1 Corinthians 10:6-13
Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY." Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 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. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 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, that you may be able to endure it.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I stopped to fill my gas tank once, years ago, and while I was filling my car, I met a Baptist who just happened to be gassing up at opposite sides of the pump at the same time. He noticed my clergy shirt and asked me if I were a Roman Catholic priest. When I said, “No, I am a Lutheran Pastor,” he began to tell me about a Lutheran neighbor of his, now gone from this life, whose faith was such a joy to this Baptist. “He was so certain and so confident of his salvation.”
It turns out that his neighbor has been dead for many years, but his witness to his faith was so striking and powerful that this Baptist was still deeply moved. I was struck by the fact that this man, from a denomination that teaches the doctrine of eternal security (you know, “Once saved, always saved”) was still struggling with confidence in his own salvation. Needless to say, we talked. We stood at the gas pump for nearly a half-an-hour.
He said that his preachers were always preaching uncertainty and the obligation to do more. He knew better, in his head. I discovered that as we talked. But the effect of law preaching, instead of Gospel preaching, was to make this man uncertain, and he could readily identify the monster of uncertainty about which Luther spoke and wrote in his own life. This Baptist even knew the monster’s name, from his former neighbor.
I could turn this illustration into an example of how important, and how powerful your faithful witness to your hope in Jesus Christ can be - but the text doesn’t go there, and I imagine that you have already preached that sermon to yourself. I want to talk about our text, this morning, which also speaks about our security in the faith. Our theme is, “Be Careful”.
Many Protestants teach the doctrine of eternal security. They say that once you possess salvation, you cannot lose it. Period. The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians just the opposite message. You can fall from grace. You can be a real Christian, and then lose your faith and, therefore, your salvation. Let me clarify this. You are secure in Christ. The Bible says that no one can snatch you out of His hands. But, you must remain ‘in Christ’. That means that you can choose to walk away from Christ – and while I don’t know why anyone would want to, some people do, rather than repent. A Christian is absolutely secure in Christ, as any good Lutheran is (and such as this man’s neighbor was).
Paul tells us in this message that not everyone makes it. He describes the fall of many in Israel in the verses leading up to our text, and then tells us that, “these things happened as examples for us”. We can fall away, even though we have been baptized, and have been confirmed, and have attended church regularly, and have even received the Lord’s Supper with some regularity. I imagine that most of us can remember people who joined the church, and seemed quite excited about it for a time, who have since stopped coming, or going, to church. Those people were not necessarily hypocrites. They were probably true believers, for a time, and then they turned away.
Such people are the seed that falls among the rocks, or among the thorns, in the Parable of the Sower. They are the ones who fulfill the proverb that Peter tells us about in 2 Peter 2, “It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” The plain truth is that faith and salvation can be lost. That is why we are exhorted to be careful, or, in the words of our text, take heed.
A second thought that you want to keep in mind is that not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is. I am not speaking here about those hypocrites who know that they are not Christians, but have their own reasons for playing the part, or their own agenda which has nothing to do with the Gospel. I am also not meaning to refer to those who think that they are Christians, but know that they do not believe what they hear preached from the pulpit. I mean to bring to your mind the person who thinks of themselves as a Christian, accepts, after a fashion, what is preached, at least to some degree, but still doesn’t believe.
How can that happen? They have what the Church has been called “an historical faith”. They believe in the accuracy of what is preached. They may even know doctrine pretty well, but they just don’t have any confidence in God. They don’t actually trust God to come through for them. They live by their own wits, strength, riches, and “luck.” They cannot see any difference between a real Christian and themselves, so they presume that they are just like the others. Spooky eh? That is why Paul – and God speaking through Paul – says to be careful. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Paul gives us the example of Israel on the Exodus. They were surely God’s People, right? They thought so. But they did not live like God’s people. They did not trust God. They didn’t trust Him for protection, and they did not trust Him for prosperity, and they did not trust Him for a good and enjoyable life. They decided they had to make it happen themselves, by their own methods, by their own wits, and by their own efforts.
The results are what we see in our text. They craved evil things. They desired what they knew was forbidden. They did not care about the Lord enough to measure their desires against the will of God. The simple fact that they wanted it was enough for them. That what they craved was not what God wanted to give them at that moment was enough to make them “evil things”. The result of these “cravings” were the sins that followed.
They were idolaters. The statement in our text about sitting down to eat and drink and rising up to play is a technical description of the practice of Idolatry in the ancient world. There was the sacrificial meal, and then the ritual sex - the play. Israel had sacrificed to the Golden Calf, and then they indulged in the pagan debauchery of the worship of the Calf as they had observed it in Egypt. It was gross idolatry.
But let us pretend for a moment that it wasn’t. It was, but let us imagine that those words described something less open and obvious. It sounds innocent, doesn’t it? They ate and drank and played. Many of our idolatries also sound sort-of innocent. We worship success and people call it ambition. The Bible says, in Colossians 3:5, that greed amounts to idolatry. Our movies and television – the things we choose to entertain ourselves with – often teach us lust and adultery and tolerance toward what God explicitly condemns. They teach us to approve of such things, and look the other way. The fact that we might insist that such entertainments are okay, innocent things, may speak about our heart’s desires, our worship of physical pleasure, or entertainment. Besides that, you have to admit that, at times, the idolatry of Israel sounds like it was fun. They ate, and they played. What is the harm there? We eat and we play too.
