Today Saint Paul warns rash, presumptuous Christians to take heed lest they fall, however they may stand at the present. He presents a picture of the running of a race. Many run without obtaining the victory. But we should not vainly run. To faithfully follow Christ does not mean simply to believe for the moment with a faith that has little root. Christ says, "He that endures to the end, the same shall be saved." And Paul says, "Therefore let him that thinks he stand take heed lest he fall."
Now, running may be hindered by laziness; but also by missing our aim. We may race at full speed, but rush to ruin or run up against fearful obstacles. So the race is hindered when a false goal is set up or the true one removed.
In the Christian contest it is necessary, in an even higher degree, to devote oneself to the Word. He who would in addition seek his own praise-what can such a person expect to win? He is completely entangled in earthly glory; bound hand and foot, a complete captive. The race he runs is the mere dream race of one lying upon his couch.
Paul says, "I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so I fight, as not beating the air." Paul here points to himself as example and hints at the cause of failure, namely, lapse from the use of the divine word. Under such conditions, false and lazy Christians run what seems an exciting race. They seem so alert and speedy in God's Word and ways. But it is merely a show, because they put them under their own feelings. They fail to see that they race uncertainly and beat the air. While it is their task to put self-glory to death and to restrain their self-will, they do many things to strengthen their pride. Then they swear by a thousand oaths that they are seeking not their own honor but the honor of God, their neighbor's welfare and not their own.
Saint Peter says that these people are blind and have forgotten that they were cleansed from their sins. Their hearts are wavering before God, and they are changeable and fickle in all their ways. Since they are aimless and inconstant at heart, they will likewise be unstable in regard to works and doctrines. They undertake now this and now that; they cannot be quiet nor refrain from division and strife. Thus they miss their aim or else remove the goal, and cannot help but stray from the true path.
Paul says, "I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage." Paul means not only subduing the carnal lusts but every bodily desire-love of honor, reputation, and the like. He who allows these things to go on freely instead of subduing them will find condemnation. Such people do not tolerate the truth because they are following their feelings. Not only do they run in vain and fight to no purpose; they become castaways with only the appearance and color of Christianity.
May the Spirit help us to heed this warning, that we do not drift from the goal in the Word, since we are all vulnerable to wandering.
Paul also says, "Our fathers were all under the cloud." Paul cites a terrible example from Scripture to prove that not all obtain the prize who run. There were about six hundred thousand Israelites, all of whom walked in the way of God and His word so as to be protected under the cloud and miraculously to pass through the sea; yet among the vast number who ran at that time only two, Joshua and Caleb, obtained the prize. They alone of all that multitude reached the promised land.
The purpose of these dealings of God with Israel is to terrify the false wisdom and self-will; to keep men from despising others and from seeking to make the Word of God minister to their own pride.
How many great and noble men may have been among the six hundred thousand, men to whom we would have been unworthy to hand a cup of water! They included the twelve princes of the twelve tribes, one of whom, Nahshon, numbers in the holy lineage of Christ. All these strove in the race. They did and suffered much. They witnessed many miracles of God. They aided in raising a grand tabernacle and in instituting divine worship. They were full of good works. Yet they failed and died in the wilderness. Who is so daring and prideful that he will not be restrained and humbled by so remarkable an example of divine judgment?
Now, the apostle mentions baptism and spiritual food, using Christian terms and placing the fathers upon the same level with us, as if they also had Baptism and the Holy Supper.
So he would have us know the fact that God from the beginning led, redeemed and saved His saints by two instruments-by His word and external signs. Adam was saved by the word of promise: The Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head; that is, Christ shall come to conquer sin, death and Satan for us. In the promise of Adam's Gospel, all the saints down to Abraham believed and were redeemed; as we are redeemed by the word of the Gospel that we believe. Everywhere we meet the Word and the Sign of God, in which we must believe in order to be saved through faith from sin and death.
The children of Israel had God's word that they should inherit the promised land. In addition to that word they were given signs Paul here names-the sea, the cloud, the bread from heaven, the water from the rock. These he calls their baptism; just as our baptism might be called our sea and cloud. Through these, God bestowed the same faith and the same Spirit, and through these in all saints remission of sins, redemption from death, and salvation, whether they lived in the beginning or at the end of time.
Such is Paul's meaning when he says that the fathers ate the same meat, and drink the same drink as we. For they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them. In other words, they believed in the same Christ in whom we believe, though He was yet to come in the flesh. If the Israelites had not possessed faith as they drank from the rock, the act of drinking would not have benefitted their souls. Neither would it profit us to receive bread and wine at the altar if we were without faith.
So all the figures and signs granted to the people of Israel by the Word of God refer to Christ; for where the Word of God is, there Christ is. All the promises of God are concerning Christ. Christ Himself refers the serpent of Moses to Himself. We may say that the Israelites shared the same bread of heaven that we eat; and they ate the spiritual bread of heaven that followed them-Christ. In other words, in the material manna you must not merely see the act of satisfying the appetite, but much rather the word of promise bringing you the bread of heaven; for by that word you live forever if you have faith.
So we see how we must in all things have regard to the word of God. To it faith must attach itself. Without it, either there are no signs and works of God, or else they cause one to open his mouth in wonderment for a while like everything else which is new, but they do not profit the soul nor faith.
But some say that the clause "and the rock was Christ" means that, since Christ cannot be material rock, the rock signifies Christ. They here make the word "was" equivalent to "symbolizes." The same reasoning they apply where Christ commands, "Take, eat; this is My body"-they say the meaning is, "This bread signifies, but is not truly, My body." Beware of such reasoners. Their own malice has led them to such perverting of Scripture. Paul here expressly distinguishes between material and spiritual rocks, saying: "They drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ." He does not say the material rock was Christ, but the spiritual rock. But of the bread He truly says, "This IS My Body."
Forcing Scripture to meet one's own opinions cannot be tolerated. We must surrender to the Word of God and accept it as it stands.
So we see Christ revealed as the spiritual Rock. The material rock was far from man's domain, in the wilderness, in desolate solitude. So Christ is a truly insignificant object to the world, disregarded, unnoticed, regardless of how many give Him lip-service.
Further, water flowing from the rock shows the quickening Spirit of God, who proceeds from the condemned, crucified and dead Christ. Thus life is drawn from death by the power of God. Christ's death is our life, and if we would live we must die with Him.
Through a man, Moses, the rock gives water, thus picturing the ministry which by word of mouth strikes from the spiritual rock the Spirit. For God will give His Spirit to none without the instrument of the Word and the ministry instituted by Him for this purpose, adding the command that nothing be preached but Christ, the Rock.
The Spirit grant that we may follow this God-established ministry and Word and the signs that accompany it, until we enter the promised land of paradise. Amen.
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