, from the history of His people, to which, if we are wise, we will also pay close attention: 

 

I. Salvation Is Personal

Paul begins this warning in the very first verse, saying: “I do not want you to be unaware brethren …”. In other words, he says there is something here that is really important, that you need to know about. And what does he say?

He says “our fathers” (he’s talking about the people of Israel in days past) “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.” 

He’s speaking here of the time of the Exodus. The whole congregation of Israel had been through all of these experiences together: they’d all walked through the Red Sea like it was dry land; they had all eaten the manna and had a drink from the rock in the wilderness. They had all been in a “group”, which had some experiences with, and which had been blessed, by God.

NEVERTHELESS :5 says, “with most of them, God was NOT well-pleased, for they were laid low in the wilderness” — in other words, they DIED there in the wilderness, despite all they had been a part of. So one of the points of application here in this first section of I Cor. 10 is that there is a DIFFERENCE in being part of a GROUP that experiences some things from God, and really, personally knowing Him yourself.

It is very revealing that Paul couches what happened to Israel in NEW Testament terms: he says they were “baptized” into Moses; “they ate the same spiritual food;” — this is a picture of the Christian ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And he applies this as a warning to US. He says, listen, receive this warning: you can go through all the Christian ordinances; you can get baptized; you can take the Lord’s Supper; you can participate in all the “Christian experiences” with everybody in the church, and still fall short of genuine salvation. Just because you are in a group that experiences some things with God, like Israel did, does not mean that you are personally right with God.

We need to hear that warning today. You can sit in these worship services, and every week we are singing songs that glorify God, and there are people who are singing with all their heart, and some raising their hands, and some are kneeling to pray, or whatever — and you can leave and say: “Man, ‘we’ had a great service today at Pleasant Ridge.” But it is not enough for “us” to have a “great service” and praise God. 

It is just like Israel here: they all went through the sea; they all ate the bread; they all drank the water — but most of them did not really worship God. It can be that way with you too. You can be in a church full of people who are praising and singing and weeping and praying and worshiping, but just because you are in a group that is doing that, doesn’t mean that YOU are. YOU have to personally participate for this to be real for you.

One of the things this reminds us of, is that God doesn’t save “groups.” He saves individuals who personally and truly give their life to Him. 

This is why saying things like “Is America (or any nation) a ‘Christian nation’?”, can be very tricky. There is no nation in which every single person in it, is a Christian. Even if the nation was founded on Christian principles, and was born with help from the Providence of God (of which there are many examples in America) it does NOT mean that every person in it is a Christian. God doesn’t save “nations;” God doesn’t save “groups.” God saves people one at a time, as individuals repent of their sins and trust Jesus as their Lord & Savior. 

I am so pleased that at the end of the service today we will introduce Todd & Sunshine Meister as full-fledged members of Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church! There are 4 steps to membership: 1) that Jesus is your Lord & Savior, 2) baptism by immersion; 3) taking the 4-part “Discovering the Ridge” classes, and 4) being presented to the church. In filling out his commitment card to join, Todd added a 3-page testimony of how he was saved. (This is not a requirement but Todd just chose to do that.) In it he shares how God had been working in his life in a number of amazing ways (we may hear those details another time) but one day he found himself in a large stadium in St. Louis Missouri, with 55,000 other men, all of whom seemed to know God and were really worshiping Him, and they got down on their knees to pray. And Todd realized that although he was in this huge group of men who knew and worshiped God, HE HIMSELF did not. He had always “believed” in God, but he didn’t have the relationship with God that so many of those men had. And that day he DID get down on his knees, and prayed, and committed his life to Jesus as the Lord of HIS own life.

See, somehow or another, some time or another, it has to become personal for you like that. It’s not enough to be part of a “group” that seems to be committed to God; you have to make a commitment to worship Him YOURSELF. 

So God warns us here: It’s not enough just to be in a “group” and go to church. Someone has said being in a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car!  There has to be that personal turning from sin, and that personal commitment to Jesus as your own personal Lord & Savior. Salvation is personal. 

 

II. Holiness Is Vital

Verse 6 begins a new section of this chapter with a key statement: “Now these things happened as examples for us.” This is vital for us to understand — especially as we are reading through the Old Testament during our Daily Bible Reading emphasis. What we are reading is not just “history.” This is not merely the record of what happened to one group of people as they made their way through the desert to a Promised Land. “These things happened as examples for us.” 

