1st Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 64
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1998|
|And once we have understood and God has allowed us to experience the Word of God in our Christian walk and we are labeled to be the strong, now we have a greater responsibility than ever. The ones who are walking with God, the ones who understand, always make the biggest concession. The responsibility is always heavier upon them.|
1 Corinthians 10:1-33
A Caution to the Strong – Part 1
Turn to 1 Corinthians 10. We are going to talk about a caution to the strong. You do know that the whole context of what we have been studying, beginning in chapter 8, is to the strong, those who understand, those who have experienced, those who have had the high privilege of those things of God. And once we have understood and God has allowed us to experience the Word of God in our Christian walk and we are labeled to be the strong, now we have a greater responsibility than ever. The ones who are walking with God, the ones who understand, always make the biggest concession. The responsibility is always heavier upon them.
The apostle Paul has been talking about sports. No athlete, I don’t care where you find him or what sport he is in, if he is running or whatever he is doing to win the prize, wants to be at any time disqualified and taken out of the race or be replaced by somebody else. No athlete wants that. Everything he does is to be in that race. The apostle Paul is saying that the Christian life is like a race from beginning to the very finish, all the way through.
The picture here is so vivid. Just like an athlete, no Christian who has experienced the things of God, who understands the Word of God, ever wants to be taken out of the action and benched. He wants to be out there where God can use him. He wants to be a vessel through which God can do His work. When an athlete, no matter how good he is, stops making the choices of selfdenial, it is at that point he becomes disqualified. And that is a sad thing.
But in the Christian life it is the same way. Being saved and experiencing the things of God does not necessarily guarantee you are going to be used of God. In other words, the way you started is the way you continue and finish. That is what Paul is trying to get across in making his comparison of the athlete and the runner.
The problem of an experienced athlete is that sometimes he might forget the discipline that got him to where he is, just like in the Christian life. Some of the hardest battles I face many times are the lessons I thought I already knew. Are you going through that? Things that I thought I learned years ago in my life are the same things that continue to come up. I am thinking, “Does anything ever change?” No. There is not classroom 101 and then classroom 102. That is what Paul is trying to get across. His whole context is to the strong, to those who understand, to those who have experienced the grace of God. He says, “You guys need to understand something. You are about to be disqualified. You are not mixing love with your knowledge, therefore you have become arrogant. That is his whole context back in chapter 8.
So he says to all of us who have experienced being used of God, those of us who have experienced the grace of God and the understanding of His Word, “Now listen, you continue to learn the discipline of denying self. It never stops, because if you stop and choose the other way, you will be benched and somebody else will take your place. You are not indispensable. You are dispensable when it comes to being used in the Christian life.”
Well, because of this, in chapter 10 Paul brings a caution to the believers. It seems to me that it intensifies. He gives his own illustration. He is talking to these Corinthian believers who are absolutely upside down, plugged into every person and thing but Jesus Himself. He is trying to bring them back, shock them back into reality. So he brings up the nation of Israel and brings a warning with it, a caution with it. That is why I call this “A caution to the strong.”
To those who have experienced, look out, look out. Israel was a nation that experienced the privileges of God, but a nation who by their own choosing, chose the way of the flesh rather than the way of God and missed out on all the things that God had prepared for them. Paul says, “Believers, don’t you do the same thing. Learn from Israel.”
The power and presence of God
First of all, we learned, as Paul illustrates, how Israel had experienced the power and the presence of God. Look in verse 1 of chapter 10. “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea.” Israel had been willing to put their trust into the one God had sent to lead them, which was Moses. Moses stood out front. They followed him. They didn’t have to follow him, but when they chose to follow him, they experienced together the power and the presence of God.
Verse 2 says, “and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” That word “baptized” means identified with. And again, it just bears witness to what I said. They were willing to identify with Moses and trust and obey what he told them to do. As a result of that, they were under the cloud and they went through the sea. Because of their willingness to obey Moses, they were set free from the penalty and the power and the presence of the Egyptians who had held them captive for 400 years.
Now Paul’s point is very clear. Just as we are willing to place our trust into Christ, He sets us free from the penalty and the power and the presence of sin. But being set free from those things does not in any way guarantee that we are going to be useable to Him once we become a believer. We are not going to lose our salvation, but we may lose our right to be used. This is what he is saying. Don’t misunderstand. He is not talking about salvation. He is talking about the usability within salvation. Just as Israel turned against God and became disqualified, our experience with Christ does not guarantee that we will be useable to God. It is not just how we start, it is how we finish.
