I was reading a study this past week by Pastor Shawn Thomas on our Scripture for this morning. In the study he mentioned something about the “warning stones” of Japan. I had never heard of these warning stones so I did a deep dive.
I was not aware of it, but Japan is one of the most earthquake prone nations in the world. Japan sits on or near the boundary of four tectonic plates: the Pacific, North American, Eurasian, and Filipino plates. The plates underneath the surface of the earth are always moving, locking up, and then breaking free and shifting causing earthquakes.
Ten years ago, on March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck under the sea near Japan. The earthquake generated a series of tsunamis that created waves as high as 125 to 130 feet in some places. The tsunami wiped out much of Japan’s coastline, caused the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear reactor, and killed almost 20,000 people.
Since the tsunami, Japan has built about 245 miles of seawall along the coast to protect its citizens from future tsunamis. Japan has spent about $12 billion dollars to build the 41 foot high seawalls. What’s interesting is that the 41 foot high seawalls are replacing older 13 foot seawalls, which were destroyed during the tsunami in 2011.
Long before the building of the first seawall and long before the devastating tsunami of March 11, 2011 there was a safeguard already in place which could have prevented much of the loss of life. Along the coastline in Japan are hundreds of what the Japanese call “tsunami stones.” The stones are anywhere from 3 feet to 10 feet high and some stones are believed to be 600 hundred years old. One stone in Aneyoshi, which stands 10 feet tall, has inscribed on it these words, “High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants. Remember the calamity of the great tsunami. Do not build any homes below this stone.” The village of Aneyoshi was protected on March 11, 2011 because the people refuse to turn away from the wisdom of the past.
Itoko Kitahara is a historian at the university in Kyoto and he said, “The tsunami stones are warnings across generations, telling descendants to avoid the same suffering of their ancestors. Some places heeded these lessons of the past, but many did not.” (Danny Lewis. These Centuries-Old “Tsunami Stones” Do Japan’s Coastline. Smithsonian Magazine. August 31, 2015)
It has been said, “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” The origin of the quote has been traced back to either the Harvard philosophy professor George Santayana or the British statesman George Burke. I’ve thought about the statement this past week as I’ve been studying 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. Let’s read our Scripture and you’ll understand that even though Paul didn’t use the quote, he sure taught the lesson.
1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors 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 in the wilderness. 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 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 Christ, 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 culmination 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 overtaken you except what is common to mankind. 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 endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:1-13 NIV)
This is a powerful section of Scripture that Paul wrote in order to wake up those who were arrogant and self-secure in Corinth. Those Paul called “strong,” in 1 Corinthians 4:10, had no qualms about visiting the temples of idols and eating meat that had been sacrificed to them. They felt free to do this because there is no God but YHWH. An idol isn’t God and therefore as long as they weren’t “worshiping” idols, they believed they could do anything they wanted. Paul knew they were flirting with disaster so he gave them a history lesson.
If you will notice, the first phrase in 1 Corinthians 10, is, “For I do want you to be ignorant…” This phrase comes on the heels of the illustration of the athletes who go into strict training for their competition. We read about it in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27. Let’s read that again to refresh our memory.
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 someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to 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 Corinthians 9:25-27 NIV)
Paul said he didn’t run aimlessly, he didn’t run in a random, purposeless manner. He didn’t allow his body, his flesh, to dictate what he would and wouldn’t do. He lived and acted with intent and purpose in everything he did so that he wouldn’t be disqualified for the prize. Paul wasn’t referring to being disqualified from salvation, salvation is the free gift of God, not something to be earned or maintained by human effort. Paul has in mind being disqualified from the ministry, from the high calling of God to continue to go into all the world and share the good news. We’ve heard about and seen the stories of those God has used in a powerful way in the past who made very poor decisions and lost their ministry. It’s tragic, but sadly, it happens all the time.
Paul used the nation of Israel, like the tsunami warning stones of Japan, to caution the people in Corinth. Let’s read together 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 once again.
1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors 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. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4 NIV)
Did you notice the word “all” repeated again and again? The Greek adjective is found five times in these four verses. All of the Israelites who were delivered out of Egypt experienced the same blessings from God. Let’s list them.
- All were under the cloud.
- All passed through the sea.
- All baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
- All ate the same spiritual food.
- All drank the same spiritual drink.
Bible commentators point out that Paul links the experiences of the Israelites and the experiences of the followers of Jesus in Corinth. The Israelites, like the people in Corinth, and I might add, just like us, were “baptized,” even though it was a very different baptism than that of the followers of Jesus, they shared in spiritual food provided by God, and they were related to Christ in a special way. The Israelites were freed from bondage in Egypt like the Corinthians were freed from their bondage to sin. The Israelites were the recipients of incredible spiritual blessings just like the people of Corinth and just like you and me. We don’t have time to go through all of the Old Testament references to these events, but I would like to walk you through a couple of them. First, turn with me to Exodus 14:21-22.