In our modern world, we don’t think too long and hard about immorality. Too many of our children have “shacked up” before marriage. Too many of us, or our children, have been divorced. What used to be a scandal in the Church hardly raises an eyebrow today. I had to set a policy in my last parish, that I would not perform the wedding for any couple from among the members of the congregation that were living together before marriage. It was so common that I had almost no experience in that place of marrying any who were not living together without and before the benefit of wedlock - even among the elderly! Things have progressed to the point today that many people are advocating for the casual acceptance of homosexuality within the church. God, on the other hand, took sin seriously. Twenty-three thousand died in one day. Paul means for us to understand that God’s attitude toward such things hasn’t changed, even if we are not being overwhelmed by plagues — although when we look at the floods and the fires and the tornadoes, and once-in-a-hundred-years storms, and the wars and terrorism, and what-not, I am not certain that we are not being overwhelmed by plagues of a sort.
Paul mentions “Putting Christ to the test.” Whatever form it may take, it boils down to doubting God’s power to save or that His will toward us is love and blessing and good. During the Exodus, the people became impatient with the journey. They had everything they needed, and they possessed what they had originally desired most - rescue from slavery and oppression in Egypt. But now that the monkey was off their backs, it was almost like they were saying, “That was yesterday. What have you done for me lately?”. Now that they had everything they needed, they wanted so much more.
How often do we find ourselves tempted with the same thing? What is there that we need, that we lack? We have food in abundance. We have lots of clothing. We have cars and boats. We have toys of every description. We have comforts the likes of which mankind had never seen until within our own lifetimes. Do those things make us happy? We are wealthy by history’s standards, wealthy by world standards today. We are so abundantly supplied that many people are looking to make life “simpler” and less crowded. Does any of that make us feel secure in the good will of God?
Instead, we worry. We look for some event, or some special blessing, or some feeling to make us sure that God loves us. Ultimately, it means that we are doubting the Gospel - doubting the Word of God. Ancient Israel doubted God’s provision. They were always afraid they were going to die. They refused to trust God’s expressed love for them. They would not take Him at His Word, and trust that no matter what it seemed like, He was with them for their blessing. Water out of solid rock and bread out of heaven did not change their attitude. So they died. Paul reminds us that God sent serpents to kill them. It is as though He gave them what they trusted in Him for.
We know that God Himself took on human form and human nature, and lived for us, and died on the cross for us. That is how deep His love is. He became sin who knew no sin of His own, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. He suffered in our place, and pours out eternal life and forgiveness upon all, and has chosen you and me to be among those who believe and so grasp, receive, and possess those rich blessings. How can we ask for some other sign of the love of God for us? We have the sign of the cross.
Israel was also held accountable for grumbling. They complained about being free. They grumbled about free food from heaven. At every opportunity, at each inconvenience, at every challenge or danger they saw, they grumbled. They were unhappy with God’s will and God’s way. They were irritated with the work of God and the plan of God. Thank heavens, that never happens in modern times, eh? God showed His displeasure by destroying many of them.
All these things happened to ancient Israel as examples for us and were written for our instruction. That is what our text says. It happened for us, who live at the very end of time. And the message is, take heed - pay close attention. Take note. God used their lives as object lessons. He recorded their failures and their punishments for your benefit. Learn from their example, so that you don’t learn by personal experience.
When we don’t trust God’s Word, and we put Christ to the test - whether it is the Protestant “laying a fleece before the Lord” - or simply looking for some sort of sign or feeling - it means that we don’t believe God’s Word and we don’t trust God. If we crave evil and feel cheated by not being allowed to run after the wickedness of the world around us, then, we don’t believe that God’s will, which we may find confining at times, is really for our good and blessing. If we grumble, we are saying, in effect, that we know better than God, and we don’t believe God is doing what is right and good for us.
Now, these things come into our minds both by the temptation of the devil and by our own sinful flesh. Nonetheless, as Luther used to say, “You may not be able to keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” When temptation arises, be careful. Paul reminds us, “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, that you may be able to endure it.”
God will help. God has promised help. When we face trials, or temptations, you never need doubt His love, or worry that He has forgotten you. He will always provide what you need to bear up under the temptation. And His will for you is always the same - always to be measured by the cross, and not by what we think about what is happening to us or around us.
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Why does God give us this warning? Because we are living in the end of the ages. The battle will go right up to the end. And, even the Christian can stumble and fall. There is no “once saved, always saved.” No one can snatch you out of His hand, but you need to know that the old evil Foe can deceive you and seduce you into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice if you are not careful. You need to humble yourself and repent of these sins when they come upon you, and allow God to rescue you and forgive you.
Our lesson today has three main points: Trouble and temptation will come. God will help those who trust in Him. So, be careful and trust Him.
As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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