This series was first published during September 2014. –ed.
Overconfidence is a sure way to fall into temptation and sin. To assume you’re beyond the world’s grasp, immune to its enticements, and free to do whatever you like is often the first step toward the harsh realization that you’re not.
Many believers in Corinth felt perfectly secure in their Christian lives and thought they had arrived. They were saved, baptized, well-taught, lacking in no spiritual gift, and presumably mature. They thought they were strong enough to freely associate with pagans in their ceremonies and social activities and not be affected morally or spiritually, as long as they did not participate in outright idolatry or immorality.
But in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul tells them they were self-deceived. Abusing their liberty not only harmed weaker believers whose consciences were offended, but also endangered their own spiritual lives. They could not live long on the far edge of freedom without falling into temptation and sin.
The mature, loving Christian does not try to stretch his liberty to the extreme, to see how close to evil he can come without being harmed. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Paul shows how misuse of liberty can disqualify us from effective service to Christ.
When a Christian becomes so confident of his strength that he thinks he can handle any situation, he is overconfident and in great danger of falling. The warning is summarized in 1 Corinthians 10:12: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” The danger is not of falling from salvation but of falling from holiness and from usefulness in service. It is a serious danger and one the Lord does not take lightly.
Abusing Spiritual Privileges
Paul uses the Israelites as an example of spiritual overconfidence.
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. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:1-5)
Through an incredible display of God’s power, they had been called out of Egypt, preserved from the plagues and delivered from the Egyptian army when God parted the Red Sea. They experienced His presence, protection, and faithful provision in the wilderness.
Although they enjoyed the privileges of being God’s chosen people, they failed to remain faithful to Him. They grumbled and complained. They staged insurrections against God’s chosen leaders and flirted with idols. Paul described the results of their overconfidence in 1 Corinthians 10:5-10.
Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
That God was not pleased with “most of them” is an understatement. Of the entire great number of Israelites who left Egypt only two, Joshua and Caleb, were allowed to enter the Promised Land. Even Moses and Aaron were disqualified.
Because of disobedience all but two Israelites “were laid low in the wilderness.” In other words, their corpses were buried all over the desert. All Israel had been graciously blessed, liberated, and sustained by the Lord in the wilderness. Yet most of them failed the test of obedience and service. They misused and abused their freedom and their blessings. In self-centeredness and self-will they tried to live on the edge of their liberty, and they fell into temptation and then into sin. Overconfidence was their undoing.
Unfit for Service
The disqualified Israelites became unfit for God’s service. They became what Paul elsewhere refers to as vessels of dishonor. They had not cleansed themselves “from youthful lusts” and had not pursued “righteousness, faith, love, and peace.” Consequently they did not become vessels that were “sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21-22). They were scattered about the wilderness as potsherds, pieces of broken vessels that were no longer useful.
Their judgments are now “examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things, as they also craved” (1 Corinthians 10:6). Those who were “laid low in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5) had not brought their bodies under control as Paul had done with his (1 Corinthians 9:27), but had indulged their every desire, lust, and craving.
A controlled body is useful to the Lord; an indulged one is not. The Christian who controls his body and his lifestyle is qualified to serve the Lord; the one who indulges his body and is careless in his lifestyle is disqualified.
(Adapted from The New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians.)
Courtesy of John MacArthur