1 Corinthians, Lesson 16: Don’t Keep God from Coming to You with His Life and Salvation

Lords Supper2 (610x350)Paul continues to deal with the issue of whether it’s okay to eat the meat that was earlier sacrificed to idols. To deal with this issue, he continues to use Old-Covenant Israel as an example of what not to do and how not to approach God, all within a chiastic structure.

A 8:1-13 Dealing with food sacrificed to idols

.     B 9:1-10:13 Paul (9:1-27) and the Old-Covenant Israelites (10:1-13) as examples

A’ 10:14-11:1 Dealing with food sacrificed to idols

In the previous lessons, we looked into Israel and their attempt to worship God through an adopted Egyptian worship form: The golden calf. God rejected such worship, calling it “idolatry” and “play.” On another occasion, the Israelites joined in both sexual and table fellowship with the Moabites in their worship of Baal.


Old-Covenant Israel as an Example: Fiery Snakes Bite the Israelites

Paul now recalls the people of Israel complaining “against God and Moses” about the “miserable food” and lack of water in the desert. This was during their wilderness wanderings. In response, God sent fiery snakes among them “so that many of them died.”

The Old-Testament book of Numbers describes that event, which doesn’t say that the Israelites “tested” God. Instead, the Masoretic text has davar, which is the word “word” as a verb. The Septuagint has katalaleo, which is more than speaking openly (laleo) but speaking against and slandering. Psalm 78:18 later describes Israel as “testing” God through such complaining. Again, the Septuagint has even a stronger word: The Israelites “deliberately tested” God, which is the same word that Paul uses. 

Read Numbers 21:4-9

Read 1 Corinthians 10:9

  • By Paul saying that “we must not put Christ to the test,” what is He saying about Jesus?


  • Discuss: Why is deliberately putting God to the test, or “tempting” Him, such a big deal?


  • What happened to those who deliberately tested Christ in the Old Testament?


  • How did God allow them to live after bitten?


  • By forcing them to look at the bronze snake, what did God then take away from the Israelites?


Old-Covenant Israel as an Example: Korah’s Rebellion

Read 1 Corinthians 10:10

Paul used the verb gogguzo to describe the complaining the Israelites had done. We find the Septuagint use that same verb in Numbers 16:41, which described the Israelites complaining against Moses and Aaron. Those events also matched Paul’s use of “the Destroyer,” where many died in one event. The Septuagint used that same “Destroyer” to describe the Angel of Death during Passover in Exodus 12:33. [1]

So, what happened in Numbers 16? Korah and others led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, wanting to establish a priesthood of their own choosing, instead of the one that God had chosen. “They rose up against Moses, joined by 250 Israelite men, well-known leaders of the community” (Numbers 16:2).


Pastor will describe these events.


Later, the earth swallowed up those who had rebelled. “They, along with all their possessions, went down alive to their graves. The earth closed over them, and they vanished from the assembly.” Unlike the golden-calf incident, this was not a preference in “worship style” but a preference in choosing their leadership and priesthood. This was the people wanting to “call the shots,” instead of God.


What we are to learn from Old-Covenant Israel

Read 1 Corinthians 10:11-13

  • If the “end of the ages has come” for us, what does that mean about our Promised Land?


  • Like the Israelites had fallen and not entered their Promised Land, what warning does Paul have for us about falling and not entering our “Promised Land”?


Lesson 16, Lessons from the Old Covenant for Us


  • What reason does Paul give that we should not fall in such a way?


  • If our not falling away is based on God’s faithfulness, and not our own, then why did so many of the Old-Covenant Israelites fall away?


Lesson 16, God is Faithful


Israel’s actions put preconditions on God, making those preconditions into a form of idolatry. They erected “walls,” which kept them from God. And so God tore those “walls” down.

Lesson: Did you notice that every example Paul used related to worship in some way? In worship, we come to God “naked,” with nothing: No preferences, conditions, or works of our own. When we are nothing, God is everything. What we bring—other than our sin to give to God—only gets in the way of what God has for us: His life and salvation. When our sin dictates to God how it will be between us and Him, that sin then becomes our “god,” where we try to change God into our sinful image, instead of God changing us into His.

  • Discuss God not letting you being tempted beyond your ability, but providing a way of escape.


Directed to the New Covenant

Read 1 Corinthians 10:14-17 

  • In relation to what does Paul tell the Corinthians Christians to “flee from idolatry”?


  • Discuss why Paul would bring up the Lord’s Supper in relation to “idolatry”?


Lesson 16, Old-Covenant Sacrifices Fulfilled by the Lord's Supper


Sensible: In 1 Corinthians 10:15, the ESV translates the Greek word, phronimos, as “sensible.” The idea behind phronimos is intelligence and the ability to discern. Paul isn’t speaking to those who are unable to follow his line of thinking: infants, children, the mentally disabled, and the elderly with dementia. Like those who had committed the sins he used as examples from the Old Covenant, Paul now speaks to those who can carry out such similar sins. Paul is speaking to those with intellectual discernment who are bringing their sins before God and the Christian congregation, not to be forgiven, but as something that gets in the way of what God wants for His people.

Thus, Paul doesn’t direct his words to “flee from idolatry” to infants, children, the mentally disabled, and the elderly with dementia. They aren’t causing the problems that Paul is addressing. Those who are capable of thinking and carrying out such sins are guilty ones, whom Paul addresses.

  • What is the cup that we bless?


  • What is the bread that we break? (And what does breaking the bread say about the early Church’s Communion practice that differs for our own today?)


  • Discuss: How does Paul’s words affirm Jesus’ real presence in His Supper but not the Roman-Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation?


  • Discuss: If Jesus were not present in His body and blood in the Lords’ Supper, would that affect Paul’s argument about “fleeing from idolatry.”


  • Discuss: If Jesus were not present in the Lords’ Supper, would that affect Paul’s argument about being one body because we partake of one bread?



[1] Note, some say this verse refers to Numbers 14:1-38, where the people rebelled against Moses and Aaron, fearing what awaited them in Promised Land, and so, except for Caleb and Joshua, that entire generation died in the wilderness. If so, then Paul’s use of “some” to describe so many dying in the wilderness would be quite an understatement. Further, the Septuagint used diagogguzo, not gogguzo, which is a related word, but not the same one, to describe that complaining. Last, Paul’s use of the “Destroyer” brings to mind many dying in one event, not many dying over a long period of time.


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