The provision of God
Secondly, they experienced the provision of God. It is interesting to me that as soon as they have been delivered from the penalty and the power and the presence of the Egyptians who had held them captive for 400 years, we start seeing the ungratefulness of their flesh. It shows up immediately when they have gone through the Red Sea. In verse 3 he says, “and all ate the same spiritual food.” What I am going to show you in the Old Testament is going to bear witness to what I just said. It was while they were demonstrating a spirit of ungratefulness that God chose to give them the manna and the quail in the wilderness.
Why does he say it was spiritual food? We know it was physical food: it was manna and it was quail. That is physical food. Why does he call it spiritual food? Because Paul is trying to show them it was God supernaturally providing for them the food that they needed, just like in our walk God provides for us supernaturally the things that we need in our spiritual life, the Word and His power, etc. Just as they didn’t have to eat, we don’t have to partake, but the picture is the same. Many times, even though we grumble and complain, the provision is there all the time. God makes the provision. We have to choose to partake of it.
What he is pointing to here is in Exodus 16:12. The whole story begins to show you a lot of the attitude of the people but yet the faithfulness of God to provide for them. Exodus 16:12 says, “I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel.” I’m telling you, weren’t these grateful people to be freed from Egypt and taken through the Red Sea? It looks to me like they would be shouting until the end all the way through. But no, they are already grumbling.
Just like our flesh. People get saved, and within six months of being in a church, they are critical and just as complaining as anybody else. Don’t you understand what just happened to you? No, we are just like Israel.
“I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” Why does He provide for them? Because He wants them to recognize that He is God and He is the one providing for them. He wants them to continually turn back to Him.
Verse 13 continues, “So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.” I have humorously thought of that many times. My Daddy raised bird dogs when I was growing up. They would have gone nuts on that day. I mean, the quail was everywhere.
Verse 14 reads, “When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness, there was a fine flakelike thing, fine as the frost on the ground. When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’” As a matter of fact, the word “manna” means “What is it?” “For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.’”
Now that is amazing to me. Even in the midst of their griping and complaining, God still provided for the people. These are people who had experienced His power and His presence and His provision, even though they knew they didn’t deserve it. Most of them grumbled all the way through the Red Sea, most of them grumbled when they had to leave Egypt, but they still followed Moses and as a result of that, experienced the grace of God, the divine providence of God.
Well, then Paul points to the fact that they also received water. Look 1 Corinthians 10:4, “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” Boy, I love the way he just nails this point right here. They all drank the same spiritual drink. Now again we know it was physical water, but again he uses the same principle. It was supernaturally applied to them and supplied for them. When he struck the rock, the water came out. Paul says they were drinking from a spiritual rock.
Now the word for “rock” is the word petra, which is an interesting thought because it is the same word used in Matthew 16:18 when Christ says to Peter, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Not upon you, but upon your confession of who I am. “I will build my church and the gates of hades shall not overpower it.” So he is talking about a mammoth rock, a huge rock, not a little stone but a huge rock.
Paul says they were drinking of a rock that was following them. That little participle there, “which followed them,” has the idea of accompanying them. Paul says they were drinking from a rock that was accompanying them. Now, he seems to allude to a Jewish legend at that time that a physical rock rolled behind the nation of Israel when they went through the wilderness. That is what the rabbi’s would teach. The apostle Paul dismisses that real quickly and shows them it was not a physical rock. That rock, he says, was Christ.
I tell you what, you get into this just a little bit and you can go to Israel and understand that Israel has experienced Christ already but has rejected Him as being their Messiah. This is Him in the Old Testament. Paul says that rock was Christ, definite article, the rock was the Christ. The verb “was” is used there. He says, “And the rock was Christ.” Do you realize that is the same exact verb used in John 1 when it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” It is the exact same expression, tense and all. In John 1:2, “He was [speaking of Christ] in the beginning with God.”
What Paul is documenting here is, not only was He in the beginning, He was way back there in Israel. He has always preexisted. The theophany of Christ was back there. The rock they were drinking from was Christ and they couldn’t even see Him. He was supernaturally providing for them water in the wilderness.
In John 1:4 we read on, “In Him was life and the life was the light of men.”
