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TEXT: I Corinthians 10:1-11:1
SUBJECT: What's Wrong with Arrogance
If you had to sum up the problems in Corinth in one word, I'm not sure you could do better than the word, arrogance. What divided the church? Arrogance. Why were they okay with a man living in gross public sin? Arrogance. Why were church members suing each other in court? Arrogance. Why where the brothers who knew their doctrine abusing the ones who didn't?
Arrogance was a big and fast-growing tumor on that Body of Christ--and not only on that one. As long as some of us think too much of ourselves, and too little of others, arrogance will remain a serious problem in the church, in every church in every time and place. Including this one.
People can be arrogant for many reasons, of course, from their (supposed) good looks to their high-end jobs, to their trophy wives, their family tree, their 'perfect' kids, and more. These are all disgusting examples of pride, but there's one far worse than the worst of these: Spiritual Arrogance.
The Corinthians were wonderfully gifted people--and that's good. But what isn't so good is they knew it. I suppose they were proud of other things, but the main thing that puffed them up was their knowledge. Some of the Corinthians were real thinkers, big readers, and forceful debaters.
The problem is: their intelligence had gone to their heads, the great thinkers had outthought themselves.
KNOWLEDGE AND TEMPTATION
They thought knowledge kept them from temptation. It doesn't: what keeps you safe in temptation is humility, and that's the thing they lacked the most. That's why the devil was having his way with the church in Corinth. He was using their knowledge against them, hardening their hearts by enlarging their brains.
All they wanted was knowledge, but they didn't need more of that. What they needed was to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. Only then could they come through temptation innocent.
Proverbs 14:16 is a verse they should have memorized, meditated on and lived by. They didn't and their time is up; now it's our turn--
A wise man fears and departs from evil,
but the fool rages and is self-confident.
Temptation scares the humble because they know how weak they are before Satan's cunning and power. They don't flirt with sin; they don't get as close to temptation as they can, assuming they can pull away befor they give in. This was Samson's folly--toying with sin as though it could never get the better of him. It could, and it did get the better of him, as he learned to his regret. Joseph knew better. When his master's wife tried to lure him into the bedroom, he gave her no encouragement. When she tried to force him, he ran out of the house in his underwear. Resisting temptation is good, but fleeing from it is better. This is what the Corinthians should have been doing, and would have been doing...if they hadn't been so arrogant.
They were not scared of what sin could do to them, but Paul was, and to help them--and us--to stay as far away from temptation as possible, he tells an old, old story. It's the story of Israel in the Wilderness. If they wanted to read it for themselves, they could have, from Exodus 14 to the end of Deuteronomy. Paul doesn't have the time to tell the whole tale, so he offers a bullet-point presentation.
He starts with their privileges. He doesn't name all they had in God, but the two or three he mentions bear a striking similarity to what the Corinthians had and what we have as well.
First, they were baptized in the Red Sea. This separated them from their old lives in Egypt and rescued them from the malign powers of Pharaoh. It also identified them as God's people, an honor not lost on the Canaanites and others who heard what God had done for them.
They also ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. The food was manna, a bread that fell from Heaven six days a week for forty years. The water came from a Rock, opened by the Lord in the wilderness.
They were also under the cloud--not an ordinary cloud, but the Cloud of Glory, a cloud that led them through the Red Sea, to Mount Sinai, and every step of the way to the Promised Land. The Cloud was not God Himself, but it was a visible sign of His Presence and favor.
The food and water God gave them in the Wilderness reminded the Corinthians of the Lord's Supper, bread and wine He gives when we meet Him at the Table.
As for the cloud? I'm less dogmatic here, but it seems to stand for the Lord's Presence with us in the church. Jesus said He would be with us whenever we meet in His Name, even to the end of the Age.
Baptism, the Lord's Supper, the Promises of Christ ought to make us confident of God's favor, but the Corinthians went too far with them. It made them, not confident, but overconfident (or, maybe the word I'm looking for is self-confident).
It made them feel that, as long as they were baptized and communicant in the church, they didn't have to guard against temptation. They didn't have to concern themselves with sin!
THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES--AND OURS
They could not have been more wrong! Israel had the same privileges, but they did not keep them from temptation in the Wilderness or sin or the wages of sin.
Paul names four of their many failures.
At Mount Sinai, they worshiped the Golden Calf and threw a party for the Lord that became an orgy.
At Baal-Peor they 'hooked up' with some sexy Moabite girls, and God killed twenty-three thousand of them in one day.
Skirting the land of Moab, they loathed the food God gave them, demanded He give them something 'better' to eat, and He sent deadly snakes into the camp.
Everywhere they went, they grumbled and paid dearly for their ingratitude; they were destroyed by the destroyer.
Put together, the examples put v.5 past all debate--
But God was not pleased with them and their bodies were scattered in the Wilderness.
The word, scattered, how unhappy the Lord was with them. They were supposedly His family, and you give members of your family a decent and honored burial. But God didn't do that! He let their bodies lie unburied as though they were wild animals, or more likely, foreign armies.
Paul is not telling the story for the sake of telling it. He's making a point, and in case we miss it, he spells it out for us, v.6--
Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
In case we don't know what he means by lusting after evil things, he tells us in vv.7-10: worshiping idols, committing fornication, tempting Christ, and complaining.
The blessings of Church Life are real; it is a privilege to be here, to be baptized, to sit together at the Lord's Table, to hear His Word, sing His praises, and pray to God in the name of Christ.
