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First Corinthians

Be Careful

1 Corinthians 9:24 - 10:14

Paul, in this passage, continues his warnings to the experienced Christian. So often this passage is taken as a warning to the new Christian; it is not so. Listen, and learn.

(1 Cor 9:24-27 NIV) 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. {25} 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. {26} Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. {27} 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 10:1-14 NIV) For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. {2} They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. {3} They all ate the same spiritual food {4} and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. {5} Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. {6} Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. {7} Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." {8} We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did--and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. {9} We should not test the Lord, as some of them did--and were killed by snakes. {10} And do not grumble, as some of them did--and were killed by the destroying angel. {11} These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. {12} So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! {13} No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. {14} Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.

The need for bodily discipline

It is clear that Paul is speaking of bodily discipline for the mature Christian. We often like to “spiritualize” this passage, for bodily discipline is not a popular subject these days. But Paul tells us that it is necessary, and necessary for the mature Christian.

A sense of purpose

This is not the discipline of some ascetic sect in which the discipline is an end in and of itself. This discipline has a purpose.

· The discipline itself is bodily. That means, it deals with those things arising from the fact that we have a human body – such things as sexual desire, the longing for party and pleasure, our aches and pains and even our desire for rest.

· The purpose, however, is spiritual. The effect of this discipline is to help in keeping us from sin.

· There’s a reason for this, and we have touched on it before. We’re amphibians. Humans must have a body, unlike the angels. Christ’s body was just like ours – and therefore he understands our bodily temptations. He too disciplined his body.

But what purpose?

The purpose is to keep us from those sins which arise from the fact that we have a body – and that fact allows Satan an entry point for temptation. For example:

· We would all recognize as sins of the body such things as adultery, fornication, drunkenness and gluttony.

· There are also those worldly sins which come from the flesh – particularly those which involve the love of pleasure and ease; sloth, for example.

· Beyond that are sins which seem spiritual but may arise from the body. Are we presumptuous in testing the Lord with regard to our aches and pains? Do we grumble against him in our infirmities?

If it could happen to Paul…

It can happen to us. We know that temptation afflicts the weak, but Satan hasn’t given up on the rest of us yet. If this discipline is good for the weak, it is good for the strong as well – indeed, it just may be one of the ways in which you become strong.

If you consider yourself a mature Christian, remember that this makes your responsibilities – and danger – all the greater. The destroyer is not sent to do the battleship’s job; but when the battleship arrives, the shells are always the big ones.

Our Example: Israel

Paul knows something about our human nature. We just don’t want to believe in hell. Have you ever noticed that most of the references to hell for human beings come from our Lord himself? Paul knows you can’t really picture yourself in hell. So he gives you an example you can picture.

In so doing, he makes use of what is often called a “type.” A type is an event in the Old Testament which foreshadows – and gives insight upon – things in the New Testament. This sounds very “theological” – and it can certainly be stretched a great deal in that direction. But there is a very practical use for us: the Old Testament is there for our warning and admonition.

Think of it this way: you’re probably sitting content right now, thinking, “I wonder who he’s talking about – certainly not me!” Your faith is strong; you know you’re on solid ground. But consider those ancient Israelites Paul mentions here. Think about how many miracles they saw! “If I ever saw even one miracle, my faith would be so strong…”

How many of those people – there were about two million, by some estimates – ever saw the promised land? Two. Just two. Joshua and Caleb – one in a million. It can happen to you; it can happen to me; it can happen to Paul.

All the right spiritual moves

Many in the church place their reliance on the external signs that God has given us. Those signs are good – if they are completed in the actions of our lives.

· Baptism - they were “baptized” in the Red Sea, Paul tells us. They had the same kind of initiation we have; it wasn’t enough.

· Communion – they too ate “the bread of heaven.” Our Lord draws this type out for us explicitly, so we know we can make this parallel. They had their form of “Lord’s Supper” – and it wasn’t enough.

You can have all the right spiritual moves, but if you do not follow up – “work out your salvation in fear and trembling” – it is not enough.

Fulfilling God’s requirements

How is it that Christians can deceive themselves like this?

· Some reduce the faith to a set of rules. Paul’s talked about such, and told us to be gentle with them. But if you rely entirely on “the rules” you substitute the part for the whole. It is not enough.

· Some think that God is in their debt! “I’ve been a very good person, much better than I would have been otherwise. God, you owe me.” To state it is to see the fallacy, but it’s a common one.

Things to avoid

However we construct this bodily discipline – and note that Paul gives us no formula for this, he leaves it to us to figure out – there are certain things he does mention as being specific problems:


It’s interesting to see the passage Paul is talking about here. It’s from Exodus 32:6-8. What’s interesting about it is that the idolatry starts with a party. These people evidently felt that it was no great sin to worship an idol; after all, the party was on, who wouldn’t join in? But it shows us the connection between idolatry – the worship of anything other than God – and our love of pleasure.

· Have you ever seen a true football fan – one for whom the team comes first on Sundays?

· How about the person whose recreation – the boat, the cabin, the trip to Mazatlan – comes before Christ?

· Or – to come to a simpler point – you’re too drunk on Saturday night to get up early for church on Sunday. (Of course, if your tee time is early, that’s different.)

Sexual immorality

This is so clearly condemned that it seems amazing to hear the excuses – from Christians:

· You can be blatant about it: “I want to sleep with my girlfriend, therefore there is no God.” (Granoff’s law).

· We’re usually more subtle: “How can anything so beautiful be wrong?” (I have my standards, God has his, hey … we just happen to disagree.)

· Or, if we let pride have our way: “I’m not 17 any more; I’m an adult; I can handle this.”

Testing the Lord

We might have a problem understanding just what it means to “test” the Lord. So let me give you some examples:

· The trained bear syndrome. We treat God as if he were a trained bear. Whenever we have a problem, we get out our trained bear, give him careful instructions on exactly how to handle the problem, and expect him to perform on command. (Does this sound presumptuous?)

· I don’t have to ask. Whenever I have a problem, I don’t have to take it to God in prayer – certainly not in penitent, pleading prayer. He knows what I’m going through, and I’m certain he doesn’t need to hear from me about it.

· Giving good advice. Sometimes it’s not our problem; it’s someone else’s. We give them our wonderful advice, telling them we know exactly what God will do. Isn’t that a little presumptuous too?


Most Christians don’t consider this a sin (but see the book of Exodus on the subject); they consider it their right.

· But consider: when things are going well, are we mystified as to why? Don’t we have a ready explanation in our own efforts? So when they’re going poorly, why do we grumble against God?

· Of course, we’re not going to do this amongst those pious souls at church. We’re going to do it under our breath – that way, God and those other Christians won’t hear us. (Yeah, right.)

· The real problem: we’re willing to stand up to God – but not willing to go to our knees before the Sovereign of the Universe.

To all these, God provides a way out. If you are tempted, God will provide a way of evading the temptation. It may be as simple as, “if my people, who are called by name, will humble themselves and pray…”

Does all this seem academic to you? Remember to whom this passage is addressed:

(1 Cor 10:12 NIV) So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!

As mother used to say, “Boy-san, this means you!

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