Did your mom or dad ever admonish you repeatedly on the same issue until you found yourself saying (or at least thinking) “I know! I know!” Maybe it’s your boss who continually reminds you about your duties at work? And if you are married, I’m sure you’ve had those thoughts, as we tend to tell our spouses the same thing multiple times – just to make sure they get the message.
Here’s the real question, though. Do we really know? Are we really listening?
I feel like the believers in Corinth who were reading Paul’s first letter might have had these same thoughts. He’s setting a high standard for those of us who proclaim faith in Christ, and he’s not letting up in his desire for believers to live holy, separated, devoted, and fully committed to Christ. In fact, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he’s making the case that such a life isn’t the “exceptional, super-spiritual Christ-follower” but should be the norm for all who have experienced salvation.
1 Corinthians 10-11 is a warning we all need; it’s a call to examine our lives for the fruit of repentance that Jesus preached as a requirement to those who desired to follow Him. To make his case, Paul takes us back to Moses and the children of Israel and their exodus from Egypt.
1 Corinthians 10:1-5 – 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.
All of Israel experienced the miraculous escape and God’s supernatural provision in the wilderness, yet a whole generation perished because they didn’t truly believe or obey God. They were around God; they witnessed God’s activity; they heard God’s voice in the thunder and lightning on the mountain; they listened to Moses as he related the commands of God; they drank of the water God miraculously provided; they ate the manna and the quail; their shoes and clothes didn’t wear out. They were all in it and around it – but they were not of it. They missed the salvation offered right in front of them because they were deceived; they refused to lay down their idols and humble their ungrateful, hard hearts.
Paul describes the actions of the people who missed out on the Promised Land. Assuming they were safe as members of the congregation, their lives were marked by immorality, testing and trying God, grumbling, and idolatry – putting other things before God.
Not once, but twice, Paul warns the believers in Corinth (people living thousands of years after the wilderness experience) that these things are written for our example, for our instruction, so that we will not be deceived and miss salvation as well.
1 Corinthians 10:6,11 – Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. … Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Paul goes on to explain how serious a matter it is to call ourselves Christians but not follow Christ. He uses the example of communion. The people were taking it lightly, irreverently, without examining themselves and without truly considering what the bread and cup represented. It had become just another “thing” you did when you went to church. How serious is it?
1 Corinthians 11:27-30 – Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.
1 Corinthians 10:21-22 – You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?
How do we “eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner?” We fail to approach it with a humble, repentant heart. We live worldly, unholy lives and make the assumption that because we have made an intellectual nod to Jesus we are saved by our proximity to the things of God.
Communion is just one of many opportunities God gives each of us to examine our hearts and lives for anything that offends Him. The true Christ-follower welcomes this, even though it is painful, humbling, and convicting. The Holy Spirit in us creates an undeniable desire to live pleasing to God, to grow more and more weary of this sinful world, and to be transformed into the image of Christ. Anything less should cause us to examine our hearts to be sure we are really saved. If like the Israelites, we can hang around God’s people on Sunday, and then play in the world without conviction all week, we ought to be concerned about our eternal destination.
I don’t think Paul’s intent was to make us all doubt our salvation if we’re not perfect. He knew what it was to struggle with our flesh as a believer (Romans 7). He does, however, want us to take this warning seriously. A changed life, a distaste for sin, and a declining love for worldly things give good evidence that God’s Spirit lives in us. If these are missing, take heed. Ask God to examine your heart and be open to what He will show you.
1 Corinthians 10:31 – Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.