But as real and marvelous as these blessings are, they do not ensure an easy, carefree life, or exempt us from the duties of watching and praying and resisting the devil and mortifying the flesh and following after holiness and enduring hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
The Corinthians thought 'knowledge' was the only thing that mattered. It isn't. Effort matters, grit matters, doing your duty matters. Great knowledge is no substitute for humility and obedience.
Speaking of humility, if the Corinthians, and we had more of it, we wouldn't be so cozy with temptation, so relaxed about worldliness, v.12--
Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall.
As Israel did when it confused trusting the Lord with presuming upon Him. Is Paul trying to discourage them or us? No. He's trying to warn us against spiritual pride. No matter how much we know or how much we pray or how hard we try to be good, we will be tempted in this life, and the temptations won't always be easy to see through or resist. But resist them we must, and we can because we're not in it alone, v.13--
No temptation has taken you but what is common to man; but God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will, with the temptation also make the way of escape that you may be able to bear it.
The Lord allows temptation into our lives, but He also gives us what we need to successfully resist it. But though it's all by His grace, it is we who resist, and sometimes have to resist unto blood striving against sin.
V.14 is the heart of the chapter, and what Paul's been driving at from 8:1. The Corinthians are arrogant and their spiritual pride has led them to the verge of idolatry. Under the guise of 'knowledge' and 'Christian liberty', they are eating things sacrificed to idols and coming dangerously close to worshiping the idols (as they had always done in the past, before coming to faith in Christ).
Paul gives them nothing to think about: He gives them something to do: Flee idolatry! The advice may not be subtle or sophisticated or theologically nuanced, but it's darned good advice!
To help them take it, he appeals to their wisdom. It was buried under a mountain of ego, but it was still there, and if Paul could get to it, he could save them from a terrible end.
He compares eating meat sacrificed to pagan gods to the Lord's Supper.
At the Lord's Table, we have fellowship with Christ and His People. The fellowship is not a casual thing; it creates a oneness between us all. Every member is united to Christ Himself and, because everyone is united to Christ, every one of us is united to each other.
Do they want to be one with the gods of Corinth? Do they want to be members of the church of Poseidon? Do they want fellowship with the disciples of Hades? If not, what are they doing in the Pagan temples? What are they doing eating meat offered to the gods and dining with friends around idolatrous tables?
But, 'Wait a minute! someone objects, 'If there is only One True God, the gods are not really gods at all'. Paul knows this, of course, but he also knows what the gods really are: demons!
The Lord is a jealous God and He will not share us with the devil. When we try to have it both ways, Paul warns--
We provoke the Lord to jealousy
This is unwise because, however much we think of ourselves, we are not stronger than He is, and we cannot stand up under His judgment.
NO MAN LIVES TO HIMSELF
Eating things sacrificed to idols is wrong and stupid--Paul says--not only because it puts you in harm's way, but also because it hurts other people. He made this same point in Chapter 8, but now he applies it to people outside of the church. We're no more permitted to hurt unbelievers than we are believers. As disciples of Christ, we're to love everyone, brother, neighbor, stranger, even our enemies. We've got to love them all. We're not doing that when encourage them to sin.
We know pork chops laid on the altar of Apollos came from God's pig, and is the Lord's gift to us. Not everyone knows that. In fact, in Corinth, hardly anyone knew it. When most people bought food from the pagan meat markets, they did it with an eye to winning the idol's favor.
Some of them would invite Christians to dinner, and sometimes they'd announce where they got the meat and in whose sacred name they were eating it. When they did that, the Christian firmly said, 'More the broccoli, please'. They mustn't eat the pagan meat--not because the meat was somehow polluted--but because eating it would give the impression that they too worshiped the god in whose name it was sacrificed.
They didn't. The goal of Christianity is to rid the world of idols so that everyone can worship the God of Israel who is the Creator, Lord and Savior of the whole world, and not just Israel.
This brings us back to the main lesson of Chapters 8-9: People matter to God and they ought to matter to us. One part of caring for people is limiting our freedom so we can do them good.
For Paul, this meant eating bacon for breakfast, going to church picnics on Saturday, and making friends who were not Jewish. Technically, he was free to keep kosher, to rest on the Sabbath, and to choose his own friends, but if he did, his fellowship with Gentile believers would be limited and he'd never reach a pagan with the Gospel. So he curbed his own freedom for the good of others.
Paul was a very smart man, but he didn't come up with this on his own. He was only following Christ. This is what he called the Corinthians to do and what Jesus calls us to do.
What freedom is hindering you from serving others in love? Is it the freedom to express your political opinions? You are free to do this. The Bible neither commands nor forbids you to be a Republican or a Democrat, or a Libertarian, or a Socialist. You can support the war in the Middle East or oppose it; you can vote to raise taxes or lower them; you can be pro-union or anti-union.
What you're not free to do is allow your partisan beliefs to get in the way of the Gospel, to turn your neighbors off to it before they even hear it.
SUMMARY AND CLOSE
What's the chapter about? It's about arrogance, believing you have the right to do whatever you want to. You don't. The Christian is the freest person in the world, but he's not free to flirt with sin or to hurt other people with his freedom. As followers of Christ we're called to not hang on to our privileges for dear life, but to gladly surrender them for the salvation of the world.
In doing this, we're following both Paul and Paul's Savior--
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
how that, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we though His poverty might be made rich.
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