PAUL’S WARNING TO THE COMPLACENT

 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the Shekinah and they all had passed through the (Red) Sea; and they all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and they all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which accompanied them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased; for their dead bodies were spread out in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they indeed craved them. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” Nor are we to commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor are we to put the Lord to the test, as some of them did, and were killed by the snakes. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the purpose of the ages are being fulfilled. 12 Therefore let the one who thinks he stands watch out that he does not fall. (1Cor10:1-12)

The opening conjunction “for” (Greek: γὰρ) indicates that Paul is about to provide a reason or develop the point he had just made at the end of chapter 9. That had concerned his disciplining of his own body (and its sensual instincts), otherwise there was a danger that “having preached to others I might myself be disqualified” (9:27). He sensed that some within the Corinthian church were in danger of complacency. After all, thought they, we have all been baptized into Christ and been delivered from the spiritual exile of the world to be brought into the company of God’s people, and had partaken of spiritual food and drunk at the Lord’s table. But as Paul reminded them, that had similarly applied to their Jewish forbears of the Old Testament. They likewise had been led out of slavery across the Red Sea to freedom as the children of God; they had been under the protection of the Shekinah/Cloud that represented God’s presence amongst them. They had been “baptized into Moses” just as the Corinthian believers had been baptized into Christ. Their Jewish forbears had also “drunk from a spiritual rock”, which figuratively speaking had represented and prefigured Christ and the Eucharist. In terms of their status and privileges as God’s chosen people, these Jews had been no less spiritually provided for and were just as much “the people of God” as the Corinthian believers. And yet God had been mightily displeased with many of them to the point of the physical destruction of thousands of their number (v5). Why? Because of their sexual immorality and idolatry (cf. Ex32:5-7). As the offspring of Isaac, they had been the intended children of the kingdom (cf. Mt8:11-12), being members of the Covenant of Promise. And such now is the Church (Gal4:28).

So, was Paul speaking hypothetically about something that in reality could never happen to a Christian? Those believing in “the guaranteed perseverance of the saints” might wish that to be the case but it is not so. For this warning is in line with several others Paul has issued. Writing concerning the Gentiles being likened to a wild olive plant grafted into the rich root that was the Jewish nation the apostle concluded: “(The Jews) were broken off for their unbelief whilst you stand by your faith. But do not be conceited, rather fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either” (Rom11:20-21). And again, writing to Christians at Rome: “If you live according to the flesh you shall die, but if by the spirit you put to death the passionate instincts of the body you shall live” (Rom8:13). The only sense in which a doctrine of the perseverance of the saints holds true is that God already knows who shall marry His Son! (cf. Rev19:7) But that divine foreknowledge has no relevance to the believer in terms of their earthly pilgrimage. Hence Paul’s warning: “Therefore, let the one who thinks he stands watch out that he does not fall” (v12). Taken in context of the broader benign providence being outlined, such a caveat need not detract from Paul’s overall message which is still wondrously good news.