Verse 11 says a similar thing: “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.” Did you catch that? These things were written “for our instruction.” These things happened to THEM, but they were written FOR US, so that we would learn from them. So every day as you read, even the most obscure or odd-seeming passage from the Old Testament, ask yourself: “What is God trying to teach me here? What has been written here “for my instruction”? There is something there for you every day.

And Paul says in :6-10 that what is there for us, is a warning against sin.

After he says in :6, “Now these things happened as examples for us,” he then adds: “SO THAT (this indicates the purpose) SO THAT we would not crave evil things as they also craved.” So this is a warning against sin. And then he begins to list four of the specific sins that the people of Israel in the Exodus were involved in, each followed (if you will notice) by the phrase: “as some of them did.” These are specific warnings against specific sins, 

A.  First, he says in :7, “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were …”.

Here he’s speaking of how Israel in the Exodus made the Golden Calf, and ate and drank and “played” before it. He says, do not be idolaters like they were. 

A week ago Saturday Cheryl & I were walking our grand daughters Corley & Lottie to the Farmer’s Market, which is just down the road from their home in Carmel, Indiana. At a house on the left side of the sidewalk on the way, there 3 identical statues of an Eastern deity sitting there. Lottie, being Lottie, reaches out to touch it, and said “What’s that?!” I grabbed her hand and pulled it back and said, “Those are other gods.” We don’t want to mess with those!

You may say, “Well, I don’t mess with those eastern idols either; I’m not an idolater.” I hope you aren’t, but you also need to realize that an “idolater” is not just someone who worships a physical idol; an idolater is a person who puts anything else ahead of the one true God. And that convicts a LOT of us!

You might say “Not me!”; but think about areas of your life where you may be putting things ahead of God: for example, what about your tithe? We are to give the first 10% of everything we make to God, to show that He is more important than anything else we could do with that money. So if you’re not tithing, you are in essence an idolater. You are putting that money — or whatever you are doing with it — ahead of God. And it’s the same with anything you do that with. Anything you obey or prefer over God is an idol. And God strongly warns us here against practicing idolatry. 

B. He says in :8 “nor let us act immorally, as some of them did …”

This is a real issue for many people today, who want to call themselves “Christians,” and talk about how they love God and have a “great relationship with Him”, but at the same time totally ignore God’s commands regarding morality. 

Jesus is very clear in His word: He said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) One area in which God has given us commandments is in regard to our practice of sexuality. We have to remember: sex is not something the world gave us; GOD designed it. (Which should really encourage us: the same God who invented sex says He has even greater pleasures to share with us forever in heaven! Let that blow your mind!) But the God who created sex gave us definite guidelines on how it is to be practiced: in the context of one man and one woman, in a committed, married relationship. Anything outside of that is breaking God’s commands, and is what I Corinthians calls here “immorality” — whether it is sex outside of marriage, or living with someone who is not your spouse; or homosexual practice, or pornography. Many people today do not believe these things are wrong — for example, I read a survey this week which indicated that 67% of men 18-49 today believe that pornography is a legitimate expression of one’s sexuality. But it doesn’t matter what the polls say — God’s word says that if it is not between a man and a woman in a committed, married relationship, it is immorality. It is sin.

And somehow there has come to be a real disconnect regarding this issue today. SO many people want to call themselves “Christians,” and yet choose to totally ignore God’s commands regarding sexual morality. 

Hear God’s warning: you cannot consider yourself a Christian in good standing, and talk about the “great relationship” you supposedly have with God, if you are being sexually immoral. This is a serious sin. We just read in our Daily Bible Reading in I Thessalonians 4 where God said: 

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter, because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man, but the GOD who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” 

God is very clear here: immorality is a big deal to Him. He says He is “solemnly warning” us about it. He says HE is the avenger in this. He says if you reject this, you are not rejecting man, but GOD! “Rejecting God”! It is impossible for you to both “reject God” and say you love Him at the same time. God takes immorality of every kind seriously.

