Reading 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

A reading for the third Sunday in Lent: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Wow. I’ve read this before, but today the words leap out at me and into conversations in my life.

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.

Paul’s concern for unity must lie behind this text. The unity of the people is marked by their experiences with God and dependence on God. I’m not sure what the phrase “baptized into Moses” means exactly, but given many recent conversations about baptismal theology  with Metho-friends, I note that all the people were baptized by passing through the sea — not just the adults and people who could choose for themselves to follow Moses, but also the children and the helpless.

Paul also gives us an early warrant for Christian practice of reading the Old Testament as a witness to Christ. This practice is sometimes controversial in the church and seminary these days, but Paul had no problem with making — at least — metaphorical connections between Christ as the source of living water and the rock in the wilderness that Moses struck with his staff.

Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

With my students I call that first word in this section a “turn signal.” Paul’s “nevertheless” is a warning that we are going to change focus, and, boy, do we. Despite the unity of the people, God was not pleased. They were marked by baptism. They ate the bread of life. They drank the cup of salvation together. But God was “not pleased” with their lives. They did evil. They worshiped idols. They were sexually immoral.

And God struck them down by the thousands. (That “not pleased” in Paul sure is an understatement.)

In my reading and seminary, I encounter lots of talk about the names of God. So far, I’ve not heard anyone suggest “the destroyer” as one of the names of God we should use in worship. Wow, what a thought.

These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.

Where is once-saved-always-saved? I know we can find other words in Paul to prop up the P in the Calvinist TULIP, but here Paul is writing to well-established Christians telling them they must be careful lest they fall away. Dare we say “backslide”?

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

And we close with a passage that drives crazy some people I know, well, not this passage exactly. The saying they despise is “God never gives you more than you can handle,” which has roots here in Paul. Two objections come up. First, God is not the source of the things that cause us to be overwhelmed. Second, sometimes life does give me more than I can handle.

What a rich vein of conversation this one verse holds out for us. I am not prepared to offer easy answers to these objections or Paul’s words, but I will carry around the implications of his words and their reverberations in the lives of people I know.


One thought on “Reading 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

  1. Great reflections, John. I have often pondered why that passage is so important to me as it relates to baptism. I suppose it’s because I have lived the futility of relying on my own perceptions and/or intelligence to make a decision for the Christian faith. Before my Aldersgate experience, my faith felt a bit like the Egyptian Army pressing in as I looked in front of me with nowhere to go. I had received God’s grace through the waters of baptism, but I continued to look upon the wickedness of my heart with the sense that I could fix this thing. Praise God that he humbled me to an awareness that I have no power. We are not different than the Israelites, I do not believe. We respond to God’s work of salvation, and I believe 1 Cor 10:2 is perhaps THE verse that captures just how powerless we are to save ourselves. The Christian life is all God’s grace or we are doomed to our own efforts.

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