Warning to an Overconfident Church
Topic: 1 Corinthians Passage: 1 Corinthians 10:1–10:13
Warning to an Overconfident Church
Pastor Allen Snapp
1 Cor. 10:1-13
This past week there was a sad story coming from South Africa. A 22 year old American woman was killed by a lioness as they drove through a safari park. Apparently this woman ignored all the warnings that were posted everywhere to keep your car windows rolled up and had her window rolled down in order to get better pictures, and the lioness lunged at her through the open window. For some reason this young woman didn't think the warnings applied to her and it cost her her life.
Chapter 10 contains a warning to the church, a warning that, I think, has particular relevance to the church today. Some believers in the Corinthian church were so confident in their own spiritual strength they felt they could handle rolling down their windows to all the junk and sin of their culture without it affecting them. We'll see later in the chapter they felt they could co-mingle Christ with demonic idols in fellowship and be ok. Paul teaches them from Biblical history that they would be foolish to ignore the warnings God gives us through the example of His people the Jews.
I think this is a timely warning to us today. I don't believe that we as the church are supposed to isolate ourselves from our culture or draw in the sidewalks in fear of being contaminated by the influences of our day. As Paul said in chapter 9, we should be as flexible as we can be without compromising our integrity or God's word, in order to relate to people and our culture in order to win souls to Christ. Paul said, I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. That is not the spirit of isolationism or rigidity.
Having said that, we need to be aware that our culture is not neutral. The Bible says that the whole world, including its cultures, are held under the sway of a master strategist, the devil, whose mission statement in life is to move people away from God and the truths of God's word. Satan doesn't much care what he moves them to, he only cares what he moves them away from. True life is only found in God - He is the author of life. Salvation is found only in Jesus - he is the Savior of the world. Satan only has to move people away from Christ to condemn their souls to hell. So it doesn’t really matter to him if they move to open Satan worship or to religious traditions that talk a lot about God but don't have a living, vital faith in Christ. Culture in general, and our culture in particular, is not neutral. It's currents are all masterfully designed to move men's hearts away from Christ.
So here's how I think this warning applies to us. We want our hearts and doors to be open to people. God loves people, Jesus came to save people, and he left us here to reach out in love and hope to people to reach them for Christ. So what is harmless or indifferent in our culture, let's embrace it! But God's word warns us that not everything is harmless or indifferent, and we need to guard ourselves from those things, we need to roll up the windows on those things in order to protect our own souls and to protect the church. We can't forget (and we shouldn't ignore) Peter's warning that the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. So with that long introduction, let's jump in and read vv. 1-6
I. Warning sign from the Israelites: they experienced God's supernatural power and still fell under His judgment
Paul says, I don't want you to be unaware…"I don't want you to miss the warning signs posted by example of the Jews in their Exodus from Egypt. They experienced great things from God. They were delivered from Egyptian bondage by God's power. They were supernaturally led by God in the form of a cloud and pillar of fire, they passed unscathed through the Red Sea, which Paul compares to our baptism. They ate the miraculous provision of manna and drank water supernaturally provided to them from a rock, which Paul compares to our eating and drinking from the Rock, Jesus Christ, in the sacrament of communion.
The problem was that the Corinthians were looking at the sacraments more like a talisman or lucky rabbit's foot that kept them safe from danger, more like an antidote that allowed them to drink poison safely, than the symbol of a close and abiding union and fellowship with Jesus Christ. So Paul points to the warning God gives from the Jews in Exodus: They experienced God's supernatural power on their behalf over and over again, and still fell under His judgment because over and over again they refused God and embraced sin.
God's powerful work on their behalf did not translate to His being pleased with them and most of that generation did not make it into the Promised Land but rather died in the wilderness. Paul goes on to list three ways that the Jews intentionally and flagrantly rolled the window down on sin with the warning to the church: don't be like them!
Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (1 Corinthians 10:7 ESV)
This quote is from Ex. 32 and it describes the Jew's celebration when they saw the golden calf that Aaron forged at their insistence. They had been taken out of Egypt but Egypt had not been taken out of them and even after all that they had seen God do for them, their hearts longed to worship an idol again.
Most of us probably don't have wood or gold statues in our homes that we bow down and worship, but that doesn't mean that idolatry isn't a problem for us. The person who thinks that idolatry is a cute superstition that antiquated cultures suffered from but sophisticated modern society has outgrown doesn't appreciate the deep heart issues that idolatry addresses and explains.