Proverbs 6:27, speaking of immorality, says “can a man take fire in his bosom and not be burned?” It says immorality is like a “fire.” One of the first lesson we teach our kids is to stay away from fire; it will burn you, it will harm you. God says immorality is a FIRE. It will BURN you. It will block your relationship with God; it will destroy your relationship with other people, and it will scar your life. You cannot take fire in your bosom and not be burned, and you cannot practice immorality and not be burned. 

Now let’s be clear: immorality is not an “unforgivable” sin; anything can be forgiven in Christ. But it is a serious sin. If you have been involved in it, you need to bring it to God and repent of it; if you are involved in it now, you need to break off immediately; and you must take every precaution to steer away from it in the future.   And most importantly, DO NOT buy into this false narrative that your practice of morality has nothing to do with your relationship with God. You cannot practice immorality and walk with God at the same time. God warns us here not to “act immorally, as some of them did.” 

C. He says in :9 “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did …”

Numbers 21:4 says that while Israel was in their wilderness wanderings “the people became impatient” in the journey, and “spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and water, and we loathe this miserable place.” Instead of trusting that God had a plan and purpose in where they were and what they were going through, they doubted and complained instead.  

How many of us are just like Israel in this? How many of you today have a situation in your life, and you are not trusting God with it. You are all worried about it; or you look back on something that has happened, and you are blaming God; bitter for how this has turned out — as if it were GOD’S fault, and not yours, or whoever was involved? 

Tim Keller had an insightful quote on Twitter this week. He wrote: “Worry is not believing God will get it right. And bitterness is believing God got it wrong.” That’s pretty good, isn’t it? When you are worrying, whether you realize it or not, you are anxious that somehow God isn’t going to get this right. It is the total opposite of trusting Him. And then when you’re bitter, about circumstances, or the way things are going, or have turned out, what you are really saying is, God has gotten this wrong.

Can’t you see this is a sin? In fact, this is just as much a sin as those first two things we just looked at. If while I was preaching you were thinking to yourself, “I’m sure glad I’M not an idolater; I’M not immoral”; but you are trying the Lord, you need to realize that YOU TOO are sinning. You are not trusting God in your situation, or you are bitter against Him. And God warns us, this is just as much a sin as those other two are.  He says, “Nor let us try the Lord.”

D. Then He warns in :10 “Nor grumble, as some of them did …”.

This could possibly have been included in what Israel did in :9, because it is very similar, but God addressed it separately, quite possibly to show just how much He HATES grumbling. Do a word search on the word “grumble” in the Bible, and you will see SO many references in Exodus and Numbers as to how Israel did nothing the whole 40 years they were in the wilderness with Moses, but grumble: they grumbled about the food; they grumbled about the water; they grumbled about the leadership; they grumbled about what they had left behind; they grumbled about GOD … And God said later in Psalm 95, “For 40 years I LOATHED that generation.” For they constantly put Him to the test, and did nothing but grumble and complain the whole time.

And God does not look any more favorably upon our grumbling today than He did upon Israel’s. He HATES grumbling. Significantly, at the end of Psalm 95 God says: “I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest.” God’s “rest” is heaven. He said, these people are not going to go to heaven. All they did is grumble and gripe and complain the whole time — while GOD HIMSELF was leading them through the wilderness with signs and wonders and His very presence!  But their grumbling revealed their hearts. 

Really, all these sins mentioned here reveal our hearts. When we put other things ahead of God; when we consistently disobey God concerning sexual immorality; when we don’t trust God; and when we continually grumble; we show by our actions that we really don’t belong to Him. As He said in Psalm 95, those who practice such things “will not enter My rest.” God warns us in this section, that those who practice these things, are not on their way to heaven. If you’re doing these things, you’d better heed God’s warning. 

 

III. Temptation Is Escapable

But the true Christian lives differently. We read in Isaiah 36 this week that God’s redeemed people are on “The Highway of Holiness.” It doesn’t meant that we are perfect, but we are “on the way;” we are on that road to becoming holy. And God says here in :13 that if you have truly given your life to Jesus Christ, and will turn to Him in times of temptation, He will give you the power to turn away from sin. You do not have to give in to it. 

Verse 13 says: “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 may be able to endure it.” Having warned us against sinning, he now says that in Christ, you DO have the ability turn away from sin. Temptation is escapable. 