After having spent 400 years in Egypt serving as slaves, God heard the cries of His people and raised up a deliverer named Moses. After a series of ten plagues, Pharaoh told Moses to take the Israelites and leave. While God’s people were leaving Egypt, Pharaoh changed his mind. He readied his chariot and led the Egyptian army in pursuit of God’s people. They chased them all the way to the Red Sea where it looked like God’s people were doomed with the Egyptian army behind them and the Red Sea in front of them. Then we read,
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22 NIV)
During the 40 years that the Israelites wandered around the wilderness the Lord was with them. We read in Exodus 13:20-21 that He led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God, through the cloud and pillar of fire, did more than provide turn by turn directions like Google Maps, the cloud and pillar were constant reminders of God’s protection, presence, and provision. He was with them, leading them, every step of the way.
God provided everything His people needed for their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. In Exodus 16 we read that God provided His people with manna in the morning and quail in the evening, six days a week. In Exodus 17 the people were thirsty so God instructed Moses to strike a rock and water came out so the people’s thirst would be quenched. God provided everything His people needed. Yet, we read in 1 Corinthians 10:5,
5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:5 NIV)
If God provided so much for so many, what could have possibly gone so wrong that God would be displeased? Do you realize that as many as 2,000,000 people left Egypt with Moses? That number is an estimate based on a passage from Exodus 12:37 that tells us, “There were about 600,000 men on foot, besides women and children.” God provided so much for so many. What could have possibly gone wrong? The answer is found in 1 Corinthians 10:7-10. Read it with me.
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 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 Christ, 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. (1 Corinthians 10:7-10 NIV)
Before we talk about these verses, I do need to point out that when Paul wrote, “…God was not pleased with most of them…” He was being more than optimistic. The truth of the matter is that only two of those who were 20 and under when they left Egypt were allowed to enter the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb, from that older generation, were allowed to enter the Promised Land. Why is that? Well, let’s get back to our Scripture. There are four things that brought about God’s displeasure that are listed by Paul.
- God’s people worshiped idols.
- God’s people committed sexual immorality.
- God’s people tested God.
- God’s people grumbled against God.
Paul has some very specific examples in mind when he mentions all of these, but we don’t have time to go through them all. Let me just touch on a couple. In Exodus 32, while Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the Israelites were down below and growing more and more impatient. Let’s read together beginning in verse 1.
1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” 2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exodus. 32:1-5 NIV)
If God doesn’t act in the way we want Him to act, when we want Him to act, then we’ll just get ourselves another god! And all throughout Israel’s history they were plagued with the same problem. In every age, under every king, the people chased after foreign gods even though the very first of the Ten Commandments urges us, commands us, “You shall have no other gods before me.” And the warning went out again and again and again, yet God’s people refused to listen.
There’s no doubt that Paul highlighted this sin of the Israelites for the people in Corinth because idolatry was alive and well in Corinth. There were temples to false gods and idol worship taking place on every street corner. God’s people were flirting with idolatry. They reasoned that as long as they weren’t “worshiping” the false gods, who were really no gods at all, they could participate in the temple meals, enjoy the festivities at the shrines, and everything would be just fine.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Solomon thought the same thing when he married women from pagan nations who worshiped idols. The Lord had told His people not to marry people from other nations, not because they were lesser, inferior people, but because they worshiped false gods and God didn’t want His people to turn away from Him. Solomon, who is called the wisest man who ever lived, thought he could marry the pagan women with their false gods and not have happen to him what had happened to countless others before him. Then, we read, in 1 Kings 4:11,
4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. (1 Kings 11:4 NIV)
Now, I’m more than certain that if I took a poll this morning and asked you, “Are there any idols that you worship? Any idol worshippers with us this morning?” –not one single person would say “Yes!” We don’t go down to the silversmith and buy figurines of Zeus or Hermes or Baal and set them on our mantle. Yet, I believe that idol worship is alive and well in the United States today. Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, gives us a great definition of idolatry. He writes,
An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, and anything that you seek to give you what only God can give. (Tim Keller)
Now that definition of idolatry should stop us in our tracks and make us think about all of the things or people that we have elevated to places reserved for God alone. The great 16th century reformer, John Calvin, once said, “The human heart is a perpetual idol factory.” It was true in the 16th century and it remains true to this day. I can make an idol out of anything or anyone that I look to, to provide for me what only God can truly give.
