“Warnings From The Wilderness” (I Cor. 10 sermon)

On the coastline of Japan, there is a little village called Aneyoshi. On a certain spot in the town, there is an ancient stone tablet, engraved with a somber warning: “Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes beyond this point.” In 2011 a great tsunami did indeed strike the coast of Japan. Every home in Aneyoshi, which was built above that warning marker, survived — but thousands of others along the coast ignored that warning, and over 29,000 people were killed when the tsunami struck. They ignored the warning they should have listened to.

In our Bible reading in I Corinthians 10 this week, God also gives us some warnings, from the history of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, and if we are wise, we will also pay close attention to His warnings. We can summarize them in 3 “Warnings From The Wilderness.”

I. Salvation Is Personal

The first warning begins “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.” He’s speaking here of Israel in the Exodus. The whole congregation of Israel went through all of these experiences together: they all walked through the Red Sea like it was dry land; they all ate the manna and all drank water from the rock in the wilderness. They’d all been part of a “group” that had some amazing experiences with God.

NEVERTHELESS He says in :5, “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 the first warning God gives us here is I Cor. 10 is that there is a DIFFERENCE in being part of a GROUP that experiences some things with 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: you can share in the Christian ordinances; you can get baptized; you can take the Lord’s Supper; you can participate in all the “Christian experiences” with everybody else in the church, and still fall short of genuine salvation yourself. Just because you are in a group that experiences some things with God, like Israel did in the Exodus, does not mean that you are personally right with God.

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

That’s why it’s kind of tricky when we say talk about America as a ‘Christian nation’?” Was America founded on Christian principles? Absolutely. Are there a lot of Christians here? Yes, there are probably millions. But still yet, that does NOT mean that every person in America is a Christian. God doesn’t save “nations;” God doesn’t save “groups.” God saves individuals, one at a time, as each one repents of their sins and trusts Jesus as their own personal Lord & Savior.

I remember the testimony of a young man who joined our church in North Carolina. He said one day he was in a large stadium in St. Louis, Missouri, with 55,000 other men at a big Christian event. He said they had a great time of worship, and then they all got down on their knees to pray. And all of the sudden Todd realized that although he was in this big group of men who knew and worshiped God, HE HIMSELF did not. He said had always “believed” in God in a way, but he didn’t have the personal relationship with God that so many of the men around him did. So that day he DID get down on his knees, and prayed, and committed his life to Jesus as the Lord of HIS own life. Now it wasn’t just him as part of a “group.” Now he had made his own personal commitment to the Lord.

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

Billy Graham famously said, “God has no grandchildren.” It’s not enough that your parents know the Lord. It’s not enough that you’re in a youth group or a church where they follow Christ. You have to come to a time in your own life where YOU repent of your sins and surrender to Jesus as YOUR own Lord & Savior.

Has that happened? Or have you just been taking refuge in the fact that you’re part of a “group” that loves God? God warns us here: It’s not enough just to be in a “group.” You have to have your own personal commitment to Jesus as your Lord & Savior. Salvation is personal. If you’ve never nailed down that personal salvation, you need to do it today!

II. Holiness Is Vital

Verse 6 begins the next section of this chapter with a key statement: “Now these things happened as examples for us.” This is important for us to understand — especially as we are reading through the Old Testament during our Daily Bible Reading emphasis. The things we are reading are not just a “history lesson” for us. It specifically says: “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.” Did you catch that? 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: some warning, some teaching, some example, some sin to confess. There is something there for YOU!

Then after Paul says “these things happened as examples for us,” he then adds: “SO THAT (that’s a “purpose clause”; it’s the purpose for this) SO THAT we would not crave evil things as they also craved.” He says God put this here specifically to warn us against sin. And then he lists four specific sins the people of Israel were involved in, each followed by the key phrase: “as some of them did.” Each of these 4 is something THEY did, that God uses their example to warn us against. (That phrase “as some of them did” is a key one here; you might want to underline it in your Bible, as it used with each of these FOUR WARNINGS VS. SIN:

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

He’s speaking here of how Israel made the Golden Calf, and worshiped it. He says, do not be idolaters like they were, worshiping something besides the one true God.

A couple of years ago Cheryl & I were walking our grand daughters Corley & Lottie to the Farmer’s Market that close to their home in Indiana. As we walked, there were 3 statues of an Eastern god sitting there by the sidewalk in front of a house. Lottie, being Lottie, says “What’s that?” and reaches out to touch one of them. I grabbed her hand and pulled it back and said, “Those are other gods.” We don’t want to even mess with those!

