1 Corinthians 10 : Lessons from history
(My notes for a talk.)
Over the summer The Independent newspaper carried a short series on great British Institutions.
The first was ‘saying sorry’:
Elton John once sang, that ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’. Not for us Brits it doesn’t. According to The Independent we say sorry on average 8 times a day!
If we don’t hear something we say ‘Sorry’, if we heard it but couldn’t believe it we say ‘Sorry?’, if we bump into someone we say sorry, if someone bumps into us we say sorry.
Another is punning: I know it’s not very punny! But it seems that shopkeepers love it.
But it seems fish and chip shops excel in this:
The Cod Father
New Cod on the Block
A Salt and battery
Cod Almighty - in Southmead.
The other institution is ‘grumbling’ – someone once wrote:
“It's the right of every free born Englishman, Scotsman, Irishman and Welshman to moan whinge and complain about anything and everything. Anything else we want to do is either illegal or charged for at a rip-off price.”
Yet when we’re asked how we are we reply ‘Musn’t grumble’!
For Corinth one of the minor institutions was the sex trade.
It was a city that was shaped by sex. The Greek geographer Strabo, wrote around 20 AD:
The temple of Aphrodite was once so rich that it had acquired more than a thousand prostitutes, donated by both men and women to the service of the goddess. And because of them, the city used to be jam-packed and became wealthy. The ship-captains would spend fortunes there, and so the proverb says: "The voyage to Corinth isn’t for just any man."
The temple of Aphrodite was set on a hill, Acrocorith, just outside Corinth. Each evening they would ring a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal (recall 1 Cor 13) to call men to ‘worship’, the priestesses would go out and compel the men in to have sex with them as worship.
The term Corinthinaise meant ‘to prostitute’.
This attitude to sex was creeping in on the church. They were being squeezed into the world’s mould. Sex had become an idol. Paul even had to write to them to remind them not to commit sexual immorality (verse 8)!
What is it in our society that is shaping us? How are we being squeezed? What are the idols that shape us?
What are the temptations that we face? As Paul writes ‘No temptation has seized you except what is common to man’ (v 13).
One temptation we face, is one of those great British institutions, grumbling!
Grumbling is not new! It maybe very British, but we can trace it back a few thousand years at least.
You see history is important. Paul starts off this chapter by looking at the importance of history.
He doesn’t want the Corinthians to be ignorant of it.
Why do we need not to be ignorant? Because History repeats itself –
As Santayana said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
Or as Steve Turner put it
Let’s look at these first few verses:
The Israelites had success, miracles and daily provision – they were seemingly totally dependent upon God.
But we get that important word: Nevertheless,
God was not pleased with them! Why?
Success and miracles are not a measure of how much God is pleased with us!
The Israelites had that! Let’s learn from their history!
The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land took 40 years.
One of the most tragic verses in the scriptures is this in Deuteronomy 1:2
(It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)
And yet it took 40 years. Why so long?
They were out of Egypt in a day and yet it took 40 years to get Egypt out of them.
Their constant refrain was it wasn’t like this in Egypt!
You see the greatest threat to the next move of God is the previous move of God.
As I was starting preparing this talk – I thought I’d take a break and read the next section of the scriptures, in my Bible in a year programme it was Number 14 – you can see how far I’ve got! : It starts like this:
1 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
It was exactly what Paul was referring to in this 1 Corinthians passage. Maybe God wants to say something!
Why didn’t the Israelites make it in two weeks? Grumbling and wanting to go back held up them up.
As Paul wrote in 1 Cor 10: 10:
“And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.”
Let’s take a quick walk through the book of Numbers to see what we can learn from history.
One commentator writes:
Numbers tells a story that should never have happened, a story that warns against the rejection of God's plans. Nonetheless, the story reveals that God remains faithful to his gracious promise, even when his people neglect the means and aims of grace.
It’s a message we need to hear- even though we mess up God is faithful to his gracious promises.