Then Paul chooses a word here that identifies Jesus. He uses the word “Christ.” You do know the difference in those two words? Christ is His anointed name, His forever anointed name. Jesus was His earthly name. He says, “You shall call His name Jesus.” But He is the Christ, the anointed one. That is what links Him to all of history. That is what links Him to creation. That is what links Him to all the situations with Israel. That is what links Him to all of history. He uses the word “Christ.”
Israel had been privileged to experience the power, the presence and the provision of Christ Himself. God had provided for them there, but then they chose to do something rather stupid, they chose no longer to trust God and as a result, missed out upon all of the blessings God has for them. That is his whole point. In other words, they became disqualified. They were taken out of the action and put on the bench and very strong consequences fell in their life.
Here comes the warning in verse 5. He says, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.” You know, that little phrase, “with most of them” could be the understatement of the book. How many of them did qualify to experience? Two out of all Israel. Now, you think about that. When he says “most of them,” he means exactly that, most of them. Joshua and Caleb were the only two God allowed to go into the land that He had promised to them. The rest of them walked around Mt. Sinai for 40 years in the wilderness.
He said they were laid low in the wilderness. The word there means their corpses were scattered out and spread around in the wilderness. Israel paid a difficult price because they weren’t willing to continue to trust God. See, it is not in the fact that you trusted Him back here and you were saved. Yes, that started it, but it is now like in the book of 1 John. It is kind of like asking somebody, “What does Christ mean to you now?” Oh, I was saved 30 years ago. “That is not my question. What is He doing in your life today?” “Oh, I was saved 30 years ago.”
That is not going to cut it, because there can be a disqualification in your life. There can be a point where God can bench you and you are no longer useable and just simply miserable and frustrated. Why? Because we have chosen not to employ the discipline of denying ourselves. The times that I choose not to say yes to Him are the times I choose to serve my flesh. The times I choose to say yes to Him are the times I have chosen to deny myself. I’ve got to learn that. That is a part of my Christian life every single day. Thank God He gets involved in it. Thank God He works circumstances that bring me to the end of myself and keep bringing me back to that place. But God wants us to be useable until He comes again.
Well, what was the problem with Israel? That is really what I want us to focus in on. What was the problem with Israel? Well, they craved evil things. Look in verse 6: “Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved.” The phrase “these things happened as examples for us,” refers to not only how God treated them, but how they wrongly responded to Him. In other words, God was constantly providing for them, but they were constantly wrongly responding to Him. These things which happened to Israel need to be an example to us.
The word “example” is also in the plural, and it has the idea of something that struck upon something, leaving a mark on it. Paul is saying, “This is something tangible that you guys can see and understand. I’ve used a picture of a runner in a race. That ought to help you. But if you will look back at Israel, it is even a better example that you can look back and see what happened to them. You look and see what they did wrong and you can understand why you might be disqualified at some point in the journey.
The word “crave,” epithumeo, is the word meaning to desire for something. It is an obsessive desire, it is something that controls us. I use the illustration of an 800 pound parrot that says, “Polly wants a cracker—NOW.” It is that obsessive, driven type of thing in your life. Verse 6 says they were driven, they were motivated, they craved evil things.
Now listen, there is a difference in you chasing after sin or sin chasing after you. There is a difference there. They let that become the obsession of their life. It is like a believer who started rightly and somehow down the road becomes arrogant because of what he knows and what he understands and stops the discipline of denying himself. And as a result of that, instead of going on and knowing more, God just pulls him out of the race and sets him on the bench.
Let me ask you a question. Was there ever a time in your life when you loved Jesus more than you do right now? Has there ever been a time when you loved being in the Word of God more than you do right today? Has there ever been a time when you were burdened to pray far greater than anything that has hit you lately? Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Am I going forward or am I going backwards? What’s going on in my life?” Is God using you? Are you the vessel that God can use?
You ask, “Well, how do you know He is using you?” Sometimes you don’t, but usually you know if you are living denying yourself and saying yes to Him. He is using you whether you see the results of that or not. This is not perfection, this is predictability.
Well, that word “to desire” or “crave” can be used in a good sense many, many places. I just picked one of them. First Timothy 3:1 reads, “It is a trustworthy statement, if any man aspires to the office of overseer, the elder, it is fine work he desires to do.” So you can aspire to be a shepherd of a flock. God puts that desire within you. That’s something He builds up within you and gifts you for. That’s a good desire.
