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Learning from the Past Sins of Others (I Corinthians 10:1-13)

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


Introduction: Sin Destroys Life and Witness

The deceitfulness and deadly nature of sin can be seen very clearly by an illustration that I found on the website It goes like this:

"A pagan artisan once manufactured a goblet in the bottom of which there was fixed the model of a serpent. Coiled for the cruel spring, a pair of burning eyes in its head, its fangs ready to strike, it lay beneath the ruby wine. The cup was of gold, and chastely wrought without. Never did the thirsty man who lifted the cup to quench his thirst and quaff the delicious draught suspect what lay below, till, as he reached the dregs, that dreadful head rose and gleamed with terror and menace before his eyes. It is not when you look on the brimming cup of temptation and sin that you see its power to hurt you. It is when the cup is empty that the serpent of remorse, guilt, despair, and punishment rises with its ghastly menace upon the astounded soul."

Today, I want to look at I Corinthians 10:1-13 and study some warnings from the apostle Paul on the temptations to sin that we all endure in our lives. In chapter 10 the apostle is continuing his answering of the question:

"Should a Christian eat meat offered to idols?"

Paul's answer to that is that it is all right for one to do this because idols aren't real. There is only one God and so the meat offered to the idol cannot be contaminated by the idol to which it is offered. However, there are weak brothers who may see one eating that meat offered to the idol who may not be mature enough to see what you see about the meat, and it could cause him or her to stumble by your eating of it. Paul concludes that if meat causes my brother to stumble then I will not eat meat ever again.

His point, at the end of I Corinthians 8, is that love for God and for your brother should be more important than your freedom. And a Christian should be willing to give up his freedom if it can in any way harm his brother or sister in Christ.

In chapter 9 Paul gives himself as an illustration of giving up freedom for love. The apostle shows that he is already giving up his right as an apostle to be financially supported by those he serves. He doesn't want anything to get in the way of anyone believing the gospel, the good news of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. He limits his freedoms further by becoming all things to all people to potentially win some to Christ. He disciplines himself like an athlete in training, to get a prize and to avoid being disqualified.

It is from this theme of disqualification from the prize that Paul is launching his discussion of sin and how it can destroy your life and your witness for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It has to be pointed out, as we did in last week's discussion of I Corinthians 9, that Paul is not talking about loss of salvation here. However, like an athlete can be disqualified for an earthly prize, so the Christian can be disqualified and lose his rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is seen quite clearly in I Corinthians 3:11-15 where the deeds done for self rather than for Christ are like wood, hay and stubble that are burned up. However, the person with the burned-up works is still saved "yet so as by fire."

With all of that in mind, we see in chapter 10 that the apostle Paul now launches into a history lesson in which the people of Israel sinned against God and paid the price for their sinfulness. Paul begins in the first 10 verses to give at least 4 examples of Israel's sinfulness and ultimate judgment. Then in verses 11-13a he warns the Corinthians: "You are not immune to these same temptations!" However, in verse 13b he ends with the hope that God is still faithful and will help you escape the temptations to sin if you will allow Him to do so.

Let's look closer at this important passage to see Paul's warnings. Then hopefully we can heed those same admonitions in our 21st century world today.

I. Warnings from Israel's Sins (1-10)

In the first place, someone has said that: "The best way to learn something is by experience." We might amend that by saying that sometimes the best way to learn something is by someone else's experience. That is certainly true with committing sin. Because we will find out too late that it has many consequences which we would not want to have first-hand knowledge about. Sin will destroy a person, as well as their family and relationships. It will also ruin someone's reputation and their testimony for Jesus Christ.

In verses 1-11, Paul uses ancient Israel's 40-year journey between Egypt and the promised land of Canaan as a rather sobering example of how one can misuse freedom and overconfidently rely on yourself to get you through the situations of life and thus sin against God.

Here is how the apostle summarizes it in the first 5 verses of the passage. He says:

"Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that Spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness"

Just to clarify here, when Paul is talking about Israel being 'baptized' in this passage he is not talking about being baptized into the sea. This is an example of a baptism without water. They were rather baptized into Moses. This indicated their oneness or solidarity with him as their leader.

Paul makes it clear that these people all had the same advantages. As a group, they all were guided by the same pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire at night. That is, God's presence was with them (Exodus 13:21). They all saw the Red Sea open for them to pass through and then close, killing the Egyptians. And they all had Moses, God's representative, to lead them as well.

They also ate the same Manna in the wilderness and drank from the same spiritual Rock. The use of the example of the Rock is a reference to the fact that the Lord provided water for all of them throughout their journey.

The Jews, interestingly, had a legend that the actual rock that Moses struck to give them water, during a time in their journey, followed them throughout their wilderness wanderings providing water for the people of Israel. Paul makes use of this legend by saying that they indeed have a Rock providing for all of their needs. However, that Rock is Jesus Christ Himself.

The term 'Rock' refers to a massive cliff and not just a large stone or boulder. This is signifying the preincarnate Messiah or Christ who both protected and sustained them throughout their wilderness journeys.

Yet, despite all of their advantages, a whole generation of Israelites did not make it into the Promised Land. All except Joshua and Caleb died because of their sins against the Lord. Even Moses himself didn't get into the Land of Promise because of an incident where he didn't give God the glory when striking the rock to give the people water. (Numbers 20:1-12).

That whole generation was disqualified from receiving the prize of entering and living in the Promised Land because of sin and unbelief.

