As I dig into the first thirteen verses of 1 Corinthians 10, trying to get a handle on this matter of godliness, I am attracted to this section of Scripture because it revolves around a group of people who had every reason to be godly, but they were not. That intrigues me. Why in the world wouldn’t those ancient Hebrews, who were supernaturally delivered from Egyptian bondage under Moses’ leadership, model true godliness?
Paul is writing these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His thoughts in 1 Corinthians 10 are a spin-off from his closing remarks in chapter 9, where he writes:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor. 9:24–27, NIV1984)
Those are the words of a godly man. He wasn’t playing games with his life. Therefore, he refused to let his body dictate his objectives. He “beat it black and blue” (literal rendering of the last verse) and determined to make it his slave rather than the other way around. Why? Look again at what he says. He didn’t want to finish his life as a washout. Paul dreaded the thought of being disqualified. A strong preacher of righteousness who ultimately shriveled into a weak victim of his own fleshly drives. I get the distinct impression that he feared the age-old problem of trafficking in unlived truth … of not taking God seriously.
That can happen so easily in this generation of superficiality. We can run with religious people, pick up the language, learn the ropes, and never miss a lick—publicly, that is. We can even defend our lifestyle by a rather slick system of theological accommodation. The better we get at it, the easier it is to convince ourselves we are on target. All it takes is a little Scripture twisting and a fairly well-oiled system of rationalization and we are off and running. Two results begin to transpire: (1) all our desires (no matter how wrong) are fulfilled, and (2) all our guilt (no matter how justified) is erased. And if anybody attempts to call us into account, label them a legalist and plow right on! It also helps to talk a lot about grace, forgiveness, mercy, and the old nobody’s-perfect song.
Paul rejected that stuff entirely. He refused to be sucked into such a system of rationalization. He panted after God. He thirsted deep within his soul for the truth of God so he might live it. He longed to take God seriously.
Suddenly Paul was seized with a classic example—the Hebrews who left Egypt at the Exodus. It’s like he thought, Now, if you need an illustration of people who had everything and yet blew it, who disqualified themselves, think about this:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers 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 were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. (1 Cor. 10:1–4)
Take a pencil and circle the frequent repetition of the little word all, and you’ll begin to understand They all had everything!
- Supernatural guidance: a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night
- Supernatural deliverance: the Red Sea escape
- Supernatural leadership: God’s man, Moses
- Supernatural diet: manna from heaven and water from the rock
Get the picture? They were surrounded by unparalleled privileges. Miracles were everyday occurrences. God’s presence was constant, and His workings were evident. Talk about overexposure! Everywhere there was God-talk. It was like a high-level Bible-conference atmosphere day in and day out, week in and week out. Surely they flourished in such a hothouse, right?
What happens when photographic film is overexposed? Sometimes the image is lost entirely. What about a dishtowel that never dries out but rather stays wet, wadded up in a pile? It gets sour. How about a clay pot that stays only in the sun—no rain, no cool breeze, no shade? It gets hard, brittle, easily cracked.
So it was with most of the Exodus crowd. An exaggeration? No, read the facts for yourself: “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness” (v. 5).
That ominous word nevertheless says it all. They had it … nevertheless. They witnessed God’s abundant provisions in daily doses … nevertheless. In the process of time, miracles lost their significance. Their incessant God-talk became sour in their mouths. They turned dark in all that overexposure.
Swindoll, Charles R. 2015. Strengthening Your Grip: How to Be Grounded in a Chaotic World. New York, NY: Worthy Books.