You may say, “Well, I don’t mess with those either; I’m not an idolater.” I hope you’re not, but you also need to realize that an “idolater” is not just someone who worships a physical idol; an idolater is anyone who puts something in their life ahead of the one true God. And that convicts a LOT of us! There are a lot of ways to put other things ahead of God, and basically be an idolater.

Colossians 3:5 talks about “greed, which amounts to idolatry”. So it’s saying love of money can be idolatry — especially when we love it more than we do God, or put it in His place. For example, God commands us to give the first 10% of everything we make to Him, to show that He’s more important than anything else we could do with that money. So if you are greedy for that money, and keep it instead of giving it to God, you are in essence an idolater. You may have never bowed down physically before an idol, but in your heart you have bowed down to money, by putting it ahead of God.

And it’s the same with anything you give God’s place in your life. Whatever you put ahead of God is an idol. Whenever you give something that belongs to God, to someone or something else; you have become an idolater. And God strongly warns us here: do not be idolaters, as some of them were.

— Second, :8 says: “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 who want to talk about how they love God and have a “great relationship with Him”, but at the same time they are actively breaking 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 “wicked” from the world; GOD designed it. (Which should really encourage us, because He says has even greater pleasures to give us forever in heaven!) But the God who created it 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, last year they did a poll in which 70% of Americans said support the right to same-sex marriage. But it doesn’t matter what the polls say — God’s word says that if it is not between one man and one woman in a committed, married relationship, it is immorality. It is sin. The Bible repeatedly says that, Old and New Testament; it is very clear on that.

And somehow there has come to be a real disconnect regarding this issue today. SO many people want to say, “Yes, I am a Christian,” and yet blatantly disobey God’s commands regarding sexual morality.

God warns us here in this passage: you cannot consider yourself to be a Christian who has a “great relationship” with God, if you are being sexually immoral. Immorality of any kind 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 … 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 if you reject this, you are not rejecting man; you are rejecting GOD! It is impossible for you to say you love God, and continually reject what He commands you about morality. Jesus said no, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

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 in the past, you need to bring it to God and repent of it; if you are involved in any kind of immorality right now, you need to discontinue it immediately, ask God’s forgiveness for it, and then take every precaution to keep away from it in the future. And most importantly, DO NOT buy into this false narrative that your practice of sexual morality has nothing to do with your walk with God. You cannot walk in immorality and walk with God at the same time. God warns us here: do not “act immorally, as some of them did.”

— Thirdly 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 for 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 us 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’re blaming God; you’re bitter for how it’s turned out — as if it were GOD’S fault.

Tim Keller shared an insightful quote on Twitter not long ago: “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 being 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 have turned out, what you are really saying is, God got this wrong.

And that’s sin, isn’t it? In fact, that’s just as much a sin as the first two things we looked at. While I was preaching about those maybe you were thinking to yourself, “Well I’M not an idolater; well I’M not immoral”; but the fact is you ARE trying the Lord, just like Israel did. You’re not trusting Him; or you’re bitter about some situation — and you need to realize that that is just as much as sin as idolatry or immorality! Idolaters and immoral people need to repent of those sins, and YOU need to repent of bitterness, and doubt. God says, “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did …”.

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

This could have been included in “trying the Lord” in :9, because it’s very similar, but God addressed it separately, 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 grumbled the whole 40 years they were in the wilderness with Moses: 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 grumbled and complained the whole time He walked with them through the wilderness.

And God does not look any more favorably upon our grumbling today than He did upon Israel’s. He HATES grumbling. He says here, ‘Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”

So God warns us here: learn from Israel’s example. These are not “optional” things. It is vital that we avoid these sins which totally destroyed their walk with God, and they will cripple your walk with God too: Don’t put other things ahead of God; don’t disobey God’s moral commands; do not put Him to the test; and do not grumble. If you are involved in any of these things, it is vital that you repent of it, and bring it to God for forgiveness, and ask Him to help you change it today!

III. Temptation Is Escapable

Somebody may say, “Well, I just can’t stop sinning; the temptation is too strong.” But God says here in :13 that He will help you in times of temptation. 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.” God says if you are a Christian, there ARE ways to escape sin, and He will help you to do it. Temptation is escapable. 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 ever had to deal with anything like it. But that’s not so. Others have had this very same temptation that you have, and they have overcome it with God’s help.