It is the American philosopher George Santayana who wrote:

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

This might be a way of summarizing what Paul tells the Corinthians in the next verses when he writes:

"Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." (6-11).

The people of Israel died in the wilderness because of a lack of self-discipline and indulgence in every sinful desire that came into their heads. Paul outlines the four major sins that lead to their downfall. They were the sins of idolatry (7), sexual immorality (8), testing God (9) and complaining (10).

The idolatry to which Paul is referring is found in Exodus 32. The people were barely out of Egypt when they made a golden calf because of Moses' delay from coming down out of Mount Sinai.

And some 3000 were killed for instigating an immoral orgy at the foot of that sacred Mountain. This is also probably what he is referring to when talking about the sexual immorality of Israel, rather than the incident later at Shittim in Numbers 25. Paul says that twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Apparently 3,000 were killed by the Levites (Exodus 32:28) and another twenty thousand died in the plague recorded in Exodus 32:35.

The sin of testing or trying God is seen in Numbers 21 where we have the people questioning the goodness and plan of Yahweh who was carrying them through the wilderness. God sent serpents to bite and kill many of them and they were only saved when God had Moses pray for them and set up a bronze serpent on a pole. Only the ones who looked at that likeness of that serpent were saved.

The sin in which the people of Israel complained, which Paul mentions in verse 10, is recorded in Numbers 16. Here is a summary of that incident from the website It tells us:

"The incident referred to in 1 Corinthians 10:10 actually refers to an event that occurred in Numbers 16 when several Levites were challenging Moses’ authority as leader. The leaders of the rebellion, Korah, Dathan and Abiram, were standing at their tents and God told Moses He was going to destroy all the assembly who was supporting them. Moses asked Him to only deal with the leaders. God opened the earth and swallowed them and their families alive. Several of their followers who were offering incense on the altar were killed by fire. When the next day the assembly came again to Moses and accused him of killing these leaders, God began to kill them with a plague. Moses and Aaron offered a sacrifice on their behalf so that more did not die."

The 'destroying angel' talked about in this passage is the same angel that had slain the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 12:23), and later the 70,000 men because of David's unauthorized census (II Samuel 24:15,16), as well as the entire Assyrian army that was besieging Jerusalem in II Chronicles 32:21. This indicates that God took the people's complaining very seriously. Why? Because complaining indirectly communicates to the Lord, “I don’t like what You are doing in my life…and if I were you, I would do it differently.” So, complaining is nothing more than a manifestation of insubordination against the Lord’s authority.

Now after reminding the Corinthians of the past failures of the Israelites, Paul then moves ahead to let them know that they themselves are not immune to temptations that Israel faced and, in the presence of which they failed miserably.

II. You Are Not Immune to the Same Temptations (11-13a)

The apostle Paul begins by coming right out and saying that the things that happened in the past are for us in order to learn from and not to make the same mistakes. He says:

"Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the age have come." (11).

The age Paul is referring to is the 'age of the Messiah.' We are living in the last days of redemptive history before the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, sets up His Messianic kingdom. What happened to Israel in the past should be a warning to us who are in this present time in salvation history.

The truth is that anyone who thinks that they can't sin in a certain way is in trouble of falling because they won't be prepared for it. The types of temptations that Israel faced are common to all of sinful mankind and any of us, under the right kinds of circumstances, could fall for the same types of sins as they did.

However, thankfully we are not alone in our struggle with temptation to evil. God is there to give us the strength to resist if we but ask Him.

III. God is Faithful to Help in Our Time of Need (13b)

Praise God that today we have the power to obey because of the Holy Spirit living inside each of us as believers. Further we have a promise from the Lord for help in this passage. Here is what the website has to say about this truth in verse 13. It says:

"God has promised to supervise all temptation that comes at us through the world, the flesh or the devil. He promises to limit it according to our capability to endure it – according to our capability as we rely on Him, not our capability as we rely only on ourselves."

The Lord also promised that He will always provide a way of escape from any type of temptation that may come our way. He obviously won't force us to take that route to get out of it. But it is there for us to choose if we really desire to do so.

God will not take away all temptation out of our lives. The only place where that will happen is in heaven. Rather, the escape leads us to a place where we can endure it.

In all of this, it is good to remember that temptation itself is not sin. Jesus Christ was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. It is the giving-in to the temptation that is sinful. God will give us the ability to say no to any temptation that we may encounter if we know Him and rely upon Him for His strength. It is not something that we can do with our own strength alone. But, as Christians, we have the very power living in us that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.


When all is said and done, if we want to live a life that doesn't bring shame to Christ and is worthy of the gospel that we proclaim; and if we don't want to be disqualified for the prize at the judgment seat of Christ, we must avoid giving in to the temptations to sin.

Scripture is full of negative examples of those who gave in and faced enormous negative consequences for their sins. But it also has some examples of those who remained faithful despite how easy it would have been to compromise. People like Joseph in Egypt, and later the prophet Daniel.

We have to realize that it's not a matter of if we face temptations. It is merely a matter of when we will face them. May we learn from the mistakes of the past and not repeat them, as well as the good things that were done and emulate all those that did well and remained true to the Lord.

Let's thank the Lord that He has preserved His Word for us that records His faithfulness to His people in the years gone by, despite the fact that His followers were not always faithful to Him. For, in this world full of temptation and sin, we can count on that faithfulness to get us through and deliver us safely into the place of rewards that He has planned for us in Heaven. Praise God for His steadfast and uncompromising love for us!

© 2022 Jeff Shirley

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