Vol. 1 - No. 3
“Learning From the Past”
by Leon Odom
The text for this study is taken from the pen of the apostle Paul as recorded in 1 Corinthians 10:1‑13. Take the time to read it with me, please.
“Moreover, brethren, 1 would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat of the same spiritual meat; And did all drink of the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But. with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down To eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of the serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
Beginning in chapter eight the subject of eating of meats offered unto idols was introduced and discussed at great length by the apostle. It seems that back of this passage is the overconfidence of the Corinthians. They might reason within themselves that because they had obeyed the gospel and now that they are in Christ, and Christ in them, they were beyond doing those things which would cause them to be eternally lost. The fact that one may be a partaker of the divine grace of God in an abundant way and yet be lost in the end is clearly set forth and forcefully argued by the apostles in this text. In the last verse of the preceding chapter (9:27), the author had declared, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” Such a statement is enhanced and illustrated by the thirteen verses which follow. (10:1‑13) The thing we should learn is the same that the early saints should learn, namely, profit from the past.
It has been said many times that “man is his own worst enemy.” Is this not true when he refuses to reflect on the past as an example of the consequences of wrong doing? Let us join with the Corinthians as Paul takes us back into the history of the Jews.
He begins with the affirmation of their being baptized unto Moses “in the cloud and in the sea.” (verses 1,2) “And the Lord went before them in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night. He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” (Exodus 13:21,22) God never forsook His ancient people. He gave them direction so they would not go wrong. They had been brought through the midst of the Red Sea. (Exodus 14:19‑31) The cloud meant guidance. This meant that they were certain of reaching their destination. The sea meant deliverance. The cloud and the sea were the means of exit and entrance. By one they left an old life in Egypt. By one they entered a new life associated with Canaan. What wonderful blessings Israel had received at the hand of a loving God. Yet how soon they forgot!!
Despite these new experiences and abundant provisions, many of the Israelites proved unfaithful. Their failure was not due to the fact that the provisions were inadequate. You will remember that it came because of compromise. They had an ample and adequate life, but they looked after the world about them and lusted for what they did not need. If these verses teach us anything, they teach us that the whole history of Israel is proof
that people who enjoy the greatest privileges God could give were far from being safe from temptation.
In verses 7‑9 the writer mentions some of the specific sins which the people of God lapsed into.
(1) The temptation to enter into idolatry. This was a constant problem of the Jewish people. We wonder how they could so blatantly worship dolls made by hands of men as though they had life. We think it strange and farfetched. However, it is no more strange that Israel would commit idolatry then, than spiritual Israel would today. If indeed man's god be that to which he surrenders his life and absorbs his time and thought and energy, he still worships at the shrine of the works of his own hands. Will we learn?
(2) There is the temptation to commit fornication. I suppose as long as man is, there will always be the temptations from his own lower self to commit those sins of immorality. Only a deep love for purity can save a man from immorality. This is a lesson that all mortals must learn.
(3) There is also the temptation to try God. How often do men try God and see just how far God can be tried? Most men have in the crevices of their minds the idea, “I can do this, for God will forgive me.” I would hate to risk eternal life on that kind of thinking. Wouldn't you?
(4) There was also mentioned the sin of grumbling and murmuring. Ah, the shame of us all when we count our many blessings and then have the gall to stand and complain and murmur against God. O wretched souls, we sometimes become, through complaining!
Having turned the attention of the Corinthians to the past of God's people, he then tells them that these things were written so that they may profit from history. “Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.” (verse 6) They are also written for our '`admonition.” (verse 12) Since these things caused God's people of the past to fall away from God, the call for vigilance was necessary, hence he said, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (verse 12).
My friend, is there somewhere in all of this great text a present day challenge to us? Surely you have already profited by just a casual reading of the text. But what of the past? There are so many lessons that we can and should learn in order to keep the church of Christ pure as God would have it. In the past we became lax relative to the authority of the New Testament scriptures. We took our eye off the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. We did, in the past, disregard God's plan for the church and the Missionary Society and instrumental music were accepted in the work and worship of His Israel. Apostasy set in and division of His nation resulted. Did we learn from the past? No! In just a few years when the fires of that war had subsided a little, we built human institutions to carry on the work of the church in the field of benevolence and edification. The results were the same: division of His people. Did we learn from the past? No! Brethren decided that the local church concept of doing the work of evangelism was too slow and outdated and the “sponsoring church” concept of cooperation was born. It could not be justified by the word of God and so, again, God's church was divided. Did we learn? No! Brethren decided that the ancient gospel of Christ is not sufficient to reach the masses, and so a “social gospel” was introduced. Today millions of dollars of the Lord's money are being spent foolishly and unscripturally on FAMILY CENTERS and the like, in order to spread the borders of the kingdom. The results? Division of the kingdom. We will continue to press our theories and opinions as we take our eyes off the cloud and the pillar. of fire. We must pay the price. Division will continue to come, until such day that we, as the people of God, can remember the past and profit thereby.
Let us not close, however, thinking all is hopeless and nothing hovers over us but the dark clouds of disobedience and despair. Brethren, it does not have to be that way. This marvelous text assured the Corinthians as well as you and me, that we can overcome such temptation to launch out on our own without Divine guidance. “But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (verse 13) I would notice with you from this verse that GOD IS FAITHFUL. Don't ever forget that. And that He has made a way of ESCAPE. The expression “way of escape” is from EKBASIS and means “a way out of defile, a mountain pass.” It is like an army surrounded by the enemy and suddenly that army sees an escape route before them and flees to safety.
If we never compromise the truth but look to Jesus as the “author and finisher of our faith” and cling to the precious word of God for authority and trust in Him in the areas not made so clear, we will surely safely arrive in our Canaan land but only if we never forget the past and be made aware of the consequences of rebellion.