Now, this verse is often summarized by people as “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” That is ‘somewhat’ true, but in other ways, it’s not really true. What this says is, there is no temptation that will come across your path, that is too strong for you to overcome with God’s help. GOD is faithful; HE will provide a “means of escape” for you. But in another sense, it does NOT mean “God won’t give you more than you can handle” on your own. There are times in life in which we will be TOTALLY overwhelmed, and unable to cope on our own. But that is exactly when we have to cry out to God, and with HIS HELP, there is then nothing we can’t handle. But that is a big difference. God may indeed give you “more than YOU can handle” — to get you turn to HIM to save you, or help you. 

But the real point of this verse is that IF you will turn to God when you are tempted, He WILL help you overcome it. This verse teaches us several things regarding temptation:

— “no temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.” You may think that your particular sin is SO bad, or so strong, that no one else has to deal with anything like it. But that is not so. Others have similar temptations, and have overcome it with God’s help. I was talking to someone this week, and they were so encouraged to hear that someone else had the same problem they do. Our temptations are “common to man;” LOTS of people are dealing with the same thing you are — AND there is someone who is having victory over that very sin with God’s help. I have read or heard testimonies recently of people who had overcome homosexuality with God’s help; who have overcome drug abuse with God’s help; who have overcome anxiety with God’s help — This should be encouraging news: WHATEVER YOUR SIN IS: it is “common to man” and there is someone today who has overcome that very sin you are dealing with, with God’s help! And that means you can too — if you will turn to God for help.

— This verse also tells us that God will provide a way of escape from our sin. OUR responsibility then is to be sure that we USE the means that God has already provided for us. For example: 

— We need to call out to God in prayer to help us. I have been memorizing Psalm 120, which begins, “In my trouble I cried to the Lord, and He answered me.” God will help us if we call out to Him — including helping us in our temptations — but the question is, are you doing that? Are you really calling out and asking Him to help you in your times of temptation?

— God has also provided for us a great tool vs. temptation in His word. Ephesians 6 says “the sword of the Spirit is the word of God.” In our Philippians study in VBS, we saw how sin begins in the mind, with a thought, a lust, an idea. So we have to “nip that in the bud”. We have to fight that battle in the mind and “take every thought captive”, as II Corinthians 10 says. If you DON’T, then you are going to keep dwelling on that sin in your mind, and the more you do, the more likely you are to act on it. And when you have acted on it, then it can easily become a habit, a stronghold, in your life. 

But God has already provided a way for you to fight that off, before it ever becomes a stronghold, or even a sin. Fight the temptation in your mind. Use “the sword of the Spirit” God has given you in His word. Whenever that thought comes into your mind, “draw the sword of the Spirit” and quote a verse that you have memorized to address that issue in your life. 

But the thing is, many of us — perhaps most of us — are not taking advantage of “the means of escape” that God has provided for us: 

—We aren’t memorizing His word, so we have no “sword” to draw in times of temptation. 

— or maybe we even HAVE memorized verses, but for some reason we aren’t drawing them out like a sword and using them when those temptations come.

— He’s given us His Holy Spirit inside us, but aren’t calling on Him for help

— He’s given us friends to pray with us and encourage us, but we aren’t reaching out to them

— He’s given us instruction to get certain temptations out of our house, or certain acquaintances out of our lives, which are dragging us down, but we haven’t done it.

In many cases, God has given us a way of escape, but we haven’t taken it. GOD is faithful. He doesn’t want you to sin. He wants you on that “highway of holiness.” He will provide the means of escape. But you have to want it enough, to use the means He has given you. And quite honestly, in many cases we haven’t taken it, because we really haven’t wanted it enough. We haven’t taken our relationship with God, and the sin that is harming that relationship, seriously enough. And Paul is warning us here: you’ve got to take sin seriously. 

 

CONCLUSION:

The residents of that village in Aneyoshi Japan took the ancient warning of the stone tablet seriously, and their lives were saved. But many other people laughed the warning off or just ignored it — and 29,000 were killed by the 2011 tsunami. 

And in the same way, there are some people here today, who are going to laugh this message off — or if you don’t laugh it off, you’re just going to ignore it and go on. But God is warning you today — not with a “stone tablet on the shoreline” like Aneyoshi, but in the written tablet of His word — He is warning you that you ignore sin to your own peril. He says these things that happened to Israel are examples for YOU; they were written for YOU — and you’d better pay attention to God’s warning! 

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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