But most of the time the word epithumeo is used in scripture it is not used that way. Most every time it is used it has to do with a negative sense. So Israel made a huge mistake. It is just like a runner. If a runner stops denying himself, if a runner stops the discipline of denying himself, he is going to be disqualified. That is exactly what happens to the Christian and that is exactly what happened to Israel. When you take the very things that you have been saved from and start chasing after them again, look out because you are not going to be useable to God. That’s the key. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. It doesn’t mean you have lost your salvation. It just simply means you have lost all the joy, all the sense of His presence in your life, all of that until you come back to the cross. You have been disqualified.
The term “evil things” is an interesting term and a very telling term. The word “evil” is the word kakos. Now that is the antithesis of another word, kalos, which is good inherently or constitutionally good. Over here is kakos, constitutionally bad.
Now I want to show you something in Romans 7:18. This is a very clear verse here. One is the opposite of the other. If one is not there, the other one is. Many times this chapter is debated over and over again: Was he lost or was he saved? I think he was saved. I have changed my mind over the years on that just by us doing the study of Romans. I believe he was saved and going through the same struggle we go through and being warned about by Paul. He says, “For I know that nothing good that word is kalos] dwells in me.” Oh, wait a minute; he has to be lost because Christ lives in us. Then he qualifies it, “that is [make sure you understand] in my flesh.”
Now let me ask you a question, if there is nothing kalos, good, in the flesh, then the absence of one determines the presence of the other and the antithesis of that is kakos, evil. Therefore, kakos is always present in my flesh. There is nothing good in it, there is only evil in it.
So what we are seeing here is that the word kakos that he is talking about, evil here in Corinthians, is directly tied to the flesh. They crave the things of the flesh. As a matter of fact, in Romans 7:19 he says, “For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.” Where does the evil dwell? In my flesh. What is he saying? When I choose after my flesh, that is the only thing that can result. Israel desired that which pleased the flesh.
We live in the 20th century. We all say we love Jesus. Do we? You know, if you could be a fly on the wall in my house or I could be a fly on the wall at your house, what is it you crave? What is it that drives you and motivates you? What is it that has caused a vacancy and vacuum in your life of saying, “I just don’t feel used any more. I don’t feel like there is a purpose in my life any more”? Could it be that you stepped off track, you have gotten out of bounds, you have gotten out of the lane, as Paul would say in chapter 9? You have somehow gotten your aim off of where you are headed and somehow you’ve begun to be motivated once again by the flesh.
“Well, not me. I don’t have these problems. Why are you saying it like that?” I am saying it like that because I am one of the ones I need to be talking to.
What are the symptoms of craving the flesh? We are going to take a little test here. Let’s just find out if you are craving the flesh.
First of all is idolatry. I can hear somebody say, “Whew, that is not in my life. I threw all those statues out of my house a long time ago.”
Verse 7 says, “And do not be idolaters [there is your first symptom of craving the flesh], as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’” Now, it is interesting that he starts off with idolatry; because that is the root of all sin. Corinth would have understood that, because it was the most idolatrous city in Greece at that time. Remember, if you were living idolatrous or immoral, they would say, “Look out, you are living like a Corinthian.” Corinth had all the temples to the pagan gods, pagan idols. It would take little imagination for them to understand what Paul was talking about. Of the 11 times the word “idol” is used in the New Testament, five of those times are in 1 Corinthians. Of the ten times the phrase “meat sacrificed to idols” is used in the New Testament, six of those times are in 1 Corinthians. Of the seven times the word “idolatry” is used, it is found four times in the book of 1 Corinthians. And so Paul said, “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were.”
That “do not be” is in the present middle imperative. In other words, as a lifestyle: middle voice, don’t you choose, don’t you make that choice. You see, the temptation of the flesh is never the problem. The problem is, we make the choice. Once I become a Christian I am responsible for every choice I make. I cannot blame it on the world, I can’t blame it on the President,. I can’t blame it on my wife, and I can’t blame it on my family. If I make that choice, then I make my choice. Present tense means not just once, but twice and three times and four times. Don’t let it become a habit in your life to where you choose idolatry. It is one thing again for fleshly sin to chase after you; it is another for you to chase after it. Now I want to keep saying that because there is a difference there. That’s what changes in salvation. The problem you get is when a person gets saved and goes back and chases after sin. That is an anathema to the Christian life.
The word “idolaters” is the word that means idol worshiper. It is the word eidololatres, which comes from eidolon, meaning idol, and latres, meaning worshiper.