I was visiting with someone some time ago, who is struggling with a particular sin, and they were so encouraged to hear that I knew people who had the very same problem they do. You are not alone. Your temptations are “common to man;” there are millions of people in the world today who are dealing with the exact same sin you are — AND there is someone who is having victory today over that very same sin with God’s help. I have heard testimonies recently of people who have overcome homosexuality with God’s help; who have overcome drug abuse with God’s help; who have overcome anxiety with God’s help; who have overcome pornography with God’s help … This should be encouraging to us: WHATEVER YOUR SIN IS: it is “common to man” and there is someone today who is overcoming that same 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 ways of escape that God has provided for us. Some of those are:

PRAYER. 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 with 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’S WORD. God has also provided for us a great weapon against temptation in His word. Ephesians 6:17 says “the sword of the Spirit is the word of God.” THE great weapon that God has given us to fight off the enemy is His word. We need to memorize it; we need “draw it out like a sword” when we are tempted. Psalm 119:11 says “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Scripture memory is one of the best weapons we have to fight temptation in our lives. When you get in a spiritual battle and start getting tempted with something in your mind, start quoting scripture. That’s where the spiritual battle takes place.

One of the tools Satan has used against us for the last generation or so has been to convince us that scripture memory is just for kids. It’s not just for kids. It should START when we’re kids; but then we need to keep using it as we grow as adults. Most of us need it more as adults than we ever did as kids!

It’s like: it’s a great thing if a child learns to handle a gun when they’re young. That’s a great tool to have. But it’s probably going to be as an adult that they really need it.

It’s the same way with scripture memory. Start your memorizing scriptures when you’re young, yes, but don’t stop it! It’s as an adult that you REALLY need it, more than you ever did as a child. It’s as adults that we come into some of our strongest temptations; it’s as adults that we need to fight off the thoughts Satan wants to plant in our minds, with scriptures, like Jesus did against Satan in Matthew 4. As adults we need more than ever to use “the sword of the Spirit” to fight off the temptations of Satan. Don’t buy into the lie that you can’t memorize or use scriptures as an adult. It is THE great weapon God has given you to fight temptation. Don’t let Satan trick you into thinking you can’t use the most powerful weapon you have! Use the word of God to fight temptation.

God has provided for us many “means of escape” from temptation:

— memorize and use His word against those temptations like Jesus did

— call on God in prayer like Psalm 120 says: “In my trouble I called to the Lord, and He answered me”

— Ask His Holy Spirit who is inside to help you. Have you really done that?

— God’s also given us Christian friends and church members to pray with us and encourage us, and help keep us accountable. Are you relying on your Christian brothers and sisters to help you, or are you trying to win the battle all by yourself? God didn’t call us to walk the Christian life alone. He wants us to lean on each other. We need each other.

— God’s also instructed us to REMOVE certain temptations out of our house, or to get certain acquaintances who are dragging us down, out of our lives. Have you done that? Or are you keeping those people and those things nearby, ready to tempt you again?

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. The Bible says He will provide the means of escape for you. But YOU also have to want it enough, to use the means He has given you. And quite honestly, many of us would have to admit, we have not used the means God has given us, because we really haven’t wanted it enough. We haven’t taken our relationship with God, and we haven’t taken the sin that is harming our relationship with Him, seriously enough. God says I WILL help you escape from sin, if you really want My help. If we are wise, we will listen to His warning.


Many residents of that village in Aneyoshi, Japan took the warning of that ancient stone tablet seriously; they stayed above the warning line, and their lives were saved. But countless others just laughed it off, or ignored it — and 29,000 people were killed by the 2011 tsunami.

In the same way, there may be some people here today, who will just laugh this message off — or if you don’t laugh it off, you’re just going to ignore it and go on. But you need to listen to it. This isn’t just written on some “stone tablet on the shoreline” like in Aneyoshi. This is written in the word of GOD. He says these things that happened to Israel aren’t just an ancient “history lesson;” He said these are examples for YOU; they were written for YOU — and you’d better pay attention to God’s “Warnings From The Wilderness.”


What is the warning from I Corinthians 10 that you most need to heed today?

— against a particular sin? maybe one I mentioned, maybe another

— to fight the battle vs temptation instead of giving in— to truly receive Jesus as YOUR Lord & Savior

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
This entry was posted in Sermons, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s