In ancient days, yes an idol was usually some kind of image of a god carved out of stone or wood or metal. But idols don't have to be statues. An idol is anything that displaces God from the throne of our lives and affections. In an article about idolatry, author and counselor David Powlison poses this question: Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart's trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight?
I don't know about you, but when we ask it that way I realize that I'm more prone to leave my window open to idolatry than I thought. We can make an idol out of just about anything: our work can become an idol, a relationship can become an idol, our possessions can become an idol. We can so easily put our trust in our plans, or our savings, or our ability to control people or situations to go the way we want them to go instead of putting our trust fully in God and those things become idols.
Often we're not even aware of an idol until someone or something jostles it. We don't think we trust money, until our bank account dips dangerously low, then the fact that we lie awake at night worrying about bills or our feeling of insecurity when the ledger dips below a certain amount reveals where we are putting our trust. We don't think we idolize pleasure, until a night where we were looking forward to "chill-axing" gets interrupted by a kid who remembers at the last minute they have a project due at school tomorrow and need help getting everything together or someone in the church calls to ask for help moving something. We don't think we idolize a relationship, until we know that we need to say something that might jeopardize how that person views us.
The currents that idols produce run deep in our hearts, producing fear, anger, resentment, bitterness, worry, manipulation, laziness, appeasement, timidity, and a thousand other heart currents that are tied to what we love and trust. Idolatry describes our tendency to drift away from God. So idolatry is alive and well today and it is something that, even as Christians, we all deal with. God knows these currents and is working in and on our hearts to overcome them. The point of this warning isn't, "get it right or God will judge you!" There is a beautiful promise in Ezekiel 36:25-27: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
When we are saved, God washes our hearts clean of the idols, and He continues to wash us clean, working to loosen the grip that idols have on our hearts and tighten our trust grip on God. The Lord gives us a heart that wants to love and obey Him, so that we aren't serving Him from a sense of duty but a sense of delight.
The warning is this: the Corinthians were getting cocky. They felt like they could open the windows to idols and not be affected. Paul will address this more a little later in the chapter, but for this morning, we need to understand that the warning isn't for the believer who is honestly seeking to trust God and throw out the idols but is struggling. The warning is for those who don't think it's a problem for them. Who think they can handle it. No big deal. Those who have the windows rolled down.
The question this brings us to is, what idol(s) are competing for our trust and affections in place of Jesus Christ? Let me share a personal illustration that might help you put handles on the shape idols can take.
One night many years ago I got bored and wanted to watch something. I was looking for a movie or show and came upon the TV show Lost online. So I watched the first episode. And I got hooked! And every episode left you on a cliff, so you had to watch the next episode to find out what happened…Now if I had started watching it when it was on TV it probably wouldn't have been such a problem, because I would have had to wait for the next week to watch the next episode. But because all six seasons were online and free I could choose when and how many I watched, so I was always trying to find time to watch just one more episode. I'd say goodnight to the family and stay up until late at night. One would end at 12:30am and I'd think, why not watch one more?
Snagged my affections, and I knew it. And it was diminishing my affections for God. The point of this isn't that Lost was evil, the point is that idols aren't always bad things - they can be good things that claim too much of our trust and affections. Maybe for you it's some recreational activity. Or materialism. Or climbing the rungs in your profession. Or your kids. Or your standing in the community. None of these things are bad, but when they claim the title to our hearts in place of Jesus Christ, then they become idols. John writes at the end of his letter: Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
The first step is to admit that something has become an idol, repent of it, and then ask God to wash our hearts clean of it. But not think that we're ok rolling down our windows to it.
We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. (1 Corinthians 10:8 ESV)
This is a reference to Numbers 25 when it says some Israelites began to "whore with the daughters of Moab" and God sent a plague as a judgment for their sin. Immorality for the Corinthian church wasn't just an individual struggle. Corinth was a sexually charged city. Triple X was a way of life for them, and this meant that immorality was always knocking on the door of the church. As we've already seen, some Corinthian believers were rolling down their windows to openly invite immorality into the church. They felt secure that sexual sin couldn't hurt them, they had outgrown the need to worry about purity. They were walking in grace.
