Scripture: Joshua, chapters 21-22; Psalm 47; 1 Corinthians, chapter 10
1 Corinthians 10:1-12 (TM) – Remember our history, friends, and be warned. All our ancestors were led by the providential Cloud and taken miraculously through the Sea. They went through the waters, in a baptism like ours, as Moses led them from enslaving death to salvation life. They all ate and drank identical food and drink, meals provided daily by God. They drank from the Rock, God’s fountain that stayed with them wherever they were. And the Rock was Christ. But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much – most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.
The same thing could happen to us. We must be on guard so that we never get caught up in wanting our own way as they did. And we must not turn our religion into a circus as they did – ‘First the people partied, then they threw a dance.’ We must not be sexually promiscuous – they paid for that, remember, with 23,000 deaths in one day! We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; they tried it, and God launched an epidemic of poisonous snakes. We must be careful not to stir up discontent; discontent destroyed them.
These are all warning markers – DANGER! – in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel – they at the beginning, we at the end – and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naïve and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.
Observations:I often talk about the importance of context in reading and understanding Scripture, and this is a prime example of that importance. In the passage just preceding this one, Paul talked about the importance of “running to win the race,” “staying alert and in top condition.” When we think about that challenge, it’s easy to see how people could get over-confident: “I’m spiritually fit: I spend time in the Word every day, I pray, I go to worship faithfully, I pay my tithe and give offerings on top of that. What could happen to me?” So Paul goes on to remind them of the example of the Israelites, our spiritual ancestors. (Remember that he was not writing to a primarily Jewish audience, so he is speaking in spiritual terms about ‘our history’ in verse 1.)
During this first part of the year, our Old Testament readings have been from the books of Moses, and now into Joshua, so we should be familiar with the stories to which Paul is referring here. When the Israelites were in bondage in Egypt, God did miraculous things for them, and then delivered them from Pharaoh in a mighty display of his power. As they left Egypt, God did miracles time after time: opened the Red Sea before them, provided water from a rock, gave them manna and quail for food, and led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Yet in spite of all of these displays of God’s power and his great love and care for them, they still rebelled, still sought their own way, still refused to obey God’s commands.
Paul’s point is that, if we’re not careful, the same thing can happen to us. I think every one of us should regularly remind ourselves of Paul’s warning in verses 11-12: These are all warning markers – DANGER! – in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel – they at the beginning, we at the end – and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naïve and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.
Application: It’s important for us to hear that last phrase: Cultivate God-confidence. You see, if all we hear is forget about self-confidence,we can work ourselves to death ‘trying harder’ to make sure that we don’t fall. But that’s just another form of self-confidence – the idea that we canwork ‘hard enough’ to make sure that we don’t fall. But when we focus on cultivating God-confidence, the focus stays on God and what he has already done for us.
We don’t ‘work hard’ to make sure we ‘make it’; we ‘work hard’ as an expression of love and gratitude for what God has already done for us, and to help others to discover what God can do for them! Paul addresses this whole idea of what our efforts – our obedience – is all about later in chapter 10: “Looking at it one way, you could say, ‘Anything goes. Because of God’s immense generosity and grace, we don’t have to dissect and scrutinize every action to see if it will pass muster.’ But the point is not to just get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help otherslive well” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24, TM).
One other thing: God focused my attention on this sentence: “But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much – most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.” We seem to be consumed with the idea of “experiencing God’s wonder and grace,” but if we’re not actively engaged with God – in a daily discipline of spending time with him and actively doing his will – the “wonder and grace” will soon become “old hat.” Many people today seem to think that experiencing God’s “wonder and grace” is all the same, whether it’s in a worship service, a hike in the woods, time out on a boat, or any other similar activity. It’s not all the same; the point of experiencing God is not only to acknowledge his greatness, but also to acknowledge his sovereignty. That means that we don’t “do it our way”; we do it God’s way. It is our active engagement with God and his work in our world that keeps the wonder in our relationship with him, keeps us attuned each day to his amazing grace at work in our lives.
Prayer: Father, help me each day to stay amazed at your grace and the ways that it is at work in our world. Help me to cultivate God-confidence, and not to fall into the trap of thinking that I can handle things on my own. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to handle things on my own; you simply call me to join you in your work each day. Help me to recognize where you are leading me, and what you have for me today – then help me to do it, for your glory. Amen.