God’s people also engaged in sexual immorality and that was a huge problem for the followers of Jesus in Corinth with all of the fertility cults present there. We can’t forget that one of the most prominent temples in Corinth was the temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and passion. At the temple of Aphrodite there were 1000 temple prostitutes.
The last two behaviors of God’s people that brought about His displeasure was their “testing of God” and their “grumbling against God.” In mentioning the testing of God, Paul was referring to the Israelites propensity to see how much they could get out of God and how much they could get away with before God disciplined them. Once again, Paul was thinking about the folks in Corinth when he highlighted this sin of the Israelites. The people in Corinth were pushing the boundaries by participating in the activities of the false gods like eating meat sacrificed to idols. Do we not do the same thing? We justify our actions and say, “It’s my life I can do what I want. God will forgive me anyway.” Instead of pursuing holiness we are determined to find our own happiness, regardless of what God says.
Last of all, the Israelites stirred up God’s displeasure by their grumbling against God. They didn’t just grumble a little bit, the Israelites, from the youngest to the oldest had Ph.D’s in grumbling. They grumbled about everything. Let me give you just one example. Turn with me to Exodus 16:2-3 and let’s read together.
2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Exodus 16:2-3 NIV)
The absurdity of their thinking is beyond me. They sat around pots of meat and ate all the food they wanted while they were in Egypt? Are you kidding me? They were slaves! The heat of the desert must have scrambled their brains because they acted like Egypt was full of Las Vegas like buffets! I shouldn’t be too hard on the Israelites because we American followers of Jesus are world class grumblers aren’t we? We can fuss and become disappointed with God over the least inconvenience. When truly tough times come our way we question God at every turn–”Don’t you care about me? God, are You truly good? God, if You love me then why am I going through this?” It’s ok to ask questions of God, but those questions should be followed by a diligent search of God’s Word for answers.
Why did Paul take the time to highlight these specific examples from the long history of the Israelites? Why did he choose the sins he chose to hold up before the people of Corinth? There’s no doubt that it was because these were the very things the people of Corinth were doing and they are our problem as well. Paul used the Israelites as an example. He says as much in verse 11. Read it with me.
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 NIV)
We are to learn from those who have gone before us. God recorded the history of His relationship with the Israelites, not because He needed to keep a record of what happened, but because we desperately need to learn what they got right and how they strayed so very far from God. Paul, in Romans 15:4, wrote,
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 NIV)
That is a remarkable statement. You mean to tell me everything that was written in God’s Word was written to teach you and me? You got it! This is one of the reasons why I have never understood those who have told me, “I’m a New Testament believer. I don’t read the Old Testament.” We desperately need all of God’s Word, from Genesis to maps! Let’s take a look at verse 13 before we have to stop for today. Read it with me.
13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. 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 endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:1-13 NIV)
There is no trial that is unique to you or me. There is no temptation that you or I have faced, are facing, or will ever face that has not been faced by many others throughout history. There is no challenge to your faith or my faith that has not challenged countless others in each and every generation. This assurance is so helpful to me because I have to confess, sometimes the trials, troubles, and challenges can sure make me feel like I’m the only one who has ever had to bear such a weight.
I have heard people say that God will not give us more than we can bear. I think we need to tease that out a little. Left to our own strength, dependent on nothing more than our own resources, there’s no question but that this life will wring you out and hang you out to dry. You will run into many things throughout life that will exhaust you and can even crush you–if you look to your own strength to try and make it through. I have shared at the funerals of people during the past 30 years who reached the breaking point and decided they couldn’t do it any longer so they took their own life. We have to remember that Paul is writing to the followers of Jesus and they have resources, and you and I have resources that this world does not have. Paul said, “…he will provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Do you know the way out? He is the way out. He has promised to lead us, guide us, strengthen us, comfort us, and never ever leave us. I gain such comfort from the reminder from Hebrews 2:18. Read it with me.
18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18 NIV)
We don’t serve a Savior who is unfamiliar with suffering. No, He knows suffering, unthinkable suffering, and because He does–He is able to help us. Just two chapters later in Hebrews we read,
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV)
When we are tempted to sin, to pursue the cravings of our flesh, we are to run to God’s throne of grace so that we can receive the mercy and grace we need to prevent us from giving in. When we are facing crushing trials in this life we are to run to God’s throne of grace and mercy with the confidence of knowing that He will provide us with what we need to endure. How about you? Where have you been running when trouble comes your way? What about you, when the temptations of life lure you in, do you give in or do you turn and run to the throne of grace? I want to invite you to run to Him this very moment.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 1, 2021
1 Corinthians 10:1-13