The same danger is true for us in America today. Immorality has always been an issue for the church but our culture is redefining morality at an alarming rate. Eight short years ago, any politician that wanted to get elected had to believe that marriage was between a man and a woman. In 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama told Rick Warren, "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman." Four years later he had changed his public position because polls revealed that our nation was changing its mind on the issue of gay marriage with a speed that has surprised many of us.
The country is moving very quickly towards the acceptance of gay marriage and we need to recognize that that genie isn't going to be put back in the bottle. But this is going to raise significant issues and questions for the church today. Already there are cases of Christians who have refused to provide services for gay marriages being heavily penalized and even put out of business for standing by their convictions. There is a growing movement to label any expression that homosexuality is morally wrong and against God's creative design as a hate crime. How will the church respond? How should the church respond?
Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry today and has only exploded further with the ability to access it in the privacy of home or office with the internet . An estimated 150 XXX movies are produced every week. Many men, and a growing number of women, are held by chains of lust forged by online pornography. Sadly many Christians are in bondage to pornography as well. How will the church respond?
Not only is immorality being redefined, but gender is being redefined. We now have the ability to change a person's gender - at least on a superficial, physical level. Vanity Fair's cover this week featured the person who used to be Bruce Jenner, the Decathalon gold medalist in 1976 who is now calling himself/herself Caitlyn Jenner. Caitlyn claims to have been a woman trapped in a man's body and expressed relief that she could finally be true to her female self. Sexuality and gender as the Bible says God created and ordained it is being reimagined like never before and the church is going to have these issues knocking on its door like never before in the coming years. How will it respond? How should it respond?
Light, not heat
Let me just say this, angry fundamentalists make me cringe. Chip Ingram makes the wise observation that too often the church responds with more heat than light. Too often Christians respond with anger and a distinct lack of the compassion of Christ which adds a lot of heat to the conversation but not a lot of light.
Consider this heart-breaking statistic: according to surveys the self-reported suicide rate of the overall population is 4.6%. That number climbs to between 10 and 20% for the gay population. But among those who identify themselves as transgender, 41% have attempted suicide. These statistics are staggering and heart-breaking. These are people who are precious in God's sight and they desperately need the church to break through the common perception that the church hates them. We desperately need to love them enough to try to tear down that perception and reach out with the love and mercy of Jesus. They believe that the reason for their high suicide rate is the bullying and discrimination that society puts on them, and to some degree that plays a part and should not be tolerated. But as Christians we know that the deeper issue is that God made us male or female and our gender is inseparably woven into our identity, and to try to unweave that gender and reweave it is disastrous.
So the heat we radiate to gays and transgenders should be the warmth of love and compassion not the heat of anger and abhorance. But the light we radiate has to be the light of God's unchanging, unbendable Truth, even if it costs us dearly to shine that light.
I think in the coming years there is going to be a lot of pressure brought to bear on the church to swing to the opposite extreme: to embrace the changes in society's moral and sexual standards and "go along to get along". That will be presented as the "loving" response. The day is probably coming when a pastor and church that refuses to marry a gay couple will be accused of a hate crime and might face prison or at the least their church losing tax exempt status. We can know that we love them and don't hate them, but our society is redefining hate as anyone who believes what another is doing is wrong (unless that other is a Christian standing for absolutes - then it's fair game to judge them as wrong).
We need to be prepared for that day, and with loving and respectful attitudes, we need to hold clearly and firmly to God's word and be willing to pay whatever cost there is to be faithful to God's word! We need to resist the temptation to play games with God's word and bend and twist it to mirror our culture. To think that we can redefine immorality and then welcome it into the church as a "new morality" is to roll down the windows to deadly danger.
Call band up
We're going to have to leave it there but let's close by jumping ahead and reading vv. 12-13: Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Cor. 10:12-13
Good reminder: don't get cocky. Grace doesn't make us overconfident in the sense that we think we can dismiss God and roll down the windows to whatever and we'll be ok. Let anyone who thinks that he stands (that he is too strong to fall) take heed lest he fall. That attitude positions him or her for a fall. We all face the same temptations - nothing new under the sun, but remember this: God is faithful. His answer isn't to roll down the window and let temptation in, His answer is to give us 1) strength to endure the temptation and 2) an eventual way out of that temptation.
God is faithful. Let that ring in your hearts, especially if the Lord is convicting you of an idol or breach in the wall where immorality is trying to get a foothold. God is faithful. Call upon Him, draw near to Him, trust in Him. When we do that, we will always stand securely.