One of the best verses I have ever found in all the studies I have done on what an idol is, is found in Habakkuk 2:18: “What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it? Or an image, a teacher of falsehood, for its maker trusts in his own handiwork when he fashions speechless idols.” Now what is he saying? He is saying an idol is nothing more than the imagination of the person who made it and it demands nothing really of yourself. Whatever demand you don’t like, you just change in the man. You made the idol, so you can change the rules. That’s all an idol is.
So when you think of an idol, folks, don’t just think of a statue somewhere like Nebuchanezzar built. Think of something in your own life that you have taken and put in the place of a living God, something that you bow to, something that takes all your emotion, all your time, all your money, all your energy. It is sucking it right into this. Has that become an idol in your life? It is an idol of your own making, a product of your own imagination.
The verse goes on to describe their idolatry. It says, “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.’” Now this is a quote out of Exodus 32:6. I do want you to turn there. We are going to look at the context here. Context rules. I want to share with you what happened. Remember, it hasn’t been long since they have been delivered from the power and the presence and the penalty of being under the captivity of the Egyptians. They had been set free miraculously, baptized through the sea, as they were baptized into Moses, identified with him, immersed, taken all the way through. Now they are on the other side, and look what happens here. This is what Paul quotes, “So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.”
Now, in order to understand that verse you’ve got to go back and read verses 15. This is a terrible time in Israel. This is right after Aaron has just made the golden calf. Moses has been up on the mountain. “Where is he?” “I don’t know. The guy hasn’t come back.” “So what are we going to do?” “Okay, build us a god to take his place.”
Look at Exodus 32:1. “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us.’” You make us a god who will go before us, as if our God does not go before them. They have already been under the cloud. They have already been through the sea. All these things have already taken place.
How quickly they forget. How quickly we have forgotten what it was to be saved, folks. How quickly we have forgotten the desperation when we bowed before Christ and were delivered from the power and the penalty of sin. How quickly we forget it and how quickly we find something else to take God’s place in our life just like them.
“As for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So make us a god. Verse 2 reads, “And Aaron said to them, ‘Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it into a molten calf; and they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’” Can you believe the blasphemy that comes from the nation of Israel? How quickly they will change gods.
“Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.’ So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” We don’t know what the word “play” actually means, but we think it means they rose up for immorality, the play being a sexual term there because it always associated with all the idolatry in the Old Testament. These are the people of God.
You say, “Well, the problem in America today is the church.” I agree. But stop pointing your finger out there. If you are born again, the problem is us. We have replaced a living God with an idol. What is it? What is it we have replaced Him with? What is it that took you out of church? What is it that took you out of the Word because you found something better in it? Was it a job? Was it the fact that your company started growing so fast you didn’t have time to get in the Word of God any more? All of a sudden you were able to enjoy the things of this world that you couldn’t enjoy before and all of a sudden you didn’t need God anymore. That’s idolatry. Paul says to all people who are idolatrous, “They are going to be disqualified.” And Paul says, “I am warning you, I am warning you.”
I tell you, you think it can’t happen to preachers? In a minute it can happen. I want you to understand something. The ground is level at the cross, and I struggle with the very same things you struggle with. How quickly, because you have experienced and know and understand, we get arrogant with that and think we deserve it. We will put an idol in front of us.
Years ago I had a car given to me. That car was MY car. Man, oh, man, it was my car. You talk about becoming an idol to you, I wouldn’t let anybody drive it. I kept that thing clean. It was the first time I had ever had a power seat on anything. I would play with that thing. I would sit at stop lights and run the window up and down, just pushing that little button running it up and down, locking the doors. Push a button, FM/AM radio. Man, it was wonderful. Speakers all over the thing. Sitting in it was like sitting on your couch in the living room. It was wonderful.
One day I had to go to the hospital. Boy, I was enjoying the air conditioner because it was always hot in that place. I didn’t see this until too late. There was a piece of pipe lying on the side of the road just where my right front wheel would hit it. I was looking around. I was counting hawks, as a matter of fact, if you want to be real honest. Hawks would come down and sit on the wires on the side of the interstate. I was counting hawks. I had been up to 64 before, and I was just going to see if I could count more than 64 that day. So I wasn’t looking at the road. I was looking at the hawks on the side of the road.