The book is about two generations: the death of the old generation (1-25) and the birth of the new (26 onwards)
Orientation ch 1-10
Disorientation ch 10-21
Reorientation ch 22-36
Basically it’s the Gospel – God created a great world, we messed it up, we can’t do it ourselves, God rescues us!
The German philosopher Martin Heidegger was right when he said ‘only a god can save us’. Heidegger was an atheist, he was stating that there’s no way out of the mess – but he was right only God can save us. We can’t do it ourselves.
Heideeger’s approach was echoed by another famous philosopher, this time a Scottish one: Dad’s Army’s Private James Frazer!
We are doomed – and only God can save us! That’s the message of Numbers, that’s the message of the Bible.
We get a hint of this coming saviour in Balaam’s prophecy in Num 24:
17 “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth.
The Bible is like a stick of rock – instead of Blackpool it has Jesus all the way trough it!
The first ten chapters of the book of Numbers paint a great picture: there is no conflict, no disobedience and no one dies.
The changing point comes in chapter 11.
From Ch 11 onwards: anarchy breaks out! And it all starts with grumbling!
From grumbling and complaints to mutiny!
First it’s the people. Ch 11
Then the leadership: Ch 12 Miriam and Aaron
In Ch 13 after the spies are sent out to spy out the land we get mutiny in chapter 14.
What’s most surprising is it that great British institution of grumbling that causes so many problems. It’s no different today.
We say ‘Oh musn’t grumble’ but go on to do so!
20 The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, 22 not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24
Grumbling is treating God with contempt!
Grumbling - the first instance of grumbling in the Bible occurs in Ex 15:
22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
25 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.
The people had seen the deliverance of God – but the first they do is to complain against the leaders: against Moses.
How did he respond? He cried out to the Lord.
As a result the Israelites saw God's miraculous provision.
There’s lesson here for those of us in leadership – and by leadership I don’t mean just church leadership. But any form of leadership, be it in the home or in work or anywhere. How do we respond when the people we are leading are grumbling and complaining?
Do we, like Moses, take it to God – that’s the way to see miracles! God can take what we have, in Moses case stagnant water and a piece of wood, and change things.
God says, what do you have? A piece of wood? Let him take it and let him use it.
It’s not us that do it – it’s God.
As Heidegger says, ‘it takes a god to save us!’
Moses was an intercessor – time and again he stood in the gap between the people and God.
God wants intercessors. We talk about prayer, but not often about intercession – intercession is the crack cocaine of prayer; intercessors are God’s SAS – they stand in the gap, they pour out their lives in prayer. God wants to raise up intercessors.
It may be you he is calling.
How do we respond when things go wrong, when change happens, when we don’t get our own way, when God seems distant? Are we tempted to grumble?
We need to be careful when change happens – as someone once said, ‘constant change is here to stay’. How do we respond to it?
The temptation is to say – it was better before, or we never used to do it that way.
That’s exactly how the Israelites responded: Here are some inspirational posters I’ve designed:
‘We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.’ Num 11: 5
We were better off in Egypt’ Num 11:18
‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’
‘Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’ Num 14: 4
“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Num 21: 5
We see the past through rose-tinted spectacles. We have selective memories.
If we grumble watch out!
Numbers 14: 7
26 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: 27 “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. 28 So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: 29 In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. 30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31 As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. 33 Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ 35 I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.”
Let us learn the lessons of history.
The first generation in the wilderness was wiped out because they grumbled and went after idols. God then raised up a new generation. There was a new start – a new census in Num 26.
Let’s go back to 1 Corinthians
Now these things occurred as examples, to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
Do not be idolators
Do not commit sexual immorality – sex outside marriage.
23, 00 died
Putting God to the test? They were killed by snakes (Num 21:6)
Do not grumble – killed by a destroying angel.
These are warnings for us.
Don’t be tempted to indulge in that great British institution of grumbling and flee from idolatry!
As Paul wrote elsewhere:
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.