Suddenly I hit that pipe and that pipe did a funny thing. It flipped up and caught the beautiful chrome strip that was down the side of the bottom of those doors and put a gash an inch wide and about a half inch deep. All the way down the side it was just ripped. I pulled over on the side of the road. Man, I kicked the tires. Good grief, that was MY car. God, why did you let this happen? It was almost like out of heaven God said, “Son, don’t you ever get that thing fixed. I want you to drive it every day of your life and I want you to let that mark down the side of it remind you, this is not YOUR car, it is Mine. And the very moment you start attaching yourself to it, you have just committed idolatry and that puts that in the place of where I ought to be in your life. Turn it loose and just bow before Me.”
I tell you what, folks, what is it in your life you are attached to? What is it? What is it? I am of the firm conviction that whatever church we are talking about, whether it be ours or any place else, that if the people of God would come back to worshiping God, there would be the money to do whatever God told them to do, period.
Secondly, there was immorality. I want you to see something here, how idolatry and immorality are directly linked. They are strange bedfellows, no pun intended, but they are always linked together. Once a person usurps the authority of God in his life by anything he puts in His place, immediately there is going to be immorality to happen in his life. Now, in this particular sense, the immorality is sexual and it has to do with the Moabite women that he is going to refer to in a moment when Israel started going and having immoral relations with the Moabite women. I will explain that in a moment.
Immorality can take all kinds of phases. Actually the word used here for immorality is the house that all kinds of immorality lives in. It doesn’t necessarily have to be this or that. It can be a lot of things that fits inside this house. First Corinthians 10:8 reads, “Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and 23,000 fell in one day.” Immorality is an idolatrous practice. If a person is immoral, he is idolatrous, period. That is me, that’s you, that’s anybody. First Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee immorality.” But in 1 Corinthians 10:14 he says, “Flee idolatry.” He uses the term “flee” for those two things right there, because they are absolutely linked together.
Now in our text, Paul is speaking of a time recorded in Numbers 25. What has happened here is the men of Israel have gone out and cohabitated with the Moabite women. Moab was the incestuous son of Lot and one of his daughters. They were avowed enemies of Israel. Remember, God said, “Don’t intermarry. Wipe out all these people, because if you don’t do that, it is going to lead you into immorality and it is going to lead you into idolatry.” Sure enough, that is exactly what happened. And this is a quote that he takes out of that very thing.
Look in Numbers 25:1. “While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.” This is Israel now right with them. “So Israel joined themselves to Baal [that is their god] of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.’ So Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.’ Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. And those who died by the plague were 24,000.”
You may think that is a controversy with what Paul says. Paul says 23,000 but the scripture account says there were 24,000 total: 23,000 on one day died and another 1,000 died later. So there was no confusion there. The main thing is that we can see the mixture of immorality and idolatry. Isn’t that interesting?
Once you get saved, immorality and idolatry and all these things will follow after you. They will. It is a trap already set. There is a difference in you falling into something one time, repenting of it and coming back and a person who craves it and pursues it. There is a big difference there. This is what he is talking about right here. They desired, they craved evil things.
You say, “Well, I have been at church for years and my Christian life has grown cold and mechanical. I don’t feel anything any more. I come to church and I don’t even know if I am saved anymore.” Well, to me the answer is simple. Go back and find out what has usurped the place of Jesus Christ in your life. What is it? Is it a ministry? It has happened to a lot of folks and they have fallen because of it. Is it a reputation? I don’t know what it is. What is it that has taken the place of Jesus in your life?
That is what God asked me as I was studying this, because you see, we all have to deal with it, every day, just like a runner can’t deal with it once and expect to finish the race. He deals with it every step that he takes, or if not, he is going to be pulled out and sat on the bench.
Do you know how they catch monkeys? They take a jar that has a thin neck, just big enough for a monkey to get his paw in and they put candy in it. If you have never been to Africa, you don’t realize how monkeys love candy, anything sweet at all. I have had them jump on the car. We have had five and six monkeys on top of the car at one time trying to get them off. One of us was eating some breath mints or whatever it was, but they smelled it. They love candy. They have the jar chained, anchored to something very solid to where the money has to come up and make his own commitment to put his hand inside that jar. Nothing is there other than the candy that is inside of it. Well, when he gets it, he closes his fist and then he can’t get it out because the neck of the jar is fixed to where the paw can get in but it can’t get out if it is clinched. And you know what? It works every time because the monkey is not willing to let go of what his flesh desires and for that reason he has put himself back into captivity.
That is what is cramping and killing the church of Jesus Christ today. We won’t turn loose. We forget the verse in the Old Testament, “I will withhold nothing that is good from those that are righteous.” So if He won’t withhold it, why do we cramp ourselves? Why don’t we just put Him back where He belongs?